Updated on 08.14.07

The Simple Dollar Gets A New Cell Phone – And Saves Significant Money In The Process

Trent Hamm

Over the last week, my cell phone has slowly been dying. The screen goes black randomly and it ceases to accept button input until I remove the battery and re-insert it. This phenomenon has happened with more and more frequency as of late, reaching the point where it’s killed phone calls in the middle of the call. It was time to get a new cell phone.

I looked at my options. My wife and I have been using the same cell phone provider for the last four years and have been very happy with them. We had heard rumors that their service in the area of our new home was bad, but the service has actually been even better since we moved – I haven’t seen anything less than four bars at home or in any place that I go to regularly. Thus, my wife and I wanted to stick with the same service provider.

I went to the cell phone store today with my tactics for buying a new cell phone in mind. I wanted to make a change to my service plan (upgrade my text messages and my minutes because I’ve gone over the top on both of these recently) plus get a new phone. I had decided that I wanted a RAZR because of the feature set that it had and the size of the phone itself, but I did not want to walk out of the store paying more than $100 for the phone, a car charger for the phone, and any other fees.

Here’s exactly what I did.

I walked into the store, briefly surveyed the people working there, and grabbed the one who was not involved with anyone at the moment. I told her that I was potentially interested in a new service plan (my old one had expired and I was just paying by the month) and specifically what I wanted with the plan. I also told her I wanted new equipment and walked away to look at it to let her think about it for a bit.

I knew better than to negotiate the service plan because it’s usually set by national carriers, but I knew that basically anything in the store was negotiable, especially fees. I also knew that I’d be able to get several things from this person, whose eyes were already calculating their sweet commission on the sale.

I went for a RAZR, just as I wanted. I asked for details on all available rebates and the person actually filled out the rebate form for me to get $30 back – literally, I’ll go home and drop the information in an envelope and send it.

There were also two different fees that the person attempted to ding me with. I directly asked for each fee to be waived and, although the lady helping me seemed a bit startled at the request, she said “Sure” and waived them without hesitation.

I also asked if there were any discounts on accessories for the phone and ended up with a 50% discount on the car charger.

The end result? I got my plan changed, a Motorola RAZR, and a car charger for less than $70 after I drop the rebate (already filled out) in the mail. Easy as pie.

Three real keys if you are getting a new cell phone: ask for all possible rebates, ask for fees to be waived, and ask for discounts or coupons on accessories. Remember, you’re the person in the store spending money – don’t feel bad about asking for such things.

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  1. Amber Yount says:

    We also wanted 2 razrs, and me and brian were able to get 2 free ones through cingular.com…i would prefer an iphone but cant justify dropping the $600 on it :)

  2. Stan says:

    You must be kidding. I subscribed to a plan from cingular (thru amazon.com) and got a free Razor and $100 in cash. You way overpaid for your plan.

  3. Jim says:

    Don’t be surprised if the “rebate” shows up as an AT&T debit card with a very short expiration date and can’t be used as easily as cash.

  4. Wesa says:

    I’ve heard a ridiculous amount of negative feedback about the RAZR phone. The usual complaints: the keypad actually makes it hard to send text messages and the phones constantly fail, requiring replacement devices after repeated calls to the carrier.

    You also mentioned that you wanted to add additional minutes and text messages to your calling plan because you have gone over recently. Could it be a temporary situation? You recently went through the process of purchasing a home, which usually requires many more minutes on the phone over the course of a few months. Once things settle down, you may not need those additional minutes for daily use.

  5. Mark McGuire says:


    When you said a new service plan, did you get a two year service contract? Just curious.

    One of the reasons why cell phones can be literally cheap with a service plan or contract is because of the phone being locked. Meaning the phone can not be switched between carriers until the contract is up. I use the term loosely.

    The reason I brought this up is because I travel out of the country at least once a year and was surprised to find out I couldn’t use my Pocket PC outside of the U.S. So I asked around and found out when you buy a phone at the full price, you do not have to “buy a contract”.

    This means buying a full priced phone gives you an advantage, switching carriers at “free will” during a rate war. Meaning if one carrier is cheaper and equally good, you can switch that easily. But if you are under contract, you have all the crazy fees.

    The only reasons this may be worth mentioning is if you move a lot or travel a lot, especially out of the country. Most carriers are willing to let you unlock the phone if you go out of the country but you have to ask how.

    All I do is simply get a new sim card for that country and call with the sim card using that country’s rate instead of America’s glorious international surcharge rate.

    Amazing what we learn outside of America, especially saving money.

    Good article though, always ask to waive ridiculous fees, I had to replace my blackberry and got it for 129 dollars instead of the advertised price of 299. 170 bucks to go into my retirement fund. Wahoo

  6. James Morgan says:

    Come on Trent you can do better than that. :) I just got a RAZR V3xx (the newer, more expensive one) last month for free after rebate. I did have to pay a one time upgrade fee of $18.

    Like yours, my old phone (almost 3 years) was dying so I was in need of an upgrade. I went to the AT&T Wireless site and as a past customer I was entitled to get the phone for $100 after rebates (+$18 upgrade fee). But they were offering the phone for free after rebate ($50 up front – $50 mail in rebate) to new customers. That didn’t make sense to me. I called them trying to get the same deal to no avail. So I just bought the phone like a new customer and was able to activate it with my old phone number. :) It’s a little trick that I’m surprised worked so well.

  7. Mary-Frances says:

    I’ve had a great experience with 2 RAZRs in my family. Congrats on your score. I’ve resorted to ebay to get my phones because I’ve always felt so ripped off at the stores. I’m glad you’ve proven that you *can* get a deal there.

  8. Wayne says:

    Big deal. I made $50 when the Razr first came out 2 years ago.

  9. Lifeguard says:

    We have had 2 RAZR’s for 2 years in my family. The only BAD thing about a RAZR is that its battery is too small and degrades too quickly.

  10. DJ says:

    Buying a new phone:

    Step 1: Research the phone.

    The RAZR may be a snazzy looking phone, but the reviews on it are terrible. Maybe you saved money now, but when you are constantly having to replace things, you will lose money and time.

  11. Bill says:

    Since you were signing up on a new 2 year agreement you should have gotten it for free.

  12. guinness416 says:

    Well, whatever the reviews say, my Razr is my favourite of what seems like a ton of different cellphones I’ve owned over the years. It’s lasted me two years so far and still going great. Mind you I’m not a geek, I just make phone calls and send text messages on the thing.

  13. lorax says:

    No iPhone? This was the perfect time. :)

  14. Grant says:


    You got ripped off, especially if you signed a two year contract!

    You can buy car chargers on ebay for just the cost of shipping (~$5) and the phone should have been free or earned you a cash back rebate.

    Did you research the cost of that phone online or call your provider to see what they would do for you directly? Honestly, I am disappointed.

  15. PJ says:

    As a past customer if you haven’t gotten a free phone from them in the last 2 years, they should have offered to _give_ you one. It might be be a RAZR or whatever, but the freebie phones do work, even if they’re not so sexy.

  16. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Note to commenters: I live in rural Iowa. The area where I live is where cell phones go to die. Many supposed coast-to-coast plans get zero bars at my house. I’ve tried phones from Cingular, Verizon, and Sprint off the top of my head and get basically no reception on my porch. This means my choice of carriers is pretty limited to regional providers.

    I researched an army of phones before deciding on several potential choices, with the RAZR being the lowest-end phone that I would use – I had a pretty lengthy list of features that I wanted, so I sought out models that matched what I wanted.

    Then I went to the dealer and negotiated as described above. If I hadn’t negotiated, I would have paid substantially more. However, my plan, compared to a virtually identical Verizon one, is about $12 a month cheaper and I get perfect reception at home.

    The provider did offer a bunch of different free phones, but they were mostly Kyoceras, which I do not trust from personal experience and the experience of my wife and other friends.

    The point is that if you go to buy a cell phone, no matter what your situation, use these tactics in the store. You ~will~ save money.

  17. I have not found the cell phone store to be a place where money can be saved. Maybe it’s different with the regional carriers in Iowa, but from the big guys, the best way is to call them up. Often times you can get a deal especially if your plan is expired. You can simply mention that another provider has a price of X including all the features that you want and that you’d like to cancel. They’ll send you to “retention” a group whose entire purpose is to keep you their customer, almost at any cost. After Sprint had a couple of billing errors on my plan, I directed to retention and I’ve got every feature they have for $30 a month. It’s a far better to save monthly than it is once at the store.

    As far as saving 50% on the accessories, that’s not bad, but I’m not sure how great it is either. You can often get them at Ebay all the time for that price. If you want a knock-off, perhaps cheaply made from overseas, you can sometimes get accessories for 80-90% off.

  18. Ben Gonzalez says:

    I don’t know if you are aware of this or not but RAZR phones are very inexpensive and most carriers provide their best deals away from the brick-and-mortar establishments.

  19. plonkee says:

    If you are in the UK, the best thing to do is usually to buy from an online reseller rather than one of the networks. You get the same good deals but you can also get cashback deals that can pay for all of your line rental for the whole year.

  20. Sarah says:

    Two of my sisters and I (we are on a family plan) each got our RAZRs for thirty bucks because it was the day after Thanksgiving and we needed to renew our two year agreement. No crazy lines or getting up at the crack of dawn, we just waltzed in at 12:45 pm, had to wait about a half hour to actually be helped (they have a computer check-in system at the Verizon store I go to) and got them.

    We also got free Bluetooth headsets (though I hate them, so I gave mine to my mom since she’s been wanting one). Although it was past the one pm Bluetooth special by the time we were seen, I asked and the sales guy if we could get them even if it was after one– he said sure, since we were at the store prior to one. Plus, they were limit two, and he gave us three. So that was good.

    Barring the sister who had hers stolen, our RAZRs have held up very well. I drop mine constantly (well, maybe not constantly, but at least once every two weeks when I’m carrying too many things at once) with no case and I have no complaints. I just toss it in the purse. I love the thing. (Plus it’s pink.) I’ve also heard bad reviews, but *shrug* mine is great.

  21. Barb says:


    Before you drop your rebate in the mail, make sure you make two copies of the receipt, form (front and back) and the UPC bar code label on the box.

    I used to work for a rebate company and can’t tell you how many times this impacted whether people got the rebate or not.

    Love your site,


  22. Christine says:

    I too have a RAZR. I didn’t pay for it (Hurrah for parents supporting their 19 year old!) but we got it for $10. No clue what sort of plan we have, though. I’m happy with it. But then, I’d be happy with any phone that:

    1. Makes phone calls.
    2. Has an address book.
    3. Has a clock on the outside
    4. BONUS: Allows me to upload sound clips to use as ring tones (I have a clip from an audiobook version of Jingo that goes “Bingely Bingely Beep!” and the Disney “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates life for me!” song)

    I had a rubbish time getting it to do number four, till Dad figured out a sort of cheat way to do it. But now I feel so very happy when I get a call (Before the custom rings, looking at the phone filled me with loathing, because I couldn’t make the phone do what I wanted it to do).

  23. Jessica says:

    I just got a new phone and for the first time my service provider told me about discounts. (This is for Verizon) If you work for the state you get a substantial discount on your bill (Illinois is 18% per month, Indiana 15%, etc. Chase employees get a discount. So it never hurts to ask about the overall bill discount. I can’t believe I didn’t know this for 4 years of being a customer there but I am glad I do now.

  24. m360 says:

    I had a kyocera slider for almost 3 years. about a year ago it would freeze and I would have to remove the battery but it snapped out of it. You almost cant kill that phone, it’s extremly durable. I hope you like your Razr, I’m so sorry I switched. Don’t plug it in next to your clock radio @ night. Even if the radio isn’t on you might just get some interference that will scare the crap out of you. It certainly is a nice, sleek phone but it’t got it’s problems although they all do.

  25. viola says:

    About the rebate, carefully follow the terms and keep copies of what you send in. For every cell phone I’ve ever tried to get a rebate on, I’ve had to resend the rebate at least 1 time after receiving a “your rebate has been rejected” notice and calling the company to tell them that I did indeed meet the terms of the rebate & they said, “Oh sorry about that, just resend it.” This of course buys them another 6-8 weeks of keeping the $30.

  26. David says:

    I am switching carriers and I went to Costco to find out what they provide. They will waive activation fees, provide you with 3 free accessories and (depending on which one) give you a phone for free. All rebates are instant so you don’t have to fill out forms or mail anything.

  27. Louise says:

    As much as I read about saving money and shopping around and researching before one spends a dime, I have yet to find any plan that works better than amazon.com. They offer dozens of phones for as far as I can tell every major service provider for free (well, ok actually 1 cent per phone) not including rebates. If you (a) don’t mind paying for a phone and hoping for the rebate to come through and allow you to break even or (b) don’t mind paying around $50 including possible rebates, you can get just about any phone sold on amazon. It is truly amazing to me that people bother going to the store and haggling over ridiculous prices, ending up with “deals” that still aren’t as good as what amazon offers flat out. Also, all necessary accessories (wall charger, car charger, handsfree thing) have been included for free with all phones I’ve purchased through amazon.

    The potential drawbacks of purchasing cell phones this way are :
    1. I suspect people who live in Iowa could have some trouble since they have special 1-year contracts with wireless providers. I’m sure amazon has details online but I never needed to purchase a phone from Iowa so I can’t tell for certain if there are problems and what they might be.

    2. When you get a new phone with a new phone number, it is just assigned. If you go into the store you have some options about your phone number.

    3. You can’t get the activation fee waived. I don’t actually think this is a financial drawback though, because the 1-cent phone and the rebates more than cover the activation fee, in my experience.

    4.Depending on service provider, you have to contact them to ask for insurance. Again, this isn’t actually a drawback either because we all know cell phone insurance is a scam, right?

    And because someone mentioned locked phones, t-mobile will unlock a phone after you have had it for 2 weeks
    (or 30 days, depending on your state). at&t will unlock your phone as soon as you are out of contract, so be sure to get your phone unlocked before canceling your service. I do not have experience with unlocking other providers’ phones, but at the very least they should unlock them once your contract runs out.

    Okay, that’s about all I know about buying cell phones and wireless plans.

    but p.s. trent, the only reason I can think of to go for more than two years (or one, since you’re in iowa and contracts there are different) is if you are severely opposed to wireless contracts. You don’t have to look far or hard to find a cheap-to-free phone with a renewed contract. While using the same phone for four years is good in the environmental sense, you do realize that it isn’t saving you any money, right?

  28. Joanna says:

    Regarding the car charger – I live in Ann Arbor and we have a great reuse center. I’ve bought 3 chargers for my phone to use at home, at the office and in my car for a grand total of $1.50. You can’t beat that price!

  29. jon says:

    the razr is one of the most popular worst phones ever in terms of problems/battery anything, motorola is horrible in general. anyhow that phone is like aged and aged and you shouldn’t have had to pay anything for the phone its given free in most 3rd party dealers (unless you have verizon)

    plus you can buy chargers on ebay for as cheap as people have said

    bad choice overall

  30. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I have had nothing but good experience thus far with my RAZR. It’s lasted for literally 10 days between charges, I can text message with aplomb, and I’ve had no problems at all with it.

  31. I’m just about to renegotiate a new cell phone, but living over the pond in the UK, we have some of the highest call charges in the world. Thanks for your tips and advice, whilst they were designed for the american market I have found some of the points raised quite useful from my perspective

  32. Zahir says:

    May I just ask, what are those 2 fees that were waived?

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