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Nick | Edited by Steve N

Updated Weekly

Whether your phone's superglued to your ear or you only use it for the odd call, the chances are you're massively overpaying for the minutes, texts and data that you use.

Getting a new phone can be a big financial decision, particularly if you're committing to a contract. This guide crunches the numbers and talks you through the different options – plus offers handy tips to drive down the cost of your existing mobile deal.

If you're paying more than £10-15/mth, STOP

cutting down mobile costsHow much is your mobile bill each month? If you're paying more than £15/mth, then you need to ask yourself why.

£15/mth is the key benchmark because most of the major networks have what are virtually 'all-you-can-eat' tariffs for that price or less. For example, Three's 4GB Sim-only deal with unlimited minutes comes in at a dirt cheap £9/mth.

It is possible to get cheaper deals if you don't need too much though – see full details of all our top pick tariffs below, including discounted plans for those with certain broadband providers.

In our November 2014 poll almost 25,000 of you told us how much you pay for your mobile. The results were eye-opening – a whopping 78% of those on contracts which factor in the cost of a handset (and 46% overall) shell out more than £15 a month, with an average cost of £27/mth, or £330 a year.

Of course, there are valid reasons why you may be paying more than £15/mth. These include:

  • You're paying off the cost of a handset.
  • Your credit score means you can't get a contract (though there are cheap PAYG deals too).
  • You roam abroad.
  • You're paying more for a really hefty data allowance.

If one of the above applies, then at least there's a reason for your bill being higher – though you still may be able to save.

But if you just settle for the same deal, provider and price each year, then STOP. Mobile tariffs are deflating in price, so if anything you should be paying less each year, not more.

Before you look for a new deal, ask yourself whether you REALLY need a new handset

hand setThe biggest single factor affecting the cost of your new mobile deal is whether or not you'll be paying for a new handset as well. It's important to understand that even if you get a contract tariff where the phone itself is 'free' or relatively cheap, in practice you'll end up paying for it – and generally end up paying MORE for it – through the monthly tariff.

If you already have a decent handset in good nick, you'll get a far cheaper deal if you opt for a Sim-only deal. Here you simply get the Sim card with the tariff, but no handset. (See our top picks below.)

How to find a new handset

If you DO want a new handset, first think about what features you want and will use. A useful site that allows you to compare handsets is GSM Arena. It lists the full specifications for each model so you can see at a glance if it has what you need.

Read reviews online and ask friends and family for advice on which handset might be best for you before you set your heart on any gadget. You might also consider buying a second-hand phone – check websites such as eBay* and Gumtree.

Check your current usage with a free matchmaking tool – then find the right contract

Knowing how much you use your phone and what you use it for is crucial to getting the best plan.

Match free mins, texts and data closely to your usage. If you don't, you'll go over and overpay for calls. Go under and you'll overpay on the package.

Some tariffs offer unlimited options for calls and texts, meaning unlimited calls to UK landlines and mobiles and unlimited texts to UK mobiles – other calls/texts and roaming outside the UK will cost extra. But only the heaviest users would need this amount of allowance.

The easiest way to check your usage is to simply dust off your last three to six months' bills, jot down what you use every month and then work out the average. Or if you ring your provider, it'll usually tell you – you may also be able to check online.

  • The original matchmaker: Stalwart bill-comparison site Billmonitor* compares your previous three months to work out how much you're actually using and recommends tariffs based on this. It works with customers of EE, O2, Tesco Mobile, Three and Vodafone. It's not quite as user-friendly as MobilePhoneChecker (below), though it gives a more detailed bill analysis.

  • Free matchmaking and comparison tool: MobilePhoneChecker* is one of only two Ofcom-accredited mobile comparison tools (along with Billmonitor). It also has a bill reading feature similar to Billmonitor's; it's not as thorough in its analysis, though it works with more networks – the big four (bar Vodafone), BT Mobile, Giffgaff, iD Mobile, TalkMobile, Tesco Mobile and Virgin Mobile.

    Its true strength really lies in the broad range of deals and filter options it on offer – it's easy to use and the most comprehensive we've come across. It's the go-to contract comparison tool as far as we're concerned.

Is it safe to give MobilePhoneChecker and Billmonitor your login details?

  • If you know what you want: Head to MoneySupermarket* where you can specify an allowance of minutes, texts and data and it'll show you the cheapest tariff for that package. Crucially, you can also search by handset and filter by cashback.

Don't forget about cashback. The mobile market is rife with a variety of discount packages, so it's important to understand the difference.

How to claim discounts and beat the cashback trap

Choose the right type of tariff: contract, Sim-only or pay-as-you-go

The number of different mobile tariffs on the market can be baffling – there are thousands of different combinations and it can be tricky to compare them on a like-for-like basis.

There are three different types of tariffs to choose from. Here's how they stack up:

Contract with handset – best for heavy users and spreading the cost

Pay monthly

With a traditional mobile phone contract you pay a monthly fee and get a handset plus an inclusive bundle with a certain allowance of minutes, texts and data.

  • Handset price is spread out – but it costs you more in the long term

  • Often better for heavy users, especially on calls and texts

  • You'll be locked in for 12, 18 or 24 months

  • No risk of running out of credit

Sim-only contract – if you've got a handset you like and want flexibility

Sim only

There are two types of Sim-only deals – 30-day rolling contracts which you are free to leave each month, or fixed term contracts, usually lasting 12 months.

  • Good if you have a handset or can afford to buy one upfront
  • Rolling 30-day contracts offer maximum flexibility
  • Often good for heavy data users

PAYG – no ties and never go over your allowance

Pay as you go

If you pay for your mobile via pay-as-you-go, you won't be tied into any contract – simply pay in advance for what you use via top-ups, online or on the phone.

  • PAYG doesn't require any credit check

  • Easier to budget

  • Generally more expensive for medium or heavy users

Swanky smartphones are NEVER MoneySaving, but if you get one, get it cheaply

smart phoneSadly, there's no way round this one – a shiny high-spec smartphone just isn't MoneySaving. But if you absolutely must get your mitts on one, it's possible to pay less and avoid being locked into a long contract if you do it right.

The cheapest way to get a new iPhone 6s or Samsung S7 is usually to buy the handset upfront, then get a separate Sim-only deal – but not everyone can afford to do this. If you can't pay upfront, then perhaps think about switching down to a cheaper model, waiting and saving up for it.

If you're going to get one anyway though, check our top picks on tariffs – plus comparison tools and useful tips and tricks – in Cheap iPhones and Cheap Samsungs.

Many providers allow early upgrades

If you're happy to stick with your current provider, then it's often possible to upgrade your handset before your current contract comes to an end.

Don't forget the cheapest deals usually come from switching provider, but if you're willing to haggle this info might be useful. The following table sets out the major providers' early upgrade policies.

How early can you upgrade?
Provider Early upgrade policy
EE (incl T-Mobile and Orange) Switch to a new phone and plan up to 45 days before your contract ends.
O2 O2 Refresh splits your monthly statement into a cost for the handset and cost for your allowance. You can pay off the handset part of your contract whenever you want and upgrade without also having to pay off the 'allowance' segment – you'll just continue paying it alongside the 'new device segment of the bill.
Vodafone Upgrade up to 30 days before your contract ends.
Three Upgrade up to 30 days before your contract ends.
Tesco Mobile The same system as O2 Refresh above.
Virgin Mobile No official policy on early upgrades. Its Freestyle Contracts allow you to pay off the handset and buy a new phone to use with your existing airtime contract.

Happy with your handset? Haggle down the contract costs

If you don't want to switch, and are near or past your contract's end, you're wielding a powerful weapon... your loyalty. When approaching the end of your contract, make sure you demand the very best deal possible – not just of your network, but of any out there.

The mobile world's a mature market. Everyone has a handset, so networks fight hard to win custom from elsewhere AND keep their own. If your provider won't give you a good enough deal, let it know. The aim's to get through to 'customer disconnections', which internally is often called 'retentions' as its job is to keep you. Watch Martin show Mrs MSE how to do it, with real chutzpah!

We know this method works, as you regularly tell us it does. Forumite elfy1807 says: "My contract with Orange was up and I asked them what they could do for me. I turned down two offers until I got £16/mth, 1.5GB data, unltd texts and 2,000 mins – a saving of £36/mth, that's £432/yr."

Full help on how to do this in our Haggle Down Your Mobile Bill guide.

4G gives you superfast internet – but beware of it sucking up your allowance

cutting down mobile costsNetworks claim that 4G is up to 5x faster than 3G, though Ofcom-estimates suggest that in practice downloads are only twice as fast, compared to uploads which were more than 8x quicker. The regulator also says 4G and 3G performance differs between networks, with some outperforming others.

Some operators charge more for 4G tariffs, and even if they don't, you're likely to use more data if you're on one.

So think about where you use your phone. If you're out and about a lot and will benefit from a faster connection, it may be worth it. If you mainly use it at home and work and you're able to connect to Wi-Fi there, then that often beats 4G anyway.

To get 4G you'll need a handset that's capable of getting it (many launched in the last two years can).

Happy with your handset? Take your pick of the top Sim-only deals

If you're happy with your mobile handset or are buying one upfront, then it's well worth looking at Sim-only deals as they generally offer a cheaper alternative.

Unless you're already with a Sim-only tariff provider, you'll probably need to get your phone unlocked (though Giffgaff will work if your phone is locked to O2). Our Mobile Unlocking guide has full help. Also see our PAYG top picks, including Giffgaff bundles and options for low users or those concerned about being credit-scored.


Unltd mins, 4GB (4G): £9/mth*


Three now offers two different types of Sim-only tariffs – 'Advanced' and 'Essential'. Advanced plans give you free roaming in 42 countries and tethering (see below), whereas its stripped-down Essential plans don't provide either, but are some of the cheapest around.

This Essential plan* gives unlimited minutes and texts and 4GB of 4G data for £9/mth over 12 months. This is a stonking almost 'all-you-can-eat' deal from one of the major networks, given for the vast majority 4GB is plenty.

It's available to new and existing customers who are out of contract, along with a range of other one-month and 12-month Essential Sim-only plans*. However, all except one of these offer fewer minutes and less data for the same money.

Know someone already with Three? Get them to refer you and you'll both get a £25 Amazon voucher. See refer a friend for details.

  • 12-month contract.
  • If your minute allowance runs out you'll be charged 35p/min.
  • No free roaming ('Feel at Home'), tethering or free calls to customer service on these plans. See Advanced plans if this is what you need.
  • Three may increase the price annually in line with inflation.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
BT Mobile

Unltd mins, 15GB (4G), £16/mth for BT b'band custs*


Telecoms giant BT* offers three 12-month Sim-only plans. If you're a BT broadband customer, you'll pay £5/mth less for each of the tariffs than everyone else, which makes them among the most competitive around (though BT's broadband prices can often be beaten so it's not worth swapping providers just to get the Sim).

Plus until Thu 27 Oct if you use one of the links below you can claim an Amazon or iTunes voucher.

Here are the options...

  • £5/mth* for BT b'band custs (£10/mth* otherwise). 200 mins, unltd texts, 500MB. £20 vch.

  • £10/mth * for BT b'band custs (£15/mth* otherwise). 500 mins, unltd texts, 2GB. £40 vch.

  • £16/mth* for BT b'band custs (£21/mth* otherwise). Unltd mins and texts, 15GB. £80 vch.

If you stop being a BT broadband customer at any point your monthly mobile tariff will jump by £5.

  • 12-month contract.
  • Runs off the EE network.
  • Calls and texts to UK mobiles and landlines included; 084/087 numbers cost extra.
  • Monthly spending can be capped, from a starting point of £5 over your tariff.
  • Use up your allowance and you'll have to pay 35p/min and 10p/MB. Full costs here.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
iD Mobile

250 mins, 5,000 texts, 2GB (4G): £7.50/mth*


Carphone Warehouse recently launched its own virtual mobile network called iD Mobile*, which runs off Three's network. It's got a huge range of plans – long term, short term, with handset, Sim-only – all on 4G.

Our top pick costs £7.50/mth and comes with 250 minutes, 5,000 texts and 2GB of 4G data for the first 12 months (after this it drops to 1GB a month). It's a one-month capped ('ShockProof') contract meaning you can limit your additional usage (and bill) to no more than £5 over the monthly contract cost.

iD Mobile also provides other plans* – its standard ('Go-To') tariffs allow any unused data to rollover to next month; these tend to be a bit more expensive, however. Its roaming ('Takeaway') plans allow you to use your allowance in 29 countries. Here are a few more of its 'ShockProof' plans:

  • £5/mth*. 250 mins, 5,000 texts, 1GB. Data will drop to 500MB/mth after 12mths.

  • £7.50/mth*. 250 mins, 5,000 texts and 2GB for just £7.50/mth. Data will drop to 1GB/mth after 12mths.

  • £12.50/mth*. 500 mins, 5,000 texts, 6GB. Data will drop to 3GB/mth after 12mths.

  • One-month contract.
  • Runs off the Three network.
  • If you exceed your allowance, it's 10.24p/MB for data, 40p/min for calls to UK mobiles or landlines and 14p per text.
  • Tethering isn't allowed with this network.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.

Unltd mins, 30GB (4G): £24/mth*


Three's 'Advanced' (as opposed to 'Essential') plans let you use your data, text and call allowances in 42 countries at no extra charge, and also let you tether. You can't do either on the Essential plans.

This Advanced plan* gives you unlimited minutes and texts and a whopping 30GB of 4G data for £24/mth over 12 months. It's available to new customers, and to existing customers who are out of contract or want a second line.

If this deal doesn't fit, there are a number of other one-month and 12-month Advanced Sim-only plans* with different data allowances. These are the pick of them...

  • £11/mth. 600 mins, unltd texts, 1GB.

  • £16/mth. 600 mins, unltd texts, 4GB.

  • £33/mth. Unltd mins, unltd texts, unltd data.

Know someone already with Three? Get them to refer you and you'll both get a £25 Amazon voucher. See refer a friend for details.

  • 12-month contract.
  • If your minute allowance runs out you'll be charged 35p/min.
  • Three's 'Feel at Home' lets you use your allowance in 42 countries at no charge on Advanced plans.
  • Three may increase the price annually in line with inflation.
  • Tethering is permitted within your data allowance on Advanced plans (up to a max 30GB/mth).
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.
Life Mobile

1,000 mins, 1.5GB (3G): £5.95/mth*


Life Mobile* (owned by EE) is offering a cracking deal via uSwitch to new and existing customers out of contract.

At £5.95/month (usually £7.45/month) it comes with 1,000 minutes, 5,000 texts and 1.5GB of 3G data – the cheapest we can find for the allowance it gives. It's on a 30-day contract; the network piggybacks on EE's signal.

The company's had mixed feedback in the past, so it's worth being aware of this and doing your own research. It does look like customer service has been improving lately however, and this deal's so competitive – with only a one-month commitment – we think it's worth considering.

It offers a range other plans too, which are also competitive, they're all one-month contracts and 3G-only.

A nice additional feature is the ability to cap your monthly bill to prevent being charged outside your allowance beyond a set amount each month. This is pre-set to £5, but can be changed to between £1 and £30.

  • One-month rolling contract.
  • Runs off the EE network.
  • Additional charges are £1/day (up to 250MB) for data, 40p/min and 15p/text.
  • You won't be able to use your phone abroad unless you activate roaming.
  • Tethering is permitted.
  • You'll be credit-checked – see our Credit Scores guide.

In some cases it can actually be cheaper to get a 30% APR loan than a handset on contract

If you don't have the readies to pay upfront for a handset, think long and hard before tying yourself into a lengthy contract instead – even if it offers you the phone 'free' or at a much-reduced upfront cost. Not only will the cost of the handset be wrapped up in the monthly tariff, you'll nearly always be paying a significant amount extra over the course of the contract.

When we crunched the numbers in May we calculated that in some cases it'd actually be cheaper to buy a handset direct with a 30% APR two-year loan (typical contract length) than take a contract. (Of course, we're not suggesting you do that.)

We worked out how much extra users would pay with six of the UK's biggest mobile providers if they were to get a 16GB iPhone 6s or a Samsung Galaxy S7 on a two-year contract, as opposed to buying the handset directly and taking out the same network's equivalent Sim-only deal.

The table below displays the 'effective APR', which is the interest rate you could afford to pay on a loan to buy the handset upfront plus get the equivalent Sim-only plan on the same network and it STILL be cheaper than taking out a similar contract deal from each network.

'Effective APR' of popular phones
Network iPhone 6s (16GB) Samsung Galaxy S7
Vodafone 15.6% Cheaper on contract
EE (incl T-Mobile & Orange) 34% 13%
O2 21% 8.5%
Virgin Mobile (1) 26% 13%
Three 19% 1.5%
Tesco Mobile 7.7% 4.7%
(1) New Virgin Media customers. Figures rounded to the nearest %. Table correct as of 25 May 2016.

Mobile providers say that a contract isn't a loan (so they don't usually display an APR) but effectively it is one as you're credit-checked. Even if a network offers you a deal where you can pay the cost of the handset and your tariff off separately you're likely to be paying a premium.

Quick question:

Could I get the handset on a 0% credit card instead?

Top PAYG deals – for low users or to avoid being credit-checked

cutting down mobile costsIf you're a very low user, can't pass a credit score or just want to be totally in control of how much you spend, then opting for a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) deal might be a good option.

Why does my credit score matter? When you apply for a mobile contract (including Sim-only contracts) you're usually credit scored (because the company is spreading the cost of the handset over the contract, so for the firm, it's effectively a loan). If your credit history's poor then there's a chance you will be rejected and won't get a contract.

If this happens, don't despair – you still have options. You can choose between Giffgaff (which doesn't credit score you because you're technically prepaying rather than signing up for a contract) or another PAYG provider. Alternatively you could always try boosting your credit score.


Tiered bundles incl 500 mins, 1GB (4G): £10/mth*


Sim-only provider Giffgaff* offers PAYG bundles called Goodybags, which start from £5/mth and go all the way up to £20/mth. All its Goodybags now give 4G data

Here's a summary of its bundles (view full info*). All include unlimited Giffgaff-to-Giffgaff calls and texts. The cheapest bundles have very low allowances, so make sure it's enough before you buy.

  • £5/mth Goodybag. 125 mins, 500 texts, 100MB data.

  • £7.50/mth Goodybag. 250 mins, unlimited texts, 500MB data.

  • £10/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 1GB data.

  • £10/mth Goodybag. 100 mins, unlimited texts, 2GB data.

  • £12/mth Goodybag. 500 mins, unlimited texts, 2GB data.

  • £15/mth Goodybag. 1,000 mins, unlimited texts, 4GB data.

  • £18/mth Goodybag. 2,000 mins, unlimited texts, 6GB data.

  • £20/mth Goodybag. Unlimited mins, unlimited texts, "Always On" data.

With "Always On" data you'll get the first 6GB at 4G speeds, after which you'll be put on a restricted speed of 256kbps (around 1/24th the speed of 3G) between 8am and midnight everyday until your Goodybag expires.

If you do run out of minutes or data you can purchase another Goodybag if you don't want to wait until your current one expires. Note though – if you do this, you'll lose any remaining allowance you had on the existing Goodybag.

  • Buy bundles on a 30-day rolling basis.
  • Runs off the O2 network.
  • Out-of-allowance charges are 15p/min and 5p/text and 5p/MB, after the Goodybag ends it's 5p/MB.
  • No credit check.
  • You won't be able to go over your allowance without buying another Goodybag (unless you have credit).

Pay-as-you-go: 3p/min, 2p/text, 1p/MB (4G)*


The 321 tariff from Three* does just what it says on the tin – it's a simple and cheap tariff, charging on a purely pay-as-you-go basis. It's a cracking deal for occasional mobile users, by far the cheapest PAYG rate on the market.

It's a Sim-only deal, so you'll need an unlocked or Three handset to put the Sim into. It'll only work in 3G-compatible handsets, so much older non-smartphones are a no no.

How much is it? Top up online with £5 minimum (£10 in store) and it costs 3p/min for calls, 2p/text and 1p/MB for data (though the first 150MB after each top-up is free).

You'll lose credit after six months if you don't use it – but use your phone occasionally and it'll stay on permanently.

Can I add extras? If you want extras, such as 500MB data bundle, you can add these whenever you need to (see the Three website for info).

There are a range of other PAYG providers to choose from. Here are their pay-as-you-go rates:

PAYG rates compared
Three* Asda Mobile Giffgaff* EE* O2* Vodafone*
Calls 3p/min 8p/min 15p/min 30p/min 30p/min 30p/min
Texts 2p/text 4p/text 5p/text 12p/text 14p/text 14p/text
Data 1p/MB (4G) 5p/MB (3G)

5p/MB (4G)

N/A1(4G) £1/day2 (4G)

£2/day3 (4G)

1. Cannot pay for data as you go, must buy a data add-on/pack. 2. Up to 50MB/day. 3. For the first 50MB, 10p/MB thereafter.

The following table shows what you'll get from each on a £10 bundle, which gives better value than paying as you go. They're more like Sim-only plans in that you get a fixed allowance each month, the difference being you'll still have to top up if you want to use more or buy another bundle.

£10 PAYG bundles compared
Giffgaff* Asda Mobile EE* Vodafone* Three (incl roaming) O2*
Calls 500 mins 600 mins 150 mins 150 mins 100 mins 250 mins
Texts Unltd texts Unltd texts Unltd texts Unltd texts 3,000 texts 1,000 texts
Data 1GB (4G) 1.5GB (3G) 500MB (4G) 500MB (4G) 1GB (4G) 500MB (4G)

Get a 'granny in a glovebox' – grab a cheap emergency phone

emergancy phoneA 'granny in a glovebox phone is great to stash in your car as an emergency second mobile, to give to your kids or if you only need to use a phone very occasionally.

One of the cheapest we've found is the unlocked Nokia 105 from Carphone Warehouse for £24.99. Since it's unlocked, you can pick up a PAYG Sim from any network – bear in mind though that Three Sim cards won't work with it as it's a 2G (older, non-smartphone) handset.

If you're after a phone with web access or you're planning on going with EE, one example of a cheap smartphone is the Alcatel Pixi 3 (3.5) from Carphone Warehouse for £19.99 (+£10 top-up).

Mapping tool shows mobile signal strength – check before you commit to a contract

The major providers all have maps indicating what coverage they offer. But telecoms regulator Ofcom has its own Telecoms Coverage Checker which goes beyond what the networks' own tools do.

Before committing to a contract, check signal strength in the places you use your phone most, eg, at home and at work. Having no coverage isn't sufficient grounds to return your phone (though normal consumer rights do apply), so it's your responsibility to check.

How good is the tool?

How do I use it?

What are my rights if I'm unhappy with my mobile coverage?

It very much depends. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, if you ordered online or over the phone you can cancel your mobile contract up to 14 days after you sign up (30 days if with Vodafone), for any reason. But if you buy in store or a problem arises after that, it can be tricky – see more on what you can do.

Networks can increase costs by inflation if they warn you first

If there's a warning in your T&Cs about mid-contract price hikes in line with inflation, then firms are permitted to do this under the regulator's rules. Of the major networks, EE, O2, Three, Virgin Mobile and now Vodafone do this.

For those firms that do, adjustments are made in line with figures published in February each year (March for Vodafone) based on the Retail Prices Index – a measure of inflation. It was announced in February that most EE and O2 pay-monthly customers would see a 1.3% increase in their bills from 30 March 2016 – see the EE and O2 March price rise MSE News story for full details.

You're protected against other types of mid-contract price increases though – see below for more.

Lock your Sim AND your handset – or risk losing £1,000s if it's nicked

Most instinctively lock their smartphones these days. Yet even if your handset is locked, if someone steals it there's nothing to stop them removing your Sim and using it in another phone. Some have had £1,000s racked up on their bills after their (locked) phones were stolen.

To prevent this, you can lock your Sim with a four-digit PIN, so whenever it's put into a new handset (or in some cases, such as with iPhones, when the phone it's in is restarted) service won't be available until it's unlocked.

Lock your Sim

You can find instructions online for locking your Sim on an iPhone, Android phone (may vary by handset) or Windows Phone. Your Sim may already have a default PIN (even if it's not activated) which you'll need to enter to change it – contact your network for this.

Note: if you incorrectly enter your PIN three times you may need a Personal Unblocking Key (PUK) code to enable your Sim again. You should be able to get this from your network.

Lock your handset

As we said, most do this already. If not though it's vital you do – you don't want those with light fingers getting access to your personal data and other sensitive info.

See screen-locking instructions for iOS, Android (again, this may vary by handset) and Windows Phone.

If your phone's stolen... report it to the police and let your network know as soon as possible. This is important to prevent unauthorised use of your service, and may also be critical for insurance claims.

Make sure you've the right size Sim

Sim cards come in three sizes – standard, micro and nano – and which one you'll need depends on your handset. All iPhone models from the iPhone 5 onwards use a nano Sim, as do some of the latest Android phones such as the Samsung S7.

Many other Android phones, including the Samsung S5, Note 4 and Windows phones, take micro Sims, which are slightly larger than nano Sims. The iPhone 4 and 4S also take micro Sims.

Standard-size Sims haven't been used in smartphones for the past few years and not many take them anymore. If you're upgrading to a newer handset, most networks can very easily swap your Sim card for the right one if you ask.

Consider the contract length – don't end up in a two-year 'relationship' you can't afford

If you sign up for a contract you're essentially committing to a phone company (and often a handset too) for the length of the contract.

This means you must think carefully about your budget and if you can afford the ongoing monthly payments. The amount of time varies between deals – a few last 12 months, but most high-end smartphone contracts now span 24 months.

Before you sign up to a contract make sure you're happy to be locked in for the minimum term. If you want to leave early then it's likely you'll have to pay termination fees which cover the cost of the contract.

Some providers have started to offer tariffs which make it easier for customers to upgrade early. (See below for full details.)

Always calculate the contract's total cost

Whether you're taking out a 12-month or 24-month contract you should always look at how the total cost compares. You can do this by multiplying the monthly cost by the length of the contract, then adding in the upfront cost.

For example, let's say there's an upfront cost of £39, plus a monthly charge of £15 multiplied by 18 months. The total cost of the contract would equal £309.

Don't ditch your digits! Get a PAC to keep your number when you switch

Transferring – or 'porting' – your old mobile number is easy when you switch phone provider. All you need to do is get your PAC (porting authorisation code) from your existing provider, then give it to your new one.

Most networks will ask you to request a switch of number before you start using your new phone, but some will still do it after the new contract is set up. It usually only takes a couple of days.

Trick for existing EE and Vodafone customers to keep their number

If you take out a deal on your existing network that's intended for new customers and isn't specifically an upgrade (EE and Vodafone tend to run deals like this) you won't be able to keep your old number as you can't technically port it within the same network. When you terminate the old contract you'll lose it.

The only way to get a new customer deal and keep your number would be to get yourself a free pay-as-you-go Sim from a different network, port your existing number across to it, then port the number again to the new contract once it's been set up. It sounds complicated but in reality wouldn't take more than week to get it moved back and forth.

Alternatively, if you're out of contract you could always just call up your network and say you want to move to the new customer deal – if they say no, just threaten to leave (and do the trick above if they still won't budge).

Recycle your old handset and earn £100s

If you're getting a new handset, recycle the old one and you could earn £100s, depending on the make, model and condition of the phone.

There are a raft of companies willing to recycle your phone for cash, yet be warned – the differences in what they'll offer are huge. At the time of writing, for example, a 16GB iPhone 6 could fetch anything from £200 to £260.

To help, use our unique MobileValuer tool – it instantly tells you what each of the main mobile recycling sites will pay. You can get up to £400 for some handsets. Of course others are virtually worthless, but it's worth a quick try.

Once you agree to sell, most companies send you a freepost bag for your phone. You post it, then they give you the cash.

These sites are all about instant prices though. If you're prepared to put in a little more effort and flog your handset on eBay, you can often beat their prices. See our full 30+ eBay Selling Tricks guide for more info.

'Piggybacking' means you do have a choice of mobile provider – even if you can only get signal with one network

If you live somewhere with rubbish phone signal and you can only get coverage on one or two networks, fear not. You may assume your choice of provider is limited – but switching to a 'piggyback' deal can allow you to cut bills without your signal dropping.

There are only four UK networks – EE, Vodafone, Three and O2. All the others piggyback on and buy space from one of these four. For example, Tesco and Giffgaff are on O2, Asda is on EE and TalkMobile is on Vodafone.

You're still using the same network as the larger company so the reliability's the same, but it's normally cheaper or you get more for your money. There are lots of piggybackers to choose from – see our full mobile piggybacking guide & list to see which you can move to, paying less with the same signal.

Don't sign on the dotted line until you've used our 'before you buy' checklist

Signing up to a new mobile deal, especially if it's a contract that locks you in, is a big commitment. Most contracts lock you in for 24 months, which means you won't be able to get out of paying for it during this time. That's why we've come up with six MUST-CHECK points to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

  • Check coverage. Ofcom's Mobile Coverage Checker lets you see how strong a signal you should expect for calls/texts and data on each network across the country. It's well worth checking before signing up.
  • Don't forget about credit checks. If you have a poor credit history then there's a chance you could be rejected for a contract. When you apply for a mobile contract the provider will check your score to see how reliable you are at paying bills on time. Before applying, check your credit score, and if necessary see our tips for boosting your credit score.
  • Consider the contract length and its total cost. Do the maths to make sure you're getting a good deal.
  • Do you need mobile phone insurance? Depending on the cost of replacing your handset it might be worth getting mobile phone insurance. See our Cheap Mobile Insurance guide for full info.
  • Keep your number when you switch. It's easy to keep your number but you'll need to get your PAC code.

Know how to unlock your phone so you have maximum choice of provider

Unlocking your phone means you can use any network's Sim, which gives you the freedom to switch providers and hopefully cut your mobile phone bill.

Some handsets are unlocked when you buy them – usually if you purchase them directly from the manufacturer (as with iPhones, for example). But if you got your handset from a network it will often be 'locked' to that specific provider.

You may be able to unlock your phone for free, depending on your network and the type of handset you have. If you can't then the networks may charge you to do it – prices vary but it typically costs between £9 and £20. See our Mobile Phone Unlocking guide for full details.

Decide whether you need mobile phone insurance – and if you do, get it from as little as £65/year

The best mobile phones no longer just make calls. They're our diaries, contact books, cameras, games consoles and more – so lose it, break it or have it nicked and there can be tears.

Insurers play on this fear with hefty prices and unnecessary cover. Yet you can get cheap smartphone and iPhone insurance from £65/year.

But do you really need insurance? Deciding whether to get a policy comes down to the fact that you know yourself better than insurers will.

  • How likely are you to lose or damage your phone? If your mobile's been permanently attached to your hand and you haven't broken or lost it in the last 10 years, the chances you'll lose or break it in the future are slim. If you have smashed or misplaced a phone in the past, however, it might be worth considering. It's important to know yourself, then you can play the odds.

  • Are you worried about mobile phone theft? Theft of mobile phones is falling, according to a Home Office report – but these numbers are often questioned because it's believed a high proportion of mobile theft is never reported. If you live in a crime hotspot then insuring your phone for theft might be a good idea.

If you decide that insurance is for you, don't just get what is offered by your network provider, think about a specialist insurer, self-insuring and/or covering your phone on your home insurance or a package bank account. Full info and best buys in Cheap Mobile Phone Insurance.

Beware of exceeding your data allowance – it could add £60/yr to your bill

If you use up your data allowance before the end of each month it could end up costing you. The majority of networks will ask you to pay an extra chunk of cash if you want to extend your allowance. This could add £60 (or more) to your annual mobile bill.

There are a number of ways to avoid this:

  • Use Wi-Fi whenever possible – see below for how to do this.
  • If you really need more then speak to your network about upping your allowance – this may cost but it'll be cheaper than exceeding your limit and you can try to haggle.
  • Make sure any apps you use aren't eating up your allowance.

Be sure you understand what 'unlimited' includes

Many mobile contract and Sim-only deals offer 'unlimited' minutes, texts or data, but it's important to understand what that actually covers.

Unlimited minutes are to UK landlines and mobiles, and unlimited texts to UK mobiles – other calls/texts and roaming outside the UK may cost more. Always make sure you know exactly what's covered and what you'll have to pay extra for.

Similarly some networks place 'fair usage' caps on their 'unlimited' tariffs, (confusingly) limiting the allowance you actually get. Where a provider does this on a plan we write about we'll say so, but it's worth checking yourself before signing up.

Use free Wi-Fi spots to save on data costs

If you've a smartphone, you may find you can keep costs down by taking a smaller data plan and using free Wi-Fi while you're out and about.

mobile wifi

There are Wi-Fi hotspots dotted all over the UK (and abroad), many of which are free. McDonald's, Starbucks and Wetherspoons and Walkabout pubs all offer free wireless internet. It's also worth checking My Hotspots (UK-only, quite limited).

Find out more about free Wi-Fi hotspots and how to save on mobile data costs in the Free Wi-Fi and Mobile Broadband guides.

Avoid roaming charges – don't get hit with a huge holiday bill

mobile holiday billHead abroad and your mobile provider may hike prices massively, and even charge for receiving calls as well. Yet you can substantially cut the cost by using networks' hidden deals or by getting a specialist Sim card to use overseas.

Get more info on the cost of using your phone abroad and the various specialist Sims available in the Mobile Roaming guide.

Cut the cost of calling abroad – or do it for free

free holiday callsCalling someone overseas from your mobile often costs big bucks, yet it doesn't have to be that way. Making free internet phone calls (VoIP) sounds complicated, but it's very easy, especially if you have a smartphone.

Our guide to Free Web Calls has details on apps that let you call for nowt, how to make free calls from your computer and the best way to call friends who don't use VoIP.

Alternatively, if you want to call a foreign mobile or landline number, it's possible to do this for next to nothing – see the Cheap International Calls guide.

If your phone is faulty, then it's the responsibility of the retailer to fix it

All the usual consumer rights apply when you buy a mobile phone. The phone must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. (See the Consumer Rights guide for more.)

Remember here, the responsibility lies with the retailer, not the manufacturer. So if you discover a problem after buying a new phone, it's the retailer who must sort the problem for you.

If the fault is minor, it's reasonable to accept a repair. If not, you're entitled to a refund, although the retailer can deduct an amount for the use you've already had.

If you think you've been mis-sold your mobile contract then you have rights

mobile wifi

If you think you've been mis-sold, either by the mobile phone company or by a company selling on its behalf, you need to know your rights. Your first action should be to inform the provider and follow its complaints procedure. Or, use free complaints-handling company Resolver, which will help you with your claim.

After that, if you are still unhappy and feel the issue has not been resolved, Resolver will appeal on your behalf to one of two Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes – Ombudsman Services: Communications and CISAS – which act as middlemen between mobile phone providers and users.

You have rights if your mobile phone provider hikes prices mid-contract

If you're locked into a phone contract and your provider decides to hike prices, then you may be able to get out of the deal without paying a penalty.

Over the past few years mobile phone firms have started introducing annual price hikes, usually in line with inflation (see above), which affect customers who are mid-contract. This used to mean the price of your contract would rise and there was nothing you could do about it.

However, in January 2014 Ofcom changed the rules around mid-contract price rises. It confirmed that anyone with a landline, broadband or mobile contract should be allowed to leave if their provider introduces unilateral mid-contract price rises.

Ofcom said price increases to a recurring monthly subscription are "materially detrimental" to users. Providers now need to give at least 30 days' notice of any such rises and allow users to leave the contract without penalty (see the O2 to hike its prices MSE News story).

These rules apply to any NEW contract taken out after 23 January 2014. Unfortunately they don't apply retrospectively though, so companies can still hike prices for contracts taken out before this date.

If you've switched providers recently, check whether you're owed cash

If you've switched mobile provider within the last six years and still had money remaining in your account when you left then it's possible to claim it back.

Many providers don't automatically refund credit when you leave, so it's worth checking. See our Reclaim Phone Credit guide for full details.