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Costly mobile mistakes and how to avoid them

Learn how to best use the services on your mobile phone… and avoid paying more than you bargained for.

How to avoid mobile phone pitfalls (© Getty Images)

We've all been there. A fat envelope hits the doormat; you flick to the last page; you rub your eyes and re-read; yep, you've been hit by a shockingly high phone bill. Why? Here are some of the most common reasons for high mobile phone charges, and how to avoid them...

Data-heavy dalliances

Unless you have an unlimited data package, be aware of how much you use the internet, email and some apps to avoid using up your data and paying excessively for more.

Emails generally have a low impact on data - they're just words, after all. But receiving large attachments is a different story - high quality images can 'weigh' up to 10MB. Likewise, web-browsing is quite data-light, with many sites offering a mobile-friendly, 'lighter' version. Be careful of sites that are image and design heavy... they'll cost you dearly.

When it comes to media such as video and music, approach with caution: not only will these take a massive chunk out of your monthly data, but - depending on your connection - they could also be a slow, low quality, buffer-fest. The same goes for apps - most will use the internet at some point, so be aware of how much data they are munching up before you get too trigger-'appy.

The solution? Wi-Fi is your friend. Make sure your check for available free networks: there are certain nationwide services that you may even be entitled to (think BT Wi-Fi).

Make your home network your default Wi-Fi connection, and save heavy rich media, images, downloading new apps and that latest cat-based YouTube video until you're safely through the door. Some apps will allow you to make content 'offline' when connected to Wi-Fi (such as music streaming service Spotify) meaning you can access it later without connecting to the internet.

If you're worried about your data usage, monitor it with a data usage app... but make sure you download it over Wi-Fi.

Holiday horrors

Fact: your allowances and bundles don't apply when travelling abroad using a foreign network.

Different networks will charge different amounts for usage abroad (or 'roaming' for those in the know), so make sure you check their website for prices. You can be sure that making calls, sending texts, picking up voicemail and using the internet will all be significantly more expensive than at home: in fact, you'll even be charged a high connection charge, and even a fee for receiving calls abroad.

So how do you avoid astronomical charges? Check with your provider about roaming packages: some offer attractive deals on calls and texts, and can offer limits and discounts on data usage, too. If you don't feel the need for extra packages but still want your phone with you, make sure you only answer your phone if you really need to. In addition, make sure your voicemail service is disabled to avoid being charged a connection fee for messages left (and collected).

Smartphone users should disable 'Data Roaming' (lots of mobile operating systems will do this automatically when arriving in another country, but it's worth checking). You won't be checking your Facebook account in the wilds of Africa or Instagramming pics by the pool, but with data outside Europe costing around £7.50/MB, that status could prove costly.

Look around for the best insurance deals (© Getty Images)

Don't accept the first insurance deal you're offered - look around to find a cheaper deal that still offers enough protection

Disabling roaming altogether will also protect you from data-heavy apps that run in the background, and could charge for pesky push notifications and updates.

Solution... it's wifi again ladies and gents; check with your hotel for free (or cheap) Wi-Fi services and stock up on free communication apps (think Skype, WhatsApp Messenger) to stay connected whilst globe-trotting.

End your tether

Basically, tethering is connecting your phone to a laptop and using it as a mobile modem - sounds sweet, right? Hmm, remember what we just said about data allowances? The same rules apply... heavyweight content such as photos, music and video will still consume plenty of data, bringing you close to your limit or costing a PAYG fortune. You'll be browsing full - rather than mobile - sites meaning a full-fat data-rinsing experience.

Are you (in)sure?

With the price of smartphone handsets rising, you might consider taking out insurance. But don't go straight for the insurance offered by your friendly network salesman - they often come with a raft of slippery get outs and hefty excesses.

There are plenty of insurance specialists that now offer cheaper alternatives with less loopholes (Talkguard and GadgetGuardian). You can also add a "possessions outside of the home" bolt-on to your home contents insurance. But all options come with pretty weighty excesses - will that monthly payment be cheaper than replacing a handset?

The best option of course is keeping hold of your handset - here are some helpful personal safety tips from the Metropolitan Police that'll help.

Non-inclusive nonsense

Your mobile phone package might include hours of free calls - but before you dial, remember that numbers such as those beginning with 0845, 0870 or 0800 (yes even 0800) are rarely included... and cost more from a mobile.
Before a customer-service operator puts you on hold for 20 minutes, think: could you call from a landline?

Get it right first time

Finally, the easiest mistake to make, and hardest to rectify; choose a package that suits your needs.

Don't be wowed by '30,000,000 free picture messages' if you've never sent an MMS in your life. Assess your current phone bills carefully, and look for packages with allowances that match (or are slightly higher than) your current usage. If you call a lot of landlines, or know lots of people on the same network as you, look for deals that include these calls for free - they do exist.

Shop around, don't be afraid to haggle, and get a deal that matches you.

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