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How to beat mobile phone bill shock

How to make your mobile travels simple and affordable!

Alex Kidman
Sep 11, 2023
Icon Time To Read6 min read

The odds are pretty good that at one time another, you’ve faced your mobile phone bill and felt like weeping. There’s no shame in that; mobile phone costs can be considerable if you’re not careful, and we’re all feeling more of a pinch in our wallets and purses these days.

The good news is that with a little careful planning and consideration, you can make changes to reduce the impact of bill shock and save money along the way. In this guide we’ll explain how to best avoid bill shock when choosing your next mobile plan – or mobile device.

Prepaid or Postpaid: Which plan type is best for saving money?

Mobile plans are typically sold under two billing arrangements, either prepaid or postpaid.

Prepaid is very much like what it sounds. You pay a fee on a regular basis and get an agreed value of access for that time period, but can’t get billed any more than your prepaid amount. Go over your inclusions, and typically you don’t have any more data, calling or texting until your next recharge.

Postpaid plans are pretty much the reverse; you don’t pay upfront, but instead get billed at the end of your service period – typically monthly – for your usage. Here’s a more indepth explainer between the big differences between postpaid and prepaid plans.

Historically that tended to mean that prepaid was your best option for controlling your budget, because you couldn’t go over it. It’s more complex to compare now, however, because the vast majority of both prepaid and postpaid plans offer unlimited calls and texts within Australia, which means that the real comparison point becomes one of data inclusions. 

Data is a theme we’ll come back to a few times in this guide, but to get you started with cheap mobile plans, here’s a range of low-cost prepaid plans in our database with at least 10GB of data included:

By way of comparison, here’s a selection of affordable postpaid plans with at least 10GB of data.

How do I get the best prepaid mobile plan?

Prepaid plans do have the appeal of absolute financial control, because you can’t go over your initial spend. Still, there are factors to consider when comparing prepaid plans and making sure you’re getting the best value for money.

Firstly, consider the recharge period, which is the amount of time your plan will be active for. This can vary anywhere from 7 days to 365 days, but for most folks you’re probably looking at monthly plans on a rolling basis.

The one detail to check here is what that “month” entails, and not just because February is a sneaky shorter month. Some plans operate on a 28 day recharge basis. Why 28 days? It’s because over the course of a year, you’ll have to pay for a full extra recharge compared to a 30 day expiry period. That doesn’t mean that 28 day plans are automatically bad value, but you should do your sums and work out annual costs of plans when comparing.

The next consideration again is data. Yeah, we’re back there again. It’s well worth considering how much mobile data you use on a monthly basis when considering prepaid plans. In most cases if you go over, you’re going to be stuck with no data access until you recharge, which could wipe out any savings you make opting for a cheaper, lower data plan.

Conversely, if your plan has way more data than you use on a monthly basis, you could consider switching to a lower-tier plan – you don’t have to change telcos (or lose your mobile number doing so) to save some serious cash.

Here’s a range of prepaid plans in our database with at least 20GB of data; while that might be higher than some will need, it provides a very solid buffer for most mobile users.

How do I score the best postpaid mobile plan?

Postpaid plans offer more flexibility and often more perks than their prepaid counterparts, but it can be a little tougher to make sure you’re getting the best value out of them.

Data provisions are once again your first port of call. Have a look at your mobile bills or your phone’s inbuilt mobile data counter to get a picture of how much data you’re using on a regular basis. That’s your baseline figure, and it’s often worth giving it a little bit more to ensure that your data keeps flowing.

Then consider the extras on offer, which can seriously affect value, whether that’s included international calls, roaming options, sometimes streaming subscription deals or other perks. Their value is relative to your situation, with some users having serious international calling needs, while for others they’d be much less useful if at all. Basically if it’s got value to you, make it a must-have feature, but don’t pay any extra for it if you’re rarely or never going to use an extra feature.

Here's a selection of postpaid plans sorted by the largest data inclusions in our database:

Your other option here are “unlimited” mobile plans, though that’s a term with some qualifications. Some providers offer “endless” data with speed limiting once you’ve gone through a quantity of full speed data, while others are speed shaped all the time, but with no data cap in mind. Here’s a selection of plans that won’t cut your data pipeline if you’re a really heavy user:

Should I use a big network or an MVNO?

Here in Australia, you’ve got the choice of three mobile phone networks to pick from: Telstra, Optus or TPG/Vodafone.

That doesn’t mean that you only have three mobile phone providers. All three offer their networks up for other companies to use as MVNOs. No, that’s not a fancy word your cousin uses to beat you at Scrabble — for a start that’s an acronym so it doesn’t count — but instead a Mobile Virtual Network Operator.

MVNOs tend to offer slightly cheaper deals than the big networks, but with some reduction in perks and sometimes a slightly smaller coverage map. If you’re a regional or rural dweller that might not be ideal for you, but for the city-dwellers amongst us they can be a fine way to shave a few dollars off your monthly mobile bill. If you’re unsure about mobile phone coverage in your area, we’ve got it comprehensively covered for you here across all three telco networks in Australia. 

Here's a range of affordable MVNO plans for you to pick from:

Is it worth taking up a data sharing plan?

If you’re part of a large family — and especially if you’re the person signing on the dotted line and taking the wallet hit for a lot of mobile plans — it may be worth looking into plans that offer data sharing options.

Data sharing plans generally let you either gift some of your plan’s data to other family members to use as they will, or pool all your data inclusions into one big bundle that everyone draws from on a rolling basis.

This can be a good way to make the most of your data inclusion, as well as to keep data usage within sensible limits, but there are some traps to be aware of. If you’ve got one big data pool and one family member goes nuts with heavy data usage activities such as video streaming, you may find them slurping up all the data before you can have your fair share. Some plans offer controls to limit this, but not all.

There’s a range of telcos that offer different data sharing or family plans including Belong, Telstra, ALDI, Vodafone and Telstra on either postpaid or prepaid terms.

How can I save on international calls?

International mobile phone calls can be prohibitively expensive depending on your calling destination. It’s well worth checking whether your plan includes calling minutes and where they apply to. Plenty of plans do include some level of calling inclusion, but they’re only valuable if they cover the destinations that matter to you. Some providers will offer add-on international calling packs which can be more finely tuned for specific locations, and these may be better value if you’re a heavy caller. Where applicable, using other non-mobile-call voice platforms can also help you save.

Here's a selection of plans with international calling inclusions:

How can I save on international roaming?

By not travelling anywhere … but that’s not much fun, is it?

International roaming fees can quickly stack up if you’re not careful, with data usage a particularly big culprit. That quick YouTube binge while you’re waiting in an airport for your next international transfer could literally cost you hundreds, no matter how cute that cat video was.

Thankfully there are ways to limit your international roaming costs. We’ve detailed them fully in our guide on data roaming plans, but it’s worth considering the options available mostly via postpaid plan providers, with Optus, Telstra and Vodafone all having their own takes on how to manage your international roaming spend.

When is the right time to upgrade my phone?

Most of us keep our mobile phones until they break, and that’s not a bad metric to use of course, but it’s also worth considering whether you should upgrade sooner than that. A much older mobile phone will have considerably less value on the second-hand market, but one that’s also still tied to a mobile phone contract is even less appealing.

This is why it can often be the best financial move to buy a new handset — and this doesn’t have to be a premium model — and work with a SIM-only plan instead of a telco provided model. This grants you full flexibility to switch providers or networks at any time to take advantage of better deals, as well as selling your mobile if a better or more appealing model comes along.

Here's a selection of some of the best value SIM-only postpaid plans with at least 20GB of data in our database:

Alex Kidman
Written by
Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is some kind of word-generating AI from the future that somehow worked out how to sneak back in time to 1998 to start its journalism career. Across that time, including editorial stints at ZDNet, CNET, Gizmodo, PC Mag and Finder, as well as contributions to every major tech masthead, nobody has quite managed to figure out this deeply held secret. Let’s keep it between us, OK?

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