Here at DiYiT we don’t spend a whole lot of our time telling you how to spend or save your money. You can get plenty of financial advice browsing other corners of the web or by watching Suze Orman berate the people who call in to her oddly mesmerizing TV show. We do try to highlight free and low-cost tech products and software whenever possible because we’re well aware that most grad students eke out an existence at an earnings level just north of the poverty line. In this case, I wanted to describe a way for you to save some money on a piece of technology you almost certainly already own, your cell phone.
You may already know, or won’t be shocked to learn, that big companies negotiate lower cell phone rates for their employees with the mobile service providers. However, you might not have realized that these discounts extend beyond company-issued phones. They often apply to personal lines as well. In addition, unlike most deals that apply to cell phones, they can be applied at any time. You don’t need to wait until you are buying a new phone or signing a new two-year contract with a service provider.
Of course the discounts and programs vary between the service providers. Most offer a discount off of the base phone service portion of your bill, before the extras like data and text messages. This is usually something in the range of 10% to 15%. Most of the plans also include specials on new equipment and better deals for renewing your service. AT&T’s corporate discount program also seems to connect you to a separate and, presumably, more capable sales and customer service team. From just exploring their websites, I can’t quite tell what specific features each of the other companies offer.
You can find out if your university offers such discounts by following the links below to the service provider’s eligibility lookups. For Sprint and AT&T, you simply need to enter your email and they will tell you whether or not your institution participates. I did a test with these two pages using sample emails from half a dozen educational institutions. All of them came up eligible under the AT&T search, and half of them did on the Sprint search. Version requires considerably more personal information up front in order to check for eligibility so I could not include them in the test. And, unfortunately, I could not even find a page on T-Mobile’s website that offers this type of check.
You can also check with your school. The Human Resources department would know all the details of any deals the institution offers. They may also have the contact info for a specific representative at the service provider who handles the school’s account. I found all that info buried deep in the HR section of the UCD website and it was quite helpful when I talked to the rep.
Finally, be sure not to shortchange yourself when it comes to getting a discount. Many colleges offer student discounts as well as greater savings for staff. Keep in mind that normal companies don’t use the narrow definition of “staff” that colleges and universities do. To a company like AT&T or Verizon, a staff person is simply a person who works at the institution. And, more than likely, you work at your institution. Being a researcher, teaching assistant, or reader is a real job. You should get real benefits for it. I specifically told our AT&T rep that I was a graduate student who worked as a researcher and a teaching assistant and they were more than happy to give me the full staff discount.
Here are the eligibility check URLs for AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint
Once you are saving a bit on your cell phone bill, consider upgrading to a full-featured smart phone if you haven’t already. I really cannot understate their utility. But that’s a subject for a whole different post.