Every month I attempt to reconcile my budget yet again. And every month my cellphone bill is one of the larger expenses I continue to pay. Needless to say, this can get irksome. Luckily, I've found some absolutely awesome ways to keep this now non-optional expense manageable…and even profitable! While not all of these options may fit your lifestyle and needs, there is a good chance at least one of them will—offering you a fresh chance to save on both equipment and carrier plan fees.

1. Ask if your employer or school participates in a discount plan program

Whether you use your cell phone for work or not, many employees are eligible for discounts on monthly cell phone plans, but most don't know it. The trick is simply to visit the carrier's website and verify whether your employer has any kind of discount plan. Here are the links for some popular carriers—all you need to do is enter your email to find out if you can participate through an employer.

2. Switch to a prepaid phone plan

If you regularly find you don't use up all of your plan minutes, or you regularly overuse your minutes but the next plan up offers far more than what you need, you may be a prime candidate for a prepaid phone plan. You could save by paying as you go and reloading only what you need. Here are some links for popular prepaid carriers.

  • T-Mobile: For individuals and families (up to four lines). Prepaid plans start at $40/month.
  • Virgin Mobile: Prepaid plans start at $20/month.
  • Net 10: For individuals and families (up to four lines). Prepaid plans start at $20.
  • TracFone: Prepaid plans start at $9.99/month. Some plans offer "double minutes."
  • Cricket: Prepaid plans start at $25/month.

3. Don't sign a contract

One lesser-known fact about cell phone companies is that nearly all offer a no-contract option. The catch is, you have to buy the phone at full retail price. But the no-contract plans have advantages that can more than compensate for the higher price of the equipment. For instance, you pay no cancellation fee if you terminate your contract. You can also often get the same plans at a cheaper price with a "no contract" option. And if you’re not married to having the very latest cell phone technology, you could buy a cheaper phone and get a cheaper no-contract plan, saving you big bucks!

4. Buy an unlocked cell phone

When you buy an "unlocked" cell phone, you can then choose any carrier you want for the price that suits your budget. An "unlocked" phone can take SIM cards from multiple carriers, whereas a "locked" phone will only accept a SIM card from one carrier. There are two ways to obtain an unlocked phone.

  • Purchase an unlocked phone: You can shop online for the cheapest prices (here’s an example of an online retailer for unlocked phones) or ask at any phone store to find out if they sell unlocked phones.
  • Ask for the unlock code: Some carriers will provide the unlock code free of charge, while others will charge a fee. The only way to know if your phone can be unlocked and what it may cost (if anything) to get the code is to ask your current carrier.

5. Become your own affiliate carrier

The new breed of cell phone carrier uses affiliate marketing to encourage current customers to sign up friends and family by offering plan discounts. In this scenario, you select a carrier that offers an affiliate program, and for every new customer you bring in, you watch your monthly plan costs decrease. Here’s an example:

  • Solavei: http://www.solavei.com
  • This carrier gives you $5 off your monthly bill for each new customer you recruit.
  • As you continue to earn, you can bank your earnings with the Solavei card, and use the balance for anything you like (it functions just like a normal debit card).
  • Even if you currently are locked into a phone contract, you can still sign up for Solavei Social and begin earning affiliate income until your current contract ends and you can switch carriers.