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Finding new ways to trim your cell phone expenses

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Worried about how much it costs every time you reach out and touch someone ... on your cell phone?

Many people look to these costs as a way to trim spending when times are tough. If you're shopping for a new plan, analyze your calling, texting and data-download patterns.

Billshrink.com can help you estimate your usage. Or, if you're willing, you may enter your mobile number and online account password for more detailed results, including a breakdown of the most popular carriers among your frequently dialed numbers.

Then try to pick a plan that meets those needs. Is your phone a stand-in for long-distance service, or is everyone in your contacts list local? You could decide against a nationwide plan. If most of your friends and relatives use a specific provider, you might switch to take advantage of free in-network calling.

Also, do you text-message enough to warrant an unlimited plan, or would it be worth your while to pay for them a la carte? You could also lower your text-message charges by sending them through your computer, using the chat functions of Google Talk or Gmail.

And watch those extra charges. Program free directory assistance numbers into your phone, such as advertising-supported 800-FREE-411. TellMe, 800-555-TELL provides only business numbers but also news and stock quotes, as well as directions - a good stand-in for a monthly GPS service.

Whether you're shopping around or you've been a loyal customer for years, don't be afraid to ask for a discount. See whether your employer qualifies, or if you're eligible for a family discount, or even if there are calling plans that cost less than the ones advertised.

Finally, if you want a cell phone only in case of emergencies, consider a prepaid phone so you aren't committed to paying for it when you don't need it.

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