When searching for a new phone to buy, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of deals and offers available. With so many providers offering hundreds of contract combinations, getting the best and cheapest deal for you can be a daunting task. However, there are a number of things that are important to keep in mind when shopping for a new phone or contract and can even save you money in the long term.

Consider your data usage

With the way modern technology has progressed, internet access has become one of the most important aspects of owning a phone. Access to mobile broadband has become easier and easier, with many providers offering expensive, unlimited access contracts for heavy data users.

When buying a new phone contract, it’s important to consider how much you use mobile data whilst on the go. This can be integral to saving money when buying and can potentially save you hundreds of pounds over the course of a lengthy contract. If you’ve previously had a contract with mobile data attached, be sure to check out how much you used on average during a month. If you only generally use 2GB of data a month, spending extra on an unlimited contract essentially means you’re wasting money every single month.

Remember, when your phone is connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, you won’t be using data. Therefore, if you use your phone to go online whilst connected to your home broadband but rarely when out of the house, think about how much data you actually need in a month, and buy accordingly.

Check out contract length

Modern smartphones are ever changing, with new models coming out on an annual basis. However, as phone releases have become more frequent, phone contracts have only gotten longer. Many providers aim to keep you tied up to the same contract for years at a time, with expensive penalties for leaving before your contract is up.

As such, it’s important to check how long a contract is before you enter into an agreement. If you’re the sort of person who always wants the latest phone, a lengthy two-year contract might not be the best option, as you’ll have to wait until the majority of it is through before upgrading or switching. O2 offers a service that allows users to upgrade in the middle of a contract at a cost, so consider this if you like your technology cutting edge.

Another downside of long contracts you may not have considered is that you potentially could be paying more than what the phone is worth overall. If you have a top-tier monthly payment of £40, for example, and are paying it off over two years, you’re greatly overpaying when considering the cost of the phone. Buying a phone separately from the contract, whilst seeming expensive at first, can stop this from happening and allows you to pay only what the contract is worth.

Think about SIM only

If you already fully own a phone you’re happy with or are the sort of person who doesn’t care about annual upgrades, going SIM only is something you should seriously consider. Many providers offer SIM-only deals that allow you to pay only for the contract without combining it with the cost of an expensive phone. These deals are perfect for those who already have a phone they are happy with and aren’t bothered with upgrading, as you can keep your phone and just pay for your calls, texts and data, potentially saving you a huge amount of money in the long run.

Other providers offer the option to buy the phone completely at the start of a contract and they pay for the SIM when moving forward. Whilst this can seem expensive at the beginning, if you’re sure about the phone you want and don’t mind paying a fee upfront, it can save you a lot of money. Weighing up the total cost of a contract is important, as a phone + contract deal can often be much more expensive than buying the phone outright and just paying for the tariff thereafter.

Think outside the big names

Whilst big phone networks such as Vodafone and O2 can be enticing with their big data bundles and access to the newest phones available, if you’re looking to save money then you should consider all your options. There are more phone networks available than ever before, all offering varying deals and contracts. Shopping around is essential to saving money on a phone plan, as you’ll often find that a smaller provider will offer the deal you’re looking for at a much lower price than one of its larger competitors.

Providers such as GiffGaff, for example, have risen in popularity in recent years by offering SIM-only contracts that are cheaper than just about any other network. Users can get unlimited texts, calls and data for just £20 a month if they choose SIM only, which would be at least double the amount at a larger, more well-known provider. Doing your research online rather than just relying on what’s on the high street is essential when buying a new phone.

These other providers also use the main four providers' network (O2, Vodaphone, EE and Three), meaning that GiffGaff, Sky Mobile (both O2), iD Mobile (Three), and Talkmobile (Vodaphone) are all just as good options in terms of network coverage as the main four.

Account for usage abroad

When using your phone abroad, roaming charges can hit unsuspecting users with massive bills. Nowadays, there are ways of letting your network know when you are going abroad temporarily, with data plans that even let you use data whilst on holiday. However, if you’re someone who regularly leaves the country for work or other reasons, you might want to consider a specific phone package that takes this into account.

On a standard phone contract, roaming charges will apply and you’ll have to go out of your way to ensure that you don’t rack up a big bill at the end of the month. Whilst a plan that includes roaming can initially be expensive, if you frequently go abroad it can save you a lot of money.

Watch out for hidden costs

Phone networks are always eager to let you know about the latest deals and offers they have available and it can be easy to get sucked in by tempting tariffs. However, it's important to be careful when considering a new contract, as hidden costs are prevalent and can often take users by surprise when they look at their bill at the end of the month.

One of the most common ways that networks hide costs is in unlimited data tariffs. Whilst you might think you’re getting a good deal, some networks actually impose limits even if you have an unlimited package. If you’re the sort of user who uses a lot of data when on the go, you might find yourself penalised via an extra cost at the end of the month or a reduction in your mobile internet speed. Providers have to tell you if there is a soft cap on unlimited data, so be sure to ask if that’s a package you’re considering.

When you’re switching networks, it’s also important to be sure of any fees for leaving. If you’re out of contract, you won’t have to worry, as a provider cannot charge you for moving after you’ve finished. However, if you’re in the middle of a contract and fancy switching, you’ll often incur a fee for leaving early. Whilst this may seem obvious, make sure you know before switching, and consider waiting out your contract before you leave in order to save money.