Buying a mobile

Entering the phone zone

It's hard to imagine life without a mobile phone, but it can cost you a bomb if you buy the wrong phone or plan. Follow our tips to get a mobile phone deal you can afford and how to keep your phone safe.

How much can you afford?

Play it safe and work out your budget before you shop. Add up what you earn, subtract what you spend on rent, food, bills, petrol, fares and any other regular expenses. The money left over can be spent on things you want, including your mobile.

Work out where your money is going.

Budget planner

Know your limits so you don't end up in debt. If you don't pay your mobile bills on time you could end up with a poor credit rating and even have problems getting a loan in the future.

Case study: Vinh's 'free' phone on a 'capped' plan

Young asian unhappyVinh, 18, desperately wanted to get rid of the pre-paid mobile his mum gave him when he was 15. One phone shop offered him a free phone on a 24-month contract for $29 per month that would give him calls and texts worth $150 each month. (This is called a $29 cap plan.)

When Vinh got his first bill, it was $160 because he had more calls than were covered by his cap. The next bill was $170 because Vinh had browsed the web on his phone, but data downloads were not included in his plan.

Vinh fell behind with his payments. He got an overdue notice and then a disconnection notice that included a $400 early (contract) termination fee. Finally, a debt collector visited him, asking for $700.

'I didn't know what to do. I ended up calling the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. They helped me to get the termination fee waived, but I still had to borrow money from my dad to pay for the rest. It was really messy. I got a default listing on my credit report for not paying… which might be a problem when I try to get a credit card or even a mortgage. I'm really careful with my mobile now.'

Choose a mobile phone

With so many mobile and plan options, take the time to look around online and in the shops until you find the mobile phone you want for the price you're after.

Don't rely on the salesperson to tell you everything: read your mobile phone contract yourself. It will become the official record of your deal. Only sign when you fully understand what you are getting. Ask your parents, or someone with experience, for help if there's something you don't understand.

Video: Kenny, Robert and Ryan talk about mobile phones

Mobile Phone video

Check out this short film, created by Kenny Campbell, 15, Robert Austin, 14, and Ryan Presley, 14, from Alice Springs High School. 

It's a humorous short film about mobile phones use and tips on how to control mobile phone spending.

What features do you really need?

The more features a phone has, the more it will cost. Consider the following:

  • Do you really need the maximum memory capacity, Bluetooth, infrared and extra accessories (hands-free, car kit, adaptors)?
  • How much data do you need to download per month?

Remember, call plan features - like voicemail, internet data and roaming - can still cost money each time you use them. Ringtones and downloads seem cool in the ads but they will cost extra.

Ask your provider if you are being charged for any premium or paid services. In NSW, one in five people aged between 12 and 20 has been charged for a mobile phone service they did not know they had signed up for.

Be really careful before signing up to deals that offer 'free ringtone downloads' or 'free SMS competitions'. Many people get slugged with unexpected charges. See SCAMwatch: Mobile phone scams.

What about coverage?

Not all mobile phone providers have good coverage outside major cities. Ask to see coverage maps so you can check the areas that have no coverage.

Decide on a pre-paid plan or a contract


Pre-paid means you buy 'credit' to pay for calls and services before you use them. This can make your calls more expensive but is a great way to make sure you don't get into debt. Once you've used up your credit, you can't make any more calls until you put more money on your phone.

If you buy a pre-paid phone, you might find that your mobile service provider has locked your phone's SIM card to their network. This means you might have to pay up to $150 to 'unlock' the phone if you switch to another mobile service provider.


Smart tip

Before you sign, find out how much it costs to get out of the contract early. It can cost up to $150 to unlock your phone if you switch service providers.

When you sign up to a mobile phone contract, you usually have to choose a 'cap'. A cap is the amount you pay each month to make calls, send texts, browse for data and use the other services on your phone.

If you continually go over your cap, then depending on the rates for your mobile contract, it would probably be cheaper for you to increase your cap than to pay for the extra each month.

To get the right contract and choose the best capped plan for you, work out:

  • How many calls you would make in a month
  • How long your calls usually last
  • What time you usually make calls (e.g. before and after school hours)

Most contracts are for 12, 24 or 36 months. You get a network connection, a handset and a number of free calls, texts and downloads each month. In return, you pay:

  • An access charge
  • A 'flag charge' (a call connection fee) on each call
  • Timed call costs (a charge based on how long your call lasts e.g. $1 for every 30 seconds)

Usually plans with high access charges have lower call costs. Plans that charge calls per second instead of in 30-second blocks can also save you money.

If you already own a handset you can pay month-by-month without signing a long-term contract. Calls are usually cheaper if you make them in off-peak times. Look up the cheaper times on your call charges schedule and make your calls at these times.

Decide on warranty and insurance


When you buy a new phone you have the basic consumer right to a phone of acceptable quality. If your new phone is faulty or doesn't work, you have the right to get it repaired or replaced, or to get a refund, depending on the situation. Keep your receipts and network service connection agreement as proof of purchase.

Some stores may suggest you buy an 'extended warranty': an additional warranty that covers you for repairs and maintenance for a given period. But be aware that this may not give you any more rights than you have already. If you're thinking about an extended warranty, check the service agreement and conditions to see where you have to take the phone for repairs, and if it covers spare parts, labour and a replacement phone.


Insurance is optional. It usually covers loss, accidental damage and theft but may not cover you if your phone is stolen when you leave it unattended. Find out more about mobile phone insurance.

Keeping your mobile safe

Once you buy a mobile you should treat it like your wallet and keep it safe. If someone steals your phone they can get more information from it than they can from your wallet.

Here are some things you can do to protect your mobile:

  • Don't leave your mobile phone lying around in plain sight. Keep it as safe as you would your wallet. 
  • Don't save passwords on your phone. Try to create passwords that you can remember but no one else can work out.
  • Activate the password or PIN security on your mobile.
  • Use mobile networks rather than free wireless when accessing your bank accounts.
  • Always check the authenticity of the site - a smaller screen can make it hard to identify fake sites.
  • Check your phone and bank statements for any unusual charges in case someone has accessed your mobile without you knowing.

If you have problems with your mobile

If your phone isn't working, contact:

  • The store that sold you the phone or your network provider to try and sort out the problem.
  • The fair trading or consumer affairs office in your state or territory if you have problems with the store that sold you the phone, or about faulty recharge cards.
  • If your problem is with a network service provider or being overcharged for bills, call the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on 1800 062 058. The TIO will also examine complaints about faulty handsets where the handset was bought as part of a contract or bundled deal.

If you're having problems managing your mobile phone bills or if you're in debt, talk to your mobile service provider or the TIO immediately. Find out more about managing debts.

The mobile phones and features that look great in the ads may not be right for you, and may even get you into debt. You're better off with a mobile you can afford.

Related links

Last updated: 29 Mar 2018