Many parents are forking out hundreds of euro a year in mobile phone bills for their children – and possibly thousands if they have a number of children with phones or if a child’s mobile phone usage or penchant for expensive handsets isn’t managed.
he huge growth in the number of children with mobile phones means today’s parents are lucky to avoid buying one for their child before he or she reaches the age of 12.
It is possible to avoid runaway mobile phone costs and bills when your child is getting their first phone though. Here’s how to.
1 Give them your old phone
The cheapest way to get a handset for your child is to give them your old phone when you’re upgrading to a newer version – particularly if the old handset is in good condition. “Depending on the contract, the phone can be unlocked and used on any network,” said Damien Mulley, communications consultant with Mulley Communications.
You usually don’t have to unlock a phone that is being passed onto another family member if you’re staying with the same network. You will usually need to unlock the phone should you wish to change network but this should not be difficult – though wait until your contract (if any) is up before doing so as otherwise you’re likely to incur charges.
2 Get a refurb
You could save hundreds on a handset by buying a refurbished phone instead of a new handset, according to switcher.ie.
A refurbished phone is a phone which was owned before, often traded in for an upgrade, wiped of data from the previous owner, and undergone checks and any necessary repairs to ensure it’s in working order. A refurbished phone could be a more affordable option than a new handset for parents who don’t have an old phone to pass onto their child.
“You can view a selection of refurbished phones on gettech.ie or refurbished.ie,” said Eoin Clarke, managing director of switcher.ie. “The last thing you want to do is buy an expensive handset for your child as children often run around and could easily break their phone.”
Before you buy a refurbished phone, be sure you’re happy with the condition and technical specification of the phone, advises switcher.ie. A refurbished phone should be cheaper than a new handset so make sure you’re saving money if you buy one.
3 Get a Doro
“Doro is a cheap option that’s been marketed to mainly older customers but is often used as an entry-level phone for kids,” said Cassidy.
You could get a smartphone for less than €300 and there are also more basic Doro handsets for less than €100. Note the Doro is a simple phone, your child may wish to have a more advanced handset.
4 Delay the Sim card
Once you get your child’s handset, make your child’s ongoing use of the phone (calls, texts and data) as affordable as you can.
“A very cheap option is not to have a Sim card in a phone at all – and have the child simply using the available local wifi to use the internet and access things like Snapchat and Tiktok on their phone,” said Damien Mulley, communications consultant with Mulley Communications. “That would save you on monthly fees.”
No monthly fees would be due if you have no Sim card in a phone as you will not be tied to any network or into any contract. So as long as you have home wifi or your child is in a place that has wifi, your child should usually be able to use the internet on their phone.
5 GB Sim-only
Your child will need to sign up to a mobile phone plan to be able to make and receive phone calls and texts. With a Sim-only plan, you get a mobile contract with a certain amount of – or unlimited – calls, texts and data for a set fee each month. However, you don’t get a handset with a Sim-only plan so you need to either buy a Sim-free handset yourself or unlock an old phone. You can buy a Sim-free handset directly from a manufacturer or from an electronics retailer such as Currys.
“SIM-only plans provide exceptionally good value with some deals starting from as little as €5 per month for unlimited calls, texts and data (within fair usage limits),” said Daragh Cassidy, head of communications with Bonkers.
One of the big advantages of Sim-only deals is that you don’t have to commit to a long contract. “Most Sim-only deals have 30-day day rolling contracts – so you’re not signing up to a long contract with these deals,” said Clarke. “It’s good to have flexibility when it comes to children’s phones – avoid buying an expensive handset on a 24-month contract.”
Check the contract duration before signing up to a Sim-only deal as some have 12-month contracts.
Some of the best Sim-only deals are available from the virtual operators. Virtual operator Clear Mobile (owned by Vodafone) currently offers a bill-play Sim-only plan for €12.99 or €14.99 a month (depending on which network you’re joining from or if you’re getting a mobile phone for the first time ) while GoMo (owned by Eir) offers a Sim-only bill-pay plan for €14.99 a month. Three’s virtual operator 48 offers a prepay Sim-only plan for €12.99 a month. All these three Sim-only deals offer unlimited calls, texts and data.
A big difference between ‘virtual’ and traditional operators is that you have a purely digital account with virtual networks – so bills and customer support are typically provided online.
Should you have a Sim-only account yourself with a virtual operator, you may be able to add your child to your account – though a monthly fee will typically need to be paid for each child that is added. You can have up to four users on the one GoMo account for example.
Tesco Mobile’s €15 Family Sim plan costs €15 per month per person. Bill-pay customers can add up to five Family Sims plans (at a cost of €15 per person) to their Tesco Mobile bill. The account holder must be on an existing Tesco Mobile bill pay plan – but cannot themselves be on the €15 Family Sim plan. The plan includes unlimited data (in the Republic), 300 any network minutes and texts, and 300 Tesco Mobile minutes and texts.
6 Check out family discounts
Some mobile phone operators offer family plans with discounted rates for children.
“With some networks, you can add a certain amount of family members for an extra €5 a month – depending on the contract you currently have,” said Clarke. “Others charge €15 a month for each additional family member or offer a family discount of up to 20pc.”
Vodafone’s Red Start, a tariff designed for younger members of the family, is part of Vodafone’s Red Family plan. “Red Start normally costs €25 a month but parents can add it on for just €5 a month when they have two lines already on Red Family,” said a spokesman for Vodafone. Red Start, which has a 12-month contract, offers unlimited calls and texts to Vodafone phones and a capped amount of data.
With Vodafone’s Red Family, you can have six people on a family account. To be eligible for discounts, two family members must be on a full bill-pay plan where they pay either €40, €60 or €80 a month each. After that, there is a €20 discount for any additional member added to the Red Family plan (up to the limit of six people). So one family with six members on Red Family could save up to €80 per month.
Three offers discounts if a number of family members have bill-pay plans with it. The discount is 10pc where there are two family members on a Three bill-pay plan; 20pc where there are between three and six family members with Three. For example, one of the cheapest bill-pay plans from Three is its €30 a month Sim-only plan. The total monthly cost for a parent and a child on Three’s Sim-only plan would come to €54 – including the 10pc discount. Different family members can have different plans – they don’t all have to be on the same plan to get the discount.
Don’t be swayed too much by family discounts when deciding on a child’s phone. You may get a better deal elsewhere (even if it’s not discounted) so shop around and compare the cost of phone usage for the entire family.
Eir’s standard mobile phone bill-pay plans start from €9.99 a month per person for customers with eir Broadband. You can add up to five Sim cards or users onto the one Eir account – with each user incurring their own monthly charge.
Virgin Media Mobile doesn’t offer any family specific plans but its ‘Unlimited’ and ‘Limited’ plans allow up to four Sims on one account. The ‘Limited’ plan costs €15 a month per person and includes a monthly allowance of 5GB of data, 500 texts and 500 minutes of calls.
7 Block in-app purchases
Have good parental controls set up on your child’s phone. These allow you to turn off or limit spending – or to set up the phone in a way which will require all purchases to be authenticated. There may be some parental controls built into your phone but ideally, get extra software to protect the phone viruses and to ensure your child doesn’t have access to unsuitable content.
“A lot of games that are marketed at children have in-app purchases such as [virtual] treasure chests – where you can buy new weapons and clothes for characters,” said Mulley. “Some parents have ended up getting shock bills as a result.”
8 How to keep on top of costs
out of plan
Make sure your child avoids making calls that aren’t covered by their mobile phone plan – if you’ve opted for bill pay. Calls or texts to premium phone numbers (such as competition lines or directory enquiries) aren’t covered by many plans – and international calls and non-EU roaming are often not covered either.
“With bill-pay phones, it’s possible for kids to rack up big charges, inadvertently or on purpose, if they’re not careful,” said Daragh Cassidy of Bonkers.ie. “For this reason, I’d usually recommend a pay-as-you-go plan for children up to the age of 15 or so. Emergency numbers are still free and calls are free to receive if the parent wants to check in.”
Today’s prepay packages typically offer a set amount of data, calls, and texts in return for a set monthly payment or top-up, rather than simply running down your credit as you use the phone.
You may be able to top up by as little as €5 a month with some prepay phones. You’ll generally get better value if you commit to a prepay offer that offers unlimited data and calls but this usually involves a monthly commitment of at least €15 to €20.
An Post Mobile is a prepaid phone. Children (and indeed adults) can top up their phone by as little as €5 a month with An Post Mobile, according to a spokesman for An Post Mobile. “If a customer chooses to pay just €5 a month for An Post Mobile, they can do that – and they will get €5 worth of general credit which they can use for calls and texts to that value,” said the spokesman. “The customer can also choose to buy a €5 ‘bundle’ – which will give them either 75 minutes of calls, or 75 texts or 1GB data.”
Should you want a prepay plan with unlimited calls, texts and data, An Post Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Eir, Three and Vodafone all have offers in this space and you must usually top up by at least €15 or €20 every four weeks or month, depending on operator and plan.
For example, Eir has a prepay offer of unlimited data and calls or texts which requires you to top up by at least €20 every four weeks. Vodafone X, a plan aimed at those aged 17 and upwards, requires a minimum top up of €20 every four weeks.
Check exactly what’s unlimited before signing up to any deal.
“Buy a good quality phone case to prevent your child’s phone from smashing,” said Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications. “It could cost €100 to €150 to replace a screen if it smashes.” You’ll typically pay between €20 and €60 for a phone case.
Insurance for a smart phone could cost anything from about €70 to €130 or more a year, depending on the make of phone and where you buy your cover.
The older the smart phone, the less valuable it will be and the less need there may be to insure it. “Weigh up the cost of phone insurance,” said Mulley. “If you’re considering phone insurance, maybe just take it out for the first year.”