How to Find the Top Smartphone Deals Available Today

A deal can be a great thing, so long as you don’t spend hours upon hours looking for one. Remember that your time is valuable as well. If you spend 40 hours tracking down the perfect deal, then it probably wasn’t worth it unless you saved well over four figures. You need to value all of your resources and balance them properly. Yet one resource that is worth a lot more than most is information, being easy to option if you know where to look and provides you with tons of value. And we’re here to help with that. However, there is one fact that rises above all the others:

Smartphones Are Expensive

Smartphones are one of the biggest ticket items we often don’t think about. A higher-end model can easily cost more than $1000, and those prices aren’t going down anytime soon. For people who are trying to save money, there is a balance to be had between longevity, price, and usefulness. A bad phone will get replaced quickly. An overpriced phone isn’t worth it and won’t be special anymore after six months. And some “deals” are for phones that have glaring flaws. Whatever savings you get won’t be worth immense frustration and potential disruptions to your day.

Still, there are good finds to be had and a balance to work with. Here are some tips on what to look for and how to search:

Finding the Perfect Deal

Finding the perfect deal isn’t easy. Even finding a great deal can take you some time. Here are some notes on how to shorten that time and get right to the important information:

Check Other Sites and Articles

There are people and sites out there doing the work for you when it comes to finding smartphone deals. A quick search will yield many of them (both the good and the bad). Perhaps a search on the topic will lead you to this very article! You can review and compare them all. If you see a phone or deal, make several lists, then you are on the right track and you should put it on your shortlist if you are interested in it. On some retail sites, you can either bookmark or wishlist products, which can help for comparison. In fact, you can also directly compare products on most retail sites. If you’re looking for a few particular features, this can help. It can also showcase just how alike many smartphones are, despite the price differences.

If you are using blogs or review sites, note that there are reasons that these sites are advertising these phones. They might be getting affiliate revenue. They could be linked to a manufacturer or phone carrier. They could also be a reputable site that goes for ad revenue and fairly reviews the products, but often it is only the largest sites with the most traffic that can afford to do this. Do a bit of research on the researchers, or try to find one you trust and stick with it. Remember that often the byline matters more than the site.

Beware of Extra Fees and Hidden Costs

A phone might be extremely cheap on the list price, but that might not be what you’re paying at the end of the day. You could be contending with a long list of charges that boost the price higher than what you’d be paying for from a carrier. Carriers and retailers are constantly looking for ways to make more money, but they will want to advertise at low prices. 

You will want to check whether taxes are listed in the list price. Similarly, look for shipping and handling fees at checkout. They might be more than you think (and more than they should be). There might also be future service charges listed that might not show up until checkout. Some service or financing fees may be applicable as well, depending on your situation.

Finally, there’s the activation fee, which we’ve seen go up to $50 with some providers. It is annoying, but it is usually unavoidable, so budget for it when you are getting a phone, no matter your situation.

Depending on which carrier you are working with and whether you are talking to a real person or not, you might be able to negotiate away some of these fees. Though you shouldn’t count on it and we wouldn’t recommend that you be rude about it. That won’t get you anywhere. Simply asking about the fees and getting more information on them can do more than you might think.

Consider Physical Locations

If you go into the store, you might be able to find a phone that’s not available online or find it on sale. You also will certainly be able to talk to someone who hopefully will give you the right information for finding the perfect phone and deal for you (but note that they’re looking to make a sale).

You will want to be wary here, however. You might feel the impetus to buy a phone you don’t want or one at a price that isn’t good, just so you feel like you aren’t wasting your time. Perhaps you could make it part of a larger trip out for errands or a trip to the mall. If you find something, that’s great! If not, on to the next task without lingering too often.

Online Has Its Benefits

Retailers and benefits generally benefit from working with people online and having people go through sign-up or purchase online. Shipping isn’t terribly expensive given how small smartphones are and the price of a device, it reduces the need for a storefront and sales reps, and everything is automated and quick. It might not be for everyone, but you as a customer can certainly benefit. You might save on a site when it comes to activation fees, or find a special deal or rebate.

Don’t buy from the first site you see, but have a few tabs open and see what is available from each retailer, especially if you know exactly what phone you want.

Use the Rebate

Perhaps rebates might not be as popular as they were in previous years, but you might be able to find a good one depending on the retailer or the phone manufacturer. It will often be listed online or mentioned by the salesperson, and in other cases, it may appear as a small flyer in the phone’s packaging after the fact (at least skim over everything that comes with your phone).

It can be a bit of a chore in some cases, so you will have to decide whether it’s worth it. Also, be careful about strings attached to some rebates. You might send one in only to get endless junk mail for the next two years from the company. Get the best deal, but value your time and energy in the process.

The rebate often goes ignored or forgotten though, when in some ways it's money waiting on the table. If it’s not too much of a hassle, turn it in my mail or online and claim what’s yours.

Consider the Timing

Generally, when you shop is more important than where you shop or what you shop for. The price a retailer suggests will not be what stores go by after some time. There are some seasons where you can get a better deal. While false sales often occur during the winter holidays (where retailers mark up and then reduce the price), you can score a proper deal during that time and you can get all your peripherals to boot. Look for short-timed holiday sales. Even if you aren’t a mother or buying a gift for yours, you can benefit from a Mother’s Day sale.

Something else that we will mention is that you are going to also want to consider the smartphone release schedule. 

Be Aware of Bundles

A common occurrence is people getting their phone when they sign up with a new service provider or renew their contract. It often is a financing deal of sorts or involves a commitment. For less expensive phones the phone might even come “free” with the contract. However, these less expensive phones are likely not what you want to be using for the next two to three years.

However, you may also want to consider that there could be downsides to this. You’re more locked into the contract this way, and you may not have as large a selection of phones as you otherwise would. You might get steered towards models that are not optimal or the best choice, or towards a refurbished phone (which we do not recommend). Overall, we would not recommend that you choose a carrier for the phone deals they provide. A smartphone is temporary, while bad phone service is forever. 

The Balance Between New and Cheap

Getting an older phone means you might have to replace it faster or it might get overshadowed all the faster. Always being on the cutting edge will mean you are paying an arm and a leg (and then some). You are not going to get a discount on release day. You want to find a balance between these two extremes, adjusted for how powerful of a phone you need and what you use it for.

In general, you can probably get a phone that is just one or two generations old, which means only one or two years old, at a fair discount. Retailers want to get rid of old stock as soon as they can before no one is interested in those models anymore, and there is nothing wrong with the phones themselves. The fact that customers have had time to get used to the phone and find the long-term advantages and disadvantages is a benefit in itself. 

On Used Phones

Please don’t get a used phone, as tempting as it might be. Unless it is something of a hand-me-down from a close friend or family member, you don’t know where that phone has been, or how long it will last. Sure many used phones will be fine, but you will not get the full lifespan of a new phone, reducing its value. Additionally, you might not know what caused the person to get rid of the old phone in the first place. They might just be doing a standard upgrade, but they could also be noticing problems with the phone. Ideally, a company will inspect the phone and make sure it works properly, but they might not do a thorough enough check. Some problems only manifest in certain situations, but that won’t help you.

There are also refurbished phones, which might not have all of the risks of a used phone but can carry some. If you do still get a refurbished phone, do so from a reputable dealer you can go to if things go awry. Additionally, that would be an occasion to get the best warranty you can find. Many refurbished phones work perfectly fine and you would hardly know they are refurbished. Others have lasting problems. Prepare for the lasting problems so that you don’t regret your purchase. And beware of people selling used phones as refurbished ones.

Trading in Your Old Phone

Depending on where you shop for a phone or which carrier you work with, you might have an opportunity to trade in your old phone to save some money on a newer model. And it can make sense to some people, not having a use for their older phone or hoping to save every penny they can.

However, there are concerns about trading in your old phone. You might not be sure where it is going, and it can still have information on it that can be used against you, even if you wipe it. The chance is small that someone will do something, but it is there. You also may not be getting as much value as you would like from it. The company taking it still needs to make a profit on the phone after all, and they need to put in the work to refresh it and sell it as a used model.

Under no circumstances should you sell your used phone to an unknown third party. The bit of money you could get from selling your phone to a third-party pale in comparison to the risk of identity theft or some form of fraud that you could experience on the used market. You might be fine for a few instances, but eventually, you will get burned by the practice.

The best option for an old phone is to send it along to a trusted friend or family member, perhaps a child who is old enough for a phone but not so old they need the latest flagship. If there is someone else on a family plan you might be able to switch it over easily. Otherwise, you will need to consider whether a phone is locked to a certain provider or not. In any case, ideally, there will be a home for it inside your circle.

Getting a Deal on Service

The cell phone is only part of the equation. Depending on the number of lines in your plan, your intended data usage, and other factors making sure that you get the numbers right can be more complicated than checking a few numbers. Here are a few things to keep in mind while shopping for service:

  • First, know what you need and what you want, and what you will use. A plan that comes with a subscription to Disney+ and Apple Music only is worth it if you would use Disney+ and Apple Music. And don’t convince yourself that you will if you have no interest. You’ll stop using it in a couple of weeks and you’ll waste your money on the effort. Similarly, try to get a read on how much data you’ll use per month. While you do not want an unlimited plan if you won’t get anything out of it, you certainly don’t want to buy data by the gigabyte. That will ruin any other savings you get out of these efforts faster than anything you can think of.
  • Directly compare plans and carriers, and look at everything. The smallest things can make the biggest difference in what you are happy with. Some sites can help (including this one) and read the smaller text when possible.
  • Most carriers will raise their rates after the initial contract length, regardless of what they say. But if they say how much they will raise your rate by, then you can plan better for the eventual price increase. 
  • Bundling other services with your cell service and data plan is a much more common occurrence than it used to be. You might be able to save around $40 a month by bundling, and in some cases, you might be planning on using all of the related services, to begin with. 
  • If you already have a plan, you might be able to bundle preexisting services by making a couple of phone calls. It is worth it to look into it.
  • You can negotiate, but you can only negotiate so much. If you are having issues with your current service, you might be able to get a better deal from them, but you won’t be able to walk in the door of a carrier (virtual or not) and start making demands for a lower price. Most service agents don’t have much authority, and it will not be worth the extreme effort. You want the best value overall and the best experience, not an experience of trying to constantly save pennies.
  • Beware of going with an MVNO plan, however cheap they might be. Yes, they are extremely cheap and will certainly beat out the major carriers, but these plans are deprioritized compared to the major carriers. If everyone needs to use data during rush hour, you will be last in line. This could make a phone unusable for you. If you don’t care about priority, you won’t find a better deal than them.
  • Overall, combining the total costs of a phone and the carrier costs, unless you can get the phone unlocked is a great deal. Similarly, if a phone is locked to a carrier, that will limit your options down the line if you don’t like the carrier.

There may be other tips and tricks to getting a great deal on service, so consider your situation, your carrier, and whether any offers are going on.

Further Notes and Recommendations

  • While you can get a great deal on a refurbished phone compared to a new one, we would again advise that you proceed with caution. In some ways, it is better to assume it is a used phone instead of getting disappointed. If it is refurbished, that means there was something wrong with it in the first place. And while in the past there might have been more of a benefit as the price reduction was huge, that is no longer the case. You probably cannot learn the history of the phone.
  • Don’t stress yourself out too much! While smartphones are expensive and you can spend a lot on them, they aren’t a car or a mortgage. Remember that the total savings will not be thousands of dollars being the total cost of the smartphone but the hundreds of potential savings compared to your other options. And it is a sliding scale, not an all-or-nothing initiative. There is a lot you can do, but go with what works for you most of all, and don’t sweat every penny.
  • Do familiarize yourself with a phone or do some research before you go and buy one. Just because a phone is cheap or a great deal does not mean you will like the phone. There are too many phones to investigate each one but consider what you want, narrow it down to a few models, and work from there. 
  • As with all things, the smartphone market will change. There may be deals or opportunities that only last a few weeks that are better than the value of the phones you find earlier. For that reason, this should probably be a short process for you. Try to take at most a week from the beginning of your search to the end, or else you might create more work and confusion for yourself.
  • Getting a phone via a payment plan or as part of your phone plan is a double-edged sword. There are certainly deals available depending on your provider, and there might be options and phone models that otherwise wouldn’t be easily available. It also makes the process of getting a phone extremely easy, with you might value that convenience over some of the potential savings. You might be a busy person with a busy life, and only you can determine exactly how much you value your time and how much you value the process.


We hope that your search ends here, but understand if it doesn’t. Regardless, we hope that you have a better understanding of the phone market. It might not be an easy choice when you are looking for a phone, but with the right information and clear priorities, you don’t need to stress over saving money. May you find the phone you are looking for and the carrier you are looking for, and get a great deal in the process.