If you’re ready to do a little homework, you can save some serious money on your next smartphone.
As three of the four major nationwide carriers have given up on two-year contracts, cell phones no longer universally cost $200. You’ll soon be faced with a wide array of smartphone prices — including deals and sales.
That means you need to stop treating your smartphone purchases as a rote transaction that takes place every other year between you and your carrier. And you should start treating your next phone purchase the way you would approach buying a laptop, TV or any other gadget.
Here’s how to get a good deal on your next smartphone:
1) Don’t get an iPhone
If you want an iPhone, you should get one. But know that you’re going to have to pay at least $650 for a new iPhone 6. Apple(AAPL, Tech30) sets minimum prices on the iPhone, and there really aren’t many ways around that.
If you’re open to a phone that isn’t an iPhone, you’ll be able to get some deals if you know where to look.
2) Comparison shop
Shopping around for deals can be tricky because it’s sometimes hard to know where to look.
A good place to start is with your carrier. Verizon(VZ, Tech30), AT&T(T, Tech30), Sprint(S) and T-Mobile(TMUS) sometimes have online deals, and they’re super-competitive for your business. Call a customer service representative and say you’re interested in a new phone, but shopping around — you might be able to negotiate a bit on the price.
Some of the best phone deals happen in the months after a smartphone initially goes on sale. If you don’t need the latest and greatest right now, it’s worth holding out for a bit until prices fall.
For example, there aren’t really any good deals for the newly launched Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It’s $700 no matter where you look.
But there’s a somewhat wider price difference on the Galaxy S6, which has been on the market since the spring. Tthe 32 GB Samsung Galaxy S6 sells for $590 at Wal-Mart, Verizon lists it at $576, and Amazon has one for $533.
And there are some great deals to be had on the 16 GB Moto X, which has been on store shelves for nearly a year. It sells for $547 on AT&T’s site, but just $300 on Amazon.
Even the latest-edition iPhones typically go on sale in September, a few weeks before the new iPhone is released.
4) Try something new
Everyone has heard of the Galaxy S and the iPhone, but you’ll be paying a premium for the Apple and Samsung brands.
If you want a top-notch phone for a fraction of the big guys’ cost, consider the OnePlus 2 or the soon-to-be-released Moto X Pure Edition. Both are excellent smartphones that can go toe-to-toe with the iPhone and Galaxy S. But the OnePlus costs just $329, and the Moto X Pure Edition will cost $400.
If you don’t need the best of the best, you can get an even better deal. There are countless smartphones that cost between $100 and $300. They mostly range from passable to good, but some stand out: The very good $180 Moto G, for one, is an unbelievable deal for the price.
5) Consider buying a used phone.
Sometimes people try out a phone, immediately decide they don’t like it, and return it for a different phone. Just a few weeks after phones go on sale, you’ll see used phones start to show up on eBay, Amazon and phone recyclers, such as Gazelle.
The advantage to buying used phones from the carriers and phone recyclers is that they’ll typically refurbish it, guarantee it and sell it like new. You can get a used iPhone 6 for $550 from Verizon and $519 from Gazelle.
If you buy from Amazon or eBay, you can get slightly better deals, but you’re trusting the seller that the phone is in good working order. Amazon has a “like new” iPhone 6 for $513, and you can get them on eBay for under $400.