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You may avoid an upgrade fee by purchasing an unlocked cellphone from outside the carrier.

A cellphone fee here, a cable fee there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. Here are some ways to avoid fees on devices and services many of us use daily, which can save you real money.

Activation and upgrade fees

When you start a new line of service with a wireless phone carrier or upgrade your phone, you may pay an activation or upgrade fee, ranging from about $25 up to $45. Ask the carrier to waive the fee. Or watch for promotions -- carriers sometimes drop the activation fee for a limited time, says Tina Chang of WhistleOut.com, a phone-plan comparison website. Sprint, for example, recently offered a promotion for a year of free unlimited data, talking and texting, and waived activation fees for those who switched to the carrier and brought their own eligible, unlocked phone to the plan.

With some companies, you may avoid the upgrade fee by purchasing an unlocked phone from outside the carrier (say, from the manufacturer or on Amazon.com or eBay). Verizon Wireless charges no upgrade fee if you buy an unlocked phone and put your previous phone's SIM card in it yourself.

Early-termination fees

Contracts with wireless phone carriers have gone the way of the dodo, but cable and satellite TV companies still offer them. If you break a contract, you'll likely face an early-termination fee, which may run about $15 to $20 for each month left on your contract. If you're moving to an area where the provider doesn't offer service, it may not charge the fee.

Or if you're switching to a competing company, see whether it will reimburse you. Spectrum and Verizon Fios will cover up to $500 of the previous provider's early-termination fee for new customers who sign up for eligible plans.

Installation and service fees

Cable companies may tack on fees of $50 to $100 or even more to have a tech set up your home for cable, internet or landline service or to fix a problem with your existing service. If your home is already wired and installation is limited to connecting basic equipment, see whether you can do it yourself; some providers offer self-installation kits for free or for a reduced fee.

Or ask the provider to waive the installation fee -- you'll have more leverage if you make the request before you start service than if you wait until the fee hits your bill, says Peter Zimbicki, head of operations for BillFixers, a service that negotiates lower bills for consumers. It's worth asking the company to remove service-call fees, too, especially if the problem is the provider's fault.

Equipment-rental fees

Renting a modem from your internet provider may cost you about $10 to $15 a month. Instead, buy your own -- you may pay $100 to $200, but you should recoup the cost within a year or two.

(Lisa Gerstner is a contributing editor to Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.)

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