We spend a whopping $4/mo per phone, which includes hours of talking, dozens of texts daily, and mobile data. Here’s how.
What We Have
We have two Android smart phones (One Nexus 4 bought for $200 just as the Nexus 5 was coming out and a Moto G bought for $135 a year ago) on AirVoice Wireless pay as you go plans. This is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MNVO) that buys access to the AT&T network. We get the same network coverage as any other phone on the network. The real key, however, is in how we use our plans.
Talk is Cheap
All of our family is either in another state or another country, so we talk on the phone quite a bit to keep in touch. Hours each month, easily. How?
We also have a home phone connected to an OBi200 (affiliate links). This hardware setup (when connected to the internet), combined with Google Voice, means unlimited talk within the United States for FREE. You don’t even need a home phone hardware setup to spend hours talking for free – simply use services like Skype or Google Hangouts for extended conversations.
We sometimes call when not on wifi, but the need is mostly just not there. Every now and again we might need to help someone with directions while out and about, but another great thing about pay as you go plans is rollover of credits. Some months we use hardly anything – maybe a $2/mo of actual balance used – which really helps when there are the heavier months of, say, $6/month.
SMS is Replaceable
AirVoice pay as you go charges ten cents a text. Yeah, we don’t pay that. Also through the magic of Google Voice, we are able to text nonstop while on WiFi for FREE. We can text any phone number, as well, not just Google Voice connected accounts. There are other messaging apps out there that are fine, but the vast majority can only send messages between their own users, which just is not as flexible.
When not connected to the internet, we use Google Voice or Google Hangouts over data, which, even when accounting for background data leakage, is a mere fraction of the cost of traditional SMS.
Data Use is (Mostly) Avoidable
I think the most data we’ve used in a month was around 87 MB? I used to be on a Ting plan with 100 MB/mo and went a little crazy with the data while on a work trip.
These days we rarely even turn data on. Our average work day is Home->Work->Home and maybe stopping for some errands. The vast majority of our time is spent with a internet connection. And when we don’t have a WiFi signal?
- Offline Maps: Google Maps has an Offline Maps feature, where you can store maps for offline use. This way you can navigate home or to another destination without having to turn on data
- Download media at home: We use our phones a lot for music and podcasts, but we never stream on a data connection – we always download our media first.
- Not relying on data: When you’re in the city or out with friends, why would you need to be on your phone anyway? Don’t be that friend that is unable to look away from the phone.
What Others Have
How do we compare?
On the high end, one unlimited phone plan is $75 to $100 from your typical carriers. On the lower side of traditional plans, you’re looking at typically $40-$50 for a single phone with a basic amount of data. Heck, just having a smart phone on their networks can be at least $30/month just for an access fee.
For mid-range price comparisons, there are great plans on MNVOs. The only thing is…MNVOs can be tricky to learn about and research. In fact, I pretty much relied on this fantastic website to steer me straight: The Technical Meshugana. His Frugal Communications Guide (especially his page on Cellular Providers) changed our way of thinking about technology. Here’s a current look at the current pricing among his most recommended MNVOs. His criteria is EASY, GOOD, and CHEAP. Sometimes really “good” deals come along, but there are a lot of hoops to jump through, the terms are constantly changing, the customer service is awful, or they simply can’t sustain themselves.
The Recommended MNVOs
|Ting||Sprint + GSM Roaming (including international roaming)|
|Consumer Cellular||AT&T + GSM Roaming|
With these MNVOs, even if you can’t wean yourself off data, you can still save $20-$30/mo easily. Take Airvoice for example, with their fanciest plan at $50/mo for unlimited talk, text, and 5 GB data. With that much data, you would be hard-pressed to use it all. With a little bit of self control, you could be at the $30/mo plan with unlimited talk, text, and 1 GB of data.
I Need Massive Amounts of Data
Do you really? For what? Does your job require you to stream video? Even if you don’t want to go mostly data-free, basic MNVO plans like those mentioned above can easily save $20-$30/month indefinitely.
Work Pays for my Phone
Do they pay for the plan, or give you a credit towards a phone? If they pay you a certain amount each month regardless, that’s still money you can save. You might need to get a slightly more expensive plan, but very few people actually benefit from unlimited plans.
I’m on a Family Plan
Do you dislike saving your family money? There may be a few cases where a typical family plan makes sense, but usually only if there are extenuating circumstances. Do the math and see what works for you.
If you want to easily save $20-40/mo on your cell phone bill (potentially more for families), look into slightly changing some habits and shopping around. If you want to only pay $4/mo per phone, it’s really not that much more difficult. Cell phone plans don’t have to be expensive. Like just about any other budget item, there’s a lot of room for improvement from the mean.
What do you pay for your cell phone plans? Any additional providers to recommend?