$4/mo Smart Phone Plan

While there are quite a few things we’re willing to spend extra money on, cell phone service plans are most certainly not on that list.

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?

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Provider Network
Airvoice AT&T
Pure TalkUSA AT&T
Ting Sprint + GSM Roaming (including international roaming)
Consumer Cellular AT&T + GSM Roaming
Virgin Mobile Sprint

Be sure to check out the guide for a detailed description of each provider, and other providers as well. If you are looking for a Verizon MNVO, try out Selectel.

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.

But, But!

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.

In Closing

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?

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16 thoughts on “$4/mo Smart Phone Plan

  1. I do something similar with T-Mobile prepaid and paying for Skype annually. People never believe me when they ask how much I spend on cell service ($35 annually) I did a write up on how much saving on cell service and investing it for a decade adds up.

    • Nice! Feel free to post the link to your write-up – I’d love to check it out. 🙂

      It feels like fancy cell phones/cell phone plans are seen as absolute musts for a lot of people for some reason, more so than a lot of budget items. People tend to believe me on the price point, but absolutely refuse to give up streaming video…

    • Here it is towards the middle assuming someone went straight prepaid at $50 month: http://bamfmoney.com/2016/03/control-your-spending/

      Just for kicks running some numbers based on your $4 month plan, if you invested the $96 monthly savings (assuming a typical cell bill runs $100 monthly), invested for 10 years, earning a modest 6% return… you’d have $15,732.41 build up in investments. Over a 30 year time frame, it builds to $96,433.44. Not bad for what I fell like is not even making a sacrifice.

      My parents even got on board with what I’m doing. Old people can learn new things.

    • Pretty pretty numbers. 😀 It’s true – it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to us at all at this point.

      The message is in good company with the rest of your post you linked – cutting back on eating out, ditching cable, saying no to car dependence – I can get behind all of that 😀

  2. I worry about attempting this as 1. My LLC google phone already goes to my cell and drops enough that my clients have noticed, and 2. I’m not terribly tech-savvy. Something for me to research. Thanks for writing this up.

    • Oh, interesting! What service exactly do you have? Do you know your usage in terms of minutes and data? I’m such a nerd I will enthusiastically research for you!

  3. My bill is $55 currently which I find so high! Once I pay off my phone I really just want to switch to one of these networks to hopefully cut my bill down to $10, or less as you point out. Nobody needs to use data anymore as there is WiFi everywhere, even though I do use about 1G of data a month :/. I heard ting only charges you for what you use though? Or is that another company?

    • You should definitely make a change! Even without changing your usage, you could save $25/mo.

      Ting sort of charges you for what you use – but in buckets. 1-100 MB of data use is $3, for example, but 101-500 MB is $10. Plus, there’s a firm $6/mo, per device. They are very transparent about rates and service, though, in addition to having good roaming coverage and customer service https://ting.com/rates

      I was on Ting for about a year before switching to go from ~$12/mo to ~$4/mo 🙂

    • Haha, yeah, it’s hard to beat a $4/mo price point. Some people go even lower, though – someone on Twitter mentioned not having a cell phone at all!

  4. Ting is actually Sprint and T-mobile. We’ve been using it for a while and average $40 a month for two people. Cutting out data is the biggest thing.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      Hmmm, interesting. They don’t explicitly state what network(s) they have contracts with for roaming on their site (probably due to non disclosure agreements), but the comments on their official blog post seem to confirm T-Mobile. In support questions about roaming, the Ting representative states they fallback to “other networks,” which leads me to believe they may either now or in the future also use other networks for roaming as well. I’ll update the post to reflect this information later today. 🙂

  5. I thought my straight talk bill of $45 a month was low but now I see that compared to you and most of the comments I am on the high end! Well done! Do you use your phone outside of the home often for text/calls/data?

    • Haha, thanks for the comment!

      We use our phones several times a week for voice, and only text over data (using Google Voice). For calls outside wifi, it’s usually short calls such as “hey, I’m outside now,” meaning ten cents a call, but occasionally longer. My data usage is 17 MB so far this month (some texting, but mostly what should have been avoidable Maps usage!)

    • Yep, using the $10/90 days pay as you go 🙂

      It ends up being around $4/mo on average for us — just a little bit higher than the theoretical $3.33 minimum. Though having said that, I just burned through close to $5 last week (not usual and due to a work trip)!

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