How To Save Money on Your Cell Phone Bill

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A few years ago, I was paying $170 a month for two phones through Verizon. The phones weren’t particularly new, and I was not doing anything particularly important besides responding to the occasional important email, using the GPS if I was lost, and resenting high-school acquaintances’ political views on Facebook. Eventually, I came to the realization that I was not getting what I was paying for.

I priced out several low-cost carriers and eventually landed on a carrier that charges me for what I use — and nothing more. I now spend about $30–50 per month on a cell phone plan for two phones. Now, I went to law school because I heard there was no math there, but even I know that is a significant savings.

Everyone who happens to care about their monthly budget (that’s all of us, yes?) should ask themselves the following:

  1. Should I switch to a “low-cost” carrier?
  2. If so, which carrier should I switch to?

Should You Switch?

There is a variety of considerations, but the most important factors to think about are:

Data Usage

Are you a power user who uses your phone for absolutely everything? Do you stream music over your mobile network and frequently email large attachments to clients from your phone? Do you not want to ever think about how much data you are using every time you listen to that Hozier song for — seriously — the millionth time this week? Then a pay-for-usage plan may not save you money unless you connect to Wi-Fi regularly.

My plan charges me $19 if I go over 500 MB for the month, but I never do. I download or stream nearly everything through my phone when connected to a Wi-Fi network. If this seems overly obsessive or a giant pain to you, then switching might be impossible. Personally, I find it to be a small inconvenience in the pursuit of saving about $100 every month.

The Latest and Greatest

Do you ever take a look at the retail cost of the phone you get for free with a two-year contract? The new iPhone 6 is around $650. You never pay that much when you upgrade under contract because you will definitely make up that cost over the course of your contract.

When you take away the contract, there is no incentive for some of these budget carriers to give you a reduced price on phones, so you end up paying full price on new phones. Different budget carriers support different kinds of phones, and some even allow you to bring over your old phone depending on its original carrier. Personally, I ended up buying a refurbished iPhone 4S for $130 and using that. Is the 4S the new hotness? Of course not, but it does what I need it to, and I would argue that it would do just fine for you as well.

On the other, If you are the type that dressed head-to-toe in North Face and stood in line for the iPhone 6 release, then it is possible these plans are not for you.

Geography

Where you practice and where you live may very well decide which carrier you choose. The good news is a lot of the low-cost carriers either have robust networks of their own or simply piggy-back on major networks. For example, Ting uses the Sprint network with Verizon as the backup for voice and text (data is Sprint only). It also features 4G and LTE in bigger metro areas. Republic Wireless heavily relies on WiFi and has its own network, although it appears the coverage isn’t superb in rural areas. Whereas Cricket Wireless claims to have awesome 4G and LTE coverage all over the place.

The point is, you will have to look at how each carrier stacks up in the area you work and live.

Which Budget Carrier Should you Choose?

Assuming you decided that yes, you want to spend less money and that doing so would not impose an ominous first-world-hardship on your mobile lifestyle, which carrier should you go with? There are number of options:

But before making your decision, make sure you have an answer to these key questions:

  • Can you bring your current device over to any of these? If so, which?
  • If not, which carriers offer the best devices?
  • Which carrier has the best rates considering how you use your phone? If you talk with clients a lot, check which one has the lowest voice rates. If you are like me and you text people more than most teenagers, consider how much each text message costs. You get the idea.
  • What does each carrier’s coverage look like in your area?

If you decide to switch to one of these carriers, I can’t tell you which one will work for you, but I can tell you this: you will save a lot of money.

Featured image: “Optical glasses, money and smartphone in an open leather hipster’s bag on a wooden board background.” from Shutterstock.

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  • Alex

    I’m a fan of airvoice, which uses AT&T’s network and gives you 1gb for $40/month, plus unlimited everything else. Sometimes it can take a little work to (1) port your phone number; and (2) send picture texts. It’s definitely worth researching which network the low cost operator uses. But yeah, spending $170 on a service you can get for 40 a month is insane. If you’re willing to use Android, you can go much lower.

  • John

    I went from Consumer Cellular to Ting. Saving a bit more on Ting. Plus Ting automatically raises and lowers the tier based on usage, unlike CC. Three of us, and MO bill is about $65 for all 3 of us.