Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Cell Phone

Get ready. This is a big one.

And that's because cell phone plans are ri-goddamn-diculously expensive — even after you've canceled your landline.

For example, the adults in our household each own an (aging but perfectly functional) iPhone 4s on a plan with Verizon. That plan costs about $175 a month, which is the price of the contract we were still using, even though we were no longer locked into it.

Add to this a sixth grader with a pay-as-you-go flip phone and a new-found texting habit. That plan was excellent for emergencies, but at a dime for each text, this was averaging another $55 per month.

That's $230 a month for the phones.

$2760 a year.

Whoa. It's definitely time to …

Find a cheaper cell phone plan.

I'm not gonna lie, this took forever. I did a ton of research, and learned a lot more about cell phones and how the networks work than I really wanted to know.

To sum it up, the big carriers that you've heard of (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and TMobile) sell off their extra bandwidth (or whatever) to discount carriers that you've maybe heard of, like MetroPCS and Kajeet. It get complicated depending on what carrier your phone was designed to work with, if it's locked.

Ours are Verizon iPhones, which is about the least versatile thing you can have. They don't have many discounted dealers on their network, and the ones they do aren't all that cheap.

At first I thought the best we would do would be around $50 per month per person to keep our phones, but as I did more research, I found that even cheaper plans could be had with an AT&T or Sprint iPhone.

The best plan I found (for our family members and our usage pattern) is with Ting. They have a unique pricing system of "buckets," where you pay for your usage in different categories:

They automatically charge you the rate for the section you end up in at the end of the month, but you can mix and match. For example, if you never talk, that charge would be XS ($0), but if you use a ton of data you could be L ($24) for that. These can change each month, and can be shared by family members, with a charge of $6 per device, to which they add the usage charges at the end of the month.

It helps to know your actual usage to see how this will play out for you. I found ours out by looking up our past history on Verizon's website (and it turns out they had way oversold us on our data needs because they are jerks). Once you sign up, Ting has a great website that keeps track of it for you and lets you know your current usage and charges, plus an estimate of how that will end up at the end of the month. Here's ours:

We're about halfway through the month, and with our three phones, (and another couple bucks in taxes) it looks like we'll end up paying $50 for the month. FOR ALL THREE PHONES. 

AND Ting offers a $25 signing bonus as a credit to your first bill, so it's an even sweeter deal. You can get even more credits for referrals, if that's something you're interested in (full disclosure: the link above for Ting is my personal referral link, so if you use it to sign up, I'll get another $25, while you get your own $25 signing bonus and any future referrals).

The only area where it looks like we could ever end up bumping into the higher charge is with data, which would mean a monthly bill of $56 — only in those months when we used a lot. We can totally control that usage too, by being diligent about using wifi (instead of 3G) whenever it's available. 

Now, the pain in the ass part of this was that I had to buy Sprint phones to make this work. I got Tiegan a refurbished flip phone for $20 from Kajeet (my original thought was that her plan would be through them as well, since they offer really great parental controls, but I changed my mind when I realized that adding her to Ting with us would basically just cost $6 a month.

For us, I bought two used Sprint iPhone 4s phones on eBay (where I was able to find ones that are still running iOS6!), for about $175 apiece. Then I sold our old Verizon iPhones at for $200 each. That's a $30 profit overall: $50 for the sale of the phone minus the $20 I paid for the flip phone. Score!

This was a long process, with the research and the buying and the selling and the shipping of phones. All told, it probably took two months to get everything squared away. But it is totally worth it: Now we only pay $45 a month for our cell phones for the whole family. The service is just fine (though obviously you should check what phones are supported, and what coverage looks like in your area before choosing a discount carrier yourself). 

And we just saved ourselves over $2000 a year! 

Woo hoo!

Savings per month: $180

One-Time Savings: $25

One-time profit: $30


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