Ways to Save on Your Cell Phone Bill

iphone apps 300x224 Ways to Save on Your Cell Phone Bill

I get lots of questions from readers about how to get the best deals on your cell phone packages.

While I’ve answered those questions directly, I’ve always hedged on posting about this topic since I’m far from an expert. But then I thought — hey, I bet some of YOU are experts.

So, I’m opening up the question to all of my very savvy readers:

How do you cut the cost of your cell phone bills? What are your cellular money-saving strategies.

And for those curious about what we do, here’s the skinny:

I have my iPhone4 in an AT&T plan with my dad and stepmom, who also live in Kansas City. If you can get a family plan with parents, siblings, etc., it’s a huge money-saver. Since they have AT&T for their other devices (they have cable and home phone), our cell phone package is quite competitive.

For the longest time, I saved money by not having a smart phone and not having texting – it just didn’t seem necessary. But as the blog grew, being able to be online-away-from-home had increasing value. So last year, my hubby got me the iPhone4 for my birthday. (Best present ever.)

Now, because I use the phone so much for work, I’ve got a pretty suped-up package: I have enough data to enable me to make my phone into  hot spot. This is a great feature for me – especially since I try not to use too much public wifi after some hacking issues I had earlier this year.

I also have free texting, but with it comes unlimited calls to other cell phones. And we have a set number of minutes – which I tend to use a greater percentage of than my folks (whoops!), but it somehow works out. For all this, I pay $60/month (part of which is a write-off) – which I understand is pretty “good”.

My husband, on the other hand, has his phone and plan thru Virgin Mobile. If you’re looking for a cheap plan – check out Virgin! He’s been very happy.

With Virgin, you buy your phone outright (and yes, they do have the iPhone 4 or 4s, although poor Frankie has a cruddy ‘Droid — cruddy because it’s dying and it’s not even two years old) and then you sign up for one of three packages:

  • $35 – 300 minutes + unlimited text & data
  • $45 – 1200 minutes + unlimited text & data
  • $55 – Unlimited minutes + unlimited text & data

These are all month-to-month — there is no contractual obligation with Virgin Mobile.

If you buy your phone from Virgin, there is FREE shipping – and phones often go on sale. So look for that. You can also buy your phone from Best Buy — and possibly other retail outlets as well.

One thing to keep in mind: The coverage with Virgin isn’t quite as robust as with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. My husband has never had a dropped call in Kansas City – but when we drove to Colorado earlier this year, he had ZERO reception for 60% of the ride (whereas I was without for only a few minutes at a time on AT&T).

In other words – check their coverage map before you dive-in. If you’re covered, you’re golden! If not, pick another plan.

As far as phones for kids, mine are thankfully still too young (although they do ask for one all.the.time -grrr). When they do need a phone (is “need” the right word? probably not!), it will no doubt be a pre-paid one, much to their chagrin.

Okay, so now that you know all the ins & outs of our cell phone savings, I’d love to hear from you: How do you cut the cost of your cell phone bills? Tell us all your money-saving strategies for your cellular phones.

This post contains affiliate links to Virgin Mobile – but I wouldn’t be promoting them if they didn’t work for us. When you purchase thru an affiliate link, it helps to support Kosher on a Budget. For more information, see my disclosure policy.

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Bethany Mandel says:

    I have an iPhone and I called Verizon and talked it over with a representative. They offered me a minutes plan that they don’t advertise publicly, and since I don’t use my phone that often, I was able to lower my plan to the one they told me about on the phone which saved me about $15 a month. They told me I could also lower my data plan but I decided against it. I’m grandfathered into the unlimited plan and don’t want to lose that just to save $5 a month.

  2. I am not that thrilled with the cost of our cell phones. We have Verizon which has excellent coverage where we are. More importantly, Verizon has great service up at sleep away camp where I work. As there is no internet at camp, I love this! Now, we do save since my husband’s job has a discount deal with Verizon so we save 19% I think. Then when we got a new plan, we realized that we do not need so much data, so we cut the data down and went to unlimited texts. We saved about $10-20/month and did not lose anything.

  3. CarolineEr says:

    After learning about Virgin Mobile through KOAB, I went there and got an android. HUGE savings! HUGE! I even convinced my husband to switch to VM when his Verizon contract expired.

    Then the iPhone came to VM, and boy, did I want that phone — but that much $$$ out-of-pocket? It seemed to be out of the question. So I waited, and I saved — and I saved not just pennies but reward points. I looked at the various retailers and decided to shop at Best Buy. I accumulated enough swagbucks to get a nice Best Buy gift card. We cashed in credit card reward points (for gift cards) for my birthday. I was selected for a House Party and set aside the Visa debit card (only $15, but still…) that came with the party stuff. And so on, and so on, until I had around $500 in gift cards and debit cards. I was waiting until Black Friday and Cyber Monday… that week, Best Buy dropped the price of the iPhone 4s from $650 to $450. All of my hard work had paid off. I got the phone I wanted at zero cost to our budget.

  4. The thing to keep in mind with Virgin and other companies like them is that you have to buy your phone outright, like you write above, but consider that for a moment: you have to spend at least $200 or more, depending on the phone you want. So you need to figure out how long it will take you to make that up based on the service plan you choose and what you would have spent with Verizon/ATT/Sprint in a contract with a phone that costs less.

    Coverage map is important as you write, as well as customer service. Definitely do your homework first (online reviews, math calculations on cost/savings, etc.).

  5. This is one area I have learned my lesson not to cut corners. We have had every service, ATT, TMobile, Sprint, USCellular, except Verizon. We have always been unhappy because the service is horrible (Chicago) and the phones break conveniently after the one year warranty is up. My phone drops calls daily and the chargers don’t stay in the phone unless placed in just the right position and the phone just turns off when it runs out of battery with no notice at all even with a new battery purchase. USCellular was great at one point because I had a super cheap deal, but it didn’t include data then, and the data rates were insane. SOOOO, we penny-pinchers are giving in come July when our contract is up and getting iphones from Verizon and the money will be well spent. I am definitely looking forward.

  6. Gregory Titievsky says:

    Couple more things:

    Both my wife’s employer and mine offer service discount on ATT (mine also has discounts on other carriers). If you work for a large company, you may be entitled to a discount.

    Additionally, since Virgin is pre-paid, you can buy top-up cards in advance from ebay. I recently bought $120 credit for $70. If you’re good with pre-filling your account, then buy cards in advance – you’ll for sure save on sales tax as opposed to virgin charging you sales tax. (yes, you should pay use tax. Whether it occurs or not is a matter of honesty)

  7. I have Sprint Unlimited. They recently (okay, maybe 1-2 years ago) changed their plans to include a $10/month device fee (it used to only apply to Droid/iPhone, now it’s all smartphones) but because I have not upgraded and instead just keep replacing my Palm Pixi when it breaks I do not have to pay the additional fee. We also get a discount on our service through my husband’s employer. The biggest moneysaver I know of, from formerly working in the cell phone market and now, is to not upgrade, either plans or phones. It often means a change of terms/contract, and the newer plans are often less competitive than the old ones as companies are trying to serve more people with the same amount of data, so they are restricting access and/or raising fees for the same access. Generally you will not be able to find the exact same plan you already have, rather the offers are for similar plans, so it is hard to really compare them. Unless the new offer is better than the former, I say stick with what you’ve got. For example, my father in law was looking at lowering his bill by reducing his minutes, but he had been with them so long that the lower minute plans would have cost him an additional $10 a month.

  8. Consumer Cellular. We have two iPhone 4s (that begot used) and we pay $32.50 a month (plus taxes) for two lines sharing 750 minutes talk, 100 texts, and a small amount of data. We use wifi for data basically.
    They are very easy to deal with. You choose the minutes plan and the data plan you want.
    If anyone does sign up with them I would like to get the referral credit (they and I each save $10) so please contact me for the referral code!

  9. I purchased my most recent phone at costco. it sold for $89 with a bunch of accessories, car charger, extra battery, screen protector, etc. the same phone was on sale at verizon (where I have service) for $200 without all that extra stuff. the phone before this one I got at bestbuy, it was less of a great deal, but still much better than verizon retail.

  10. I have two options, 1. My employer offers a discount on Sprint (20%), AT&T (23%) and Verizon (15%). 2. I have a very generous friend who works for Sprint and she has added me to her friends/family plan, which is a HUGE discount. For two phones – unlimited text, unlimited internet, 500 minutes/mo (Sprint to Sprint is free; after 6pm is free), phone insurance – and the bill is a little more than $100. Oh, and NO contracts!!

  11. Yael Fay says:

    It may sound counter-intuitive to your blog’s purpose by suggesting a new way to SPEND money, but honestly my number one money saving tip for cell phone’s has been buying a protection plan for my phones (and laptops and all my large, expensive electronics, for that matter)… For the cell phone’s I swear by BestBuy’s Black Tie Protection plan. It’s a variable amount–depending on the type of phone; 9.99 for smartphones, $14.99 for iPhones, and it’s a monthly payment that you can continue as long as you want it.

    It’s honestly amazing coverage though. There’s no deductible and if ANYTHING happens to the phone, software or hardware, they either fix it (and will give you a comprable replacement phone while they work on it) and REPLACE IT for free. I cannot even count how many times I’ve had to use this–whether for software problems or from dropping the phone, etc. and had it pay off.

    I guess if anyone else is somewhat clumsy with their phone like I am, this can save lots of money!

    • CarolineEr says:

      While I have chosen not to buy the protection plans, I would strongly advocate purchasing a screen protector and sturdy case for any electronic device — phone, kindle, iPod, etc. This is the cheapest and most effective insurance plan against damage. (Also, they’re very, very reasonable on buy.com.)

  12. We switched from a basic Verizon plan to Republic Wireless. RP is a pretty new company with new technology. You have to buy their specially programmed hybrid smartphone ($200), but after that the monthly fee is $19, for essentially unlimited everything. They assume that if you are in an area with wifi (like home) then your phone will use wifi. On the road…your phone will use cell towers. That’s the hybrid technology. I am a stay at home mom and my husband is a teacher – these phones work fine for us. There is the occasional dropped call. If you need a super reliable cell phone for important client phone calls, skip this phone for now. If you’re just a regular person :), this phone can save you a lot of money. I like the phone and we bought cases

  13. Michelle says:

    I added my high school age kids on my AT&T plan, voice only costs $10 per month each, and we have family unlimited texting which is $30 for all of us. Only mom gets data. The kids use wifi.

  14. OOPS! Hit the wrong button… :)
    we bought cases (new) on ebay for just a few dollars. There is no 1800 number for customer service – it is all done online. Like I said, this company is pretty new, so don’t expect perfection. We have had our phones since November without a single problem. I hope this helps!!!

  15. I second Gregory’s suggestion above — if you work for a large company, find out if they offer employee discounts for any of the major providers. Verizon is a client we service, so I get a 19% discount on my family’s plan.

  16. Rivka H. says:

    Biggest way to save on cell phone costs – don’t chat on the cell phone. We make very limited calls on ours, since we have a land line (and computers). Also sometimes texting is more cost-effective, depending on the situation (e.g. “What flavor applesace am I supposed to get?”)

    Because we minimize our minutes and texting, I have Tracfone and my husband has Net10, both phones with QWERTY keypads – not free but pretty cheap. With service, mine ends up being <$20/mo and my husband's is <$30/mo.

    • Tziporah M says:

      I second Rivka’s comments. I have tracfone since 2007. I have upped my mins just because then I don’t have to buy every month. I get the year plan for $99 for the whole year. I think it is 1200 mins. If you have a land line and internet at home it works out well.

  17. Danielle says:

    We switched to Virgin Mobile almost 2 years ago after Mara talked about on KOAB. We’ve been really happy. We got a great deal on Android phones, although we’ll probably need to upgrade soon. We occasionally think about switching because we don’t always get great coverage in the mountains (we live in CO) but it’s fine in the Denver metro area, but whenever we run the numbers we just can’t justify going to any of the other carriers. We save at least $50/month if not closer to $100 depending on who we went with. I really have no complaints with Virgin. They use Sprint’s network, so if Sprint has good coverage in your area then Virgin should be fine. I’ve also found that Virgin has been starting to get higher end phones too.

  18. Another cheaper alternative is ting. (www.ting.com) They have a very basic pay for what you consume model. Their data rates are slightly high, but the rest of the options are very cheap. They use sprint’s towers so your coverage will be sprint’s coverage. I think they allow you to bring your own phone. So if you are already a sprint customer no cost to join. Or you could buy a sprint phone on ebay and use that.

  19. Ask about discounts. I get 15% off (with T-Mobile) because I was a student when I signed up, but they would also do it with my husband’s employer. If you are a member of anything, ask. T-Mobile gives 10% for AAA membership.

  20. *IF* you can get decent coverage and service from T-mobile, they are by far the cheapest of the major options. And now even more reasonable with their new “no contract” plans. http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57576710-94/is-t-mobiles-new-no-contract-plan-really-a-good-deal/ is a good description of the new plans and how it compares. We’ve been on T-mobile for years, because they used to be the only carrier that used SIM cards, (so we can swap phones around, and use foreign SIM cards when we’ve been overseas).

    Our cell-phone plan used to be about $200 for 4 phones, 3 with data plans (2GB high speed), all with unlimited texting, 2 with unlimited calling (the other two had 500 minutes of calling), etc.

    Our new plan is now $120 for 4 phones! All with unlimited minutes nationwide, unlimited texting, and all have unlimited data. My phone and my husband’s phone will have 2.5GB of high speed data (if we hit that limit, we don’t pay any extra, we just get 2G data for the rest of the month. On the other hand, supposedly we haven’t used more than 350MB in the past 3 months because we are on wifi at home, so I’m not expecting this to be an issue. And if it seems we use more, then we can upgrade to 5GB/mo for $10 each.). The other two phones will have 500MB high speed data (unlimited 2G data). I did have to pay about $350 to “migrate” (ie buy out my old contracts) to the new plan, but that will pay itself off in about 4 months.

    Now, the big deal is that the phone is no longer rolled into your plan, although you can still buy the phone from T-mobile and pay for it in 24 payments, interest free, on your phone bill. But when you are done paying for it, your bill drops (unlike the normal contracts). Or you can buy a used phone from someone upgrading, and use it. We usually swap phones around, so that we (parents!) get the newest phone, and hand down the older one to a teenager.

    What I’m really hoping is that T-mobile’s change will finally change the cell phone market here. We have SUCH expensive cellphone plans compared to most of the world, mostly because those 2 year contracts lock us in and keep us from changing carriers, so they don’t really have to compete on price as much. I’m still amazed, that when I go to England and use my British SIM card, I can put unlimited data on it for 30days for about $8! And that’s for a pay-as-you-go plan.

  21. We are a combo of old school and cutting edge. You decide. I have a work cell phone, Aircard and hotspot – all part of my job and no expense to our household. My husband has a google voice number (free) and a personal ipad mini. He uses his ipad mini as his phone. He either uses public wireless or uses my hotspot/Aircard plugged into the car converter when he travels. If people call and he as no connectivity it simply rolls to our answering machine. It is amazing the amount of places wireless is available – library, home depot, hyvee. Thus we have no mobile fees.

  22. We’re using prepaid cell phones through Page Plus Cellular. We don’t have smart phones, though, which probably helps. We use Skype for long calls (most of our relatives want to video chat these days anyway). We purchased our phones off of ebay for about $25 bucks each.

  23. Mara,
    Thanks for starting this conversation. We have iphones with Verizon and are happy (except for the money). I have unlimited data on my iphone which is no longer available. I’m reluctant to give it up by switching to another carrier. Verizon service is excellent.

  24. Don’t forget to ask for corporate discounts. I get 15% off my T-Mobile bill because I was a university student when I signed up (i was told they never remove them). We would also get one because of who my husband works for. I have yet to find a master list, but ask about your employers, school, etc. Never hurts.

  25. thewrightmom7 says:

    Just want to clarify…. I contacted Virgin Mobile to see about switching from AT&T. After speaking with a rep- we would have to buy all our phones from Virgin in order to use their service. They are not able to use phones (iphone or android) that are bought from other stores. So, there’s no incentive for us to switch and spend $$$ to buy their phones.

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