On this site, I usually write about ways to get free and cheap TV without paying for cable or satellite. But today I want to talk about how to save money on the other big subscription cost in your life: your cell phone bill.
Are you paying $50, $60, or $70 a month on your mobile phone plan? You might be paying way more than you need to!
After years of spending $55/month on what I thought was a great cell phone deal from T-Mobile, I'm now paying $15/month for unlimited talk and text and 4GB of data (2GB more than I had before) on the same T-Mobile network! That's a savings of $480 per year!
In the old days, you'd get your cell phone plan from one of the Big Four: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile. This is now the big Three since Sprint and T-Mobile have merged.
Then came the MVNOs, or Mobile Virtual Network Operators. These carriers lease cell phone infrastructure from the Big Three or regional carriers like U.S. Cellular. In other words, they don't have their own cell phone towers.
When low-cost carriers like Metro PCS started offering cell phone plans at a fraction of the cost of the major brands, I thought they were scams. Or perhaps they had shoddy service, poor coverage, or some other catch. "How else could these insanely cheap rates be possible?", I thought. "My phone service is way too important to skimp on!"
Well, after switching myself and my mom to low-cost carriers, I can attest that they are totally legit! We have not noticed any difference in reliability or coverage compared to Sprint or T-Mobile.
I'm now hitting myself over the head when I think about how much money we could have saved over the years!
Since these low-cost carriers are renting bandwidth from the Big Three, you would think their costs would be just as much or higher. But, the MVNOs costs are lower because of cell phone tower prioritization. In a crowded area, an MVNO user might experience lower speeds than a primary customer of one of the Big Three. That might sound scary, but I haven't noticed a difference in coverage since switching.
MVNOs also have lower marketing costs. You might not have heard of Mint Mobile or Republic Wireless, but everyone has seen TV commercials for Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.
In addition, MVNOs generally have fewer retail locations or are online-only. That saves a ton of money.
MVNOs may not offer some features and perks like international roaming, free anti-spam app, or phone financing. Some plans don't offer mobile hotspot.
Finally, for a lot of these low-cost carriers, you have to pre-pay for up to a year at a time, to get their lowest rates.
These issues may or may not be important to you, so research before choosing. For me, most of these are not show-stoppers, and I'm super happy with the low-cost carriers that I have had experience with.
There dozens of MVNOs out there. I did some research and chose Mint Mobile because they offered an insane $15/month plan with 4GB of data ( 2GB more data than my $55/month plan from T-Mobile). You can get 10GB of data on their $20/month plan. Both require one-year pre-payment to get these rates, although there was a three-month introductory special when I signed up. They also have an unlimited data plan for $30/month with one-year pre-payment.
Mint Mobile also has great reviews online. And yes, one of the owners of Mint Mobile is actor Ryan Reynolds:
Mint Mobile also includes mobile hotspot capability. I don't use it very often, but it comes in handy in a pinch.
I pre-paid for three months in advance. In about three days I received a FedEx envelope containing my new SIM card.
Before switching though, I had to unlock my phone by calling up T-Mobile. They were happy to do it and didn't even ask why. But, I had to wait about four days for it to complete.
Mint uses the T-Mobile GSM network, so if you have T-Mobile now, your phone will work with Mint as long as it is unlocked.
AT&T also uses GSM, so those phones should work when unlocked.
Verizon and Sprint use a different system, CDMA. However, most modern iPhones have both GSM and CDMA chips in them.
If you want to be sure, use Mint Mobile's website and enter your phone's model.
I'll admit, I was kind of nervous during the activation process. I rely on my phone for business, and I don't have a backup landline. If Mint Mobile was shoddy, it would be bad. Plus, they have no physical stores, so if something went wrong with my phone during the install, I could be left with a brick!
The installation requires swapping a SIM card. Mint Mobile provides a tool to do this. You slide out the old one, then insert the new.
On Mint Mobile's website, you complete the activation by carefully entering a number from your SIM and your current carrier's account number and passcode. You definitely don't want to screw this up.
Mint Mobile says that after that, it could take up to a day for your service to be switched over, but for me, it was nearly instantaneous! I got an email from T-Mobile saying my plan had been canceled within minutes.
I started testing out Mint. I made a test call, then tested data as I walked the dog around our neighborhood. So far so good!
The only problem I had was that the next day, my Mac and iWatch were not receiving text messages. I solved that by simply logging out and back into Messages on my phone. Fixed!
Now I'm loving my Mint Mobile service and have not had any problems since! My only regret is not switching sooner!
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Now that I've had Mint for a while, I love it! But, I do seem to be using data at a faster rate on Mint than I did on T-Mobile. I believe the reason is that T-Mobile has "optimized streaming" where video quality is limited to DVD-quality when on the network, reducing bandwidth. T-Mobile has their "Binge On" feature, where video from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu is not counted toward your data limits.
I was thinking about upgrading to get more data when Mint emailed me and said they were upgrading everyone from 3MB to 4MB per month at no extra cost! Problem solved! I'm sticking with my $15 plan!
Although my Mint Mobile activation went smoothly, I would not recommend the process for folks (like my mom) who are not comfortable swapping a SIM card from their phone, or entering long strings of numbers that need to be accurate.
Luckily, there are other low-cost carriers that have physical stores and staff who are happy to help. If you want a low-cost carrier with physical stores, I would recommend Metro by T-Mobile, also very highly-rated online.
So, I'm here to say that these low-cost carriers are not scams as I thought! I have experience now with Mint Mobile and Metro, and both have been great!
There are caveats though. If you're a heavy phone user, like a traveling salesman, and you need the ultimate in reliability and plenty of physical stores in lots of locations, then these low-cost carriers might not be right for you. But for most people, these carriers are great, and can save you a ton of money! - Brian
Check out my other site, thefrugalnoodle.com, with ideas on saving money and living simply.