My brother and I were family plan brats all through high school. Fortunate enough to have our cell phone bills covered until college, the notion of text messages not being inherently free was mind-boggling. It’s like charging for air; how does one even go about pricing it in the first place? Since I quit getting handouts from my parents I’ve discovered that choosing the right phone, plan and provider is a difficult choice. The difficulty mainly comes from the temptation to buy the newest and flashiest phone available, but that’s never the most cost-effective one.
There’s an overwhelming amount of variables that go into deciding how much your phone bill will cost you every month. However, if your goal is to have the cheapest phone bill or an affordable one, there are two major things you need to consider.
What is necessary for your phone?
Types of plans we’ll discuss in a second, but before you decide that it’s important to ball park how much data, minutes, or texts you’ll be using/sending. Selecting an unlimited plan over a fixed plan on a contract tends to raise the monthly bill by $20-$40 depending on the provider. If you don’t use data, or have a laptop to surf the internet, just select a limited plan for it. Same goes with minutes; a friend of mine got crafty on a pre-paid plan and opted for unlimited texting with the lowest minutes available. Every time someone called him, he would immediately say “Hold on,” hang up, and text them back. Sure, we hated him for it but his bill was insanely cheap.
The next thing to ask yourself is if you really need a smartphone. Looking online you can find some sweet deals for the newest models of phones for only 99 cents, as long as you sign up for a two year contract. This can get expensive if you want unlimited data for your new 4G-mounted toy. Even with online discounts they can still run you a couple hundred bucks. Every major service provider still offers cheap flip phones with only the basic features that technology offers. You’re not going to be the cool kid in school, but you will save money for other things instead of the costly aesthetic features that most people pay for.
And costly they are: phones available before 3G became standard are generally $50 or lower from the six major providers I looked at (Sprint, T Mobile, AT&T, Metro PCS, Boost Mobile, and Verizon) while newer smartphones with discounts can be five times as much or more. It’s hard to get too specific without nay saying or promoting one company over another, and I’m not even trying to do that. When it comes down to it, you can go with almost any company depending on how specific your cellular needs are. This is why it’s very important to…
Research which plan is best for you
From the providers mentioned earlier, there are three options to choose from:
Family plans get more expensive for every line that you add, and pay-as-you-go providers like Metro PCS and Boost Mobile don’t even offer them. Every provider claims theirs is the best, but I can tell you the average plan with 2-3 smartphones on it runs anywhere from $150-$180.
Contractual plans come with a bit more stability in the sense that you’ll be dealing with just one provider for at least a year, and depending on what features you want they can run from $60-$100 a month. That’s not too bad, especially if you’re eyeing a new iPhone or a Galaxy S3, but if you find out down the road you don’t like the provider you’re with than you can be hit with a heft early cancelation fee. Running as high as $300, these fees ensure you’re going to have a pretty good reason to end a contract early. Add on activation fees when you start the plan to and all of a sudden you’re this investment you made got a lot more substantial.
Pre-paid/Pay as you go
Pay as you go plans are very appealing for people on a tighter budget, and every major provider offers some form of it. They can get as specific as paying for the day, down to the minutes, or you can pay monthly like most people. This is how companies like Metro PCS and Boost Mobile make their profits, by offering the cheaper and older smartphones on a simple, budgeted plan.
So what’s the cheapest way to go then?
Again, this all depends on doing your research and knowing exactly how often you use your phone and for what reasons. If we’re talking the cheapest option period, ration out exactly how many minutes you’re using and take time get a pre-paid plan to fit it. For those of us who don’t have that patience or care to be that picky about a cell phone plan, a monthly pay as you go plan is the best bet. You choose exactly what rate and features you want, and you can choose an advanced smartphone or a bare-bones flip phone to fit your needs.
I’m not plugging any company, but I’ve been using a $55 a month pay as you go plan for over a year now and I have very few complaints. It was originally $45 a month, but I chose to have GPS navigation and a phone insurance plan (that I can cancel whenever I want) for $10 more. My brother has chosen a similar plan from a different provider and his only complaint is that his phone isn’t as cool as his friend’s. Which plans have worked the best for you, and do you think it’s worth what you’re paying?