Not your granddaddy’s wireless plan: stop overpaying (guest blogger – Jon)

Hi, Team! Today, we’re fortunate to have Jon (yes, this Jon) here to blow your mind about those crazy prices some of us pay for wireless service.

What are Jon’s qualifications? Well, he and his wife paid off close to $89,000 in student loans in about 16 months. These two are living examples of what good, worthwhile goals can lead to.

Consistent readers are probably familiar with the story, if that’s not you, feel free to check out the link above. Either way, thanks for being here!

-Mike


 

When it came time for me to finally get off my parents’ cell phone plan and get my own, Heather and I were pinching every penny I made to get her through school without adding to our mountain of student loan debt.  Money was tight, and I was the only one working, which gave me the motivation I needed to venture out and find the most cost effective cell phone plan that I could.

 

I am here to deliver the good news that you were too scared to discover on your own—there are worthwhile alternatives to consider to rid yourself of that overpriced cell phone bill.

 

They are all 1 line, with the exception of the “T-Mobile (x2)” (x2 referring to the number of lines)

 

Before I go too far, let me answer a few questions you may be having at this point:

 

First off, you ask, “How is this possible?”

 

The first thing I learned on this journey is that the big cell phone service companies (Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, etc.) allow other companies to sell the same network access at a different price by a different name.  These providers are known as MVNOs, or Mobile Virtual Network Operators.

 

To the average consumer who cares about the name “Verizon” and knows the great service that comes with this name, an option like “Total Wireless” isn’t even attractive.  This allows Verizon to keep its inflated prices for its loyal customers without undercutting itself by offering other, cheaper options through MVNOs.  To people like me, however, who scratch for deals like their lives depend on it, these options offer huge savings with little downside to customers who would otherwise choose a cheaper option anyway.

 

Do they have good service?

 

MVNOs offer the same coverage as the provider whose network they operate under (see column 2 on the chart).  If you know that only people with T-Mobile get service where you live, you’d do great to get a plan with a company utilizing their towers, such as Mint Sim.

 

What are the downsides?

 

You need to know that the upsides far overshadow the downsides, in my opinion. But it’s important to know all the details of what you’ll be getting yourself into.

 

Downside #1: Convenience

 

Once you are set-up, these are probably actually more convenient than your big companies with contracts and other garbage to work out periodically (See: We eliminated $200.60 in normal spending this month – here’s how), but the setup is not quite as easy as walking into a store.  These companies are virtual and don’t have stores you walk into (though Total Wireless plans are sold at Walmart now).  Depending on which company you go with, the set-ups vary (I will mention those later, too), but these inconveniences are small and once you are set-up it is smooth sailing.

 

Downside #2: Visual Voicemail

 

…Or lack thereof.  Visual voicemail is the feature that allows your voicemails to display directly on your phone so you can click them and they play individually.  You probably forgot the days of your flip-phone when you actually had to call your voicemail to hear them…well, those days are back!  But really, if you aren’t willing to save $400+/year to lose this feature, you don’t hate your cell phone bill enough.

 

I will add that on Mint Sim, clicking the voicemail button on my iPhone immediately pulls up my voicemail (no ringing or anything) and can easily be configured to not require a password, so it’s really not that big of a deal.  The voicemail icon on my phone also has an indicator when a voicemail has been left, so I don’t need to guess and call it at random like I did back in the flip-phone days.

 

Know your limits:

 

One of the plans I tried cost just $12 per month and utilized Verizon’s network…what could go wrong?  I never need more than the 250 minutes it provided, and most of my “texts” are actually iMessages, so I don’t need more than 250 of those either…and data? Psh, I have Wi-Fi at home, so 10MB would definitely be enough.

 

That month I received a job offer from a company a few states away.  As a result, this month included many conversations with them regarding salary, benefits, etc., not to mention calls “home” to my parents trying to figure out what they thought I should do. As if this wasn’t enough, when I went to go see the place, I ran out of data, made a wrong turn somewhere in West Virginia, and needed to stop at a McDonald’s just to update my phone’s GPS with proper directions.

 

Needless to say, it turns out I’m not someone who can handle THAT low of a data plan…So make sure you know your usage levels before you accidentally put yourself in a similar situation.

 

The same goes for network coverage if you aren’t sure if T-Mobile of Verizon’s network gets good coverage in the areas you will need it, find out first.  In addition to friends and family, Sensorly is a good website/app to help you figure that out.  If you aren’t sure, just try one of these plans. They’re cheap enough that you can test them out for a month and find out if it will work for you – unless you are breaking a lengthy contract, you don’t really have anything to lose… Plus I’m sure they’ll take you back if it doesn’t work out, probably even at a lower price. A true win-win.

 

Total Wireless:

 

Before I found Mint Sim, I really enjoyed the Total Wireless plan I had.  The service was definitely as good as Verizon’s, in my experience, in case you’re still skeptical on the coverage front.

 

For people interested in a cheaper plan without sacrificing Verizon’s coverage, this is definitely the way to go.  An individual can save $440 per year using this plan compared to a Verizon plan that still has less data. Compared to the same Verizon 4 GB plan, 2 lines on Total Wireless would save $360/year while also doubling the data to 8 GB (if you are just adding an extra line to the same Verizon plan).

 

Being on Verizon’s network, Total Wireless requires a CDMA compatible phone.  Their website offers a help page for you to enter in your phone’s MEID number to verify compatibility before you try switching over.  Once you decide to make the switch, you will need your current company account number and PIN as well as your phone’s MEID (or other equivalent identification number found on your phone under: settings).  To switch just go to their website, enter this info and pick a plan and you are good to go.

 

If switching over requires any amount of time, it will just be due to communication with your current provider, so you will still be able to use your old plan until it switches over.  From my experience, this doesn’t take more than a few minutes at most.

 

Mint Sim:

 

I first tried out Mint Sim because of a Facebook ad…apparently they figured out that this crazy guy actually goes for these things.  The ad was for 3 months of service (of the plan described above) for just $35 as an initial trial.  I have only been using Mint Sim for about 3 weeks now, but so far I am very glad I switched.

 

Mint Sim’s pricing operates on a bulk scale, they offer 1, 3, 6, and 12-month pricing.  The price I listed in the chart is actually the monthly price calculated if you pay a year (the highest length they sell) up front for $199.  Paying month by month for the same plan would cost more than double, at $35/month.  While some may not like to pay up front, the savings is crazy.  It doesn’t take long of paying $50 or $70 per month on your current plan to realize it’s foolish to be dissuaded by an upfront $199 price tag.

 

Compared to T-Mobile, a single would save $640/year, and a couple would save $800/year with the 2GB plan above (due to the discounted rate with a second line on T-Mobile).  If the data has you thinking it’s worth the extra money to just be with T-Mobile, you can also get a 5GB plan for just $100 more instead making the savings “just” $540 (single) or $600 (couple) per year.

 

I was asked if you get T-Mobile Tuesdays since Mint Sim uses T-Mobile’s network: 

 

“T-Mobile Tuesdays” is a promotion from T-Mobile that offers customers free stuff every Tuesday, of their choosing.

 

I tried – and you don’t…but the value of whatever free stuff or deals you get from T-Mobile every Tuesday is sure to pale in comparison to having an extra $500 cash in your pocket to spend on whatever you want each year, especially if you wouldn’t have needed the stuff in the first place.  Similarly, you do not get the unlimited streaming that T-Mobile offers for video and music, but if you’re like me and use your phone mostly in the presence of a Wi-Fi network anyway, that feature probably isn’t helping much anyhow.

 

Setup for Mint Sim was very easy…it just took longer than the other providers I tried because I needed to get a SIM card from them.  Since they don’t sell in stores, Mint Sim mailed me my SIM card and I got it in a few days (for this reason, I would recommend that you order your SIM card at least a week or two before your current plan’s month ends).  Mint Sim is compatible with almost all phones with a SIM card slot, just not BlackBerrys.

 

The only problem I have had with Mint Sim since I started was that I was not receiving group messages or MMS messages, just texts, and iMessages.  

 

I thought that just came with the territory and was disheartened until I found a help page that walked me through how to fix the problem that just took a minute.  Again, the only downside I’ve found to these MVNOs is the initiation, and since then it’s been smooth sailing.

 

Their website for current customers is fantastic.  You can check your current data balance and add data ($10 per gig if you happen to need it), among other things. You can also select your next plan in case you want it to purchase a different plan when your current pay period is up.  I used this to opt in for the 1-year plan at $199 once my first 3-month trial period is over.  BONUS: When I logged in yesterday I found out that there is currently a sale going on for renewals that drops the 12-month price of this plan to just $159…dropping the monthly cost to 13.25/month.

 

What about leasing or buying a new phone?

 

I used to be a big gadget guy, and sometimes it comes back to me (just ask my PS4), but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few years–it’s that at some point a new phone is a colossal waste of money.  Until just last week I was still using the iPhone 4S that my parents got me when I was a junior in college (and I only upgraded because a 5S was given to me because it was just “collecting dust” in someone’s drawer).  The funny thing about my 4S is that it plays all the same podcasts, uses all the same apps, and even has a smaller profile than newer iPhones.  The idea that you need to upgrade every 2 years is insane to me.

 

That being said, if you really want a new phone, which you would otherwise be paying an additional $20-$30/month just to lease from your current cell phone provider, take some of the $1300 you’ll save over the next 2 years ($1800+ if you include those phone payments) and buy yourself a new one.  This will allow you to get a new phone on your time, not theirs, and you can even sell your old phone instead of turning it in and get some of the money back out of it.

 

I will monitor this for comments so that I can answer any questions you may have, so please, comment!

Thanks for reading!

 

Thank you so much for being here! I do have a few humble requests:

 

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– Our Index page has a complete listing of all published articles – check it out.

 

I’m glad you’re here. Thanks again and talk soon!

 

– Mike

 

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