Cell phone contracts with subsidized phones are pretty much a thing of the past. T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T have all eliminated them from their available plans. This means that you’re almost certainly going to pay full price for a phone, which also means there is no reason at all to pay big bucks for a monthly cell phone plan from one of the Big 4.
This is where MVNOs come in (mobile virtual network operators). MVNOs buy service from the bigger providers in bulk and then resell it piece by piece to individuals. There are a huge number of these in the US and other countries of the world, and they typically offer monthly plans at prices significantly below what you can get from the big firms.
We here at Frugal Paradise use H2O Wireless, an AT&T reseller. We went with AT&T because it works well in our city, and it’s the only network that allows me to get service at my desk (which is in the sub-basement of a fortress (i.e. research hospital)). We’ve had H2O since October of 2014 and have been very happy with them. It was a breeze to set up with our existing phones, and straightforward to switch devices when I bought a new iPhone several months ago. Their sim cards are $0.01 on Amazon or you can actually get them for free on the H2O website if you sign up for service. They have customer service chat on their website as well which is one of my favorite features since it means I can usually get someone right away if I have questions or need help.
H2O has two different types of plans: pay as you go and monthly unlimited. Mr. Paradise uses the pay as you go. He loads $100 onto his plan about once a year and slowly draws it down. The last time he reloaded was at the beginning of November 2015 and he still has $76.85 left today (that’s a little over $7 / month!). This plans costs 5¢ / minute, 5¢ / text, and 10¢ / megabyte. WiFi is available almost everywhere, which means he rarely has to use the data. And since iPhone has a pretty huge market share, most of the texts he sends go through iMessage and are free.
I use the cheapest monthly unlimited plan. It’s $30 / month but you get an additional 10% discount for setting up autopay, tax included. That means we are paying ~$34 / month for two iPhones. We like this setup because we can call and text Canada, or 50 other countries, for free. We have some family abroad so this helps a lot, and we just use my phone whenever either of us needs the international features. Data rolls over each month so if you don’t use it all you can save it up. I don’t find I usually go anywhere near the 500 MB because I’m always on WiFi, so the cheapest one works for me. For better or worse, if you use up all your data your phone will just stop internetting until you top up your account, so there aren’t any overages but you might get caught away from home without data. This feature might be nice if you are buying service for your family and you don’t want overage fees if someone goes over the data limit.
A similar plan directly from AT&T with less data and no international talk credit would cost at least $45 + tax per phone depending on which device you choose. Don’t be fooled, it is the exact same network! If AT&T (or whichever) works for you, a reseller will too.
Below are the different plans. If you use one of the links from this blog and sign up for H2O, you’ll get $10 off your first recharge (and we get a one-time credit off our monthly bill too!).
In any case, I highly recommend you check out the resellers available on your preferred network. You could save a boatload of money, and still get the exact same (or better servce). So what are you waiting for, frugalize your cell phone plan!