minimalism

My phone bill this month was negative one dollars

I’ve carried a cell phone for about 10 years, and I barely ever use it. Between Twitter, IM, Skype, and Google Voice, I could conceivably shut if off completely, and never know the difference. The only remotely regular phone calls I make are about once or twice per month to my parents. Because of that, I use probably less than 75 minutes per month. On top of that, I’ve had texting turned off for over a year, since no one knows my cell number; everyone has my Google Voice number. So if someone texts me, it comes in via Google Voice over my data connection. And with wifi at home and at work, the places I spend the majority of my time, I use very little data. Despite all that, I was paying about $80 / month on AT&T’s lowest minutes plan (500 / month), no texting, and 2nd lowest data plan (2GB / month). I don’t need all that.

Here’s what I did to drop my phone bill so drastically:

1) Paid full price for a cell phone.

A little over a year ago, I got fed up with my iPhone, and traded it in and bought a Nexus S. AND I payed full price. After trading in my iPhone, I paid about $250 / $300 for the phone. BUT this meant I wasn’t tied to a carrier, and it didn’t extend my 2 year contract with AT&T. Which meant that when the contract ended last month, I was able to cut ties without paying any penalties.

2) I bought a phone that took SIM cards.

You can go back and forth all day long about Verizon versus AT&T or Sprint or T-Mobile. I don’t care. Except for this: I want a carrier that gives me a SIM. Why? Because I can remove it and put in a new one at any time. I don’t have to call someone to transfer my phone to a new carrier. If you can pull the battery, you can change carriers. When I made my switch, it was much easier to do, because I didn’t have to waste time on the phone getting the hardware switched over.

3) I went pre-paid.

There seems to be a stigma that if you are on a pre-paid phone, it’s because you either can’t afford a contract, or you can’t pass a credit check to get put on a plan. That is stupid. I signed up for a T-Mobile pre-paid SIM, and it cost me $25 for setup fees, and my first 45-ish mintues. Those minutes will expire after 90 days, if I don’t use them. I fully expect that not only will I not use the minutes, but I won’t care when they expire. Because buying another 30 minutes is only 10 bucks. Those 30 minutes will expire after another 30 days, but that’s fine, too. Those minutes are basically for emergencies and convenience for when I can’t be near an internet connection to make my calls for FREE with Google Voice. I don’t expect to ever have to renew my minutes before they expire, except maybe in rare cases. That means I am paying $10 every 90 for minutes. Or, about $3.33 / month. Note: this is for voice only. As discussed, I use data for texting through Google Voice, and I am getting my data from another source.

4) I discovered Ting.com

Ting is a carrier that I found out about a few months / maybe a year ago. They have the best plans I have ever seen. Voice, data, and texting are all separate plans, and you can choose how much of each you intend to use. And here’s the best part: if you go over, you just get bumped up to the next plan for the month. This means you don’t pay overages, except for the difference between the plan you are on, and the plan you got bumped up to. For example, if you’re on the Small plan for data, you get 100MB / month for $10. If you use more than 100MB, you get bumped to the Medium plan of 500MB for $25. Your “overage” is $15, but you have an extra 400MB that month. And this gets even better: If you are on the 500MB plan, and you use less than the lower plan (100MB) THEY CREDIT YOU THE DIFFERENCE. This is how I had a negative phone bill this month. I paid for the 500MB plan, and I used less than 100MB of data. So they credited me $15. About 2/3 of the way through last month, I saw that how little data I was using, so I changed my plan down to 100MB / month. That’s right! You can change your plan at any time! So my bill for this month would have been $10, but I had that $15 credit. This all applies to all three types of plans, too. Not just data, but also voice and texting. I just don’t have voice or texting through Ting. Also, you can pool your plan across devices. If you do this, you pay an extra $6 / month / device. That’s it. Most carriers have MUCH more complicated pricing schemes for this. With Ting, they don’t care how many devices you have (to a point – I think there is an upper limit, but as I recall, it’s somewhere in the 20s).

Between the $10 / 3-months for voice and $15-ish / month for data, my phone bill dropped from about $80 / month down to less than 20 / month. ($15-ish, because the 100MB data plan is $10, plus the $3 for 1 device, plus taxes and surcharges.)

Caveat Emptor:
I did have to make some weird “sacrifices” / trade-offs in order for this to work. Ting currently doesn’t support switching phones onto their network. You have to buy a device from them, and they are unsubsidized. I didn’t want to have to buy a brand new phone, so instead, I bought a wifi hotspot from them. This means if I want data on my phone, I have to carry an extra gadget around. It’s small enough to carry in a pocket, and between that, jackets, and my laptop bag, this usually isn’t a problem. This also means I have data for my laptop and Kindle everywhere, too, which is nice. And I didn’t have to root my phone for tethering.

In addition to that, if I get a phone call and I’m at home, I usually have to reject the call from my phone, and call the person back from my computer. This is a bit annoying. I can answer incoming calls from Google Voice through Gmail, but in order to do it, I have to have my computer on, Gmail open in a browser, and chat enabled. Unless I am expecting the call, I never have all that going on at the same time. It would be nice if I could have an app running in the background to take Google Voice calls through, but Google doesn’t allow that right now, as far as I know. I do have an app open for Google Voice texts, though, which is great. I could achieve this with Skype, however that means I would have to pay for (what used to be called) Skype-in and Skype-out, so that I could call phones from Skype, and I could get a phone number that, when called, would ring my Skype account. The last I looked into this, it was about $90 / year for both. Right now, I’m not sure it’s worth the money. Time will tell though.

It’s only been a month, but I am definitely glad I switched over to this setup, despite it being a little convoluted. If you use your phone and data as little as I do, it’s definitely worth thinking about. By the end of next month, I expect that I will have completely recouped my expenses in buying the hotspot, and the new carrier charges. After that, I will be saving about $60 / month on phone service alone. If you actually buy a phone from them, it will take longer for the expense of the unsubsidized phone to break even, but it’s still doable.

One last point to make: Ting piggy-backs on the Sprint network. This means anywhere that Sprint works, Ting should work, too. But as I understand it, Sprint’s network isn’t as big as some of the other carriers. So far, I haven’t had any issues with signal for the hotspot, but I am in a large metropolitan area. This might not be a feasible option in some areas.

Consider giving Ting a shot. Full disclosure: That is an affiliate link. If you click it and sign up, I will get a discount on my service. But I would recommend looking at the service even if they didn’t have a recommendation program. In fact, I started writing this post before I knew they did (believe it or not). If you still don’t trust it, here’s a straight-up link to their site, sans affiliate tagging.

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