Is Your Cell Phone the One Thing that You can’t Live without Despite the Hefty Cell Phone Bill?

No matter where we go or what we do, it’s always there. Most of us have smartphones, though I have seen the ubiquitous flip/feature phone in the wild. They are out there . . . trust me. You know who you are. But back to your cell phone. Do you know how much it’s costing you in your cell phone bill each month?

Now, before you get your hackles up, I’m not going trying to take away anyone’s phone. I just want you to be educated in the choice of carrier and the amount of money you’re spending each month for the privilege to stay connected.

And before we go too far: How much is your cell phone bill each month?

According to a recent survey by J.D Power, the average monthly bill (including all individual and family plans) was $157/month!! In my book that’s insanity! I almost choked on my coffee. Add your cell phone to the list of things for which you shouldn’t be paying more than $100/month.

Related: Do you spend more than $100/month on cable?

For years, my wife and I were in the habit of regularly spending $120 – $140 per month for 2 phones with unlimited data. We used Big Red, as most people do. They have the best coverage and reliability. But you pay for that. At the time it was important. No one likes dropped calls or spotty coverage in more rural locations.

Why did we initially choose “Big Red” (Verizon)?

I moved to upstate New York for my first real job, leaving my girlfriend (now wife) still in college in Florida. We were miles away and the only way we had to talk to each other was using calling cards. Does anyone still use those? I would load them with minutes and use them at any land-line or even payphone to talk to my girlfriend.

I moved into my new apartment on a Saturday. On Sunday after the dust had settled a bit, I went looking for a payphone to call my girlfriend. There was no landline at the new apartment, and I didn’t yet have a cellphone. I wanted to let her know I was ok, and I also just wanted to hear her voice.

I drove all over town looking for one. Even back then, they were quickly losing their popularity and usefulness. But it was the only option I had. I was all by myself, and I couldn’t talk to anyone I knew.

Finally I found one. I tried to use my calling card to call her, but it wouldn’t go through. The stupid payphone took my minutes, but never connected the call. It was the only payphone I could find, and I was desperate!! I tried a few times, but it was no use.

I was in a strange city where I knew no one. And I couldn’t even make a simple phone call to hear a familiar voice. It’s during times like these where you don’t take for granted the simple luxuries that most of us are afforded. Being able to make a phone call is one of those simple luxuries.

The next day I walked into a Verizon store and walked out with 2 cell phones and a low-tier plan. I sent one of the phones to my girlfriend. That was in June of 2005.

Maybe it was because Verizon “rescued” me in a time of loneliness and need. Or maybe because they offered a good service. Whatever the case, we stuck with them. That first monthly bill was $98.32 in July of 2005. I still have that bill (sentimentality and all). It was buried in our files.

Eventually we upgraded to smartphones, and with the added capabilities came added cost.

And that’s how they get you. You get used to having something, and you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t live without it. And maybe that’s true.

But you incrementally upgrade with a few added features here or there, and before you know it, you’re paying $300 per month for a family’s worth of smartphones. That’s ridiculous!!

Here’s what I suggest.

There are multiple options out there besides the big 3 or 4 (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile).

There are many other smaller cell phone providers that offer the same or sometimes better plans at a fraction of the price. These companies are called MVNOs, or mobile virtual network operators.

Before you start talking about coverage and reliability, you should know that all those MVNOs use the same towers and networks that the big boys have already setup. They simply rent the bandwidth at wholesale prices and set up their own plans and coverages. Because they don’t have to maintain the infrastructure they can afford to give you the same experience as the big 4, but at much lower prices.

Here’s a great list of all the MVNOs that exist. Remember they all use the big 4’s networks. So find one that uses a network that will work in your area.

For the last 9 months, my wife and I have been using one these MVNOs. We switched from Verizon to Republic Wireless.

Our cell phone bill for 2 smartphones with 1 GB of data each is only $49/month!!! We’ve saved almost $600 dollars since we’ve switched. And it’s been relatively painless. We have unlimited minutes and texting. And the coverage in our area is similar to what we had before.

Republic Wireless doesn’t have the same selection of smartphones that Verizon does, and they don’t offer unlimited data. But since we have wifi at home (most of you do too), 1 GB of data has been fine. Another drawback is that not all of them are compatible with the iPhone.

Don’t finance Your phone with your cell phone bill!!

With Verizon, we were paying $20/month towards my phone . . . for 2 years! For a total phone cost of $680 ($200 upfront + $20 x 24 months) And my wife was due for an upgrade as well. If you have to have the latest tech, don’t finance it. Buy a used phone off EBAY, or come with your own phone. Remember, cash, cash, cash!!

Your cell phone bill is for the access and data charges, not the phone itself. You’ll end up paying more than you need to for your phone.

I could have bought a 1 year old phone for half the price of that $680 smartphone. And the older phone would have served me just as well.

Now we buy our phones with the cash we’re saving by not paying Big Red’s outrageous prices.

Take-aways

We stuck with Verizon for many years because of familiarity. And they had their hands in our pockets robbing us blind for years. But once we did finally switch, we’ve saved $$$$$. Our smartphone experience hasn’t changed a bit. We can still make actual calls and text. All for less. And that means more to me now than what happened 13 years ago.

Oh, and never, ever, finance your phone by adding payments to your monthly bill.

Related: 10 Ways to Save Crazy Amounts of Money!

So . . . how much is your cell phone bill? And are you happy with that amount?

Let me know in the comments below (I respond to each one), and thanks for reading and sharing.

Author

Chris is the original Cash Dad. He's a father of 3 and a mechanical engineer by trade.

12 Comments

  1. Why is it bad to finance your phone with your bill especially when your phone has died and you need a new one? Also totally cannot survive on 1 gb of data/ cycle … pretty sure I use like 1gb per day ….

    • Chris Reply

      I’m not sure I can help you with the data usage, but you’ll pay more for the phone by financing it than if you bought it outright – either from the carrier directly or from another store.

  2. Not really.. the iPhones go for 549-999 these days. What you pay per month equals that amount.

  3. Mike Monfredi Reply

    I like it, Chris. These MVNOs aren’t as popular as I thought they might be. Many people I talk to about this don’t know. But – When you start talking about changing behavior around something so intimate as your phone, folks tend to resist the change – no matter the cost. But I feel like I’ve heard some saying about stepping outside of your comfort zone…

    Nice post, Chris. Spread the word!

    • Chris Reply

      Thanks for the comment, Mike. I agree. Our phones are such a part of our lives that the risk of losing it or the experience of it not being the same keeps many trapped paying too much.

  4. My cell phone bill is $30. My MVNO (thanks for teaching me a new acronym) is Cricket, and I’m pleased with their service. That $30 buys be 2 GB of data and unlimited talk/text. It works very well for me. My husband is the proud owner of one of those flip phones that are still out there, and he pays $100/year for 1000 minutes. He uses fewer than 300 of those minutes, but it’s still the cheapest way for him to have a phone.

    I totally agree with your advice to never finance a phone!

    • Chris Reply

      I’m not much of an iPhone fan, but it sounds like Verizon is trying to listen to it’s customers at least a little bit. And by creating some more palatable options. Thanks for the info.

  5. I pay $50 and some change a month for Verizon – unlimited talk and text and 5 GB with rollover data. I do get somewhere around a 18% discount via my employer which saves somewhere close to ten bucks.

    Phone is paid for. I bought it new and financed it, but I think next time I’ll look into buying a used one.

    • Chris Reply

      That doesn’t sound too bad. Good on you for keeping a phone long enough to pay it off, and for wanting to buy a another one used. Thanks for the comment. ?

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