Perhaps you’re like many Americans who spend over $100 monthly for the average wireless bill, and would like to shave that bill down.
You’ve come to the right place. There are several ways to go about it. Let USA TODAY help you.
The first decision is to get ready to switch from what you currently have and get a lower-priced option. You’ll need to skip the major carriers and their advertised rates, which when you dig into the fine print, are way higher than others. (There are some bargains, and we’ll fill you in on that, below.)
The second decision is to agree to use Wi-Fi as much as possible and not be charged for excess service that you may never use. This is where the extra costs usually come in.
You’ll also need to use your current phone, or plan to buy a new one. (We have some ideas on that as well.)
The major carriers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint – have the highest prices, starting at $80, $75, $70 and $60 monthly, respectively. This compares to the $15 monthly starter plans from Mint Mobile, Unreal Mobile and Metro Mobile.
The scrappy independents, who offer low-priced service as their only calling cards against the better financed wireless giants, have the best deals. But as with all wireless plans, be wary of the fine print.
Mint, which is co-owned by actor Ryan Reynolds, and Unreal Mobile, owned by low-cost carrier Red Pocket Mobile, advertise that $15 monthly starting price. But it goes up to $25 after 3 months. The companies let you lock in the $25 price for a year after the first 3 months, and you need to commit to paying monthly for the year.
Mint and Unreal argue that the average consumer drives to work in the morning, uses Wi-Fi at the office, comes home and switches to home Wi-FI for an evening of Netflix, Spotify and other high-data usage streamers, and thus don’t need the unlimited data plans offered by the most expensive wireless carriers.
How to know how much you consume? If you’re with one of the big carriers now, they offer online tools on their websites to tell you how much data you consume. You can also check out various smartphone apps, but you’ll find more precise data from your current carrier.
I, for instance, wouldn’t qualify for the low-cost carrier deals, per T-Mobile. I slogged through 20 GB of data in March and 25 GB in February.
Can you live with 3 GB? If not, the best you can get from the discounters is 12 GB a month, and that costs $25 at first, then $45 monthly.
Finding major carrier bargains
So if you consume a lot of data, perhaps you’ll want to head back to the majors. T-Mobile has a sweetheart deal for seniors (anyone 55 or older), at $40 monthly for unlimited talk, text and data.
Don’t use the phone much at all? How does $2 a day sound? AT&T offers this pre-paid option, which sounds great, unless you use the phone every day, and then you’re paying $60 monthly.
Metro Mobile, a T-Mobile brand, offers service with 2 GB of data at $15 monthly. AT&T also beats the discounters with a $25 monthly plan that will get you 8 GB of data to use, which is $10 less than the non-promo pricing from Unreal and Mint. However, the fine print is huge. If it’s a pre-paid plan, you’ll need to fork over $300 upfront for the year before you get service. Plus, AT&T will throttle you down to a practically unusable, really slow “maximum of 128Kbps” if you go over your monthly 8 GB allotment.
Walmart’s Straight Talk pre-paid option is $35 monthly, with 3 GB of data, or $10 more than Mint and Unreal.
Bring your phone
To get the bargains, if you’re in need of a new phone, you don’t have to pay full price to buy a new one. Since we’re in bargain land, there are so many lower-priced phones with many of the same features as the $1,000 club.
They make calls, they text, they surf the internet, they even take photos. What they won’t do is win you any bragging rights for having the latest and greatest. (The camera also probably won’t be as sharp as current models.)
The used site Back Market has a used LG G7, which is a model from 2019, for just $129, and you could pick up a bare-bones Samsung Galaxy J for under $50 there as well. If you need something from the iPhone family, the site Swappa has the XR from 2019 for $379, while Gazelle has the two-year-old Samsung Galaxy S8 for $150.
If you need a new dev, Apple and Samsung both have liberal trade-in programs. The new iPhone 11 is $449 with an acceptable trade-in, or $699 without. The new Samsung Galaxy S20 starts at $199 off with trade in, or $799 at full price.
There are lots of options out there. The cellphone is the most sold consumer tech device, and many companies would love to have your business. Have questions about where to get the best deals? I’d love to hear from you on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham.