The latest on my quest to reduce my cell phone bill

I’ve been working hard to reduce my cell phone bill. Here’s the latest

reduce my cell phone bill

My continued quest to reduce my cell phone bill — you can never have too many smartphones around.

It was way back in July when I last talked about my attempts to reduce my cell phone bill. If you’re looking for ways to bring down your monthly costs and are still dealing with an overpriced monthly contract plan, it may be an interesting read for you.

Back then I had begun testing a VERY low-cost cell phone structure, combining a Freedom Spot Photon 4G Mobile Hotspot with very low-cost prepaid (but auto-renewing) cell service from AirVoice. Total cost: $10/month. The trick is to move your main number to Google Voice and use the AirVoice number only for emergencies.

I’ve done quite a bit research since then on possible low-cost cell phone options and tried to keep track along the way. The results of my search for ways to reduce my cell phone bill are below, if you want to just jump ahead.

But first the update on my FreedomPop+AirVoice super cheap solution. The positives were that I could keep my same phone, which I was happy with, the low cost and the fact that I had no contract. Not being under a contract left me free to easily test without being committed to two years stuck with one carrier.

The negatives were that I had to pack a separate piece of electronics around all the time (not that big of a deal), and that the FreedomPop’s coverage was extremely limited (much bigger deal). Basically it gets a nice, strong signal in the main city, but anytime you leave the heavily populated areas, say 15 miles from downtown in any direction, it completely loses its signal. That actually became something a big pain any time we took a road trip. (One additional pain was that I got a lot of spam calls via the AirVoice number, which I found odd.)

So while I got used to the hassles of this set up  and didn’t even think much about it after a while, I began to consider my next test. There is a bit of a price war going on right now so real prices for cell phone service have been dropping rapidly, just as I predicted they would. So it’s pretty easy to find a solution for around $30 these days. But I wanted to save even more!

Giving Ting a try

My latest attempt at reducing my cell phone bill was to sign up with Ting. I canceled my AirVoice plan (I still use the FreedomPop from time-to-time as it has more utility for me than just supporting my cell phone.)

Ting has one of the most interesting models for reducing cell phone costs that I’ve so far found. I highly recommend trying it to just about anyone because it’s very likely they could save you a lot of money right away.

The way Ting works is they bucket your actual usage and charge you for what you actually used. Duh! Why has no one done this before? If you check out their Rates page, you can click the various boxes in their grid and the page will compute what your bill would be.

I’ve been using them for two billing cycles now and both bills were less than $12! That’s pretty sweet, given that I’m willing to pay up to $30/month if needed. And, remember, this is a no-contract carrier, so anytime I decide I’m unhappy, I can walk.

I did have to buy another phone because Ting uses Sprint’s network and my old phone was an AT&T phone. I picked up a used one for $120 — about what I can get for my old phone. I haven’t sold my AT&T phone yet, just in case I decide to try something else. So right now I own a Sprint phone and an AT&T phone.

Google Voice is still the backbone

It’s important to keep in mind that keeping my cell phone costs so low is only possible because I use Google Voice as the carrier for my main phone number. All my texting and most of my calls are done via Google Voice. The only data I use via Ting is when I can’t reach my home or other WiFi, which given that I’m home most of the time is rare.

Google Voice works pretty well for the most part. I love the transcribed voice mails and it’s very handy to “move your phone” by simply logging on elsewhere.

Phone conversations are sometimes choppy and there is that annoying slight delay that causes the two people to occasionally talk over each other. But, hey, it’s free, right?

You can read up more on how Google Voice works in my last post.

You get what you pay for

So this solution is not without its hassles. I’ve experienced delays in sending and receiving text messages, calls via Google Voice where the other party is very frustrated they can’t hear me (they say I’m “breaking up”). Calls were much more reliable before I got this Sprint-based phone to use with Ting. With everything else being the same — same WiFi, same App, same location — the call quality was much worse with my Samsung Galaxy SII than my HTC Vivid. I believe that this is because the WiFi receiver is not as powerful in the Galaxy.

Frustratingly when on a recent call with a consulting client, I had to give up on Google Voice and call her via my Ting line. She said it sounded MUCH better — and then that call dropped. Embarrassing! (Note that I’m not necessarily saying Ting is lacking because of this. We live on the back of a hill and always have weak cell phone signals here.)

So I’m still testing. I can deal with a little bit lower quality, but I do need reliability. I don’t talk on the phone very much but when I need to, it had better be there.

The app world is still pretty shaky

I have found a lot of difference between the various apps that exist to support Google Voice. There are three that I’ve tried: TalkaTone, GrooveIP and Spare Phone. TalkaTone was godawful. I suppose I should try it again, but my experience was so bad I cringe thinking about it. For quite a while GooveIP was great, although I was hoping for some software updates to correct some problems in maintaining a connection to Google Voice. They actually did improve that massively in a few later updates, but unfortunately they also seem to have screwed up the call quality. Just a few days I dropped that to try Spare Phone. Spare Phone is a much simpler app and has been working pretty well lately. It’s still too early to make a final judgment, but I like it so far. My only complaint is some scratchy call quality on my end. People I’ve talked to haven’t complained yet, so time will tell.

Other ways to reduce my cell phone bill

While it has some great benefits, using Google Voice is a fairly extreme way to drop your cell phone costs. By channeling the majority of your calls and texts through Google, you can greatly bring your costs down if you choose a low-cost cell phone.

There are some other ways to go, though. A few honorable mentions from my research.

  • Red Pocket Mobile 
    Red Pocket Mobile offers coverage on both GSM and CDMA networks so this could save you from having to buy a new phone if you want to test out a low-cost cell phone carrier.
  • Republic Wireless
    While I’m a huge fan of the Ting business model, the Republic Wireless model is probably my second favorite. Republic works by utilizing WiFi for its calling the majority of the time and then uses a cellular network when WiFi is unavailable. They cleverly switch seamlessly (UPDATE: Maybe not seamlessly — see comments) back and forth between the two networks so you don’t notice the switch. Thus they’re able to keep their monthly prices low — $25 for a standard plan. The big negative, of course, is that you have to use their proprietary phones to make this work. That means buying another phone for as much as $300. Assume you’ll keep your phone for two years and convert that to a monthly price and that’s another $12.50/month. So you’d basically be back to $37.50/month, which is no longer one of the cheaper options. If you can be disciplined and keep your phone for four years, that’d effectively put you at $31.25, but, again, that’s basically the same as many of the carriers below. If I could get a Republic Wireless phone cheaper, I’d be all over this. But if you need to buy a new smartphone anyway, this could be a good option for you. 
  • FreedomPop
    FreedomPop is really shaking things up in the industry by taking the price right to zero. Free data, Free texts and free voice — all of which are very limited — could be just the ticket for a light user. Based on my mobile internet experience, however, I’d be very worried about the coverage map. Hopefully this spreads and helps bring down the cost for the entire industry. 

These days there are many ways to reduce my cell phone bill so I don’t think I’ll ever need to pay more than around $30/month. I’ve been lower than $12 for around six months or so and while I can’t say it’s completely bulletproof, at this price I can handle some hiccups.

Here is a table I put together based on my research of low-cost providers. Take a look, explore. Your mileage may vary, but as long as you stay away from any long-term contracts, you can test a few different options until you find a good fit for your situation:

Lowering my cell phone bill: No-contract cell phone options

TingVariesVariesVariesVariesI love the Ting model -- a true pay for what you use structure.
FreedomPop200 minutes500500MBFree! (If you stay under their usage limits)Check the FreedomPop web site for details on their free phone plan. The Freedom Spot Mobile Hotspot is available at Amazon.
Republic WirelessUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited$25/month (3G)Republic Wireless has a unique offering heavily utilizing WiFi to enable calling. Based on the network speed desired, Republic has plans higher and lower than shown here.
AirVoice WirelessUnlimitedUnlimited100MB$30/monthAlso check out their other plans. There are quite a few viable options available for low cost.
ChitChat Mobile250 minutesUnlimited250MB$20/monthChitChat offers mix-and-match style pricing. Take a look at what you need and see if one of their plans would work for you.
Simple MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited$25/month
Consumer Cellular200 minutes1000100MB$25/monthConsumer Cellular is oriented toward the senior market. Many mix and match options to choose from.
I-Wireless200 minutesUnlimited200MB$25/monthOwned by grocery chain Kroger.
T-Mobile Prepaid100 minutesUnlimitedUnlimited$30/month
TracFone Wireless200 minutesIncludedIncluded$30/monthSeveral plans offer triple minutes with phone purchase. They also offer some pay as you go plans. Many of their offerings include bonuses in minutes and texts. It may be worth investigating their options if you think they might work for you.
Straight Talk Wireless1000 minutes1000Unlimited$30/month
H2O WirelessUnlimitedUnlimited500MB$30/month
Virgin Mobile300 minutesUnlimitedUnlimited$35/month
Go Smart MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited$35/month
Net 10 WirelessUnlimitedUnlimitedUp to 500MB$40/month
MetroPCSUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited$40/monthOwned by T-Mobile
GoPhone500 minutesUnlimited200 MB$40/monthAdditional data can be added to this plan for $5/MB. They also have other plans available.
PTEL MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited$40/monthA $35 plan is also available without high speed internet.
Boost MobileUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited$55/monthBoost also offers a gimmick where you can drop your bill by paying on time.
AIO WirelessUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited$55/monthOwned by AT&T
Verizon Wireless PrepaidUnlimitedUnlimited2GB$60/month
Red Pocket MobileUnlimitedUnlimited100MB$30/monthAlso has a basic $10/month plan. Red Pocket offers both CDMA and GSM so you may be able to bring your existing phone regardless of your current carrier.
Prices and details shown here are subject to change. Some links include affiliate links so I may get a few cents if you make a purchase.

How much are you guys paying for cell phone service these day? What service are you using to keep cell phone costs low? 

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37 Thoughts on “The latest on my quest to reduce my cell phone bill

  1. Epic article on low cost or free cell phone service!!! I’ll bookmark this because it’s a great resource.

    I just ordered a new (used) phone from ebay for $50. The HTC Evo 4g. It’s supposed to be compatible with Freedompop’s “bring your own device” service. And the monthly cell service itself is free (as long as you stay under the 200 mins talk/500 MB data). Which shouldn’t be a problem given my current usage.

    I’m excited to try it out, and kick my $25 plan from Virgin mobile to the curb. Free is slightly better than $25/month after all. Especially for a casual cell phone user like me!
    Justin @ Root of Good recently posted…Bill Gates Debunks 3 Myths That Block Progress For Poor CountriesMy Profile

    • Pretired Nick on January 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm said:

      I’ll be VERY interested to see how the FreedomPop works out for you. I didn’t dare give that a try after already being under some strain when trying their mobile internet, but I hope it works out and keeps dragging prices down in this industry.

  2. Quite a thorough analysis! I love that you’re trying everything and anything; I’m not that adventurous. I went ahead and got a Moto X from Republic Wireless, as I was paying $92 with Verizon. My old employer discount was up and I didn’t feel like paying even more, so I think it was worth it as far as the timing goes. It is kind of annoying that you must use their phone and there’s basically no resale value right now, but I am hoping it works out for the next two years.

    It would be great if they came out with a lower cost phone as my boyfriend was willing to switch, but doesn’t want to pay the $300. The other option I was considering was T-Mobile, but their service is atrocious here. Sprint isn’t that much better, but surprisingly I haven’t had any major issues yet.
    E.M. recently posted…When Have You Paid the Price?My Profile

    • Pretired Nick on January 27, 2014 at 2:26 pm said:

      I don’t know, I think you might be the adventurous one! I was too scared to commit to at least four years with Republic, which is what I’d have to do if I paid $300 for their phone. I’m sure as time goes on they’ll have more phone offerings and there will be more used Moto X’s out there. But I’m holding my fire on that one for now.

  3. I have the Republic Wireless Moto X, with the unlimited plan for $25 per month. It works well for my needs although I do drop calls occasionally.
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  4. Really interesting article, I didn’t know that there are free options. Well… probably there are none in Romania, but I am sure that as soon as wireless internet connections will be cover most of the world, we will no longer have to pay anything to be able to talk and message people. Until then, I can be happy that in Romania, for $25 per month I have 2,000 minutes (that I never get to use), 900 text messages and 2GB of internet traffic included. Still it’s something that I plan to cut down – I don’t need all those minutes and in the past month, since I work from home and mostly use the wi-fi, I never used more than 500 MB of data.
    C. the Romanian recently posted…Why I Might Never Become a MillionaireMy Profile

    • Pretired Nick on January 27, 2014 at 2:29 pm said:

      It is quite interesting that all over the world, cell phone companies seem to be coming down to around $30 or so. Glad you have a good set-up. I bet with your usage levels, you’ll be able to go even lower in the near future.

  5. FastCaster on January 27, 2014 at 12:05 pm said:

    Just chiming in with my experience. My Ting bills have been $12-$18/month. I have been happy with the service. I have also learned that watching your data usage and using WiFi at home and work has been much easier than I thought.

  6. Good stuff! My sister is on Ting now (Sprint refugee) and is doing well with it, when paired with making calls through Gmail. I use the same system (with PTel) and we’re paying right in the same ballpark as you: about $5-10 a month, the pay-as-you-go plan. I use Google Voice just for texting, but if I’m making a call I’ll do it right through Gmail and a headset. It’s better quality than a landline, I find, most of the time.

    I will gladly click the Seahawks button this time, as I am officially rooting against Peyton this week. I refuse to put him in the discussion with the greatest QBs of all time, but if he wins a 2nd championship, it’ll be hard to rule him out entirely.

    Tell Wilson to get his head out and start playing like he was in last year’s playoffs. We need a big game from that guy.
    Done by Forty recently posted…How We Used Mental Accounting to Pay Off Our MortgageMy Profile

    • Pretired Nick on January 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm said:

      My plan was to use gmail for all my outgoing calls, but I can’t seem to get it to work. I’ll have to spend a little more time with that now that you’re giving a favorable report.
      Another loyal Seahawks fan! I love it! Welcome to the world’s most fun bandwagon!
      I don’t know what’s going on with our offense, man. Either the offensive coaches are telling him to stay in the pocket or defenses have figured out that it’s too dangerous to let him out of the pocket. We’ll see what happens in six days!

  7. I use Google Voice for our “land line” using an Obihai box, and I’ve never had any of the problems you describe – maybe it’s a bandwidth thing (we’re on FIOS vs cell data)? I don’t really use it for my cell other than forwarding the call to my cell when certain people call.

    I’m still on AT&T for my cell service – mostly for international roaming reasons, I did the 2 cell phones while traveling thing before, no desire to repeat that. But I have started the process to unlock my iPhone since it’s off contract.
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted…Student Loan #1 Paid Off!My Profile

    • Pretired Nick on January 27, 2014 at 2:37 pm said:

      I think a lot of the problems I’m having are more related to the WiFi power of this phone and the software issues. I’m hoping next time I travel internationally I can just rely on WiFi for any phone usage needed, although maybe I’d get a local card and use it as a burner.
      We also moved our landline to Google Voice, but we just have it ring through to our cell phones, which almost never happens because we’ve mostly phased out that number. Nice to have, though, since we didn’t want to give up our old phone number.

  8. I paid for a VOIPo line for 24 months. It worked out to about $7/month. I use Ting for texting/data/voice. My bill has usually been around $15-20/month, but I have enough referral credits that I’m not sure I’ll ever pay a bill. I got a Nexus 5 for Christmas, so I’ve been using a bit more data and I think my bill is going to be closer to $30/month now. I’m okay with that, so long as it’s cheaper than T-Mobile prepaid’s $30/month plan! I was a Sprint refugee though and was pretty happy with the network, just not my $85/month bill! I couldn’t be happier with Ting 🙂
    Leigh recently posted…2013 In ReviewMy Profile

    • Pretired Nick on January 28, 2014 at 7:04 am said:

      Good to know! So far I like but am just keeping a close eye on my quality issues. Not sure how many of them are device and location (of my house) related.

  9. Wow – I am totally impressed with all of the research you’ve done. We’re still running on our pay as you go talk and text with T-Mobile, and running at about $100 a year. It works fine for me, but then again, I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to cell phones. My friends and fam know that a text or an actual call is about all I can handle, and that they’d better bring their smart phones if we’re going on a trip – otherwise they’ll have to deal with me just driving around and hoping for the best if we get lost. 🙂
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    • Pretired Nick on January 28, 2014 at 7:06 am said:

      Yeah, I know I can’t live without a smartphone any longer. It’s one of those things that once you have one, you can’t go back!

  10. Sounds like you’ve kind of created your own makeshift Republic Wireless setup, which is pretty cool. I’ve been on RW for a few months now and I give it a solid okay. Honestly the wi-fi is a little sketchy, even in places with a strong signal. Sometimes my voice is delayed which is pretty annoying. Also it doesn’t switch seamlessly between wi-fi and cell. If you’re on a call with wi-fi and for whatever reason the signal is lost, it hangs up, switches to cell, and calls the person back. Not the end of the word for sure, but not a seamless transition.

    I will say that I’m still on the old Defy XT and it’s possible that things are better with the Moto X. I haven’t really spent any time looking into it.
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    • Pretired Nick on January 28, 2014 at 7:09 am said:

      Oh dear, I hadn’t heard that at all! Fortunately I’m usually pretty stationary when I’m on the phone so I probably wouldn’t be too bothered with that issue at least.
      I guess you could say I do have a very similar set-up to Republic. I’d give it a solid OK as well — except that it’s so cheap. If I was paying $30 for this, I’d be demanding my money back. But at $12, I can easily put up with some issues.

  11. Very interesting plan…I’d consider this plan but it sounds a little complicated right now. I’m on a family plan and had an employer discount. My plan with voice/text/data comes out to about $55 a month so it’s bearable. My parents are on my plan too…your plan might be too complex for their liking…though they only need voice anyway so it might be doable. Good luck this Sunday!
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    • Pretired Nick on January 28, 2014 at 12:49 pm said:

      It probably sounds more complicated than it really is, but that said, it’s not for everyone and I can’t imagine trying to explain all the ins and outs to an older parent or something. If they only need voice, you can get very cheap voice-only plans, such as a GoPhone. You might come out ahead in dropping the family plan and giving them cheaper feature phones.
      Thanks for the positive vibes! Go Hawks!

  12. I love seeing how this technology is quickly improving. I predict that your cheap phone service will be all of our services within ten years.
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    • Pretired Nick on February 2, 2014 at 9:20 am said:

      I think you’re right, Joe! It’s so much more efficient to use internet data pathways. I’m sure they’ll come up with some new ways to gouge us, but hopefully we can stay one step ahead!

  13. I love Ting and their model. It is very strange to call them and have an actual person pick up the phone. No. Computers. At. All.

    I bought a used iPhone off of Craigslist and threw it on Ting and have been happy ever since.

    Google Voice is great too. I love having a proxy number that I can ring multiple lines with. I don’t even know what the real number to my phone is.

    Go Seahawks!
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    • Pretired Nick on February 2, 2014 at 9:22 am said:

      Yeah, it’s funny, I don’t know what my “real” number is, either. Nice I have it when I need it, though. I’m a little surprised no one has shown up to compete with Google Voice, but I suppose that’s a pretty major undertaking.
      Go Hawks!

  14. Pingback: My quest for a lower cell phone bill |

  15. I like Ting as well, but Republic Wireless is working out very well for me so far. I signed up for the $10 plan with the new phone and we’ll see if that’s a good fit. Unlimited call and text AND only data with WiFi.
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    • Pretired Nick on February 5, 2014 at 8:35 am said:

      For me, the $10/month plan won’t work because I needs me some mobile data! In fact I need it more than I need any kind of voice package. I’d still like to try Republic one of these days, but I don’t want to cough up the money for the phone.

  16. This is something I have been interested in doing as well since mine is around $60/month, but I live in Canada in the world of expensive cell phone providers.
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    • Pretired Nick on February 5, 2014 at 8:41 am said:

      I should have done some research into Canada as well, since I do have quite a few Canadian readers. On a quick check, though, it looks like you could bring your costs down quite a bit by moving a prepaid plan and/or a mobile internet solution. I’m not sure when Google Voice is moving into Canada, but that will open up some options for you as you could move to a fully data-based solution and could bring your costs down by at least half of what you’re paying today.

  17. Most of our family is now with Republic. Things have been quite good and wifi calls are clear. They fixed most of the dropped call issues with the Moto X. The old phone sucked. Like you, we haven’t made the switch because of the $300 upfront… recently posted…Plant These Money ‘Seeds’ in Your 20sMy Profile

  18. In the past few months I moved from Net10 to Ting Wireless for all but 1 of our phones.

    Home Phone (stays in the house)
    Me (iPhone 4)
    14 year old (iPhone 4S)
    11 year old (iPhone 4)

    Our bill has been between $74 and $92 before taxes.

    Down from $190 including taxes on Net10 and Tracfone for the home phone.

    Ting just announced new lower data rates which should lower our bill by $12 or so dollars a month.

    My wife is the lone holdout as she gets reimbursed for work. So we left her on a $45 Net10 plan which she is 100% reimbursed for.

    So averaging ~$25 per line including taxes. With no real limitations on usage.

    We pay for what we use. Brilliant!!!

    AT&T our bill was just shy of $300. The move to Net10 helped, but the move to Ting has really started the savings rolling in.

    I sold our AT&T phones for more than our Sprint based phones cost. Got a referral link and signed up my sister for another referral.

    Check out Ting.

    Fargo, ND

    • Pretired Nick on February 8, 2014 at 6:44 am said:

      Thanks for the great comment, Wade!
      We moved our home number to Google Voice and we have that forward through to our cell phones. My wife gets her phone paid through work as well so that’s a non-issue so far.
      Glad you like Ting — I’m pretty happy so far. The Ting+Google Voice combo is super cheap, but does have a few hassles. I’m loving the savings, though!

  19. This a pretty comprehensive list. I ended up going with straight talk (not my first choice) because my market is too small. I tried to go with Republic but it wasn’t available and Google wouldn’t support me porting my number over either. After hearing about it here I might have to look into Ting down the road. I must say I have been happy with Straight talks service though.

    • Pretired Nick on February 20, 2014 at 12:07 pm said:

      Glad to hear StraightTalk is working well for you. Bottom line is there is no reason to pay for overpriced monthly service these days. Even if people don’t go to my extremes, there is no reason to pay $80/month or more just to have a phone.

      • Agreed. My last plan was with Verizon and was $82 a month. That was also with a work discount. What a “deal!” Its ridiculous and I am glad new players are coming to the table with solid offers.

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