Our New $10.00 Per Month iPhone Plans

Mr. Money Mustache ends a long and expensive legacy by swapping a tiny card.

After more than a decade of enjoying mobile phone plans that were subsidized by various high-tech companies, Mrs. Money Mustache and I were finally brought back down to Earth this month as she shed the last remnants of her cushy part-time job.

This meant that suddenly we were paying for our own double iPhone habit out of our own pockets, which at $110 per month combined, was a pretty Antimustachian thing to leave on the books. Sure, we can afford it and they are still used mostly for “work”. But it is an inefficient way to handle our communications, since neither of us is a heavy phone user. Our existing carrier (AT&T) did not offer any reasonably priced plans for light users (the mandatory data package alone runs $20/month for 300MB, whether you use it all or not). So we went hunting.

The goal was to combine the best aspects of mobile and smartphone ownership (nationwide calling without long distance fees, having your phone, email, internet access, recipe book, camera, video recorder, voice recorder, calendar, notepad, music player, virtual scratch turntable, etc. all in a single device that is always in your pocket).. with the minimal cost associated with a ‘dumbphone’ on a prepaid plan.

As I’ve learned over the past year from some of the MMM readers, nowadays you can do just that. You can take an existing smartphone (iPhone of any version, Androids such as the Samsung Galaxy, and many others), and by simply swapping out the SIM card, bring it to another mobile carrier. You even get to keep your old phone number when you switch companies.

Many of these new options are called Mobile Network Virtual Operators (MNVOs), and they are in fact just re-selling access to the bigger carriers’ networks. So you get the same reception, coverage, and reliability as you had before.

I’ll start with the juicy end result: Mrs. MM and I now have our iPhones running on plans that cost us only ten bucks per month. That includes any combination of the following:

  • Up to 250 minutes of voice calling, which uses up your $10.00 at a rate of 4 cents per minute.
  • Up to 500 text messages, which use up your balance at 2 cents per message (in either direction).
  • Cellular Data (any that you use while not on a wi-fi network) is billed at 33 cents per megabyte.

If you use up your 10 bucks, you log into your Airvoice account and add another $10.  Note that there are currently some annoying glitches in the way their system works, described in footnote 1 at the bottom of this post.

The plan we’re using is called the Airvoice Wireless $10 Plan. It looks great on paper, but the company is just a bit new and flaky at this point, so be warned that it might not be quite as smooth an experience as your current Cadillac $120/month plan. However, being both Mr. Money Mustache and a retired software engineer from the telecom/datacom industry, I figured I’m up for a little Telephone Science Experiment. Especially considering the thousands it will save me (and the millions it could save the MMM readership as a whole)! By chopping a combined $100 per month from our monthly costs, we’ll end up about $17,300 further ahead every ten years after compounding, as noted in the old classic about Short-Termitis, the Bankruptcy Disease.

So let’s get into the details:

Looking at our phone use history for the past year, we found our habits would fit nicely into the new plan. My chitchatting has ranged from 58-234 minutes of voice and from 50-100 text messages per month. On top of this, most of the voice is done at home, which could just as easily be done on the computer using any of the free voice-over-internet programs including Google Talk or Skype (Google talk allows you to call regular phones for free, even between Canada and the US). And text messages from one iPhone to another don’t cost anything these days (they go through the “iMessage” feature). Plus even text messages to other non-iPhone people can be had for free, as mentioned in my Google Voice article.

Switching from AT&T to Airvoice (or a similar MNVO) took some research and quite a few steps. But to make it easy for you, here’s the summary, based on a report fresh from the keyboard of Mrs. Money Mustache, who did most of the legwork:

Steps to Switch your iPhone from AT&T to a Prepaid Plan:
(in this example, we refer to Airvoice, but other MNVO carriers would be similar)

  1.  Check to make sure that your contract is up. If you just signed up for an iPhone5, you might be hearing the litle wah-wah-wah-waaaah trumpet song right now, as you are probably locked into a 2 year contract. Come back and read this later. You can use this link to check your AT&T contract start and end dates.
  2. Next we’ll need to “unlock” your phone so it can run with other carriers. You only become eligible for an unlock when your contract ends. You can check unlock eligibility here.
  3. Request a device unlock for your iPhone through AT&T’s online form here.
    You will need your IMEI number, which you can get from your “settings->general->about” menu, or by dialing *#06# from your phone. You will receive a “IPhone Unlock Request Received” e-mail notification from AT&T.
  4. If you are sure you’re eligible for an unlock, and you are happy with the Airvoice coverage area (see this map) go ahead and order your SIM card ($4 per card) from Airvoice Wireless here .
  5. If you do not have a Passcode/PIN set up for your AT&T account, go ahead and set one up now with this link. You’ll need to give this PIN to Airvoice when it’s time to port your number.
  6. Wait for your unlock request to get processed (it took 3-4 days for each of our requests). Once your unlock has been processed, you will receive an e-mail from AT&T called “How to Complete Your Authorized iPhone Unlock”.
  7. The email will tell you to plug your phone into iTunes and do a backup and restore. Once you finish, iTunes should show a “Congratulations, Your iPhone is Unlocked” message.
    This worked perfectly for Mrs MM, while MMM had hacked and jailbroken his own phone earlier, so it became a can of worms. He never got the Congratulations message. But eventually we prevailed after further hacking. You can check your phone’s unlock status by typing in your IMEI at this website:  http://iphoneimei.info
  8. Hopefully you’ve received your SIM card from Airvoice Wireless by now. Ours both came in the mail very quickly. Note: if you have an iPhone 4 or newer, you’ll need to cut down the plastic frame around the Airvoice SIM card with scissors to fit in the newer, smaller slot (as shown in headline picture for this article. See YouTube for examples. No need to do this with the iPhone 3.
  9. You’re all ready to purchase a calling plan and port your number! Take a look at all the Airvoice plans here. As noted earlier, we chose the $10 Talk and Text Plan, but there are also plans for heavier users, and pay-as-you-go-plans for extremely light users (which cost more per minute).
  10. Download any statements or other stuff you need from your old AT&T account. After step 11, your account will automatically be nuked!
  11. Fill out the “Port Your Number” page on the Airvoice web site: . You can also call Airvoice at 1-888-944-2355. You’ll need to provide
    – your account number with AT&T
    -your PIN/Passcode from step 5
    – the number from the Airvoice SIM card you just got in the mail
    – your AirVoice Refill PIN Number (if you don’t have one, just put xxx in this field
    –  the type of plan your purchased
  12. Put your new Airvoice SIM card in the phone. You can use the end of a paperclip in the small hole in the side of the iPhone to pop out the SIM card tray.
  13. See if you have service! One of our phones started working immediately, and the second took and hour and required a phone reboot.

It was a long haul, but you’re finally done. In my case, I can look forward to a $1200/year savings, which translates into the cashflow generated by $30,000 of ‘stash at a 4% withdrawal rate.

Whenever you need to buy more airtime, you just use this link.  After purchasing, you’ll get a confirmation e-mail with an order number.

A few notes and observations on Airvoice:

Every time you make a call or send a text, you’ll get a very useful pop-up alert like the one in this picture to let you know the funds remaining on your plan.

Since data is more expensive with this plan, we now disable cellular data for casual use (settings->general->cellular->cellular data-> off). Text messages and wi-fi still work perfectly, and my own town is blooming with free wi-fi spots (all public parks, schools, and most businesses around here provide free access, not to mention the blanket of coverage in my immediate neighborhood from my giant rooftop wifi antenna). So the data plan is mostly for trips and adventures.

Apple’s proprietary iMessage system still works (no charge to message from one iPhone to another), which is a nice surprise.

You might want to set up Google Talk on your home computer so that you can easily make free calls from there. This will help reduce the number of minutes you use on your phone.

The account options on the Airvoice website are pretty limited. You can edit your profile, change your password, and buy airtime, but you can’t view your usage or call history. Luckily, you get that information at the end of each call as noted above. You can also use your phone’s built-in statistics as a backup tracker: Settings – General – Usage – Cellular Uses (at bottom) – Reset Statistics.

We’ve only had this service for four days so far. And so far, so good. But as problems crop up, I will note them at the bottom of this article.

And now I’d like to turn it over to the readers: Airvoice is just one of many low-cost phone options besides the expensive main providers. Thousands of readers are probably already using other alternatives, perhaps better ones than the plan I chose for this article. Share them, give us all the details and links, and we’ll build an even better guide to killing the $100-per-month phone bill.

Alternatives include:
AT&T Operators

Sprint Operators

Verizon Operators

  • PagePlus Cellular, Walmart Family Mobile,  Straight Talk (they have phones for both Verizon and ATT network)

T-Mobile  Operators

  • Spot Mobile, GoSmart Mobile, PlatinumTel, SIMPLE Mobile

More of these MNVOs are opening (and closing) every month. Luckily, a reader later pointed out that there is now a Wikipedia page that tracks all of these : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_mobile_virtual_network_operators

(…more to come…)


1 – The Airvoice $10 refill glitch:

Update as of March 29, 2013: It looks like this has been fixed – the company now offers automatic renewal and credit card billing at the end of the month, just like every other monthly service in the world. So it’s convenient at last.

Here’s the old problem, which has now been solved, just in case it comes up again:

When we first learned about Airvoice, the $10.00 plan worked exactly as you’d expect it to: you can pay $10 for 30 days, or you can buy multiple $10.00 credits and have them stack up in your account, and at the end of each month (or when your 250 minutes gets used up), you automatically move on and start nibbling upon the next $10.00 credit with a fresh 30-days-later expiration date. It would make sense to buy at least a few months at a time, both for efficiency, and because of the following inconvenient policy on the Airvoice site:

To avoid service interruption, you will need to add a new refill card to your account before your airtime expires. Once your airtime expires, you will have 30 days to add a refill card. If no card is added, your account will be canceled. You will lose your phone number. If you wish to restore service after your account is canceled, you will need a new phone number and a new Airvoice SIM card.

However, they recently changed it so that if you buy a $10.00 credit, you get extra minutes, but your account is only extended by 30 days from the date of purchase. So you are doomed to having to log into the site manually to purchase airtime every single month. No automatic renewal, no possible way to make it convenient to give the company your money. Is this company run by former Soviet administrators!?

I couldn’t believe such a change would happen. So we contacted their headquarters, told them we were writing an article, and received this response:

We are consulting with our IT department and are working on reversing this change that has occurred. Hopefully, within the next couple of weeks, the plan will revert back to the original policy, where each $10 refill will provide an additional 30 days. For the time being, however, the expiration date will only extend as far as 30 days from the present date.

We appreciate your patience and understanding on this matter.

Thank you,
Airvoice Wireless

And therein lies the challenge of this whole operation. These little companies are small and disorganized. Airvoice has some of the most poorly written and inconsistent sets of plan options and marketing documents I’ve ever seen. And most of the other ones, such as H20 Wireless, are in the same boat. Even the slew of options available from the big incumbent providers are sprawling, and as confusing as spaghetti*. The only carrier that does it right is the upstart Republic Wireless, which is why I’m rooting for them.

Luckily, the phone service itself is still fairly reliable and the telephone customer support from Airvoice has been excellent… so far.

 *Hey Airvoice.. need someone to rewrite your materials and plans so they no longer suck? Get in touch!

  • Pauline October 11, 2012, 6:27 am

    Well done! It had never occurred to me that one could cut the SIM card, I just assumed that like cellphone chargers, they had found a way to make it impossible. I still have an Ipod touch and “dumphone” pay as you go so two things in my pocket, but at least I may lose one and not the other, dividing the pain by two!

  • Dom October 11, 2012, 6:28 am

    I’ve just been starting to think of doing this myself. Although here in the UK the 4G rollout is just about to start, so I’m waiting to see what prices this comes out as.

    Hopefully I’ll be able to use the 4G network at home and set up my phone as a WI-FI hotspot thereby negating needing home broadband. Saving about £20 a month ($32)!! Woop.

    But will have to wait til the 30th October to see the first wave of prices. I’m expecting them to be fairly high but with the savings above it could work for me.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 10:16 am

      I’ve heard that some MMM readers do this using the Sprint 4G service. Apparently it works pretty well, and saves them a load of cash per month.

      The only minor hitch is a bandwidth cap of just a few gigs per month… plenty for regular work and surfing, but inadequate if you use the internet to stream radio all day or HD movies.

      • Nurse Frugal October 11, 2012, 12:02 pm

        Wow! This was definitely one of our more antimustachian categories! With two Iphones and ridiculous bill of well over $100 a month, I’m excited to look into these new options! Thanks Mr. MMM, I wonder how much money total you will be saving your readers after this article?

        • Bearded Apprentice September 30, 2014, 3:26 pm

          Did you change over to this plan? If so do you like it?

      • Dom October 11, 2012, 2:01 pm

        I might have to rethink the plan after looking at the 4G rollout plans, looks like they won’t be coming to where I live for a while, so maybe a sim only contract is the way to go.

        For all the UK mustachians heres a comparison site: http://www.uswitch.com/mobiles/compare/sim_only_deals/ they £10 a month will get you 250 mins / unltd texts / unltd data , sounds pretty sweet to me, especially because that’s less than half than what I’m paying for more stuff!!

      • Mike Long October 11, 2012, 2:27 pm

        T-Mobile’s $30/month plan offer 5 Gigs of data per month at 4G speeds (technically HSPA+, but plenty fast enough for most tasks). Still could potentially run into issues with video streaming, but audio streaming uses surprisingly little data, relatively speaking.

        • Brian December 16, 2012, 7:20 am

          This is not factual. A $30.00 a month T-Mobile plan gets you 30mb of data only (after than you are cut off) + 1500 minutes /texts.

      • mike@finance-falcon October 13, 2012, 3:10 am

        This is perfect! I don’t do much streaming these days.

  • rjack October 11, 2012, 6:35 am

    I recently switched to Ting which MMM mentions at the bottom of his article. Things that I like about Ting:

    1) Customer support is excellent. If you call, somebody actually answers the phone! No IVR or other nonsense.

    2) The plan automatically adjusts up and down based on actual usage. Right now, I’m paying $17 per month for 100 minutes, 100 texts and 100 megabytes. If I disabled mobile data as MMM suggest then it would be $14 per month.

    3) I never need to do any “refilling.”

    4) They allow voice and text roaming off the Sprint network. This is rare for MNVOs. There is no data roaming off the Sprint network.

    Things I don’t like about Ting:

    1) They are working on Bring Your Own Device(BYOD), but it is not available yet.

    2) Only Android phones are available. They are also going to start offering Windows phones soon. There is no ETA on IPhones.

    My wife just switched to Virgin Mobile for $30 per month and an IPhone 4S. She has unlimited text and data and 300 minutes of voice. This is her first Smartphone and she really wanted and IPhone with unlimited data and text so my options were limited. It is a decent plan for heavy users.

    • Kenneth October 11, 2012, 10:09 am

      Good summary. I have my wife on Virgin Mobile with an android, works fine but does NOT roam for voice when we go to our new cabin in Wisconsin, so I’m going to get iphones with Verizon for 2 years, see what is available then..

    • Cathy King October 14, 2012, 10:11 pm

      I looked at the Virgin Mobile and the smart phones are so expensive!

    • Matt January 8, 2013, 1:11 pm

      I’m also having great luck with Ting. 1. Cheap (except for data, but that’s what wifi is for) 2. Good customer service 3. Voice roams on Verizon 4. Can buy cheap Sprint phones off Craigslist and port them to Ting.

  • dave in red bank October 11, 2012, 6:40 am

    How far does your service area reach? I looked into Virgin Mobile and their service area was smaller than I would like (although its probably enough to fit my actual need).

    Also, the different carriers use phones with different tech. I can’t take my verizon CDMA phone to an mvno that uses GSM. Worth noting before people get over excited.

    Also worth checking into are republic wireless Unlimited everything for cheap, uses your wifi instead of cell connection whenever possible.

    I use Google Voice, as well as an unlimited Skype plan and hardware that allows me to use a standard home phone on the skype network. Its $3 a month outgoing, and i think another $3 if you want an incoming number.

    Also interesting is an android app called grooveIP. Uses wifi or mobile data instead of minutes. Ive had limited success, and it may violate terms, but it is out there.

  • Kuz October 11, 2012, 6:42 am

    Hey, I have been using airvoice for several months with my Iphone also (Used H20 for 2 years before they changed their rates). Just to let you know, it will work with an AT&T Locked Iphone too! No need to unlock, just put your sim card in and it will work!

    • Kenneth October 11, 2012, 10:11 am

      Well that would have saved MMM a lot of frustration as he had to rehack his hacked and rooted phone. I would never jailbreak my phone, what you get stock is plenty good..

  • Jem October 11, 2012, 6:43 am

    Hey MMM! Love the blog ;-) I send out too many of your articles to my friends.

    My wife and I have been considering going prepaid for the past few months, first from a GetRichSlowly article followed by this one. However, we just locked in to a 2 year contract the beginning of this year with Verizon.

    Is it worth it to break the contract and save the $130 a month we currently spend? Its a large upfront cost, but the savings… This is particularly poignant for us since I’m a grad student and she’s an Americorps worker (not really cash cow jobs!). Thanks,


    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 10:20 am

      Depends on what you pay to break the contract! Decisions like that are all in the math, which we can’t do without the numbers (Unless you want me to use variables like lambda and zeta, which tend to make me drop my pencil involuntarily – a reaction developed in engineering school).

    • Daftshadow October 11, 2012, 12:31 pm

      Example math. ultimately, the answer depends on time left + savings rate (doesn’t it always? ;-). Lets say you have 1 year left on contract. Cancellation fee of $200. current plan $100/mo. New cost $30/mo.

      If you stay on current plan, you pay $100*12=1200 for another year. If you cancel and switch, you pay $200+(30*12)=560.

      So there you have it. Replace the variables with whatever your real costs are, and Viola! I’m betting you save money still, but you have to check. :-)

      ~ DaftShadow

      • Jem October 11, 2012, 1:17 pm

        Perfect! Thanks a lot ;-)

        Turns out termination cost for Verizon is $300 – $10 for every month you’ve honored the contract. So even at the full cost with $100/month in savings I’ll recoup the cost in 3 months. Seems like it would be hard not to switch!

        Thanks for the validation ;-) Its just a jump for us. Guess I better just man up! Now I need to see if my phone will transfer…


        • Jamie October 11, 2012, 1:56 pm

          Is that termination fee per phone or the the entire contract? I think our ATT cancel fee would be per phone and pro rated depending on how far in we are in the 2 yr plan.

          • Jem October 11, 2012, 3:22 pm

            Good point, I didn’t think of that. Just talked with a sales representative to confirm, but its per phone. So my smartphone will zing me for $350, and my wife’s dumbphone will be $175. So 6 months to recoup, but still savings over the long run! And there will be money off for how long we’ve been on, I just don’t remember the exact date…

            • Jamie October 12, 2012, 8:36 am

              I agree. I think my wife and I are going to do the same thing. We have 3 smartphones. My daughter pays her share for the data, but were still paying about $180 a month before junk fees. Its insane. I’m glad this article came along when it did. Thanks MMM!

  • Joe October 11, 2012, 6:44 am

    I just switched yesterday from a dumbphone to an unlimited smartphone MVNO plan. I’m paying less than I was on the dumbphone, and I’m getting data, but this may allow me to go even cheaper. I’ve analyzed my talk and text usage, but I have no basis for data use yet, so I don’t know what something like this would actually cost me. I’ve been waiting for this article since MMM mentioned his plan to ditch the overpriced cell phone plan.

  • Matt G October 11, 2012, 6:45 am

    I’d also like to add, the Polycom CX200 is a great option for Google Voice. It has a high quality handset and speakerphone. I was able to port my number from Vonage to Google voice by way of AT&T Wireless. Now my landline is $0/month

  • MikeD October 11, 2012, 6:57 am

    You can save even more minutes by using Google Voice to make free calls from your iPhone (or iPod Touch) anywhere you have wifi. The Google Voice app is limited to SMS, but Talkatone allows messaging and calls. If you’re jailbroken, Phone GV Extension and SMS GV Extension are also popular.

  • Mad Fientist October 11, 2012, 7:00 am

    Great stuff, Mr. and Mrs. MM! This couldn’t have come at a better time for me because I’m finally looking to buy an iPhone after all of these years.

    I’m actually a mobile application developer, and have been since the original iPhone came out, but I’ve always just used an iPod Touch to develop on because I refuse to pay $20+/month for data. I’ve been recently thinking about getting an iPhone though so that I can use it more in my day-to-day life, which could help me develop better ideas for future applications. The straw that finally broke the camel’s back, however, was when I was in San Francisco (the hub of mobile development) for a mobile dev conference and I was speaking with one of the presenters, along with a handful of other developers. We were having a great discussion but then the presenter wanted to show us something so he asked us to take out our smart phones. I had to walk away from the conversation because I was too embarrassed to take my piece-of-shit, old-school phone out of my pocket at a mobile developer conference!

    The past few weeks I’ve been trying to develop some sort of iPhone arbitrage plan, where I pay $100 more for the iPhone 5 from Verizon but then sell it on Ebay for a profit and use that profit to buy an iPhone 4s on Ebay. The price discrepancies could provide enough profit to cover most of the 2-year data plan (even though the iPhone 5 is only $100 more from Verizon, it is selling for $300-$400 more on the secondary markets). It seemed like quite a bit of hassle to do all that though so I definitely like your plan better!

    • CanuckExpat October 11, 2012, 12:27 pm

      You might be a good candidate to try Freedom Pop free data only with your iPod touch. (http://www.freedompop.com)

      • George October 11, 2012, 5:25 pm

        Ditto. I was going to suggest the same thing. If freedom pop ends up living up to the hype I plan on switching over to exclusively using a freedom pop hub next summer after my room-mate moves out. This should have the added benefit of restricting my internet usage.

  • JR October 11, 2012, 7:02 am

    A note on H20 wireless. We switched my wife’s dumb phone from AT&T to H20 and did not need to unlock the phone. We just ported the number and inserted the new SIM card. It is my understanding that the iPhone is the same in this regard (H20 uses AT&T’s network).

  • Luke October 11, 2012, 7:20 am

    I have been considering making the switch to http://www.puretalkusa.com/ based on comments in the Bogleheads forum. Anyone here have experience with puretalk?

    • I.P. Daley October 11, 2012, 12:00 pm

      PureTalk is okay, but they’re not very cost-effective as an AT&T MVNO. There’s better out there.

    • 205guy November 1, 2012, 3:22 pm

      I’m really late to this thread, but my wife switched her iPhone to PureTalk in September, and everything has been very good. It’s another ATT network user, so coverage is identical to having the expensive ATT plan. And we had none of the problems that MMM had with Airvoice. In fact, the $10 recharge is automatic: every month it gets automatically charged, and if you exceed your usage (your first $10), you can also recharge automatcally up to the limit you set. For example, knowing her usage (and not wanting to deal with voip and iMessage), we set a limit of $40. So even on a month she uses a lot, she won’t get cut off, but the other months, it will cost less, in $10 increments.

      Customer service for carrying over her number has been excellent, it all got done right away and correctly. I don’t know how the prices compare to every other MVNO, but it seems competitive, and if not, I don’t mind paying $5-$10 more for it to just work.

  • Tyler October 11, 2012, 7:35 am

    I am going to be purchasing an unlocked Google Nexus and then signing up for H2O’s $100 minute plan because it doesnt expire for a year. Plus, i can use groove ip to make calls on wifi wit my google voice number, so that $100 should last me a while. i’ve got a spreadsheet that i have been using to do my analysis of my current dumb phone usage and cost on att. I’ve thought about purchasing an unlocked iPhone, but the Nexus is half the price and supposed to be a good phone.

    • Mike Long October 11, 2012, 2:29 pm

      I have the Galaxy Nexus on T-Mobile’s $30/month plan. It’s an *excellent* phone – fast and stable. You’ll like it! :)

  • Kermit the Hermit October 11, 2012, 8:01 am

    There’s nothing like this in my area (Northern Ontario), at least that I know of, so I ditched the cell and now I pay 20$/mo for unlimited calling on my landline. Even that seems like too much, though, considering how little I use the darned thing, given the whole “hermit” bit.

    • Birvine October 12, 2012, 11:50 am

      Kermit in Northern Ontario… why not drop the Ontera (or whoever) long distance plan, and get a NetTalk which you can add to your home network. You can call North America basically unlimited. Cost for the unit is about $70 and renewals are $35 (?) per year. Yes, not a mis-type, but per year. Sometimes calls are sketchy but usually ok.

  • Rock October 11, 2012, 8:04 am

    I have republic wireless and am rooting for them also. I was in beta wave D and have had them for a little over a month. Cellular calling is everything you would expect; wifi calling and texting are still in development but are rapidly increasing in quality and capability. Their development team seems responsive but they do their support for email, so as of right now it is not for the tech challenged. I’m glad to have left AT&T and their $ 50 a month for just (limited!) voice and text. Sprint has a decent network where I am and republic also roams off of all of Sprint’s roaming partners (or will, see their website for details). If it works out, I consider this the ultimate value in cell phones right now.

  • Baughman October 11, 2012, 8:09 am

    You may also want to check out a new startup called Freedompop. Free 500mb/month wifi hotspot. The catch: they try to upsell you & charge you if you go over 2 cents/mb. Good review here: http://www.mymoneyblog.com/freedompop-unboxing-review.html. I got mine two days ago and love it. It’ll stay in my car and provide the infrequently-needed connectivity between my wifi hotspots of home/work.

    Apparently, they are backed by the founder of SKype: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443862604578028452045153628.html

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 10:27 am

      Hey, that’s a neat concept. I’ve heard that cellular data is actually much cheaper than what our phone companies have been charging us. For example, when you buy an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, you can pay a single $50 fee at purchase time and get 250MB/month for a year.. making for a very affordable year of mobile data use. Great substitute to expensive iPhone data for people who travel frequently.

      Of course, Amazon may be subsidizing that data since they know most people will use the data plan to shop on Amazon.com and buy kindle books. But from a practical perspective, it does appeal to even me and if I traveled more to non-wifi areas it would be tempting.

      • Baughman October 11, 2012, 1:28 pm

        For the record, you “lease” their two main devices. This entails putting $90 down which is supposedly refundable in full if you return the device. As indicated in the review I linked to, there may be a stipulation in the fine print that this refund is not valid after 12 months.

        If you ask me, their business model is flawed and subject to exploit, since you can get multiple devices. Taking it to the limit, you could lease 30 devices for free and have 500MB/day in data indefinitely (provided you properly alternate devices) without ever paying a penny in service fees.

        CL, below, linked to their coverage map. It’s worth repeating: http://launch.freedompop.com/coverage

        • Brett October 12, 2012, 9:55 am

          Nice catch, I hadn’t read the fine print when I signed up, but it does specify that after a year you can’t get your deposit back. Of course they want all the original packaging (it’s a fairly small box and easy to repack). It also says if they’re not actively providing the same equipment to users they don’t need to refund your deposit. They reportedly plan to move to Sprint’s newer LTE 4G network late this year/early next, so be aware of the possibility that they will stop offering the current devices at that time, and therefore stop refunding deposits.

          I still think it’s a great value; I’ve been getting very good speeds when I have a connection, though coverage is a bit spotty since it runs on Sprint’s Wimax network. The coverage mapped seemed fairly accurate to my experience.

          • CanuckExpat October 12, 2012, 9:58 am

            Out of curiosity, do you have to pay for shipping for them to send you the device, and for you to return it?

            • Baughman October 12, 2012, 10:50 am

              Shipping is a nominal couple bucks ($4 if my memory serves me correctly. I’m sure that return shipping is not covered).

              Another interesting development: If you “link” to friends who are customers, you get 10MB/month. It wouldn’t take much effort to create a spreadsheet to coordinate linking. Add 100 friends, and you get 1GB free/month (upon further review, this caps at 500MB, or 50 friends). This too seems subject to exploit. It wouldn’t take much effort to coordinate a spreadsheet which aggregates users of the site.

              Alas, someone beat me to the punch: http://slickdeals.net/f/5276432-FreedomPop-Friends.

              I envisioned a less public sharing of emails, such as a private google form: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dFd2Z3MwcTdfVTNEdXBnRGl6bVRWMXc6MQ. But please don’t treat the form as an offer to coordinate this in a more private manner. I don’t have the energy to coordinate the effort for something that I won’t use anyway.

      • Andrew Skotzko April 25, 2013, 9:19 pm


        Just got my AirVoice SIM card and giving this a whirl. Question: were you able to find some way to get iMessage to work when you’re not on wifi, if you turned off cellular data? My understanding was that iMessage required data, and so wouldn’t work outside wifi if you had turned off cell data as your post says.


  • Holly@ClubThrifty October 11, 2012, 8:11 am

    My smartphone is currently paid for by my cushy job. I shudder at the thought of paying for it myself one day. Thanks for the info!

  • Anthony N. October 11, 2012, 8:18 am

    Anyone know if this will work if you don’t currently have an iPhone but want to get one? My wife’s contract with Verizon is up, but she currently has a regular non-smartphone and plan.

    Is it possible to grab a iPhone off Craigslist or Ebay and then go through these steps?

    • Grant October 11, 2012, 9:49 am

      Yup! Just make sure that you:

      1) Get the right iPhone for the network you’ll be using. AT&T/Verizon/Sprint all use completely different frequencies. You can’t use a Verizon phone on a carrier that rides AT&T’s network and vice-versa.

      2) Make sure the phone is unlocked, if necessary. It looks like Airvoice and some other carriers require an unlocked phone, while Straight Talk does not. There are services (ie: people on Craigslist) that can unlock a locked phone for a small fee.

      Just brace yourself for sticker shock because even older used iPhones command a pretty hefty price. If you want to save some cash you can find Android phones much less expensively – but then you have to deal with Android :-)

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 10:30 am

      It should indeed be possible Anthony. Especially given the information in the earlier comments that you don’t even have to unlock the phone if you are staying on the same network.

      The only hitch is that iPhones sometimes to have an irrationally high resale value on Craigslist.. like $200 or more. Maybe the equally-good Androids sell for less?

      • CanuckExpat October 11, 2012, 12:42 pm

        If you want to overcome the price of a used iPhone, I think you should check with your friends/acquaintances and think about who has upgrade fever. Speaking from personal experience, a lot of times they seem to have an old version of the iPhone that they replaced just sitting around. You can always buy it from them, or if they offer it to you, treat them to a meal and drinks or something.

      • nomoreuntdebt October 11, 2012, 8:12 pm

        It’s pretty easy to find a locked phone 3g for around 60 bucks on the Dallas Craigslist (Cheaper if you learn the simple skill of replacing a broken screen). Also, the current going rate for a 3g on amazon is around $100. The great thing about two year contracts is that most people have no idea what their phones are worth because the price was so heavily subsidized. There is many a deal to be found on Craigslist when it comes to smart phones.

        This coming from a guy who grows his ‘stache by reselling used phones when he’s not teaching high school.

  • Jennifer October 11, 2012, 8:19 am

    I currently use Ting with a basic phone. I carry around my old iPhone (given to me by my brother-in-law when he upgraded). I put an old sim card in it and used it without a data plan for about a year before ATT noticed because I only used wifi connections. Once they added a crazy expensive data plan I dropped it and recently switched to Ting. Now I text through Google Voice on my iPhone and nearly everywhere I go has wifi. Only a few people call or text my “actual” phone so it’s very inexpensive.

    We are in Beta Wave K for Republic. My husband is looking to finally get off his family’s plan and upgrade to a smartphone. We will test with his phone to see how it works and I may eventually switch too but I’m happy right now with my $20 phone bill with Ting.

  • Daniel October 11, 2012, 8:30 am

    MM, I challenge you to find us a better deal in Canada. As I’m from Ottawa where cellphone bills are enormous, have you forgotten us?
    In all seriousness I would appreciate any tips. I currently pay 60$ a month for bell but with long-distance, data, etc. I would love to cut this in half.

    • Ottawa October 11, 2012, 9:52 am

      The best I’ve got in Ottawa is Wind Mobile. It’s still $40 plus tax per month – but it is unlimited Data, NA long distance, texting etc. No Surprises, been with them 2 years + now. Still, $45.20 is alot to pay for a cellphone.

      BTW, I also have a VOIP home phone at $24.99 ($28.24 with tax) unlimited north america through TekSavvy.,..I also have their 18Mbps cable internet for 39.99 ($45.19 with tax).No Cable TV of course. So, all in $118.63 with no surprises. Our US friends will probably shudder at this cost…but this is the cheapest I could find that would cover what we use…

      Today’s Paper for interest:
      “More than 27 million Canadians have wireless devices. On average, most consumers pay $57.98 per month for wireless services, according to data from the CRTC.”

      • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 10:36 am

        Good job, Ottawa! Even though I have to decline Daniel’s challenge (not interested in researching any more phone plans than I have to!), I encourage the Canadians to share around the tips.

        That market is often underserved and overpriced, because the big population of the US and sloshing coffers of California tech companies usually bring the coolest new technology to the domestic market first. As a tech enthusiast who grew up in Canada, that’s one of my favourite parts about living here.

        • Ottawa October 11, 2012, 11:56 am

          BTW Daniel. I carefully chose the companies previously mentioned because THERE ARE NO CONTRACTS TO SIGN!!! I cannot allow myself (or any fellow Mustachian) to tether themselves to a contact – EVER! With few exceptions – the signing of a contract for a service provision means that you have been sucka-d!

          • Daniel October 11, 2012, 12:28 pm

            Thanks a lot for your replies :) As I travel to Montreal often I’m not sure how useful Wind would be for me (same with mobilicity etc). I do have to give a big thumbs up at the teksavvy suggestion, for 33$ a month I find my service more than useful. I may have to consider giving up my “need” for long-distance on my cellphone and simply using calling cards etc, when necessary.

            • Mr. Risky Startup October 11, 2012, 11:55 pm

              I needed a cellular phone for my new venture, and since I expected virtually no calls at all, I went with Virgin Mobile – $10 per month prepaid plan and a free phone. Once business takes off, I can move the number to a plan that fits my needs then.

              Data plans and fancy features is what kills you. Best option is to get a phone off Kijiji, get a cheapest voice plan only, and then use web based services for texting and WiFi for data (even Tim Hortons and McDonalds now offer free WiFi, so there is a WiFi on every corner).

              Another tip – SHOP AROUND every 6-12 months. Couple of months ago, I sent my company cellular phone bill (13 phones), to two major competitors and asked for best deal. Within minutes I received an offer of all new phones, $3500 credit and $500 per month in savings. Then, I went back to our original provider who refused to budge before, and showed them the math. They matched it instantly and I saved $22K over 3 years. I already have a reminder to do the same in 2 years. :)

      • Daniel October 11, 2012, 12:37 pm

        I’m also a diehard globe and mail / MM reader. I guess there are likeminded people out there!

      • Ams October 12, 2012, 12:26 pm

        Oh I feel your pain. I pay $60 a month all in, and that’s only through a cushy professional association contract. I hate Canadian telecom companies with a passion- its why I put off getting a cell phone until last year.

        The wind/ virgin /etc programs are good if you rarely use your phone outside of the city, but for someone who often has to go out to the boonies they really aren’t practical.

        The only tricks I know are to try not to use your phone too much (Canada is one of the last countries with predominantly limited-data plans) and to support open media organizations.

        A recent report into why Canadians pay the most in the world for data plans read something like, “because they’ll pay it”. I guess I’m part of the problem! Argh.

        • anom January 22, 2013, 3:40 pm

          Ams, I think you might have missed something. While Wind / Mobilicity / Public Mobile are limited in the “boonies”, Virgin Mobile and Koodo are on the Bell network and Fido is on the Rogers network – so they have exactly the same coverage as Bell/Rogers at better prices.

          (This is in Ontario, but there must be similar options elsewhere)

      • anom January 22, 2013, 3:45 pm

        Ottawa, if you are a little tech-savvy, there are VOIP options that could be quite a bit cheaper (depending on your usage), e.g. freephoneline.ca; voip.ms; magicjack; google voice

    • Jesse October 11, 2012, 1:47 pm

      See my comment below about how I get Rogers Pay-as-you-go for less than $10/month – though you’ll have to use your phone sparingly to get that rate.

    • Dom in Canada October 12, 2012, 5:47 am

      Just a warning from those of you thinking about switching to Wind or Mobilicity. They are fine if you are in a large metropolitan city, but if you move out of any of these areas, you will not have service.

      I hate paying the price gouge for cell phone data as much as the rest of you, but there really is no other good option, unless you’re willing to cut out data.

      I live in an area where there is no internet connectivity at home (and no free wi-fi hotspots nearby), so my plan is a little excessive compare to others. I pay about $85 after taxes with Bell for 6GB of data and unlimited calling and texting. Comes with 10 hrs of BellTV which is useful in a pinch if I really want to watch a football game or something and can’t make it to a TV.

      • Ottawa October 12, 2012, 11:59 am

        @ Dom. Just to correct – you WILL have phone service. BUT, if you are not in a wind zone – it will be at a cost per minute. Always check the coverage map before you buy. I spend my time in coverage areas…thus it’s great!

    • Elaine December 7, 2014, 1:35 pm

      My husband has wanted a cell phone for years for emergencies when we’re on the road. We’re at home most of the time and our rural Ontario area didn’t have cell coverage for years. It’s still a bit spotty. Just over a year ago we heard about Zoomer Wireless – a CARP affiliate operated by Cityphone – and signed up with them. $13.50 a month + HST for 60 minutes talking and 2500 texts a month for 2 years, which includes the phone + membership in CARP, which can lead to other useful discounts. Our phone lives in the car and has been useful. We’ve only used the talking feature, not the texting. We’re cell phone novices and have no idea how to do it, or any desire. Suits us perfectly as is.

  • David October 11, 2012, 8:33 am

    Does anyone have any good options for those of us in the opposite boat: don’t hardly use any voice (<1hr / month) or text but need a decent data plan (200-300MB / month)? Currently AT&T's price of 6 cents / MB is hard to beat, but it comes with the baggage of a voice plan.

    • Pepper October 11, 2012, 10:31 am

      You might try using an iPad sim card in your iPhone so that you can use the iPad data only plan. I have not tried this but there are descriptions of how to do this online. http://hijinksinc.com/2010/07/08/activating-an-ipad-3g-micro-sim-without-an-ipad/

    • Leigh October 11, 2012, 10:47 am

      Ting seems curious for this to me – you pay for groupings of voice, data, and text messages separately. So you could pay $0 for your no text messages, plus $3 for your < 100 minutes, and $13 for your < 500 MB of data: https://ting.com/plans

      • David October 11, 2012, 11:24 am

        Aw man, I got super excited about Ting, then realized that you have to buy and use one of their phones! I want to use my iPhone, but only pay for data and a minuscule voice plan.

        Unfortunately StraightTalk is $45/month+taxes/fees. This is marginally lower than my AT&T plan, and frankly not worth the potential hassle.

        I found an article that claims AT&T now offers a Pay-As-You-Go data plan for iPhones, where 1GB costs $25. The only catch is that it requires the $25/month voice plan. If this is true, I consume about $5/month in data, add in the $25/month and my plan will be cut almost in half. Not too bad.

        I’m currently traveling through Central America, and I suspended my AT&T account so that I wouldn’t have a bill during this time, but when I get back I’ll check on it. In the meantime I’m curious what iPhone users (who need data) out there are doing to slash their bill?

        • CanuckExpat October 11, 2012, 11:45 am

          This AT&T Prepaid scheme is the one my wife uses and it is working for her. She pays the minimum $25/month for voice, and tops up on data as required.
          I used to use AT&T Prepaid until they started forcing you to buy the voice plan just to get data, and I switched to H2O as detailed below. She uses quite a few more voice minutes than I do, so she is still on AT&T prepaid. (mind you, I do find the data was faster and more seemless with AT&T compared to H2O… but I also damaged my phone in the meantime)

        • Heidi October 14, 2012, 11:39 am

          I just switched to AT&T prepaid w/ my iPhone4 last month. It took about 4 phone calls to do it, but I insisted and kept my number, too. But I’m in the same boat as you, I mostly use data, rarely talk. I actually hate talking on the phone!

    • Dennis June 27, 2015, 8:39 pm

      Obviously this is an old thread but without any other service T-Mobile gives me 200MB of data free every month on an internet device and they gave me a free SIM card.

  • Cabezon October 11, 2012, 8:36 am

    I found a pre-cut micro size sim card for Airvoice wireless on ebay for $0.99 including free shipping.

  • KS October 11, 2012, 8:45 am

    Thought I would throw out one more option for reducing voice minutes. Lots of people have mentioned Google Voice as a way of getting free voice in your home. There is now a way to combine it with a service called ObiTalk to get free incoming and outgoing calls with two added bonuses
    1) You can use a standard phone instead of a headset
    2) Your computer doesn’t have to be turned on or connected to the internet for the phone to work

    You do have to purchase a $30 device to connect to your router, but I was able to recover that cost in the first month by switching to a cheaper plan on my mobile. This link explains how to do it:


  • Scott October 11, 2012, 9:06 am

    All the sites seem to tout that there are no additional fees. Is this the case? If a plan has a huge “$10!!” on it, do you end up being charged $11.50 with tax, or does it mean that you pay exactly $10?

    • ladymaier October 11, 2012, 10:24 am

      At Airvoice, who I use for prepaid, the $10 you see is the $10 you pay. No added fees of any sort.

    • nomoreuntdebt October 11, 2012, 8:19 pm

      I end up paying a couple of extra dollars in fees on top of my $30 a month Ting plan.

  • Ray October 11, 2012, 9:22 am

    This is an awesome article! I’d like to mention Straight Talk Wireless (http://www.straighttalk.com/). I use their $45/mo unlimited plan. That includes unlimited data (It’s really about 2GB per month before they get mad at you, but still). If you use the internet on your smart phone a lot and are unable/unwilling to cut back phone usage, I think Straight Talk a pretty great option. You can also go to most Wal-Marts and buy sim cards in the store.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 10:40 am

      Sounds like a good thing for me to add to the list in the main article. When I look it up, I see reference to Straight Talk using both AT&T and Verizon networks. I didn’t know phones could do that. Anyone have further information on that to share?

      • Rich Schmidt October 11, 2012, 11:04 am

        Individual phones don’t work on both networks. Straight Talk works on both networks, so you can use it whether you have a Verizon phone or an AT&T phone.

        Wikipedia has a good list of MVNO’s and what networks they operate on. Much longer than the list at the end of your article. :)

      • CanuckExpat October 11, 2012, 11:12 am

        Not sure if this is the same, but the Verizon is (I thought) a CDMA network, but their version of the latest iPhone is shipping with GSM capabilities (and unlocked): http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/09/verizon-ships-its-iphone-5-unlocked/

      • Mr. TinyStache October 11, 2012, 12:19 pm

        StraightTalk is kind of a Super-MVNO operating MVNOs for AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint under one brand name.

        • 7Years October 11, 2012, 1:38 pm

          Straight Talk works really well. I just ditched AT&T and bought a Straight Talk sim. It was basically plug and play into my [non-unlocked, non-jail broken] iPhone.

          You can get the monthly price as low as $42 if you pay for a year in advance for unlimited everything.

  • CL October 11, 2012, 9:31 am

    Fantastic article, Mmm! I don’t have wireless Internet at home, but if I did and I weren’t on my parents plan, this article would provide immediate action steps. I wanted to mention a service, freedom pop, which provides free data. It gives yu 500 mb per month free and charges something like 10 per gb over that. http://launch.freedompop.com/coverage there’s a limited area, but they are in major metropolitan areas like Denver. It’s legitimate; I read about it in the Wsj. They make money by selling peripheral devices.
    Edit: I see that baughman beat me to The punch. That’ll teach me to comment before reading what other people say.

  • David@SkepticFinance October 11, 2012, 9:34 am

    Another way to save if you use mobile (non-wifi) data is to install a program called Onavo (search app store). It compresses all data going over the cell network transparently and doesn’t cost a penny. I’ve been using it for a while and usually save about 20% on data.

  • Matt October 11, 2012, 9:36 am

    I use PagePlus (Verizon reseller) through an online dealer called kittywireless.com and they are terrific. My plan is known as “The 12” or Talk n Text 250. For $12 we get 250 minutes, 250 text/picture messages and a measly 10mb of data. However, Kitty Wireless sells a membership for $50 one-time, which gets you a 6.6% – 8.1% savings on the list $12/month price and can be shared with friends/family’s accounts too. Not only that, but Kitty Wireless manage the automatic monthly billing at no cost, and also offer a service that monitors your cash balance (for overages etc) and automatically replenishes your account when you get below a certain amount. That way, if we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere and really need data or something we have the capability to go over our monthly caps without reloading. Finally, Kitty Wireless offers the best customer service I have ever experienced anywhere. I don’t know how they do it, but I’d recommend giving them a shot!

    • Loftymeat October 12, 2012, 7:05 am

      I’ve been using kittywireless since last November with the Talk n Text 1200 plan (1200 minutes, 3000 texts, and 100 MB of data for $29.99). I have been impressed with the coverage (used to be with AT&T) and the auto renew is awesome. I actually just switched over to “The 12” and am planning on using Google Voice and an app called Groove IP to make calls over Wi-Fi, which interfaces with google voice. At this point, you can’t directly make Google Voice calls over a data connection or wifi without using some kind of voip intermediary. As far as I can understand, groove IP is the only app that interfaces directly with google voice, eliminating the voip set up.

  • Mr. TinyStache October 11, 2012, 9:38 am

    I have two SIM cards from StraightTalk wireless waiting to go into our current AT&T phones. StraightTalk now offers GSM service. You can order SIM cards appropriate for AT&T or T-Mobile phones. We are currently going with the $45/mo “Unlimited” plans. With the cell subsidy I receive from my employer we will have an average cost of $22.50/month per phone. I’ll update people in the forums with how I find StraightTalk once I have some experience.

  • Grant October 11, 2012, 9:43 am

    I just left AT&T last month and switched my iPhone 4 to StraightTalk using their Bring Your Own Device plan. It’s not as cheap as what MMM is using, but it’s less than half the price of my old AT&T plan and is a better fit for my needs. I’m paying $47/month (this price includes all taxes and fees) for unlimited phone, unlimited text, and unlimited data. You can’t get unlimited data through AT&T at ANY cost! I’ve been using the service for a few weeks now and it works great. Same coverage as AT&T and you don’t even have to mess with unlocking your phone (but you still can if you like). I haven’t had any issues other than some initial difficulty changing the APN settings (iOS 6 has no provision to do this, but it can be done automatically by visiting unlockit.co.nz). You also don’t get Visual Voicemail when using a 3rd party service. I miss that feature, but not enough to justify the insane cost of AT&T’s service plans. Overall I am VERY happy with the change. I’ve cut my cell phone bill in less than half and had no real issues at all.

  • Nikhil October 11, 2012, 9:46 am

    T-mobile has an excellent $30/month plan. 100 minutes free, unlimited text and unlimited data* (which is 5gigs at 4G speed then 2G, which serves me perfectly).

    The only catch is that this plan is only available if you are a *new* customer who buys the SIM card/phone directly from T-mobile.com or a Walmart. Not available if you buy from a T-mobile store.

    • Offroad October 11, 2012, 12:47 pm

      had tmobile and an IPHONE 3GS on it. that platform was very unreliable as the IOS (version 3.x to 4.x at the time) still had a lot of bugs to work out, and was certainly more troublesome due to unlocking being a real PITA development by third world developers.

  • Erica / Northwest Edible Life October 11, 2012, 10:05 am

    Thank you for this tutorial. At $170 a month, our family phone bill stands out in our spending breakdown chart like a sore thumb covered in metallic streamers, flashing red lights and unending shame. Looking forward to killing it.

    • Kenneth October 11, 2012, 10:25 am

      Shame, Erica, shame!

  • Emily October 11, 2012, 10:14 am

    I’d really like to switch – but does anyone know how to get cheap phones? Both my boyfriend & I, who share the same plan, go through our phones ridiculously quickly. He likes the smartphones and uses their features, I would be just fine (happier really) with a dumbphone. I’ve asked him not to upgrade even if we are eligible so we can consider switching, but the buttons are not working well on my phone, so I know it’s only a matter of time until it stops…

    • CL October 11, 2012, 10:22 am

      Try tracfone or net 10. They’ve got smartphones for around 50 that run android. Dumb phones cost 10.

    • Clint October 11, 2012, 11:02 am

      You can get decent smartphones and dumbphones at Virgin Mobile for decent prices–some smartphones $100 or less, not too terrible for no contract.

    • Mr. TinyStache October 11, 2012, 12:22 pm

      It is a bit on the “wild” side but AliExpress has cheap phones that ship straight from China. I probably would not do this unless I was confident in my ability to load 3rd party firmware (such as Cyanogenmod) on the device. Still there are some really cool devices available at good prices:


  • Bella October 11, 2012, 10:27 am

    This is a great article – I am continuing to whittle away at our monthly grocery bill, and our utilities and we’ve reached a bit of an impass with regards to certain ‘neccesities’ like the home phone and the cellphone.
    Do the Money Mustaches have a home phone? Or do you rely on VOIP like Vonage or something similar? For some reason I’m really worried about the availablity of 911. Although at this point I can’t remember a time when our
    internet service went out. Can you use Vonage without a computer? And how much is it really per month – I mean technically my home phone is only like $12 a month, but then after the FCC taxes etc.. it’s like $27. Same thing with our Verizon bill, extra taxes and fees (not related to usage) make up about 20% of the bill.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 10:48 am

      Nope, I haven’t had a home phone for about 15 years, and I enjoy making fun of the concept :-)

      As noted in this article, I use a combination of Google Talk and Google Voice for seamlessly allowing me to make/receive calls on any computer (regardless of location), or on my mobile phone if more convenient. Vonage works without a computer too.

      Mobile phones can call 911 just fine as well, although I admit I don’t really factor 911 calling availability into phone decisions.

      • Bella October 11, 2012, 11:37 am

        well, your mobile phone can call 911 just fine
        1) it’s charged, adn on (something smartphones don’t do well)
        and most important for me
        2) the person at home has one, I really get sqeemish about the idea of relying on the babysitter (grandma etc..) for having a working phone for 911.

        • Grant October 11, 2012, 5:34 pm

          I don’t know ANYONE that doesn’t have a cell phone these days, including my grandparents and my niece and nephew, and they’re not even teenagers yet. Do you *really* need that phone? Unless your nearest neighbor is miles away, I doubt it.

          Might be time to revisit an older article: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/06/07/safety-is-an-expensive-illusion/

          • Trader Rob October 13, 2012, 10:52 am

            I do believe that cell phones (mobile in British English) need to be registered to 911 so if you call they can trace the message, same with skype and google voice, of course human nature being what it is not one will do this till it’s too late.

            Also my sister in law got rid of her land line and I absolutely hate it, see my comment about roaming at the end.

      • gubmints October 12, 2012, 10:13 pm

        Awesome post, MMM! Family still under contract w/ATT through June 2013… but we’re counting down the days until we can switch to StraightTalk or AirVoice!

        We’re pretty happy w/ OOMA for our landline. It’s ~ $3.75/month in 911 service taxes after you buy the box for about $140 at Costco or BB.

      • Archon September 21, 2016, 12:45 pm

        I’d like to add (to this ancient post) that domestic phone companies are (in many areas) legally required to provide emergency call service to a wired phone system even if it doesn’t have a local or long distance plan. Even though I don’t pay for home phone, I keep an old rotary phone around in case of an emergency when my cell phone is dead.

        This is similar to how cell phone towers are required to convey, and give priority to, any emergency calls from any cell phones in range, regardless of the phone’s contract provider (assuming the frequencies are compatible etc.).

    • ladymaier October 11, 2012, 11:06 am

      I used to have Vonage, and their service was great, but at the cheapest plan I was still paying $17 a month after taxes and fees. No, you don’t need a computer to run Vonage…they send you a device to plug into your router, and you plug your phone into the other end. Call clarity is just fine.

      However, I recently kicked out Vonage in favor of NetTalk DUO, which is another VOIP provider, albeit a MUCH cheaper one. Like $30/year cheap. That’s $2.50/month. It’s not as nice-sounding as Vonage, but you get what you pay for. For us we hardly use the home phone, but like having it available for emergencies, plus we live in a 3-story townhouse and if you leave your phone on another floor you won’t hear it, and if you do, you likely won’t make it in time to answer the call.

      I’m happy with NetTalk. I got to port my number over to them and it’s good enough for us. According to their site you can fax over that line too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

      Other options abound in the super-guide on the forum:

    • Kyle October 11, 2012, 11:55 am

      We switched to Ooma for a VOIP “land-line” a couple of years ago and have been completely satisfied. Their business model has you pay for their equipment up front, then you pay NOTHING but monthly taxes (couple of bucks) and get something like 500 minutes/month… I don’t actually know exactly how much because we’ve never used them all. Call quality is great and you don’t have to mess with having a computer on or anything. Combined with Google Voice, my wife and I each have one phone number that rings us wherever we are, and if we’re at home we don’t pay for the call. You can pay them a nominal fee each month for some premium features, including the ability to completely tie in with GV so that outgoing calls use that number, but we’ve stuck to the free option.

      They seem to be kind of desperate for users so they’re always offering referral deals. The current one saves new customers $40 (so you pay $140 for your equipment) and gets the referrer a $20 Amazon gift card. So, if you want in, head to http://www.ooma.com and you can use my code: SAY2498.

      Definitely a great deal if you want to cut down on your cell minutes, or, like ladymaier said, you want an easily accessible phone on each floor of the house.

    • Jarett January 18, 2013, 7:02 pm

      Usually, if you plug a land line in you can call 911 whether you have phone service or not.

  • ladymaier October 11, 2012, 10:59 am

    “Airvoice has some of the most poorly written and inconsistent sets of plan options and marketing documents I’ve ever seen.”

    Boy do you got that right! I was wondering if it was just me. I kept combing their site looking for something clear, like HOW THE HELL TO SIGN UP (the process was so unclear), and I think I ended up calling them for every question I had. Thankfully their customer service had the information I sought, and there was hardly a wait for them either.

    I do hope they fix their weird little “no stacking” policy soon. It’s encouraging to know that they bothered to respond to you with a “we’re working on it.”

  • Julia October 11, 2012, 11:29 am

    I’ve been looking forward to this post since you first mentioned it! I’ve been using Virgin Mobile for about a year, but the phone sucks and I rarely get 3G service. And there’s no roaming off the Sprint network, which limits coverage.

    Does Airvoice let you roam off their network (their site says no roaming charges, but that doesn’t really answer the question).

    Also, a tip to iPod Touch owners: you can download the app Talkatone which will let you make calls over your wireless using Google Voice. Free and workds great. We use it at home to keep our minute usage low.

    • I.P. Daley October 11, 2012, 11:48 am

      No, most MVNOs don’t actually allow roaming off-network. Ting and PagePlus (both CDMA carriers) are the only exception. Ting allows free voice roaming off the Sprint network onto Verizon for free, and PagePlus gouges something like 22¢ a minute IIRC.

  • CanuckExpat October 11, 2012, 11:31 am

    I just switched recently to H2O and thought I would throw in my two cents:
    First, if you have an AT&T phone and are switching to AirVoice or H2O you do NOT need to unlock your phone. These operators are still using the AT&T network so an AT&T locked phone will work fine.
    I chose H20 as their data prices are slightly cheaper. You pay more for voice or text messages, but since I do most of my calls over Google voice on wifi, and all of my text messages over GV, it is not a problem. In two weeks I have spent about $4 on data so I have been happy with the choice. The other nice thing about H2O is that they offer a $100 fill-up which is good for a year. At the end of the month I will decide if I do that or not.
    The other important thing I want to point out is that if you want to save a few bucks, do NOT buy the SIM card directly from the operator. It is usually cheaper to buy somewhere else like eBay. H2O for example charges $10 for their SIM cards, but I was able to buy it for $1 on Amazon and have it shipped for free: http://amzn.to/Q1Z9Y1

  • Mrs. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 11:31 am

    Great discussion! I’m learning a lot.

    I looked at some of the plans you guys mentioned (the ones using GSM and AT&T network) and don’t see a plan that is better than the AirVoice plan (for minutes):

    – Airvoice: $10 for 250 mins – 0.04 per minute, 0.02 per text, 0.33 per MB

    I checked out:

    – Pure Talk ($10 for 130 mins)
    – H2O ($10 for 200 mins)
    – Straight Talk (cheapest plan was $30)
    – TracFone ($10 for 50 mins).

    I guess it depends on your needs. I don’t need data (life without data is quite liberating, actually) and I can limit my talk time quite a bit by using Google Voice at home and I text, but not too often. So, this $10 plan seems too good to be true! Am I missing a better deal somewhere?

    The main issue with Airvoice is the lack of auto-refill and I am a bit worried that the company will close down one day…

    • I.P. Daley October 11, 2012, 11:45 am

      You are correct, Airvoice is currently the cheapest per minute GSM MVNO available in the US.

      As for worrying about them shriveling up and blowing away, don’t. MMM is actually incorrect about the age of the company as they’ve been around for over a decade now. They’re technically one of the oldest MVNOs in the nation next to PlatinuTel. The technical problems are more related to changes in their plans and their terms of service recently. Hopefully it’ll get shaken out and fixed soon.


    • Chris October 11, 2012, 12:19 pm

      Your usage sounds similar to mine; Airvoice also has a pay as you go where $10 lasts 90 days (same voice/text/data rates as the monthly plan). This beats our current Virgin Mobile plan ($20 for 90 days) and now I’m really thinking about switching. The Airvoice PAYG unfortunately has a $1/month “service fee” (the $10/month has no such fee) but even $13 for 90 days ($4.33 a month) is great for super-light users.

    • Jamesqf October 11, 2012, 1:19 pm

      For those of us who don’t need/want data, Tracfone can actually be quite a bit cheaper than that if you get one of the phones with double or triple minutes. Mine’s running just under $7/month, and I’m up to like 500 excess minutes. (You buy service days + minutes.)

      I know the local expert doesn’t care for the company, but so far I’ve only encountered a couple of minor annoyances: 1) The thing only rings 5 or 6 times before rolling over to voicemail; and 2) Those people who tell you to carry a cell for emergencies when you’re out hiking/biking/riding the horse? 90% of the places I go don’t have service.

    • Z October 12, 2012, 8:48 am

      Great post! To add one option for a moderate data user, spot mobile has much better data rates than airvoice. $10/100mb, $15/250mb, $25/500mb on the pay as you go plan is a great deal for gsm data. It’s a tmobile mvno, so att phones have to be unlocked.


    • Scott August 15, 2013, 9:42 am

      I have a dumb phone with tracfone. Do they have a program to use an iphone?

  • Chris October 11, 2012, 11:36 am

    My wife and I have been with Virgin Mobile for about the last year and have had great luck with it. VM has a great selection of phones (Android and Iphone) and pretty good service options. We subscribe to the Beyond Talk Plan that gives 1200 Anytime minutes and unlimited Text and Data for 45$/month (48$ with taxes). There is a slightly cheaper plan at 35$/month with 300 Anytime minutes, however, we’ve found we easily tend to bust the 300 minutes.

    The only negative we’ve found is that we don’t get service in Alaska, which we frequent due to family.

    Pretty cool seeing these cheaper options!

  • Tjänstefel October 11, 2012, 11:38 am

    I just have to say WHY an iphone? they are rubbish and as far from mustachian as one can possibly get. Evrything about apple is just not mustachian. Paying for comfort of not having to do things yourself, being on a bandwagon and paying top dollar for a phone that is so overated. You teach us to insource to cut costs, by rooting your standard android and getting the software you want you get a cheaper and better phone. Love what your doing but this puzzled me!

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 12:00 pm

      I’ve explained this in the past, but the reasons I picked the iphone over an android Samsung Galaxy S at the time (2 years ago) were these:
      – my AT&T phone service was almost free back then because of a company deal
      – the phones were the same price ($200)
      – the iPhone had a higher resolution screen and a much better microphone, (I use it a lot for live recordings). Better camera too.

      I have definitely paid the expected price in Apple-induced inconvenience (the lack of built-in support for drag-n-drop music onto the device, having to use the amazingly bad iTunes for other stuff, etc.). But overall it was a win. Plus, the thing is quite well built: still works and looks like new after 2 years of being in my pocket and being dropped 100 times or so (I do use a little sleeve case).

  • Rudy October 11, 2012, 11:38 am

    I think this is a good idea, however tack on one more step, just call and ask for the first call centre rep ‘what is the best offer you can provide to me?’, then you tell them about Airvoice in this instance, up in Canada, Wind Mobile.

    Usually they say sorry, at which point you ask for a manager and they dig deep for you and match or beat the lesser service.

    Doing this, I have lowered my cell phone bill in Canada from $80 to below anyone can offer…$30 for 250 minutes + free week nights/weekends, unlimited data, unlimited text, voice mail.

    If you wanted to save even more money, especially on data, buy a Blackberry, Blackberry compresses it’s data, therefore that $0.33 / MB will stretch even farther!

    • chad October 11, 2012, 12:02 pm

      Most larger data streams (music, video) are already compressed. Compressing text and HTML isn’t going to matter a heck of a lot. Plus, blackberry? Lolz..

      • Rudy October 11, 2012, 12:25 pm

        You will be surprised how much data you save with a Blackberry. It’s a kwown fact in the technical circles.

        Here are some suggestions on reducing your data usage further :


        My data has been slashed, going from over 2 GB / month with my iPhone down to 300-400 MB with my Blackberry.

        Especially when half of your personal data isn’t shipped using your data connection to Apple and Google servers, that’s a savings in itself!

        Now imagine what I am saving on voice if I ever went VoIP like Skype?

        • I.P. Daley October 11, 2012, 4:34 pm

          This is quite true, Blackberries are some of the leanest data users of any smartphone on the market. Used to absolutely love my old Blackberry for this very reason. Unfortuantely, Blackberries on MVNOs aren’t really much of an option due to the requirement of BIS service for internet access and push-email. Some carriers like Virgin and T-Mobile offer BIS, but you’re committed to spending about $15 more a month than you would otherwise just squeezing data performance out of an Android handset instead.

          There’s been people who’ve been able to hack around this limitation with certain models by replacing the service books and using an assortment of applications like Opera, Gmail, etc., but honestly, quite a bit of the data overhead savings actually comes from the traffic being pushed through BIS. Also, a Blackberry without BIS makes for a poor experience… might as well be running Symbian or Android at that point anyway.


  • chad October 11, 2012, 11:44 am


    Is that a picture of the Pacific Garbage Patch on your iPhone? :-) All of our phones are under contract for a while but we will be putting these ideas into action next year.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 12:06 pm

      Haha.. not the garbage patch. It’s actually a really pretty patch of miniature seashells and sand on a Gulf of Mexico beach in downtown Corpust Christi, TX.

  • Kat October 11, 2012, 11:57 am

    This is $10 per phone, right? Or are both phones connected to one $10 account?

  • Done by Forty October 11, 2012, 12:29 pm

    This is such a timely post. Cell phones are still one of the sore spots in our spending. We’re still paying about $70/month for our two non-smart phones. Contract is up in January…

    Any advice on where and how to buy inexpensive, unlocked smartphones?

  • Offroad October 11, 2012, 12:41 pm

    Just was reading the article about switching IPHONE to a third party.
    I had done that for a year with a Iphone 3GS which was originally a
    AT&T but was jailbroken and unlocked to use on a different companies
    plan (Tmobile)

    While most were locked into AT&T for the first two years that they had
    an exclusive contract, my son and I were using Tmobile for half the
    cost (but it was half the reliability truely). The software for the
    IPHONE 3GS was still in development at the time. There were many
    issues with functionality of TEXT, and DATA, and ROAMING. Just too

    The unlocking and jailbreaking community was less than helpful, as we
    had to continually experiment with changes and fixes to get it and
    keep it all working. We did chase the latest firmware, which was painful.

    1) maybe the software is more stable now on the iphone platform
    2) maybe the unlocking process and software is more stable. since
    you can get AT&T to unlock it.
    2) maybe the third party carriers are getting better
    3) an IPOD ITOUCH with wifi, and a VOICE-DATA-TEXT cheap free phone
    with tethering might be a better alternative for reliability.

    would like to know of your results after three months. and know what quality issues you have.

  • Tony O. October 11, 2012, 1:00 pm

    New-ish reader here, and loving the Mustachian way after personally meeting MMM in Denver about a month ago!

    I posted this to the previous article “How to Go from Middle-Class to Kick-Ass”, but thought I’d repost here as well. Here’s another option to cut your cellphone bill to $20/mo. (if you’re not particular about getting a specific smartphone). Republicwireless is a startup where we got a smartphone for my Dad. He’s had it about a year now and he loves it. Original post below:

    “For unlimited calling, data, and text check out Republic Wireless (http://republicwireless.com/) in the U.S.. I got it for my Dad and pay $20/mo. and you also get a good smartphone. It leverages your wireless network most of the time, but the beauty is when you’re not in a wireless network the phone taps into into the cellular network at no additional charge to you. As long as your don’t overuse the cellular network (keep it below 40% cellular usage) and you’re good.”

  • Offroad October 11, 2012, 1:04 pm

    Be very careful what IPHONE you buy and where you get it from, to use with alternative carriers. There are actually four versions of IPHONE 4S on the market. Not sure of IPHONE5.



  • Bob October 11, 2012, 1:15 pm

    Fantastic article! Just curious after you moved over to the new service do your installed apps still function as normal? What about I-Tunes and downloading additional apps?

    • Mrs. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 1:45 pm

      Yes – everything is exactly the same. All apps, the appstore, and iTunes work the same as before.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2012, 2:45 pm

      Yup, all that stuff is the same – it’s between you and Apple, not you and the provider.

      In fact, even with the SIM card totally removed and no service, the iPhone itself still worked perfectly – emails, apps, internet, etc.

      • CanuckExpat October 12, 2012, 9:35 am

        Another interesting thing: even with the SIM card totally removed, you should still be able to dial 911 if you need to. There is no need to pay for phone service if you are one of those people who insist they have a cell phone “for emergencies only”.
        (Note, I’ve tested this with a deactivated SIM card and it works, it should work with no SIM card at all but I haven’t tested it myself).

  • Jesse October 11, 2012, 1:42 pm

    In Canada, I use Rogers Pay-As-You-Go with a $100/year card. That’s only $9.42/month including HST!

    It’s a little known secret that you can buy a $100 Rogers card from any convenience store that sells Rogers pay-as-you-go. Most of the time the cashiers won’t even know it’s an option. And the super secret bonus is that the $100 card expires after 365 days instead of 30 days!

    It’s great for phones that get used very little. There are add-on packages you can choose too, so for example $3/month off my balance goes towards a texting package, which gives me unlimited incoming, 30 outgoing texts per month, and $0.10/text for additional sent texts. (Normally incoming & outgoing are charged at $0.20/text.)

    It also has pay-as-you-go data, as I just discovered! Just browse to a web page (when there is no WiFi) and it’ll ask you to buy either a $1 day pass (10MB) or a $5 week pass (60MB), which is perfect for data emergencies.

    I would recommend disabling Voice Mail, because you end up paying by the minute for people to leave a message, even if they hang up before leaving a message! Plus you have to pay by the minute to check voice mail. I’d rather just use caller ID to see missed calls.

    More about the add-ons here: http://www.rogers.com/web/content/wireless-products/addons

    • Rob Madrid October 13, 2012, 11:54 am

      Thanks, I’m heading to home for 2 weeks and trying to find an alternative to borrowing my mother in law super expensive plan (she makes very few calls)

  • Diana October 11, 2012, 1:52 pm

    So glad to see this article today, it helps to have other backup plans and see what other Mustachians are doing for cheap phone service. I did my research about a year ago, and held onto these links. Hopefully some of y’all will find these to be helpful:

    A cheap way to get a smartphone and use PagePlus:
    Smartphone for under $50 (price changes frequently, so buy when the price is right!):

    Instructions on how to set up the phone on PagePlus (long, but not difficult):

    A FREE Smartphone on a Sprint MVNO (need to buy $100 prepaid card):


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