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Introducing Coverage Critic: Time to Kill the $80 Mobile Phone Bill Forever

A Quick Foreword: Although the world is still in Pandemic mode, we are shifting gears back to personal finance mode here at MMM. Partly because we could all use a distraction right now, and even more important because forced time off like this is the ideal time to re-invest in optimizing parts of your life such as your fitness, food and finances.

Canadian Readers – we have also collected some recommendations for you at a new Canadian Mobile Phone recommendations page.

Every now and then, I learn to my horror that some people are still paying preposterous amounts for mobile phone service, so I write another article about it.

If we are lucky, a solid number of people make the switch and enjoy increased prosperity, but everyone who didn’t happen to read that article goes on paying and paying, and I see it in the case studies that people email me when looking for advice. Lines like this in their budget:

  • mobile phone service (2 people): $160

“NO!!!!”
is all I can say, when I see such unnecessary expenditure. These days, a great nationwide phone service plan costs between and $10-40 per month, depending on how many frills you need.

Why is this a big deal? Just because of this simple fact:

  • Cutting $100 per month from your budget becomes a $17,000 boost to your wealth every ten years.

And today’s $10-40 phone plans are just great. Anything more than that is just a plain old ripoff, end of story. Just as any phone more expensive than $200* (yes, that includes all new iPhones), is probably a waste of money too.

So today, we are going to take the next step: assigning a permanent inner-circle Mustachian expert to monitor the ever-improving cell phone market, and dispense the latest advice as appropriate. And I happen to know just the guy:

Christian Smith, along with colleagues at GiveWell in San Francisco, circa 2016

My first contact with Chris was in 2016 when he was working with GiveWell, a super-efficient charitable organization that often tops the list for people looking to maximize the impact of their giving.

But much to my surprise, he showed up in my own HQ coworking space in 2018, and I noticed he was a bit of a mobile phone research addict. He had started an intriguing website called Coverage Critic, and started methodically reviewing every phone plan (and even many handsets) he could get his hands on, and I liked the thorough and open way in which he did it.

This was ideal for me, because frankly I don’t have time to keep pace with ongoing changes in the marketplace. I may be an expert on construction and energy consumption, but I defer to my friend Ben when I have questions about fixing cars, Brandon when I need advice on credit cards, HQ member Dr. D for insider perspectives on the life of a doctor and the medical industry, and now Chris can take on the mobile phone world.

So we decided to team up: Chris will maintain his own list of the best cheap mobile phone plans on a new Coverage Critic page here on MMM. He gets the benefit of more people enjoying his work, and I get the benefit of more useful information on my site. And if it goes well, it will generate savings for you and eventual referral income for us (more on that at the bottom of this article).

So to complete this introduction, I will hand the keyboard over to the man himself.

Meet The Coverage Critic

Chris, engaged in some recent Coverage Criticicism at MMM-HQ

I started my professional life working on cost-effectiveness models for the charity evaluator GiveWell. (The organization is awesome; see MMM’s earlier post.) When I was ready for a career change, I figured I’d like to combine my analytical nature with my knack for cutting through bullshit. That quickly led me to the cell phone industry.

So about a year ago, I created a site called Coverage Critic in the hopes of meeting a need that was being overlooked: detailed mobile phone service reviews, without the common problem of bias due to undisclosed financial arrangements between the phone company and the reviewer.

What’s the Problem with the Cell Phone Industry?

Somehow, every mobile phone network in the U.S. claims to offer the best service. And each network can back up its claims by referencing third-party evaluations. 

How is that possible? Bad financial incentives.

Each network wants to claim it is great. Network operators are willing to pay to license reviewers’ “awards”. Consequently, money-hungry reviewers give awards to undeserving, mediocre networks.

On top of this, many phone companies have whipped up combinations of confusing plans, convoluted prices, and misleading claims. Just a few examples:

  • Coverage maps continue to be wildly inaccurate.
  • Many carriers offer “unlimited” plans that have limits.
  • All of the major U.S. network operators are overhyping next-generation, 5G technologies. AT&T has even started tricking its subscribers by renaming some of its 4G service “5GE.”

However, with enough research and shoveling, I believe it becomes clear which phone companies and plans offer the best bang for the buck.  So going forward, MMM and I will be collaborating to share recommended phone plans right here on his website, and adding an automated plan finder tool soon afterwards. I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great, budget-friendly options on the market.

A Few Quick Examples:

Mint Mobile: unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data for as low as $20 per month (runs over T-Mobile’s network).

T-Mobile Connect: unlimited minutes and texts with 2GB of data for $15 per month.

Xfinity Mobile: 5 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data over Verizon’s network for about $12 per line each month (heads up: only Xfinity Internet customers are eligible, and the bring-your-own-device program is somewhat restrictive).

Cricket Wireless: 4 lines in a combined family plan with unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and unlimited data for as low as $100 per month (runs on AT&T’s network).

[MMM note – even as a frequent traveler, serious techie and a “professional blogger”, I rarely use more than 1GB each month on my own Google Fi plan ($20 base cost plus data, then $15 for each additional family member). So some of these are indeed generous plans]

Okay, What About Phones?

With the above carriers, you may be able to bring your existing phone. But if you need a new one, there are some damn good, low-cost options these days. The Moto G7 Play is only $130 and offers outstanding performance despite the low price point. I use it as my personal phone and love it.

If you really want something fancy, consider the Google Pixel 3a or the recently released, second-generation iPhone SE. Both of these are amazing phones and about half as expensive as an iPhone 11.

——————————————-

Mobile Phone Service 101

If you’re looking to save on cell phone service, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the industry. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over a lot of nuances in the rest of this post. If you’re a nerd like me and want more technical details, check out my longer, drier article that goes into more depth.

The Wireless Market

There are only four nationwide networks in the U.S. (soon to be three thanks to a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint). They vary in the extent of their coverage:

  • Verizon (most coverage)
  • AT&T (2nd best coverage)
  • T-Mobile (3rd best coverage)
  • Sprint (worst coverage)

Not everyone needs the most coverage. All four nationwide networks typically offer solid coverage in densely populated areas. Coverage should be a bigger concern for people who regularly find themselves deep in the mountains or cornfields.

While there are only four nationwide networks, there are dozens of carriers offering cell phone service to consumers – offering vastly different pricing and customer service experiences.

Expensive services running over a given network will tend to offer better customer service, more roaming coverage, and better priority during periods of congestion than low-cost carriers using the same network. That said, many people won’t even notice a difference between low-cost and high-cost carriers using the same network.

For most people, the easiest way to figure out whether a low-cost carrier will provide a good experience is to just try one. You can typically sign up for these services without a long-term commitment. If you have a good initial experience with a budget-friendly carrier, you can stick with it and save substantially month after month.

With a good carrier, a budget-friendly phone, and a bit of effort to limit data use, most people can have a great cellular experience while saving a bunch of money.

MMM’s Conclusion

From now on, you can check in on the Coverage Critic’s recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic, and he will also be issuing occasional clever or wry commentary on Twitter at @Coverage_Critic.

Thanks for joining the team, Chris!

*okay, special exception if you use it for work in video or photography. I paid $299 a year ago for my stupendously fancy Google Pixel 3a phone.. but only because I run this blog and the extra spending is justified by the better camera.

The Full Disclosure: whenever possible, we have signed this blog up for referral programs with any recommended companies that offer them, so we may receive a commission if you sign up for a plan using our research. We aim to avoid letting income (or lack thereof) affect our recommendations, but we still want to be upfront about everything so you can judge for yourself. Specific details about these referral programs is shared on the CC transparency page. MMM explains more about how he handles affiliate arrangements here.

  • Trip Seibold May 3, 2020, 2:45 pm

    Some financial “experts” claim that people need to focus on the big expenses when trimming expenses. Other “experts” claim that people need to focus on the small things like coffee, lattes, and avocado toast.

    You have consistently advocated that people focus on everything. The medium expenses, like cell phone plans, the large, and the small. Attention to detail wins the day. Pure and simple. Your logic is always appreciated MMM!

    Peace and long life,
    Trip Seibold

    Reply
    • Brendan Karanasios May 3, 2020, 3:32 pm

      It’s really about minimizing all expenses to really work that frugality muscle. One of my better decisions, three years ago, was to buy an olympic weight set and power rack (on sale of course), because gym memberships are a lot like Cable TV, you end up paying for a lot of stuff you don’t need. But I really do enjoy weight training, and the health dividends it pays, so much like my cheap cellphone plan, and digital TV antenna, I’ve found ways to enjoy the same quality of life as my spend-happy friends, at a fraction of what it costs most other people. I invest the difference into blue-chip stocks.

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 3, 2020, 3:47 pm

      Yeah, I have always thought it’s best to just have a general habit of thoughtful consumption, while leaning towards win/win situations.

      For example, living closer to work and biking/walking is a win/win for all of money and health and happiness. So even if “negotiating a higher salary” might technically net you more dollars, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ALSO move closer to work.

      Phone plans are more of just a pure financial win, but it is SO EASY to change plans that it’s still worth doing. And $17k every 10 years is still a pretty big number.

      Reply
    • NurseFILife May 5, 2020, 5:03 pm

      At the end of the day however you can think of to save money is going to help you live a better life. The big ticket items generally save you the most money, so if your time is limited it makes the most sense to focus on those. The smaller items are more like “death by a thousand cuts”. Individually they don’t do much, but taken together can have a noticeable impact on your finances.

      On my site I have people focus more on the big ticket items. This lets them start saving significant amounts of money, while not negatively impacting their ability to go out and enjoy life. If your goal is to reach FI as quickly as possible the details do indeed matter. However, if being able to retire ASAP is your goal, I would say just change whatever is bugging you so much about work. Enjoy life while pursuing your FI. Then if you have some setbacks (likely) you at least enjoy your life. Also, the more you enjoy life the less susceptible you will be to marketing. It is really a positively reinforcing cycle.

      Reply
  • Dude May 3, 2020, 2:51 pm

    I remember MMM talking about Republic Wireless years ago.

    I have probably used 8 different services in the last 10 years. My most recent is TracFone’s $30 for the whole year, but it only has 3GB of data. However, being at home all the time now and previously in an office, it was easy to use wifi. Additionally, I don’t plan to go over 1200 texts because everything is on chat apps and I it is most for 2fac.

    Reply
  • Mighty Investor May 3, 2020, 2:53 pm

    I’ve been using Republic Wireless ever since MMM recommended RW low those many years ago. Nary a mention here. Guess I’ll have to take a look at some of those other carriers mentioned here and compare. At least I’m rocking the Moto G7 mentioned in this article (though it isn’t the play version)…..

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 5:33 pm

      The regular G7 is also a great phone! The list price is a bit higher, but the phone has slightly better hardware & a better camera.

      Republic Wireless is still a decent option for some people, I just think Mint Mobile and T-Mobile’s Connect plans can deliver a similar (or even better) experience at a lower price.

      Reply
    • Jordan Dzubak May 3, 2020, 8:23 pm

      I had a terrible experience with RW. Had two lines with them for about a year and a half. I really wanted to like it, but they couldn’t ever get the switch from wifi to cell service right for me, it was dropping calls and affecting my sanity. Switched to Google Fi and it’s been a breeze.

      Reply
      • Art May 13, 2020, 10:06 am

        Agree. Mom pays $20 for RW and has many issues. I use Fi with much better performance and bill is $25-$30 a month. This is in Philly, so theoretically there shouldn’t be issues.

        Reply
    • Kitty May 4, 2020, 1:05 pm

      I used RW for several years based on MM suggestion. The factor that is missing in these discussion is the “cornfields.” For example, with my RW I was low priority to use any talk services because of their contracts to use the towers in my area. I basically traveled wifi to wifi in order to use my phone. And in rural Kansas, Verizon remains the only service that will hold a phone call thru the Flint Hills. It is frustrating But when I am running a business out of my car in the rural areas, I am forced to pay whatever fee Verizon is dishing out. Any calls I can’t pick up roll to my competitor who you can bet has Verizon.

      Reply
      • Kristine May 4, 2020, 2:32 pm

        Kitty – you are so right! I work in Junction City, KS and Verizon is the only carrier I know of that works where my employer is located. People come here with all different carriers only to realise they can’t get calls in this area. So much for the map Verizon uses to brag about coverage.

        Reply
      • Bob May 5, 2020, 7:22 am

        Hello, I also live in Kansas and agree that Verizon coverage is the only real option statewide. As mentioned above, Total Wireless uses Verizon towers. I have used Total Wireless for a year and a half, and never had a dropped or missed call. Anyway, it’s been great to have that coverage and the inexpensive plan. I can even confirm that it worked for me in the Flint Hills.

        Reply
      • Cathryn July 7, 2020, 7:59 am

        Visible is Verizon’s version of a low cost plan and is $40/month for unlimited everything on Verizon’s LTE network. It gets even cheaper when you invite people to join your “party pay” … 4 people in a party and each only pays $25/month all on separate bills. Have been using it for 3 months now and can’t tell the difference between this and an expensive Verizon plan.

        Reply
        • Tyler August 3, 2020, 9:45 am

          You can easily get into a party for Visible at https://www.reddit.com/r/VisiblePartyPay/. It makes no sense to pay $40/month! Just know that if you ever have an issue with your party, it takes less than 15 minutes to get into a new party so feel free to switch parties and find new ones on Reddit!

          Reply
          • Tyler August 3, 2020, 9:48 am

            I’ll also mention that I pay $25/month for unlimited talk, text, and data in the Bay Area. Visible is owned by Verizon so you’re on their towers which is great when I visit my parents who live in the mountains where only Verizon has excellent service. I helped them switch over too! I’ll say I did have difficulty getting my mom signed up, but my dad and I’s sign ups were pretty simple. There was some issue with the zip code for signing my mom up since they have only a PO Box.

            Reply
  • Thomas Bailey May 3, 2020, 2:53 pm

    May I throw in 2 MVNOs to look into?

    Mint Mobile = Uses T-mobile towers; $20 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 8gb of data

    Net10 (I’m currently on) = Uses whatever towers you choose (I picked Verizon); for $240; you get 1 year of unlimited talk, text & 5gb data ($20 a month).

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/283471231068

    Hopefully this helps others!

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 5:37 pm

      Thanks Thomas!

      These are both good options! I’m a big fan of Mint and list the company in our more extensive recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic. Net10 is also a good bet. It actually shares the same parent company as Total Wireless.

      Reply
    • Monica May 4, 2020, 6:19 am

      I second the vote for Mint Mobile! We joined when it was still known as Mint Sim and it’s been amazing and so much cheaper than our old Verizon plans (which we thought were cheap at the time). We each pay $240 a year for 10 GB and have no issues with service in our area.

      Reply
      • Liz July 6, 2020, 4:39 pm

        With Verizon prepaid I pay 360 a year for 5gb a month. So not bad considering or is your 10gb per month?

        Reply
    • Steven C May 4, 2020, 7:39 am

      I 2nd mint mobile. $25 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 12 GB of data.

      Reply
      • Katie Camel May 8, 2020, 2:39 pm

        Mint Mobile user here too! I had a really difficult time deciding whether or not to leave AT&T. I was originally a Cingular user, but AT&T bought Cingular and I allowed my account to transfer over. The coverage was usually great, but the prices were outrageous, even with my steep employer discount. Knowing I had great service at a steep (but still expensive) discount, I was reluctant to change to a MVNO, but as soon as AT&T increased my and everyone else’s plans by $5 per month, I was out.

        They argued that they were giving me another GB of data. I told them that was nice, but they never asked if 1) I wanted more data, or 2) if I wanted to pay a higher bill. The extra data was great but unnecessary. Increasing the bill of 15-year-long customer without approval was the final straw. And I told them that. Indecision over. I switched immediately to Mint and haven’t looked back. They’ve saved me a fortune. Is it as good as AT&T? No, but the differences are so negligible that I don’t care. (I’m in Philadelphia.)

        If you want to read further thoughts on it, you’re welcome to check out my review – I hope this is allowed!!! Feel free to delete the link if it’s not. https://alongthecamelride.com/2018/12/01/taking-the-plunge-on-alternative-cell-phone-service-part-3-mint-mobile-user/

        Great topic! Thanks for posting something not COVID-related, MMM!

        Reply
  • Brendan Karanasios May 3, 2020, 3:11 pm

    I’ve used Republic Wireless since 2014 and absolutely love it. I pay $20/month plus add in $5 a month over 30-36 months for the cost of a new phone every 2.5-3 years. So $25, and my old Verizon plan was $85, plus all of the fees and gimmicks, call it $100. Total savings = about $5,400, but really is $7,500 in wages I would have needed to earn when I factor in taxes over 6 years.

    Reply
  • Igor Getsin May 3, 2020, 3:13 pm

    Cricket offers the same $15 plan as T-Mobile connect with the benefit of running over ATT towers for coverage quality.
    You can bring your compatible device without restrictions.

    But that $1200-1500 (insert your phone model here) for 3 years with 0 interest is so tempting.

    Reply
    • thunderball May 3, 2020, 4:57 pm

      I pay $100/mo for Cricket’s 4-line family plan: unlimited talk, text, and data (all phones were/are used and paid for). 3 years in and it’s been perfect.

      Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 8:44 pm

      That Cricket plan is a good deal, but Cricket hasn’t committed to offering the plan for the long term. On the other hand, T-Mobile has made a very public commitment to offering the Connect plan for many years.

      I’ve seen some information (not confirmed) suggesting the Cricket plan will move from $15 to $30 later this month. There’s a chance that customers who take advantage of the deal today will be grandfathered into the $15 per month version of the plan, but I’m not entirely sure.

      Reply
      • thunderball May 4, 2020, 4:40 am

        Good to know, thank you!

        Reply
        • Seanshi May 4, 2020, 5:37 pm

          Very helpful! I’ve been on Cricket but I just signed up for that $15 a month promo. If they do end up dropping it I’ll check out the T-Mobile connect one!

          Reply
  • Josh Zytkiewicz May 3, 2020, 3:29 pm

    AT&T is still running an online only prepaid promotion of 12 months of service, 8GB/month, unlimited talk and text for $300, equivalent of $25/month.

    I switched from a $75/month post-paid AT&T plan in February and I don’t see any difference in the quality of my service.

    Downsides are you do need to pay all $300 at once, and you can’t port your number directly from another AT&T plan. I ported my number to a different prepaid network and then ported it back a few days later. Even the $15 that cost is worth it for the $600 a year I’m saving.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 5:58 pm

      Yeah that promotion is a fantastic option for people who know they’ll have good coverage from AT&T and can handle paying $300 upfront.

      Mint Mobile has a very similar plan (8GB data w/ unlimited talk and text) at a slightly better price (~$240 per year), but the AT&T plan will tend to offer better coverage.

      Reply
      • Classical_liberal May 4, 2020, 11:03 pm

        Recently I have been using Mint, after switching from a verizon network service, the loss of coverage is noticeable. At least it is for me, as I do a lot of road trips with camping and hiking, so less urban areas. However, at a savings of almost 60% to the verizon network with the options I want (one of those being hotspot data) it’s still a no brainer. I’ve had really great customer service and the like with mint too, a very easy switch to port numbers, etc.

        Reply
    • Marcia May 4, 2020, 2:26 pm

      Yeah, we use AT&T as they have the best coverage for our particular location. We do prepaid, but not at $25 a month (more like $35). We’ve been pretty happy with them.

      I have a coworker who used to be on AT&T and then switched to verizon. Man, with these days of working at home, his coverage at his house is terrible and he keeps dropping out on the calls. His internet is even worse.

      Reply
    • Dinostache May 5, 2020, 11:55 am

      Josh,
      Good idea. I think that I will try this. My ATT coverage is good.

      But there isn’t much time left. May I ask, which prepaid carrier did you port your number to? Did you have to receive and insert the sim card for the phone number switch to fully take hold? And then switch back to ATT? Any information on your process would be helpful as ATT is ending their promotion in a week.

      Reply
  • Paul Muench May 3, 2020, 4:03 pm

    We’ve recently switched to Visible (www.visible.com), an MVNO on Verizon’s network. They only offer one plan: unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, unlimited data. The basic rate is $40 per month, but what is really cool is you get group discounts (not limited to family): Group of 2: $35 per month (per person); Group of 3: $30 per month (per person); Group of 4: $25 per month (per person). And if you need people to round out your group, there’s actually a page on reddit where people find one another (https://www.reddit.com/r/VisiblePartyPay/).

    Reply
    • Jarred May 4, 2020, 9:01 am

      I’ve been thinking about trying visible as sprint has now limited me to 20gigs of hotspot and considering I’ve pulled 130 gigs of data total this month most low cost providers won’t work for me

      Reply
    • Jeremy Darby May 4, 2020, 12:36 pm

      Yeah! My partner and I have been using Visible for about 6 months now and it’s worked well for us. They even offer tethering (one device at a time) with unlimited data, which is the edge that won us over. We’re paying $35/line right now, but I’m in the process of converting my parents over, and then our party’s bills will be $25/person (billed separately).

      Downsides:
      – Speed is capped to 5 Mb/s up and down. Plenty for streaming and for FaceTime, but it is noticeable when I was tethering for remote work and had to download large files. They supposedly removed the speed caps for non-tethering, but all bandwidth tests I do still end up around that number or lower.
      – Video resolution is capped to 480p. Not too big of a deal for a phone-sized screen.
      – Low priority on the network (as is the case with basically all MVNOs)

      Upsides:
      – Good cost for truly unlimited everything
      – No throttling at high usage
      – You can still tether!

      Reply
  • Alison May 3, 2020, 4:13 pm

    Any ideas for Canada, lots of crazy prices here. I’m in downtown Toronto and pay 90. How could I keep my photos if I do t have an iPhone as well? Thank you 😊

    Reply
    • Jeremy Darby May 4, 2020, 12:40 pm

      Have you considered getting a US-based plan that allows you to roam for free in Canada (e.g. Google Fi, or some of T-Mobile’s offerings)? I’ve heard of some Canadians doing this, but admittedly have very little actual experience. Sometimes the speeds are much slower when abroad, for example, so definitely see what others’ experiences are like beforehand.

      Reply
    • Anonymous May 5, 2020, 6:27 pm

      Public Mobile

      Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 7:35 pm

      Hey Alison,

      We’ve just launched a separate page for recommended carriers & plans in Canada: mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic-canada/

      Reply
  • Claire May 3, 2020, 4:59 pm

    Up here in Canada the charges tend to be even higher! If you or your readers have any tips, I would love to hear them.

    Reply
    • Jason May 4, 2020, 8:58 am

      I picked up a “data tablet” on my partner’s plan at Costco. They included a cash-card and tablet, which the children use. I put the sim in my old phone and pay $15 for 3 gb of data only. Over the 2 years, I will pay $360, but the tablet was worth $200 and the cash card was $100. That’s nearly a free cellular data plan! I mostly don’t use actual telephone functions, but I use voip.ms for voice and sms occasionally for a couple dollars a month. Most of my contacts use data-based platforms now rather than plain old telephony.

      Reply
    • Anonymous May 5, 2020, 6:28 pm

      Public Mobile

      Reply
    • Dan May 8, 2020, 7:52 am

      I have been using Koodo prepaid for at least two years and have never been happier. They have an unlimited texting plan that comes with 250mb data for $15/month. Discounted another 10% for using automated top-ups. Talktime, US services and additional data can be bought in what they call booster packs. The best part is these boosters do not expire ! Couple times a year I buy minutes.

      Reply
  • Manny Cortes May 3, 2020, 5:05 pm

    I use Metro PCS and for several years I have a unlimited Data and Messages. The cost monthly is $60 bucks.

    I get great coverage anywhere and everywhere and have a YouTube channel that sometimes requires 4 to 8 GB daily uploading videos on the road.

    Reply
  • Frugal Professor May 3, 2020, 5:07 pm

    I’ve been paying $0 ish for cell phones for about a decade. Here’s how I’ve done so: https://frugalprofessor.com/phones/

    Plans I recommend not mentioned in your article:

    Google voice (free) +

    Tello prepaid: $0.03/minute, $0.02/MB
    or RedPocket: $5/month for 500 minutes, 500MB.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 4, 2020, 11:28 am

      If you can manage close to zero use off of Wi-Fi, this is an awesome super-frugal approach! For what it’s worth, I have a fairly negative view of Red Pocket that I discussed in another comment.

      Reply
      • Frugal Professor May 4, 2020, 4:40 pm

        My wife and brother use Red Pocket and are both pleased. My wife’s account is on Verizon’s network. I’m unsure which network my brother chose (maybe AT&T)?

        I agree with your assessment that activating Red Pocket can be a pain, but otherwise we’ve been really pleased with them.

        I’ve been through about a dozen carriers through the past 15 years (magic jack VOIP, t-mobile prepaid, lycamobile, freedompop, ringplus (my favorite….RIP), tello, red pocket, and now xfinity mobile).

        As a society I think we’ve lost our minds with respect to “needing” data. 99.9% of smart phone functionality that I use can be accomplished without paying for data (podcasts, photos, offline google maps navigation, netflix in offline mode, etc). Getting a cell phone bill to basically $0 takes very small behavioral adjustments (like, turn your damn data off unless you need it).

        To me, Google Voice is the end-all phone solution. I’ve been with them from the very beginning. Even now that I have a fancy pants xfinity mobile plan, I still prefer using google voice for texting, voice mail, etc. It is such a great product.

        Reply
        • Guin May 4, 2020, 4:55 pm

          My husband and I have been with Red Pocket (on Verizon’s network) for years. It’s SO cheap. And while the customer service isn’t necessarily lightning fast, they always solve the issue, whatever it may be.

          I’ve considered going with xfinity mobile, but even with $0 on the cellular side, red pocket’s cheaper. We both work from home and don’t use much data, and like you mentioned, so much can be accomplished without needing a ton of data anyway (we’re not teenagers so we don’t need to stream tiktok or play hefty games on our phones)

          Reply
  • Katie May 3, 2020, 5:27 pm

    Did you get a dog???!!!

    Reply
    • Troy May 3, 2020, 5:39 pm

      Yes, this is what I was wondering as well! The MMM aversion to dogs has always fascinated me. I love dogs. 😜

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 3, 2020, 5:40 pm

      Hahaha, no that is a really old picture of a friend’s dog hanging out during a party. (notice the low picture quality from the 2014-era mobile phone!)

      Also, Troy – where is your evidence of this MMM aversion to dogs?? :-)

      Reply
      • Troy Rank May 3, 2020, 5:51 pm

        Well.. https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/09/07/great-news-dog-ownership-is-optional/

        I could have read to far into it, considering that having a rescue dog is deeply meaningful to me, I was probably projecting a bit. I do remember a lively comments section 😜

        but it doesn’t mean that it’s not critical for the dog line item in the budget to be scrutinized heavily, like any other line.

        Dog people are crazy I’m telling you ;)

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache May 3, 2020, 6:19 pm

          Right, but when you look at that article, you will note the BEST part of it is the amazing super-pro-dog counterpoint written by my brilliant and lovely sister Heather.

          I shared that because she’s right – there are great reasons to have dogs in your life. As long as you have thought deeply about it and considered the lifestyle adjustments and expenses that come with it. (She lives in the countryside and most of her limited travel is to things where dogs can come along. Plus she can easily afford dog expenses – so in that situation, they are a great addition to her life)

          The article title says it all – dog ownership is not BAD, it’s just OPTIONAL. Most people these days are behaving as if it were mandatory, even when their lives are negatively impacted by the addition.

          Reply
    • Katie Camel May 8, 2020, 2:42 pm

      Haha! I was wondering the same and was excited for him and his son. Dogs are the best when they fit well into your budget and lifestyle. I agree with MMM that they’re optional, not obligatory. Adopting a dog without understanding how time consuming and expensive they are leads to more abandoned dogs. I always forewarn would-be dog owners about all the expenses, especially if I know they’re not good with money and aren’t necessarily the most responsible people. It usually deters them from adopting.

      Reply
  • Matt in Michigan May 3, 2020, 5:34 pm

    Red Pocket Mobile!! Super affordable packages and service available on ALL networks, you choose whatever one works best in your area.

    Not sure why they don’t get much love, best deal and variety I’ve found yet.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 5:50 pm

      Hey Matt,

      I agree that Red Pocket’s prices are good, but I’ve been very unimpressed with the company. Based on other things I’ve read online, I’m suspicious that my negative experiences were not isolated cases. That said, if you’re having a good experience with Red Pocket, that’s great & I hope it continues!

      (I discuss some of the problems I experienced in my Red Pocket Review. Many of the commenters on that page reported experiencing similar issues. I also wrote a blog post covering a debacle with Red Pocket’s sibling brands that looks like it was caused by Red Pocket operating in an unprofessional way.)

      Reply
      • Matt in Michigan May 3, 2020, 6:26 pm

        I read your review and blog post. The reviews I have seen before but fortunately me, my wife and daughter all running on AT&T network for over a year we have not had any issue. Auto renews monthly and set up was easy on a Moto g6, Samsung Galaxy 8 and an Iphone 7.

        I agree though on your blog post, that seems kind of shady.

        Thanks for the details!

        Reply
        • Bradley May 3, 2020, 9:17 pm

          Just another data point for any folks reading: I’ve also used redpocket’s AT&T network for the past couple years, and have had nothing but a great experience. Moto G7 phone. My sister has an iphone with redpocket’s AT&T service as well, and it’s also worked great for her. If someone’s looking for cheap AT&T service, I’d recommend looking into it. (I pay $15/month for 1 gb data plus text/calling, my sister pays $30/month for 7 gb.) Based on the research I did before choosing the service, I specifically avoided doing the verizon network through redpocket, as it did seem to be more finicky for folks, but the AT&T network has worked well (I assume the other 2 networks work good as well, but there are definitely cheaper T mobile and sprint plans elsewhere).

          Reply
      • Jimbo May 4, 2020, 12:30 pm

        Another nice thing about Red Pocket is annual plans on ebay. For $23/month (paid in a lump sum) we get 10GB of data. We also use AT&T network and haven’t had any troubles.

        Reply
      • booch221 May 4, 2020, 1:13 pm

        I use Red Pocket on the AT&T network and have never had a problem. I was able to configure the data and mms settings on my own. I ran into a glitch renewing the one year of service plan I purchased on ebay. I got right through to a customer service rep and they quickly resolved the issue.

        I think Red Pocket is one of the best MVNO deals available. I get 500 voice minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB of data for $99/year. It’s easy to add extra voice, text, or data service if you need to, but I seldom do.

        Reply
    • MrMelmoth May 4, 2020, 3:15 pm

      I’ve AT&T* iPhones, so what’s the best plan if you want about 4GB of data?

      Red Pocket Wins!
      After more research, looks like Red Pocket is better! 5GB for equivalent of $20/mo. (after 5GB, it’s throttled) through their prepaid plans sold on eBay.

      I also already use Red Pocket for a couple kid’s phones, which are very limited use. Basic Plan for equivalent of $5/mo. for 100 min, 100 texts, and 500MB data. These are old hand-me down Verizon-based CDMA iPhone 6 phones. It’s worked great! Buy prepaid SIMs (or SIM refill codes) on eBay. They mostly use WiFi but turn on data in emergencies. Texting doesn’t count against the 100/mo. if via Apple’s iMessage and WiFi with other iPhones.

      Red Pocket has a Referral Program but only for plans of $30 or higher, so perhaps not good for everyone–Regardless, MMM may consider associating to get affiliate benefits.

      Pure Talk Wireless?
      My wife uses Pure Talk Wireless on her GSM (AT&T) iPhone 7. She gets 5GB of data per month and unlimited talk/text/MMS for $30.97 USD. I checked and found a cheaper Pure Talk Wireless option for $25/mo. for 3GB.
      Note about Pure Talk: After the monthly plan’s GB are all used, your speed is throttled to 128 kbps–which is good it doesn’t stop entirely.

      Xfinity?
      As a Comcast customer, I’d consider Xfinity in the future when their needs increase ($12/line for shared 10GB)–and I’m not sure if a GSM AT&T-based phone would work or just CDMA?

      AT&T Prepaid?
      Someone mentioned AT&T’s prepaid promo for 8GB for the equivalent of $25/mo. However, looks like Red Pocket is still best for my needs of 4GB, for $20.

      * While coverage isn’t as good as Verizon, coverage is great in my house with the Ethernet-based cell phone microcell (booster) in my kitchen.

      Reply
      • Julie May 4, 2020, 4:25 pm

        We’ve had PureTalk USA on the AT&T network for years and mostly love it. 2 lines (we’ve used both iPhones and Samsung Galaxy models) with unlimited talk and text and 3GB each of data for under $50 total. We have had issues with MMS, though. Sometimes they disappear into the abyss, on both the sending and receiving ends. It was only an occasional issue until COVID-19, and now that network usage is way up, our missed messages are way up too. We contacted the company and they gave some alternate phone settings that helped but didn’t totally alleviate the problem.

        Reply
  • Troy May 3, 2020, 5:45 pm

    Killed my 120 dollar a month sprint plan 6 years ago because of MMM. I bit the bullet and payed the 400 dollar early termination fee and it was well worth it. It’s under 20 for 2 lines on zello now after maybe 4 trouble free years of freedompop at less than 10/mo. It’s super helpful to have updates like this because the mvnos do tend come and go. Without MMM I would have never made this (and many more) changes in my life and I am permanently indebted to the stache. (the only debt I carry :D)

    Reply
  • Jon May 3, 2020, 5:59 pm

    I’m surprised Cricket isn’t on this list. $100 for 4 lines with unlimited talk, text, and data. The data download speed is limited to 3Mbps but that’s still enough to watch streaming video and pretty much anything else you would do. Great coverage through AT&T towers and also includes service from Mexico and Canada. It’s a great choice for a family of 4.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 8:25 pm

      Hey Jon—

      I agree the 3Mbps limit isn’t a big deal for a lot of people. I don’t think Cricket is a bad option, but I think Total Wireless is usually a better option:

      • Verizon (the network Total Wireless uses) has more extensive coverage than AT&T
      • Total Wireless doesn’t throttle speeds
      • Most Total Wireless plans include mobile hotspot without an upcharge (the Cricket Unlimited plan has an upcharge for the feature)
      • Total Wireless has better pricing on 2- and 3-line plans

      That said, if you need a high-data, family plan on AT&T’s network, Cricket is a good option.

      Reply
  • Shirley Dulcey May 3, 2020, 6:40 pm

    There is one notable exception. One of the more expensive plans might make sense for a frequent INTERNATIONAL traveler if it includes free calling and data in other countries. The lower price plans you talk about in this article do not.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 7:14 pm

      Hi Shirley,

      Some of these plans allow international roaming at rates that are very reasonable for light use. In our larger list of recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic, we mention Google Fi as a particularly great option for international travelers (especially if they don’t use tons of data).

      Reply
    • jimbo May 4, 2020, 12:39 pm

      When we traveled internationally, we got a local SIM card, easy, peasy. You pay for the data you need, usually at a very reasonable rate, and can use Google Voice for calls

      Reply
      • Emily May 5, 2020, 2:52 pm

        Yes, a local SIM is the way to go outside the US if you have an unlocked GSM phone. I have the Moto G7 Play and used a Telcel SIM in Mexico (super cheap prepaid plan, less than $10/mo for all the voice, SMS, and data I could ever use) and use a Tracfone-ATT SIM here in the US, a bit more expensive but still very reasonable for my needs.

        Reply
    • Jessica June 5, 2020, 11:11 am

      We use Google Fi. I absolutely love the text that tells me “Welcome to Canada” or “Welcome to Portugal” as our phone recognizes our new location- it’s a seamless transition.

      Reply
  • Trevor May 3, 2020, 6:51 pm

    Does anyone know if you can get the new iPhone SE to work on project Fi seamlessly?
    I have used project Fi for about 3 years now and just upgraded to a pixel3a which is solid but my Wife would love the iPhone SE at project Fi prices. ;)

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 4, 2020, 12:55 pm

      The iPhone SE should work with Fi, but I don’t think it can be made to work seamlessly in the same way that Designed for Fi devices do. Unfortunately, Fi for iOS is still in beta. That could cause some minor issues, and iPhones will be restricted to using T-Mobile’s network (Designed for Fi devices can also use Sprint and U.S. Cellular’s networks).

      Unless you really want Fi’s international roaming options, T-Mobile Connect and Mint Mobile are probably better options for T-Mobile-based coverage on iPhones.

      Reply
      • Lance May 4, 2020, 6:38 pm

        One of the points in favor of Google Fi not mentioned yet is for those of us who live in an area with one primary coverage (Sprint) and work in an area with a different dominant coverage (T-Mobile) (yep, I know they’re merging and this might become a non issue soon). I have never successfully yes just one of these phone services in both locations. Inevitably, one location or the other is slow as death.

        Another factor that needed to go into my equation is that my job is a shift work power plant position that is roughly 10 hours of twiddling my thumbs with about 2 hours of real activity mixed in to prevent complete catatonia. Because of that, I use at least 10GB of data each month doing various things on my phone and, occasionally, my Chromebook (including tweaking my budget and finding new ways to save money).

        We’ve started using their new group plan and with 4 people that’s $45 + nearly $15 of various taxes and fees (New York State) this gives me 22GB of data (more than enough) and 100GB of online storage (which I actually use heavily since moving away from a Windows/Mac world.

        For me, $65/month is still a savings over the previous $80, and provides me the resources to prevent boredom while still in the prison camp. After retirement in six years, I’ll have no problem going to something even less expensive.

        Reply
  • Annie May 3, 2020, 6:56 pm

    Coverage Critic: what are the best options for people who want to save but do a lot of conf calls and cannot risk experimenting with potential coverage issues?

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 7:41 pm

      I’d recommend going with a low-cost plan on Verizon’s network so you get the most extensive coverage you can.

      Verizon’s own prepaid plans and Total Wireless are both worth considering. If you barely use your phone, US Mobile could be another option.

      Reply
  • Seriousone May 3, 2020, 7:11 pm

    What a fantastic idea…. but MMM what about your northern friends??? WE are dying up here with ridiculously expensive cell phone plans…. :) and so many carriers it is hard to keep with all the options:(

    Reply
  • Bonnie May 3, 2020, 7:13 pm

    I’ve heard stories that women talk more than men – I know I regularly have 2 to 3 calls a day that go over 30 minutes and frequent calls over an hour. Has your critic surveyed phone satisfaction from the feminine point of view?

    Reply
  • erth May 3, 2020, 7:24 pm

    Critic Coverage,
    Information about the plans and phones is very timely for me. The funny part is that MMM admonishes people spending $80/mo. on their smartphone plans whereas I need to upgrade myself out of the flip-phone first! LOL

    Once I sit down to do my research I hope to find basic instructions on your website about how to go about joining a new plan or switching plans or whether to buy your own unlocked phone (and where?) or buy it directly from the plan. And what about those SIM cards especially if I wish to travel overseas?

    Anyway, I’m thrilled to read that I can find a smartphone for less than $200, but what about camera and picture quality which is quite important to me? What about memory?
    Data is not very important especially in the US (I don’t watch videos on phones), but if I sign up with 1 or 2GB/mo. data plan, how do I know I don’t exceed it and then get slapped penalty $$ out of the blue?
    However, another biggie for me is to be able to take and use the phone in Europe while hopping to different countries. Is anyone aware of a better option than buying SIM cards in different countries?

    TY!

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 7, 2020, 10:52 am

      The base model of the G7 Play has 32GB of storage. The camera on that phone really isn’t anything special though. If you want a good camera, going for something fancier like the regular G7, a Pixel 3A, or the iPhone SE could be worthwhile.

      Most carriers will have options that let you avoid getting hit with data overage charges. In fact, most carriers now cut off data access (or slow it to sluggish speeds) by default rather than allowing huge overages.

      If you’re on an Android phone, you could also set a data limit on your device (explained here).

      For international travel, buying local SIM cards is still usually the most cost-effective option. There are some carriers with especially accommodating roaming policies though. E.g., Google Fi lets subscribers roam almost anywhere in the world for the same rates it charges domestically.

      Reply
  • Julie Young May 3, 2020, 7:51 pm

    Would love to hear input from anyone who lives in the mountains of Colorado!! I have long felt that we pay WAY too much for our phone plans, and mostly get spotty, annoying coverage with AT&T. However, it seems like the only companies offering any type of coverage in the mountains are the big ones (AT&T and Verizon) and neither work very well. Has anyone tried any of these “other” networks with any success up here?

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 7, 2020, 10:59 am

      Hey Julie,

      As someone who also lives in Colorado, I sympathize with these problems. I’m hoping to eventually write a really detailed article that dives into why cell phone service tends to be lousy in CO.

      I agree with you that Sprint and T-Mobile are off the table if you want decent coverage in the mountains. If you go with a carrier other than AT&T or Verizon, you’d want to choose a carrier piggybacking off one of those networks.

      Reply
  • Chris May 3, 2020, 8:55 pm

    Any recommendations for high data use options? We are using Sprint Unlimited, 2 lines for $130 per month. This allowed is to not have home internet, saving $60 per month on Xfinity.

    Now that I have to work from home, I’ve had to pick up home internet again (at least it’s a $20 intro rate for a year).

    Anyway, without home internet before, we were using about 50gb per line per month. Even with home internet, I’m close to 10gb per month because I can’t use Wi-Fi at work, and, I guess old habits of never having to worry about data?

    I really like never having to worry about data use, but I’d be willing to think about it a bit more if the savings we’re significant.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 8:00 pm

      Yeah, with Total Wireless you could get two lines with 30GB shared for about $60.

      Several carriers would offer two unlimited plans for much less than you’re paying now: Cricket (~$80) , Visible (~$50-70), and Xfinity Mobile (~$90) .

      Reply
  • Ecodad May 3, 2020, 8:57 pm

    MMM,

    Thank you for another relevant post.

    For years I have had a Magic Jack device ($30 per year, free calls) that plugs into the Wi-Fi router. I also have had a free Google Voice account for years. Google voice gives me a phone number that is not associated with any phone, but allows for free texting and talking over Wi-Fi and forwards all incoming calls to my Magic Jack home phone as well as my cell phone… a quite nice for me TracFone Moto e5. $50 for a years service, 2 cents per minute talking over cellular networks, o.5 cents per text…$80 per year does me nicely. The only time it costs me is when I NEED to pick up the cell phone away from home. I am not home much, but I am also not tethered to my cell phone For those who are, TracFone has unlimited talk and text with limited data for $20 per month.

    Reply
  • Catprog May 3, 2020, 9:20 pm

    I am in Austria so this is just a comment.

    Is it possible to go just mobile and save money over a mobile+fixed system?

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 4, 2020, 9:11 am

      It’s rarely economical since mobile charges per gigabyte of data tend to be much higher than the per-gigabyte charges on fixed connections. That said, it’s definitely possible! I’ve heard a handful of success stories from people who had limited home internet needs who managed to go exclusively mobile.

      Reply
      • veronica May 4, 2020, 11:32 am

        I had exclusively mobile internet in Spain. I called it internet-on-the-go and it was fantastic! The plan was with Simyo and for 16.50 euro per month I got 20 minutes of calling (Spain only), 0 text messages and 22 GB of data. Any data not used was carried forward for a maximum of 90 days. So yes, for any readers in Spain, it is totally doable.

        Alas, thanks to the pandemic, I am back in Canada. Talk about the other end of the scale…..

        Reply
    • Mandie May 12, 2020, 4:30 am

      I’m in Germany, which probably has a more similar telecom market to Austria than the US does. Depends on how much data you use. Before the last two months, I would have said yes for anyone who doesn’t watch much TV and doesn’t usually work from home, especially in an urban area where O2 offers decent coverage.

      Now that my husband and I been in home office for the past two months, I’m thankful that we have a decent DSL connection (upgraded to 250 down/40 up, Deutsche Telekom @ 40 EUR/mo, includes unlimited calls to EU, CH and USA). I dropped my mobile plan down from O2 L (15 EUR/mo, 5.5 GB data) to O2 M (10 EUR/mo, 3 GB data) because I barely leave the house these days. O2 S isn’t that much less expensive, and I’m a bit lazy like that.

      O2’s unlimited data plan would possibly be a hair cheaper for someone living alone who uses Skype or other service to call outside Germany, but once you need a second line, the savings are gone.

      Reply
  • Anonymous May 3, 2020, 9:24 pm

    While this won’t be a helpful tip to all readers, most or all of the major US networks (T Mobile, Verizon, Sprint) offer discounted plans to active US military and veterans. With MANY phone calls to Sprint to iron out billing, my family was able to get a 3 lines unlimited everything plan for approx. $100 per month. Definitely worth investing with your current provider to all those who can take advantage of the offer. The only difference from Sprint’s standard unlimited everything plan was a lower data limit on mobile hotspots which is important to note for those relying on mobile hotspots for their internet access.

    Reply
    • Anonymous May 4, 2020, 10:50 am

      Great point. My wife and I are on a TMobile plan for $40/line with 50gb LTE data each (unlimited slow speeds) and it pays most of our Netflix bill (we pay $2 instead of $0 after Netflix raised its rates), making it pretty competitive if you use more then a few GB of data a month. I’ve found the roaming limits to be able to get me through some of the more remote areas (when allowed) and I’m sure the Sprint merger will make coverage even better. TDY location wifi costs can get expensive (and I’m not a fan of Boingo) so it’s nice avoiding those when I can too.

      Reply
    • Lisa May 5, 2020, 8:10 pm

      YEP! We have 4 unlimited lines with international roaming and text for $25 a line (4 lines-$100 a month) from T Mobile military. I used to pay less with Ting, but I had to watch usage constantly, which was both bad and good. When the TDY started to overseas locations, our family switched over and we don’t regret it at all.

      Reply
  • Terry Osborn May 3, 2020, 9:33 pm

    What about Text now? I know it is a Wi-Fi company normally and everyone I know almost uses them on occasion. But now they seem to be trying to move into the big leagues. They are advertising free phone coverage for life. Well free besides the ten dollars you have to pay for the SIM card. They use to charge 10 dollars a month for it but now it’s byop and it has to be comparable with Sprint and buy your 10 dollar SIM card and you get unlimited calling and texting and no data but you can use your Wi-Fi for data and that’s it. You don’t have to pay them anymore. And this plan uses I’m guessing Sprint network for their coverage. Am I missing something here?

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 10:40 pm

      I don’t think you’re missing anything. I haven’t used TextNow myself, but it seems like an interesting service from what I’ve heard about it. If you don’t need data access and don’t mind the ads, it sound like a good, ultra-frugal option. For what it’s worth, I don’t think TextNow’s paid plans that include data are especially competitive.

      Reply
  • Patrick May 3, 2020, 9:58 pm

    Mobile plan costs are all about data now. If you don’t need much data, yes you can get a cheap plan. But consider the cost you’re paying for wifi. We “cut the cord” on wifi (cable/dsl) years ago (due to living on a sailboat) and moved that ~$60-80 cost into cellular. We use 10-20 gb per month in total across 2 phones on Google Fi for ~$130/month (unlimited, but it’s speed limited after 22gb/user – currently raised to 30gb/user on their generous coronavirus bonus).

    I don’t think the Coverage Critic prices include taxes? That’s a big part of mobile plan costs, higher than standard sales tax.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 3, 2020, 10:45 pm

      Congrats on cutting the cord!

      You’re right that taxes and fees are generally not included in the prices mentioned (though I try to flag when carriers have exorbitant or unconventional fees). I wish there was a simple way to include taxes & fees in prices I bring up, but taxes & fees unfortunately vary a lot by region. E.g., I sometimes have to pay specific Boulder County fees on my plans.

      Reply
  • Dean May 4, 2020, 12:22 am

    There’s so many good phones around for $US400 or less. Samsung Galaxy A series, iPhone SE, Moto G or E series, handsets from Oppo/vivo/realme/Huawei/Nokia/Xiaomi/etc (if available in your country). Not to mention refurbished older flagships (although batteries are an issue there).

    One can get a phone that’s 90-95% as good as a flagship device for a third of the price.

    Reply
  • IGMR May 4, 2020, 2:20 am

    FIRE blogger from Sweden here.

    My familys cheap-o method is to by used cell phones with no plan attached to it. Here in Sweden we have a network operator named “Vimla”. Their cheapest plan is 3GB + unlimited calls for about 9-10 USD per month.

    The nice thing about them is that if you recommend a friend, family member or anyone else to sign up – Vimla will deduct aprox 1 USD from your bill (per recommendation). Both me and my wife now have free cell phone plans because of this.

    A tip from overseas :)

    Reply
  • Rhonda May 4, 2020, 2:43 am

    I haven’t chimed in, in some time but I just had to say that being Canadian living in Canada, there doesn’t seem to be anything comparable in our market to these plans. We pay crazy dollars for cell phones & their accompanying plans. Maybe someday Canadians on Cdn turf can enjoy the much lower cost to cell phones & plans, but for now I guess we’re stuck at the “plain ol’ rip off” stage. Welcome to the MMM Community Chris!

    Reply
    • Patrick May 4, 2020, 2:09 pm

      Try Telus Myfirstphoneplan, used to be Telus180. $180/yr, unlimited texts, limited daytime minutes(80 i think), unlimited evening/weekend calling. No data, but seeing as we’re paying $100/mnth for home internet, wifi is great

      Reply
      • Julia May 5, 2020, 3:31 pm

        That Telus plan sounds very cheap, but if you want some data Public Mobile isn’t too bad. It’s nothing like the American options, but if you’d don’t need much the $25 plan isn’t awful. I find it more than meets my needs, but I have wifi at home and work, so I don’t need a lot of data.

        Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 8:04 pm

      Thanks Rhonda! While the options in Canada are definitely more limited, we’ve thrown up some good options at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic-canada/.

      Reply
  • shaggy May 4, 2020, 3:58 am

    Any suggestions for a budget priced smaller phone? My wife has liked her Moto’s, but is looking for something no more than 4″, or 4.2″ at the most.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 7, 2020, 11:01 am

      Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to recommend. I really wish I did. I find phones of that size big enough to be very usable and much easier to keep in pockets. It seems that major manufacturers are barely making anything in this size range anymore.

      Reply
    • Mandie May 12, 2020, 4:43 am

      A used iPhone SE (the old one) is the most powerful small phone I’ve been able to find. I’m currently using a used iPhone 7 because it isn’t that much bigger (4.7″), but is well within Apple’s still supported range for OS updates and useful apps (banking apps for authentication is the biggie for me). The new iPhone SE is the same size as the 7, so once it hits the used market and the 7 looks like it’s headed out of support, I’ll probably get one. The new iPhone SE has the same basic innards as the far more expensive 11, so I’m pretty confident it will be supported for quite a few more years.

      Reply
  • Gwen May 4, 2020, 6:24 am

    Thanks to MMM’s encouragement, I switched from my old grandfathered unlimited plan for $120 to Google FI. Thanks to referrals there were many months when my bill was $0 or $45 on a regular month. When I moved to DC I needed GPS for my commutes which made the price go up, conveniently about the time they offered an unlimited plan. I switched to that and now happily pay $80/mo to use my phone as much as I want (very helpful on long drives through cornfields now that I live in the Midwest again). Is there room for improvement there? Sure but it offers everything I need at a reasonable price point and that’s good enough for me :)

    Reply
    • Maverick May 4, 2020, 6:39 am

      You know you can use Google Maps offline without the need for data, right?

      Reply
  • Rad May 4, 2020, 6:26 am

    We have been with TracFone for a dozen years. We just got a new 4g flip phone ($10 on sale) as 3g is being phased out. The plan we pay for is 180 minutes over 3 months plus an additional 12 months (15 total) with no more minutes for $78. Works out to just over $5 a month. Minutes carry over indefinitely. We only use the phone for vacations, emergencies and in case I end up in the ditch with my bicycle. The phone battery lasts a week or more. We have a landline bundled with the only internet provider in this area other than the various dish networks. We use an HD antenna and HULU and don’t want dish. There is no cable here. I know this is so 20th century, but it works for us.

    With TracFone, the towers they use depend on the phone model. Ours uses Verizon. We are in a rural dead zone between 4 towers and with the old phone would get dropped calling from inside the house, but the new one works great. We don’t give out our cell number, but when away have the home phone calls forwarded to the cell. We have data and texts, but don’t use them. Like I said $5 a month and Verizon’s network.

    Reply
  • Peter J Stock May 4, 2020, 6:33 am

    At some point in the future maybe Chris would do a write-up on the history of the cell phone market. What forces delayed the entry of smaller third party discount carriers? What finally broke the back of the Big 4 oligopoly – regulation? Innovation?

    Here in Canada for example we are still hamstrung by an unshakable three-company oligopoly, largely because they own their networks and have not (I believe) been required to allow 3rd parties into their equipment for a low rate.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 7, 2020, 11:09 am

      Yeah I find the history of US telecom fascinating. It’s a thing I’d enjoy learning more about and writing more about (though its unfortunately the kind of topic that doesn’t get much readership when I write about it).

      I’m worried the US market could end up looking more like Canada’s market thanks to the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint. DISH may come out as a new 4th player, but I’m not sure. Hopefully low-cost carriers won’t end up getting squeezed.

      Reply
  • BC Kowalski May 4, 2020, 6:43 am

    I’ve been a Ting user for about six months now and I love it. I easily ported my phone number over (the only complication came from my old carrier’s end, surprise surprise) and I’ve been happily using it ever since. I was on a shared network with my sister and helping split the bill, and I am still saving a ton on Ting. Bills have been between $20-30 per month, and my new company gives a $30 subsidy so it’s been free for the past couple of months. I though my bill might skyrocket with all the calling I’ve been doing at home for work during the shutdown, but instead, since I’m hardly using any data, my bills have stayed about the same. Now my sister and her family are in the process of moving over!

    I did splurge on the iphone8+ after my old one died. The camera greatly helps me with work (it’s auto-focus works better than on my old DSLR!) and in my line of work it always helps to have a good camera in my pocket, especially one that can take good portraits. I happened to buy it through Ting at a time when they had a special deal so I got the $550 phone for $350, with $200 applied in credits to my bill. Since it’s a work tool, it’s been more than worth it.

    Reply
  • Anonymous May 4, 2020, 6:52 am

    Chris and his page are a great addition to the MMM arsenal! New cell phones are sold on so much emotion & hype and bragg about technological advances that 90% of the consumers probably do not take advantage of. I LOVE the tech and seeing it come to fruition but most people I know talk and text on their phone, crazy they will spend $800 to do that when they can spend $200 instead.

    Reply
  • Anthony May 4, 2020, 7:13 am

    As a cellphone salesman, a good chunk of this has truth in it. It varies when it comes to cellular services; I will agree that no one actually needs a 1000$ iPhone that does the same thing as a 400 dollar LG, moto, or Samsung. Assuming those even last you that long; a lot of people think they need the latest and greatest and you forget to take into account that low budget devices are growing in popularity *now* because of the obvious hike in price (apple being the people to do it of course, they sell status symbols and not actual, productive technology). Again, people buy this shit not because they need it, but they want it.

    Back to cellular services, a *lot* of prepaid carriers still rely on contracts because they don’t require a credit check. If you were to purchase an unlocked device elsewhere then at that point you wouldn’t worry about contracts. Even more so, because they don’t actually own the towers they use, if you have a problem with their service, you will go through arguably worse customer service than AT&T (that is not a good thing). And they know there service is cheap so going through them for service will be fine, but if you purchase a device from them, chances are it’s not unlocked and you would have to enter into a contract.

    Last thing I will rant about, Dish is set to be replacing Sprint as the 4th biggest postpaid cellular service, that was part of the merger agreement. Right after Sprint and T-Mobile sold their respective prepaid companies (Virgin, Boost, and Metro respectively), then they would allow Dish to use their network for 7 year, giving them time to build their own network.

    5G is certainly overhyped, mainly because the tech is still new, only expensive phones have the actual antenna installed and that’s all assuming your network even freaking supports it. As of this moment, T-mobile has the only nationwide 5G; everyone else barely has it in more than a dozen *cities* and its freaking embarrassing.

    Reply
  • Pete May 4, 2020, 7:51 am

    I’m on Google Fi and it’s a game with me to get my bill as close to the minimum as possible, which I believe is around $23 ($20/month + the regulatory fees). I have “Mobile Data” turned off and enable it only when necesary, which is usually to receive a group text (MMS) or when someone texts me a photo. I have to admit though, these $15/month individual plans look appealing.

    Reply
  • Kevin Scotch May 4, 2020, 8:27 am

    Up here in the Great White North there seem to be a few reasonable choices.
    My personal choice is Public Mobile.. They are a part of Telus.

    $25 month for unlimited talk and text and 1 Gig of Data

    My referal code is ZYL8YZ… gets you $10 off and makes mine $1/ month cheaper
    They have a loyalty program that lowers your price $1 every year.

    Reply
    • Crystal Niedzwiadek May 4, 2020, 1:40 pm

      Do you mean Canada?🤣 I’m in northern New York, in the middle of a massive wilderness, and all we have in these parts is Verizon which I pay $65 a month for. I think articles like this are definitely skewed to city folk.

      Reply
      • Paul Muench May 4, 2020, 10:50 pm

        Crystal, have you looked into 3rd party companies that use Verizon’s network (otherwise known as MVNOs–Mobile Virtual Network Operators)? Their plans are often cheaper. Here’s one link that discusses the best MVNOs on Verizon: https://www.androidcentral.com/best-mvnos-use-verizons-network. We used Page Plus for several years, paying about $28 per month for unlimited talk, unlimited texts, 3GB data. Now we have switched to Visible, paying $25 per month (with a group discount) for unlimited talk, unlimited texts, and unlimited data (hotspot included).

        Reply
    • veronica May 25, 2020, 11:04 am

      The referral code didn’t work. :( Is it valid only in a specific province? I’m in Ontario.

      Reply
  • Mark in SC May 4, 2020, 8:42 am

    Do any of these plans support mobile internet devices (LTE iPad + Apple Watch for example)? How does the calculus change if service for these devices is a requirement?

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 4, 2020, 9:41 am

      On some of these plans, a tablet can be treated/priced in the same way as an additional phone line. If you need eSIM support for an LTE connection on the Apple Watch, that’s going to be harder. I might not be aware of all the options, but the only services that I know support that are postpaid accounts with the four major carriers & Xfinity Mobile.

      Another option for tablet users would be to combine one of these plans for phones with stand-alone tablet plans. I think Sprint has some pretty good deals on those right now.

      Reply
      • frugalista May 4, 2020, 2:47 pm

        Not sure if this is relevant, but Google FI allows additional devices (tablets, not phones) to share the data portion of an account. Google Fi will send you additional SIMs free of charge and will combine the data used by your phone and your additional device (tablet) in the monthly data portion of the bill.

        Reply
  • Sean May 4, 2020, 8:48 am

    Cell phone plans are considerably more expensive in Canada. Yes, their are some 3rd tier companies that are off brands of the big 4 companies, but be prepared for no customer support, and 3G data….

    Reply
  • Amy May 4, 2020, 9:00 am

    I also use google fi service. I like that it caps charges at $70 for unlimited but throttled internet. I use my phone as my only internet source for both work and home and use wifi when it makes sense. My job pays a portion of my cell phone bill and I don’t have the added expense of home internet too. I bought my Pixel 2XL when the next model year was coming out and I don’t think I’ll have to replace it anytime soon. It really is a great phone.

    Reply
  • paul May 4, 2020, 9:01 am

    I appreciate that the coverage critic’s transparency page actually tells us details of how much he gets paid

    There is no reference there to t-mobile’s affiliate program though.

    Is there not one? Does MMM have one?

    It is very, very difficult to take seriously a review from someone with a financial incentive for you to buy a product being reviewed. But at least if there is transparency, you have a somewhat better view of the incentives.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 4, 2020, 9:15 am

      There’s not one (as far as I know). Neither MMM nor I receive commissions on those plans. They’re a damn good deal though.

      Reply
      • Trip Seibold May 4, 2020, 9:59 am

        Paul, you’re absolutely correct that financial incentives matter a great deal in everything. “Show me the incentives and I will show you the outcome.”

        Coverage Critic, thank you for your efforts in providing information on cellular plans to the community.

        I wish you and your families prosperous, long lives,
        Trip Seibold

        Reply
      • Pau May 4, 2020, 11:02 am

        thanks for the response. that does seem like the best deal for me. I might even switch from republic. but i wanted to be sure you weren’t steering me away from a plan I like for your own financial benefit.

        Reply
  • Jordan J May 4, 2020, 9:10 am

    I love this topic. While much of the specific companies don’t apply to Canada much of the advice does. Up here in SK, Canada we have a crown corp (Sasktel) which offers plans that don’t really go less than $70 per month…. unless you look at their “data only” plans. In which case they can be had for around $20 per month.

    With a little bit of work and signup for a voip service I have unlimited talk and text, and 5GB of data, for $23 after tax. I’m really happy with this. Used to be paying $70+ a month for the same thing for years. So much waste.

    Reply
  • ken kienow May 4, 2020, 10:26 am

    I used FI for awhile, as did my wife. We had issues with texts not being received, poor coverage, and other miscellaneous headaches. She switched to Verizon Prepaid ($30/mo) with 1GB of data a year or so ago, and I joined her at VZW prepaid last month. Our bill is $55-$60 and we get 6GB of shared data now. EXCELLENT coverage and reliability. So…consider prepaid!

    Reply
    • ken kienow May 4, 2020, 10:26 am

      …Google Fi, that is.

      Reply
  • Chris Clarke May 4, 2020, 10:44 am

    I have been with T-Mobile since the beginning of time. Though I am one of those nut-jobs who pay way more than I probably should, I have found that the service I get works for the work I do. When I was traveling around the world, T-Mobile worked in all but 2 of the 19 countries I visited. And my phone bill never went over the amount I paid when I was home. I also relied on my phone for everything, as I didn’t have a computer with me. If you have any advice on how to ease up on some of the services, that my computer here at home can cover, please do!
    Thanks Chris and MMM

    Reply
  • David Post May 4, 2020, 11:03 am

    I’ve been on Xfinity Mobile for about 3 years and it works out to $16/mo for both my wife and I, so $8/mo/line. It’s been decent coverage, and the WiFi calling helps when there isn’t good coverage. Like a lot of people have found, with WiFi at work, school, and home we have yet to go over our 1Gb of data.

    What we like about Xfinity Mobile over Ting is no more usage anxiety. We can call and text without worrying about hitting the next bucket. The only bucket we have now is data, and as I said we keep that easily below the 1Gb mark, and even going over for one month would still be well under the $80/mo others pay.

    Reply
  • Jon May 4, 2020, 11:05 am

    I used Freedom Pop for while with Google Hangouts/Voice. Free phone for a long time, since most of the time we were at home we just used wifi and when were out we mostly used texts so we just used the data and since we got 100MB/month for free it meant we never spent a dime. But the sprint network wasn’t that good in our area and then they sold out to Ting, which was much more expensive, AKA wasn’t free.

    So, we jumped over to Google FI. One phone for the wife, a family phone, and then my phone which is data only and still uses Hangouts/Voice. So, ~$35/month plus data/taxes, so maybe around $40/month. Seems really expensive since we used to pay nothing.

    Reply
    • Ben May 21, 2020, 1:55 pm

      Jon – I’m still using FreedomPop with the same setup that you described. I think you might just need a new FreedomPop SIM card if you want to get back to free. I have one of the newer AT&T ones and it’s still free plus the AT&T network seems to be better than Sprint.

      Reply

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