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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.

  • Bohemiana May 4, 2020, 11:43 am

    For those over 55 years old, T-Mobile has nice discounted unlimited plans starting at $27 per month and also some that include unlimited text & data abroad. We travel overseas approx. 3 mos per year (well we did until COVID) so we have found T-Mobile worth the money.

    Reply
    • Laura May 5, 2020, 10:32 am

      I was just about to mention this. We get unlimited everything. Data and text are free in most other countries. We aren’t 55 yet but we talked a parent into getting the lines for us using our numbers and emails.

      Reply
    • Richard May 5, 2020, 11:06 am

      T-mobile is the best in Europe as you basically have unlimited 2G data AND although 2G sounds slow it’s more than enough to use maps, send texts, make FaceTime Audio (not video) calls. Really quite a deal.

      Sure you can get a Verizon pass for 4g / 5G data for $10 a day and if you just go for a week or so it may be worth it but for a month or more T-Mobile is the best.

      Reply
    • Barb May 5, 2020, 4:40 pm

      Where did you find over 55 unlimited T Mobile plans for $27 /mo. Here in Washington State it’s $50 for that plan (or $55 without autopayment). Thanks.

      Reply
    • Lisa May 5, 2020, 8:17 pm

      Yep. I remember being in the middle of nowhere Mongolia and I had Tmobile cellular and data. Awesome!

      Reply
  • Sean May 4, 2020, 12:36 pm

    Was really looking forward to taking advantage of this super-helpful breakdown. However, I’m now 0-2 in trying to port my phone plan over to one of these carriers. Both Total Wireless and Xfinity Wireless tell me one of the phones on my plan is “not compatible.”

    It’s my iPhone 7 on AT&T. I just confirmed after a long phone call with AT&T that this phone IS, in fact, unlocked, so I’m not sure what the problem is.

    I dropped a grand on this phone 4 years ago (my pre-fire days), so I’m really not happy about chucking it into a drawer and springing for a new phone when this one works great. So I’m stuck paying way too much per month just to stay with AT&T.

    Anyone else have this issue?

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 4, 2020, 12:49 pm

      Phone compatibility between networks gets quite complicated. When a phone is unlocked, that basically means the phone is not being artificially restricted to a specific network. A lot of unlocked phones still lack some of the hardware needed to work well on every network–this is unfortunately the case with a lot of iPhones sold by AT&T. If you want to get more in-the-weeds details about phone compatibility, one of my articles has a fuller explanation.

      I recommend buying phones from manufacturers when possible to try and avoid issues like this one. Manufacturers often sell phone models with extensive compatibility across networks.

      You could check whether your iPhone 7 is compatible with carriers that run over T-Mobile’s network (e.g., Mint Mobile). I think it probably will be.

      Reply
      • Sean May 4, 2020, 1:03 pm

        Thanks! Yup, you essentially confirmed what my internet research taught me. My iPhone 7 is a “A1778” model, which apparently lacks certain hardware to operate on the Verizon network.

        The crazy thing is, I just double-checked and confirmed that I bought this iPhone 7 new directly from Apple! So, you never know what model you’re going to get, even if you buy directly from the manufacturer.

        I’m currently game-planning Plan B, which may entail trying to get what I can selling this on eBay to help defray some of the cost of a new (used) phone that will work on one of these plans.

        Reply
      • Sean May 4, 2020, 1:18 pm

        And thanks for the Mint Mobile advice. Unfortunately, I’d be transferring over 3 lines, and it looks like Mint Mobile only supports single lines as far as I can tell.

        Will continue the search for a better option than AT&T’s ($160!!!).

        Reply
        • Coverage Critic May 4, 2020, 6:44 pm

          Yeah, while you could put multiple lines on Mint, the carrier doesn’t really offer a simple, combined family plan structure.

          That plan B sounds like a good option if you’re really wanting to switch carriers!

          Clarifying what I said earlier for anyone else reading this comment–
          Manufacturers like Apple sometimes make it easy for customers to select a specific phone model during the purchasing process (i.e., an AT&T model, a Verizon model, …, or a SIM-Free/purely unlocked model). Wireless carriers generally choose one specific model for all customers.

          Reply
  • Martize Smith May 4, 2020, 12:41 pm

    That is some good information. Showing how the numbers add up over a ten year period really makes you think about the high phone bills a second time. Years ago i had switched to a cheaper phone plan and it was only a $25 difference but over time in these last few years it adds up to much saved. The saved money can be directed in anyway. I simply did this by writing out everything i wanted in a phone plan and how much im willing to pay for it. Afterwards, i went shopping around and compared phone plans to each other and to my written criteria.

    Reply
  • Leah May 4, 2020, 12:45 pm

    This is great! Wish I had it a few months ago when shopping – but luckily I now have the Pixel 3a on Google Fi, so it looks like I made a good choice!

    Could you also please do this for everything else in our lives? I know you’ve done quite a bit with MMM Recommends, but would love to see more of this for health insurance, homeowner’s insurance, travel deals, green upgrades like solar panels, etc! There is such a wealth of knowledge in this community and it would be great if someone could curate it!

    Reply
  • beanwl@gmail.com May 4, 2020, 12:46 pm

    I have to say my wife and I love the BLU BOLD N1. Picked that up from Amazon for $299. Not bad…

    Reply
  • JBJB May 4, 2020, 12:49 pm

    Fellow Canadian Mustachians!

    Check out Zoomer Wireless. They’re aiming at Canadian Boomers, and offer some decent plans that are cheaper that the big 3 oligarchy companies.

    Reply
  • Starr May 4, 2020, 12:52 pm

    I’ve had Republic Wireless for years. I should take a look at these other options, though, to see if I can do any better on price/coverage (I’m in Boulder County too). I hate spending a ton for things like this.

    Reply
  • booch221 May 4, 2020, 12:52 pm

    Prepaid PhoneNews is anther good resource for shopping and comparing phone plans.

    “Prepaid Phone News covers the US prepaid cell phone industry in depth, finding the best prepaid carriers and plans and phones for every budget. We track industry changes, new developments, smartphone and basic phone releases, and anything newsworthy in the prepaid wireless arena.”
    https://www.prepaidphonenews.com/

    Reply
  • Chuck Albacore May 4, 2020, 1:08 pm

    Cricket fan here – and one GREAT thing is that their prices are INCLUSIVE OF TAXES!!

    I’ve been on Cricket since 2016: 5 lines for $100/month all-inclusive. Unlimited talk/text, 6GB high-speed data (now 12GB during pandemic) per line/month (and unlimited low-speed data after that). They’ve never tried to upsell me or get me to change, and I’ve never had a problem on any of our lines!
    It has truly been flawless and did I mention that it’s EXACTLY $100/month? No pennies, no shenanigans – just $100 auto-paid with my credit card!
    It was such a good plan at the time that I set up three other 5-friend groups to take advantage! My friends send me $240 on Jan 1 and they’re good to go for the year. And to agree w/MMM, no one has ever exceeded their monthly data cap (or even come close)!
    Critical Chris – welcome!

    Reply
  • Kyrie May 4, 2020, 1:14 pm

    Woo Hoo! Thanks guys! I didn’t know I could save $60 a month by switching from Verizon to xFinity!?!? My new SIM cards are on the way, and I can’t wait to cancel my verizon account. I and my twin boys thank you!

    Reply
  • Moshen May 4, 2020, 1:30 pm

    For me, it’s useless to use a generic comparison shopping tool because there is one overriding concern I have about a mobile phone carrier: Will they have coverage at my home in the country? Only one carrier does: AT&T. I know that the other networks have not improved their coverage for my location because whenever we have a service person come to our house who is on another network, they have no signal. My secondary concern is, will I be able to use my phone overseas cost-effectively? AT&T is excellent at that, also. So why would it be worth my while to shop around?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 4, 2020, 2:13 pm

      If you have good internet service at your house (or workplace) but poor cell coverage, Google Fi could actually be the ultimate solution because it routes all calling and texts over Wi-Fi/Internet seamlessly whenever it is on a good enough network.

      This has been a big advantage for me because the cellular network is spotty here in Longmont CO, but we have Gigabit (fiber) internet service all over the city. So whenever I am at home, the coworking space, or any friend’s house, I have perfect call reception.

      For engineers who work in hardware labs or data centers (or anyone who works in the below-ground levels of a large building, this is an even bigger advantage.

      Reply
      • Moshen May 4, 2020, 4:03 pm

        Actually the issue is do we have good ELECTRICITY AND PHONE service, and the answer is no. We have 4 or 5 significant power outages every year – mostly in the summer due to thunderstorms that down trees (power stays out for 3-4 hours usually) and every year or two an ice storm that lasts 1-2 days. Usually both electricity and phone go out, and our only Internet option is DSL, so that goes out as well. The cell phone is our emergency lifeline in those emergencies. So your solution wouldn’t work for us. Our nearest neighbor is 1/4 mile away, but that could just as well be miles in the case of an ice storm where we needed help. We normally love our isolation but this is a disadvantage. I don’t mind paying more for cellphone service that is most likely to connect us in case of an emergency.

        Reply
  • Crystal May 4, 2020, 1:31 pm

    For those looking for a budget phone and enjoy photography, I recommend the Google Pixel 3A. I had been with Moto phones for many years for budget reasons, but got interested in photography recently. The Pixel has better focus and macro capabilities, and for me is worth the extra cost. Search YouTube to see comparisons of the camera feature between Moto and Pixel phones.

    Reply
  • Suchot May 4, 2020, 2:02 pm

    Sadly the Great Big North is so far behind the U.S. in affordable phone plans. But we do have Trudeau. Trade-offs.

    Reply
  • Jim May 4, 2020, 2:27 pm

    Hi Coverage Critic,

    In your article you indicate that Xfinity Mobile offers unlimited talk/text with 10GB of shared data per month. I believe the “10” is a typo and should have been a “1.” I’ve been using their service for a couple years now and am very happy with it but am unaware of 10GB being available and am missing out if so. ;) So, could you please confirm so I can look into it if they do in fact offer a plan with 10GB at that price? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 7, 2020, 11:12 am

      1GB and 10GB are both options with the by-the-gig pricing.

      -1GB costs $12 (so $2.40 per line for 5 lines sharing that)
      -10GB costs $60 (so $12 per line for 5 lines sharing that)

      There’s also a 3GB for $30 option if you’re looking for something between those two.

      Reply
  • Virgina May 4, 2020, 2:48 pm

    These are great options for people who have WiFi handy. I live out of my big rig and have access to WiFi rarely. My phone is also my main source of income and is used for multiple work related tasks including navigation. 1-3gb data is not going to cut it.

    On the upside I don’t pay rent, a car payment, car insurance, or utilities so I am guessing my expensive phone and plan are looked on in a slightly better light? And yes, I put most of my paycheck in an investment account.

    Reply
  • Charles Brown May 4, 2020, 2:49 pm

    I use Visible. It’s Verizon lte with no data caps. Even the hotspot doesn’t have a data cap so I don’t pay for home internet either. $40 a month has been sweet deal for me past 5 months. visible.com for those interested. Have a great day.

    Reply
  • Olek May 4, 2020, 2:50 pm

    I always wondered why the heck you have such expensive plans in US. We’ve got subscription plans in Poland for unlimited calls and texts + 15 GB of data for 25 PLN (which is ~6 USD right now) per month.

    Reply
  • Dharma Bum May 4, 2020, 3:29 pm

    Hey Mustachians,

    I live in a foreign country – a strange land that is part fascist dictatorship and part socialist millennial pandering vote buying welfare state. It has the vibe of a third world country, where the leader is a narcissistic moron who never answers questions directly, but defaults to some pre-scripted virtue signalling politically correct response that at best says nothing, and at worst, makes zero sense. But I digress.
    I live in a frustrating oligopoly ridden and economically constricted kingdom called Canada.

    Our mobile phone service providers are modern day robber barons that provide horrible service at astronomically high prices, with a dose of arrogance thrown in. Their management all deserve to be publicly hung. Canadians get seriously ripped off by them day after day, year after year.

    I know there are some Canadian Mustachians out there (Frugal Toque?)! Is there any advice to be imparted on how to save some coin without sacrificing service and coverage in the Canadian mobile phone market?

    Bell, Rogers, and Telus are horrible companies that are painful to deal with, but what other choice do we have here in our backward thinking, gender studies preoccupied, pseudo social justice obsessed, money wasting welfare state?

    Help.

    Reply
    • Anonymous May 5, 2020, 6:22 pm

      See my post below with regards to Public Mobile.

      Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 7:49 pm

      We’ve just released a page with Canada-specific recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic-canada/. The options are more limited than in the States, but there are some good alternatives to purchasing directly from the Big 3.

      Reply
    • Elaine May 6, 2020, 6:40 pm

      Earlier someone mentioned Zoomer Wireless, which is run by Cityphone. We are home most of the time and have to have a landline for our security system, which is just the no-frills version, and only need a mobile as an emergency phone in the car. When we signed up it was $15/math and you get a free CARP membership thrown in, which includes a lot of other useful offers. Perfect for us, but probably not for everyone, but still worth looking at.

      Reply
      • Elaine May 6, 2020, 6:43 pm

        I should have mentioned that ours is not a smart phone, just a phone that can do texting and which has a camera in it.

        Reply
  • Norm May 4, 2020, 3:46 pm

    I’ve been using Tracfone since I was about 22. At 37 now, I’m pretty sure I’m still the youngest person using the service since I almost never see bloggers mentioning it. I pay maybe $50 a year to keep it going, add some minutes occasionally, $5 for 1,000 texts, and $10 for a 1GB of data when I need it. It ends up being $5-10 per month per phone.

    Reply
    • Married to a Swabian May 4, 2020, 7:19 pm

      Yes, we’ve had tracfone for many years. It’s been good and reliable service for around $10 / month on average. I just switched to their $20/ mo unlimited minutes and texts, as I’m now using this for work as well. I always thought that you couldn’t call internationally with this plan, but recently found out that they have an 800 to call first, then enter the country code and number, and voila!

      Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 7:53 pm

      TracFone has a lot of good options. One reason you don’t see it mentioned a lot by bloggers may be that TracFone owns a whole bunch of carriers offering somewhat-redundant plans. Total Wireless, one of the companies we recommend, is a TracFone brand.

      Reply
  • BT Custer May 4, 2020, 3:50 pm

    Obihai has a great TA that plugs straight into you router for an upfront cost of the device, plus Zero.Zero after that (https://www.obitalk.com/obinet/) For GV users, this one’s super easy. You can do a simultaneous ring to your cell and your Obiline, and simply pick up the one that’s charged ;)

    Reply
  • Heidi May 4, 2020, 4:30 pm

    I have been using TracFone for over a decade now, and it is extremely reasonable. I pay $22 each every 90 days for my husband’s LG and son’s BYO iPhone 6 (with many thanks to his uncle!). I pay approximately $45 every 90 days for my service and use a two-year-old LG that does everything I need it to do.

    Reply
  • Julia May 4, 2020, 4:34 pm

    Anyone else using Airvoice Wireless? We’ve had it for years now, since learning about it from an MMM post. We buy used iPhones (my husband and I currently each have an iPhone 5s) and we each use Airvoice’s $10 250-minute plan (https://www.airvoicewireless.com/10-dollar-monthly). Whatever we don’t use in a month gets rolled over to the next month. Have never had to add more minutes in a month.

    We also use Google Voice numbers and iMessage so most of our texting is done over wi-fi or using data rates rather than paying per text.

    I just went back through our budget since January 2016, and found that overall since then we have averaged $26 per month for all our phone expenses. This includes cell phone service for me, my husband, and the phone our kids use, as well as buying used phones to replace older ones and reselling the older ones. (We used to do the $10 pay-as-you-go plan which can last up to three months before it expires, but found as our kids got older we were using our phones more so we upgraded to the $10 250-minute plan.)

    Reply
  • Anonymous May 4, 2020, 6:45 pm

    To my Canadian friends. I switched to Public mobile from Rogers. Saving $200 a month. Unlimited text, calls and 1GB of Data. $100 a month for 4 phones. Online setup and support. Well worth the switch in my opinion.

    Reply
  • Dave Steen May 4, 2020, 6:48 pm

    Been using Total Wireless for a few years now. $57 a month for two people and they upgraded it to unlimited data a few month ago. On a rare occasion it does seem slow but its probably just my old iPhone and spotty coverage here in Colorado. Cant believe everyone doesn’t switch as they use Verizon network

    Reply
  • ddalley May 5, 2020, 5:46 am

    In Canada, for the most part, we gave up a monthly phone subscription bill for data-only plans. These data plans from Freedom Mobile and Fido (different service coverage reliability) have come with tablets (we have a collection of reasonable tablets now), but we put the SIM cards into our phones. You just have to use the correct APN setting.

    My only real mobile phone service is with Seven-11 Speakout (a Canadian-only MVNO from Ztar, Texas), which used to be reasonable at 25 cents per minute, but since they went Canada-wide for all calls, it is now 30 cents per. However, their $25 minimum minute purchase is valid for one whole year and you can roll any remaining amount into the next year. I rarely use these minutes, but they are there if/when I need them.

    We have other mobile options. One of our best is FONGO, a VoIP / messaging service started by Dell needing data/Wi-Fi access. There are others (Hangouts, TextNow, NextPlus, etc) for real phone calls (not just in-app calls) or for receiving various confirmation codes, but the FONGO free service is mature and as reliable as any VoIP service can be. You can also subscribe for home services.

    We also use an Obihai 202 ATA (now Polycom) at home. That got us Google Voice for free outgoing calls across North America using a traditional old-school wired or cordless phone/answering machine at home. A few 800 calls don’t work (it’s a long story), so I use FONGO for them. For DID service (incoming calls), we use the barebones CallWithUs service for NA calls at 0.5 cents per minute. An ATA is a very useful device, in many ways, but they CAN be complicated to set up! It will also do free peer-to-peer calling world-wide. I used to be able to make calls through the ATA while mobile, too, but their ObiON app is out of date now. The app still works on old Android phones (yay?), though.

    When in the U.S./Mexico, I still use Roam Mobility (to support a Canadian company) which gives me a permanent US number while in the US or AOW Global (data-only SIM card), but I hear that the Canadian majors have reasonable(?) U.S. roaming prices now, too.

    So, yes, in Canada, you can also save money on your communications bills. You just may have to work with what is available, learn a bit, and/or compromise a bit.

    As for phones, we only use unlocked phones, of course. Motorola has a good selection, but the latest was an LG that came from a US reseller through Bestbuy Canada. All phones that I select MUST have a large battery! Some Motos (we got two E4 Plus) can come with a 5,000 mAh battery. Even then I carry large battery packs. You don’t want a dead phone while traveling, right? Me neither. Motorola phones are also usually extra good value for their cost, and I pick them up on sale, too, in the US. Dual-SIM phones are also useful, but they are much more rare in Canada.

    I hope that my experience helps Canadians who were looking for money-saving ideas.

    Reply
  • kevin May 5, 2020, 7:02 am

    Pricing is not the best measure – I understand the point.
    The problem with services that are not your primary 4 (verizon, att, sprint, tmobile) are that they have SHADING billing.

    Customer service, shading billing, and other practices make using most of these off-brand providers a nightmare – even if they had reasonable prices and use major network backbones.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 8:35 am

      Hey Kevin,

      I agree pricing is far from the only important measure. I disagree with your point on billing though. I’ve found these carriers to be a bit more transparent about charges than the major carriers. After all, they’re mostly prepaid services. With prepaid plans, it’s much harder for subscribers to end up on the hook for unexpected charges.

      On the customer service point, I think you’re right that sometimes costs are cut by lowering the quality of customer support. Still, it’s a very mixed bag. In my experience, Ting blows all the major carriers out of the water in terms of customer service quality. I also try to vet the customer support quality from carriers I recommend. (E.g., issues with customer support quality are among the big reasons I don’t recommend Red Pocket, a low-cost carrier some other commenters have mentioned.)

      Reply
  • S. P. May 5, 2020, 8:23 am

    My question is about 2G networks. I’m not a fan of smartphones (expensive and tend to break when dropped). My $20 Nokia feature phone is a decade old and going strong! I use it for voice calls and only text when I have to. I’ve been with the same carrier since I got my first cell phone nearly two decades ago (was VoiceStream at the time, now T-Mobile), and it seems that every time I call customer service, they give me a better plan (currently at $20/mo, fees included).

    However, after a steady increase in coverage through the 2000s, I’ve noticed things getting worse over the last couple of years. I’m hearing rumblings about networks shutting down 2G coverage in favor of the (more profitable) 5G. There is, of course, no information about 5G on T-Mobile’s website, and we all know they lie about coverage. Do you know anything about the 2G network situation? And do you have any suggestions for us rare beasts who prefer to keep our pocket computers separate from our phone lines?

    Thanks to any Mustachian who can point me toward reliable information on this topic!

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 7, 2020, 11:21 am

      Yeah 2G and 3G networks are on the way out as networks try to simplify things and open up spectrum for 4G and 5G. I’m keeping tabs on network operators announcements about plans for phasing out 3G here.

      Reply
  • Max May 5, 2020, 11:02 am

    I’ve been using a prepaid plan for the past few years and highly recommend it. I only pay $20/month which is around $50/month less than what I previously paid with Verizon. My previously prepaid plan provider didn’t provide good reception, but my new provider has great reception. That’s a great point about how saving $100 per month from your phone plan provides you $17,000 every ten years.

    Reply
  • Richard May 5, 2020, 11:11 am

    The best deal I could find now is a T-Mobile prepaid plan for $15 pm – wow, not too bad. 2 Gb of 4G data per month.

    This is what you want $15 T-Mobile Connect UNL Talk & Text w/ 2GB Data (capped) So this is my solution to save $600 per year for us.

    You need to go to the prepaid T-Mobile site and look for $15 T-Mobile Connect UNL Talk & Text w/ 2GB Data (capped). Of course they hide this plan, buggers
    Good
    – 2G data 4G speed
    – $15 pm
    – $15 pm ……!!!!

    Caveats

    – after 2G of data they cut you off, you are not throttled BUT you loose ALL data access until next billing period. BUT, you can buy more date if your really need it and it’s pretty cheap.
    – you many get lesser voice service with prepaid
    – they charge you $10 for the bloody SIM cards but seeing as I was a customer since 2005 they waived it.
    – T-mobile had worse coverage than Verizon and ATT in the past but in my case it’s better than Verizon at my house.
    – You may not be able to roam like you can with a post paid account – eg when I to the mountains here in Colorado I connect to odd networks.
    -No international data :(

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 7, 2020, 11:17 am

      This is a good breakdown. I just want to add in the T-Mobile’s documents suggest Connect Plan subscribers get roaming access (up to 100MB of roaming data). While I can’t say this with absolute certainty, I don’t think Connect subscribers get lesser voice service than T-Mobile’s regular subscribers.

      Reply
  • Anonymous May 5, 2020, 6:21 pm

    It’s immensely annoying for me because where I live I get very poor coverage. I live in Half Moon Bay California, Probably within 25 miles of Google Facebook apple yet I can’t get any cell coverage except from Verizon. I happen to live in a valley with a lot of trees

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 8:10 pm

      That’s frustrating to only have one network available! There’s a handful of companies that piggyback off of Verizon’s network though. There might be some options for you that are cheaper than service purchased directly from Verizon.

      Reply
  • Scott May 5, 2020, 10:42 pm

    This article is great timing. I’ve had my iphone 6s for a long time 3+ years, but the touch screen is acting funky and battery is getting weak. I clicked the link for the moto g7 play but it says its $160 , not $130 that was referenced in the article. Anyone know a place to purchase this phone for $130. I was getting ready to purchase the iphone se for $400. I’m used to apple and like it. I don’t do much on the phone – text, web browse, take pics/videos of my kid. Advice on whether to get iphone se or moto g7?

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 5, 2020, 11:35 pm

      Hey thanks for alerting me to the price change! Motorola was previously selling it for $130–I’ve updated the article to show the new price.

      I haven’t personally got my hands on a new iPhone SE yet, but everything I’ve heard about it suggests it’s an awesome phone for the price. The iPhone SE will give you the Apple Ecosystem, some faster hardware, and a much better camera. I guess it’s largely a question of whether that’s worth an additional ~$240 to you.

      Reply
  • Dean May 5, 2020, 10:44 pm

    This is timely, I’m on a plan with far more data than I need, which I’m with because they include roaming data. Obviously I won’t be going overseas any time soon, so maybe it’s worth changing to something cheaper and saving $10-20 per month.

    Although mobile data is fairly cheap here in Australia (my current plan is $A40 per month and includes 80GB data), it’s fixed line internet that’s expensive. I’m better off trying to optimise that, especially once I’m no longer working from home.

    Reply
  • Brian Ashworth May 6, 2020, 7:42 am

    Just to give an International comparison in Australia I use an Aldi pan for AU $25/month (that’s US$16) which gives me so much data I never switch my phone wifi on.

    Reply
  • Austin P Perdue May 6, 2020, 8:08 am

    Can we possible get more posts and “services” like this? E.g. one that monitors / recommends utility services, cars or insurance.

    Reply
  • Waingro May 6, 2020, 3:08 pm

    I’ve been on Red Pocket’s $60 annual plan (on Verizon) for 3 years and it’s been perfect. 100 minutes, 100 text, 500MB data per month. I use Google Hangouts Dialer whenever I can for free wifi calls; caller ID shows your regular number so the receiving party has no idea it’s a wifi call.

    Reply
  • Eric Thompson May 6, 2020, 5:14 pm

    I share a plan with four people from T-Mobile. We pay about $40/line for unlimited talk, text, and data. This is more expensive than the options listed, but we save big with the fact that we don’t pay for Wi-Fi at our home and run our laptops off our hot-spots using the unlimited data. The only bottle neck is download speeds, we can still browse, and stream more than we need!

    Reply
  • Mandy May 6, 2020, 8:37 pm

    Canadian here! We do Koodoo pre-paid $15 month, unlimited text, a wee bit of data (for emergencies) and we prepay for a chunk of minutes (that never expire) and last us for over a year. We use google to make some calls to save our minutes. When you set it up on your card to automatically deduct monthly, you save an extra 10%. So our family of four spends $60/month total, which is what most people I speak to would consider an affordable plan for one. 😳 We have had plans in the past, to be honest I don’t notice a difference other than my budget is trimmed up. My teenagers never complain, and I feel like Ive set them up to seek out a wifi connection if the desperately need to check their email/snapchat/Instagram, vs expecting instant access (an added bonus)

    Reply
    • ddalley May 18, 2020, 11:09 am

      Read my post, above, for other money-saving tips in Canada.

      Reply
  • bridds May 7, 2020, 5:33 am

    MMM opened my eyes to the concept of an under-$20 cell phone bill years ago, and I made the switch and haven’t looked back. I haven’t read all the comment yet so someone might have already mentioned this company, but I have Tello and I love it. Have had them for over a year. They run on Sprint’s network which is fine in my area (suburb on Long Island) and when I’ve traveled to DC, FL and CA. Never had an issue with coverage and their customer service is so friendly. My bill is $6 or $7 a month ($7.27 or $8.40 with with tax, respectively); it will renew automatically, but if you renew on the day before the bill is due, it will rollover your unused balance, so I do this and then chose the amount that I need.

    Reply
  • REIT Dude May 7, 2020, 1:23 pm

    There is actually a COVID angle here. If you are working from home and using your cell phone for work, your company may (depending on your state’s laws) owe you money for this. Many companies, if you bring it up to HR (in a pleasant enough manner of course) will find it easier to just take over paying for your cell phone service. This is always worth exploring because nothing is cheaper than free.

    (The downside is that you will want to read your employee handbook and possibly use encrypted apps for personal messaging because you are probably losing some privacy rights in the bargain.)

    Reply
  • Jen May 7, 2020, 5:27 pm

    We switched to Google Fi over a year ago on your recommendation. Great coverage- and paying for data keeps me mindful and from browsing when bored! It becomes a contest to see how low we can keep our bill. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Reply
  • Axel May 8, 2020, 2:10 am

    Mobile plans have become a lot more affordable these past few years, here in France. So much so that I decided to not sign up for broadband/fiber when I moved into my apartment a couple of years back.

    My wife and I rely solely on 4G and or phones’ hotspots. In total, we have 160 GB of data each month (and unlimited minutes/texts) for 21 € ($23). That’s way enough for Netflix and everything else as long as we’re not stupid about it.

    My plan (9 € a month for 100 GB) is a special one-year offer (20 € full price), but since most mobile plans can be cancelled at any time in France, and switching is done automatically by the new provider without loss of number, I’ve been jumping between providers every year without effort.

    Our mobile phones are unlocked, relatively old, refurbished, Sony Xperia models that we bought for 120-ish € each. We try to repair them ourselves (battery/screen replacement) so they last us at least three years.

    So all in all, we spend roughly 30 € per month on average for phones + internet.

    Reply
  • Tam May 8, 2020, 10:20 am

    We have had Cricket for about two years. Four phones, unlimited talk, text and data for $100/month. This is on the AT&T network. We don’t have internet so we use a lot of data. It has been great. No issues at all.

    Reply
  • Cary May 8, 2020, 1:06 pm

    OMG. All I can say is Thank You. This came at the perfect time for me.

    Reply
  • Chip May 8, 2020, 2:35 pm

    While I understand your heart is in the right place, the psychology science thoroughly and repeatedly debunks the myth of “We aim to avoid letting income (or lack thereof) affect our recommendations.”

    Money influences behavior. Every time. Drug companies know it best and it’s the reason most quality physicians don’t allow reps in their office any more. Something as simple as a free pen causes a dramatic increase in sales for particular manufacturer.

    Get rid of affiliate links. Or don’t. But don’t try to convince yourself or your readers that it doesn’t affect your judgment.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 10, 2020, 12:05 pm

      Hey Chip,

      I think we may actually be on about the same page on this topic. See my article I’m Not Unbiased.

      Reply
  • Aaron Goffman May 9, 2020, 11:04 am

    Good morning. I want to let you know that I really enjoyed reading your articles and your website. And I’ve use a lot of your advice to my advantage. This particular article inspired me to do three things this past week: change our cell phone provider, change my car insurance, and refinance an investment property.

    We have changed our two cell phones to T-Mobile Connect:, for savings of a total of $70 per month.

    We canceled the comprehensive and collision on our auto insurance, and switched from AAA to Geico; an overall savings of $2,000 per year. (what a great realization that we don’t need comp. and coll. on cars that are only worth $5,000)

    And we are working on refinancing our property through Credible.com If we are able to complete the refinancing, it will turn this investment property from a negative cash flow to a positive cash flow each month…

    Thank you again for all of your inspiring articles and great ideas.

    Reply
  • Ian May 11, 2020, 2:45 pm

    I also highly recommend this website for buying used phones:
    https://www.backmarket.com/

    I try to buy almost everything used, both for money and environmental reasons, and this is a much better way to go then a random person on eBay for a used phone.
    I also bought a Microsoft surface to replace a >10 yr old laptop, and have been super happy with it.

    Reply
  • Keith Brawner May 13, 2020, 6:42 am

    Can you just do this with everything? Keeping track of how things change over time is kinda a pain, and I’d like a “One Stop Shop” to go to for how to run my life. I want a tab at the top with various categories “STOP SPENDING MONEY ON XXX” that can just serve as a Go-To for baselining prices. Here are the categories I want:
    – Cell Phone
    – Non-local Internet (cheapest hotspots and/or satellite)
    – Transportation – Car (cheapest 10-year cost, broken out by daily/spiky ranges – likely points to “used Leaf”)
    – Transportation – Ebike (broken into build-your-own and ‘for purchase’)
    – Insurance – hypothetical estimates from the top 5 insurance companies
    – Mortgage – hypothetical estimates from the top 5 insurance companies (probably not needed)
    – Food – cheapest buy-in-bulk for the following at a minimum (oats, grits, flax, tea, coffee, flour, sugar, yeast, peanut butter, protein powder) – bonus points for ways to get cheap canned soup or something
    – Business Services (virtual personal assistants, podcast transcription, and the like)

    I hereby volunteer to be “ebike czar”, having bought/built ebikes and been continuously confused on the ebike market (who the hell are they making these things for?). As ebike czar, I would update the “get cheap transportation” page on a monthly basis with the options available to the consumer. The categories on the page would be “I have a bike and can turn a wrench”, “I don’t have a bike, what are my options”, and “turning wrenches is hard, what can I buy?”. I believe that ebikes, as a method of transportation, have been SERIOUSLY overlooked by the poor/thrifty. I *averaged* 21mph this morning on a bike I built myself for $700 without sweating – which is as fast as a car and 25x cheaper. ALL COLLEGE STUDENTS in the Southern US should have an ebike at a minimum (they are SO cheap), and I see almost none as I bike through campus each morning.

    Reply
  • Shelly May 13, 2020, 9:05 am

    On MMM’s recommendation we switched to Republic Wireless 5 years ago! We could not be happier with their phone selection; ease to do business with; service; customer service and cost! The cost is $122 a month for the four of us.

    Reply
  • Gabriel Siegel May 14, 2020, 1:59 pm

    Wow these offers seem quite expensive. I pay $11 monthly for free text, 360 minutes and 6 GB data. It’s a single subscription with no requirenents attached like having to have multiple subscriptions in the family.
    I live in Denmark and use CBB Mobile.

    Reply
    • Coverage Critic May 15, 2020, 3:25 pm

      It’s amazing how different the wireless market is between countries! If you want to see something really outrageous, take a look at the cost of cell phone service in Canada!

      Reply
      • ddalley May 18, 2020, 11:23 am

        I offered some practical alternatives for Canadians, above. If we avoid paying the outrageous prices to the majors, we can lower our costs a lot.

        ATA devices, such as those from Polycom can eliminate the majority of costs permanently. I use the earlier version of their Polycom 302, which allows free calling across North America (it is a bit more complicated than that, of course).

        Reply
  • shaineire May 14, 2020, 6:47 pm

    I’ve used Mint Mobile for 3 years now and I love it. I have two lines, one for myself and one for my daughter. I pay $180 per year per line. I pay for the whole year in advance every January which makes the price cheaper. I have 3gs a month, which I never use since I’m always on WiFi, unlimited talk and text. I’ve never had a problem with the service but I do live in a big city. I totally recommend checking them out.

    Reply

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