How We Reduced Our Cell Phone Bill From $170 to $40 Per Month
A few months ago, we reduced our family cell phone bill from $170 per month for two phones to $40 per month for two phones.
That is huge.
Not only that, but we get the same coverage, have the same phones, and didn't have to change our phone numbers.
In fact, we changed almost nothing and cut our cell phone bill by 78%!
Not to mention we are saving $1560 per year that we can now use for other things like vacations and investing.
But let me back up a little...
The Magical Unicorn of Cheap Cell Phone Service Providers
Not long ago I started to hear rumors about a type of cheap cell phone plan I had never heard of. It was supposedly the unicorn we have all been looking for: easy to get, affordable cell phone coverage that accepts your current cell phone and phone number.
At the time, my husband and I were paying $170 per month for two cell phones with T-Mobile. A few months before that, we were paying a bit more for the same service with Verizon. Ugggghhh.
I've always hated our cell phone bill. While it's one of those modern day conveniences that I wouldn't live without, that kind of cost always seemed like highway robbery to me.
So when I started to hear about this magical cheap cell phone plan that would let me keep everything exactly the way it was, you better believe I started doing some digging!
And what did I find?
MVNOs. Glorious, fantastic MVNO's.
I can already picture your reaction.
Stay with me! This is going to get real good.
What in the world is an MVNO?
I'm not super techie, and I bet you aren't either. So I'm going to make this simple.
MVNO stands for mobile network virtual operator. At its core, an MVNO is a company that buys wholesale packages of data from one or more of the big four wireless phone providers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile).
MVNO companies will buy these huge packages of data dirt cheap from cell phone providers who have extra data that would otherwise go to waste. Then, the MVNO company will resell it to consumers like you and me for a fraction of the cost of what one of the big four would sell it to us for.
This is a win-win-win for everyone involved.
The Big Four are able to sell access data that they would otherwise receive no money for, the MVNO makes money by purchasing wholesale and reselling retail, and you and I benefit by being able to purchase cell phone coverage at a fraction of the typical cost.
So How Exactly Does This Work?
Fortunately, setting up service with an MVNO like Mint Mobile is pretty easy! Here are the steps you'll need to take to switch your service over to them.
1. Purchase your SIM card and your service plan on the Mint website.
One of the reasons I really liked Mint, aside from the fact that it sells T-Mobile data which is the carrier I was using, is that they give you a free SIM card when you purchase a service plan.
Some MVNOs will require you to purchase a SIM card through them as well, but Mint doesn't.
Mint will need to mail the SIM card to you, so it will be a few days before you get it. In the meantime…
2. Get the porting information from your existing carrier.
There are a few things you will need to get from your existing carrier to make sure the transition goes smoothly. Here is what you will need:
- Account number
- Account password
- Billing zip code used on that account
- Port pin
3. Install your SIM card and activate your plan.
Once you've received your new SIM card in the mail and you are ready to activate your plan, you can go to mintmobile.com/activate to transfer your service.
You'll need the SIM card, the activation code sent in that same piece of mail, and information from step 2.
4. Change your APN settings.
Don't worry, this part is easy. All you need to do is follow mints instructions for changing your APN settings, restart your phone, and then you are done!
You can find the instructions here.
I don't use T-mobile... Am I out of luck?
If you currently have a carrier other than T-Mobile, you have a few options. First, you can choose to go with an MVNO that works with your service. I've included a list of them below!
The second option is to switch over to T-Mobile first, and then transfer to Mint. If you are currently under contract and/or you do not own your phone, this can sometimes be a good way to take advantage of new customer promotions.
For example, my husband and I had Verizon as of 6 months ago. We've then found that T-Mobile was running a promotion where they would buy out your contract and give you a free phone when you purchased one. This was a great way for us to get away from Verizon, get out of our contracts for free, and we found Mint shortly thereafter.)
Why I Think Mint Mobile is Awesome
If you are a T-Mobile user, I highly recommend switching to Mint Mobile. Mint has so many great features at such a great price that I really can't imagine ever going with another provider.
Let's see what Mint has to offer:
- You can bring your own phone
- Keep your current cell number
- They give you a free SIM card
- Unlimited talk and text
- Great nationwide coverage
- Mobile hotspot is allowed
- No contracts or cancellation fees
- Great phone and email customer support
- Mint website is straightforward and simple
- 7 day risk free guarantee
- Plans as low as $15/mo
Downsides and Limitations to Using Mint Mobile
The part you've all been waiting for… the "gotchas". There are pros and cons to every company out there, and Mint is no different. Here are a few things you should be aware of before you purchase their service.
1. You Need to Own Your Phone and Be Out of Contract
If you are on a payment plan with AT&T where you are paying off your phone, or you are still under contract with them, you won't be able to take that phone over to Mint without paying it off first. You have to own your phone and be out of contract.
Earlier in this post I mentioned that my husband and I used a new member promotion to get out of our contracts and phone payment plans when we had Verizon. Essentially, T-Mobile bought out our contract and gave us a two-for-one phone deal that ended up getting us out of a payment plan completely.
The Loophole That Got Us Out of Contract
With the 2-for-1 deal, we each bought a phone through T-Mobile and they sent us four total. We sold the other two, and were able to use the money to pay off the two phones we kept.
It is definitely worthwhile looking for promotions like this to help you get out of your current contract. If you can't find any promotions that will work, just know that sometimes it can be worth paying to break your contract if you will save enough money by switching to your MVNO.
If, for example, it costs $500 to break your contract and you know you'll be saving $120 per month by switching to an MVNO, that means you will break even after just 5 months. This is something I would absolutely do, because after that 5 months you will be effectively saving $120 per month permanently.
I see this as a small price up front for long term savings.
2. You May Have Poorer Signal in Rare Instances
I've had Mint Mobile for 3 months now, and only once have I experienced a poorer signal than before. We were stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of the city, and while I was still able to get a signal, it was a bit slow. All in all, this lasted about 10 minutes.
Aside from that instance, I honestly can't tell the difference between my service now and my service with T-Mobile. It is exactly the same.
However, there is one situation where you could potentially have poor signal. Let's say you go to a really crowded area, such as a large concert or sports game. There are tons of people trying to use their phones and the network becomes a bit saturated with requests.
Because the Big Four carriers will prioritize their premium customers first, those on MVNOs will likely be pushed to the bottom of the totem pole. This means that it may take a little longer to be able to access data through your phone.
That being said, I live in the middle of one of the largest cities in the US and have only once had an issue like this since I signed up.
(For real though, I can walk to downtown from my house here in Seattle, so I don't worry too much about crowded areas.)
All this to say that there is a possibility you may not have the most perfect coverage at all times, but that it is also pretty unlikely you will notice much of an issue.
Can I Keep My Phone Number?
Yes! Mint is simply a company that purchases data packages wholesale from T-Mobile. They do not have their own infrastructure network of cell phone towers, they do not sell cell phones, and they don't offer phone numbers.
They are simply reselling data packages that they bought for pennies on the dollar from T-Mobile.
Will I Get Bad Coverage if I Switch to Mint?
Nope, not likely.
Here's the thing. You are buying the exact same service as what T-Mobile offers. The service itself is not any different, the only difference is the company you are buying it from.
Can I Switch Back to T-Mobile If I Don't Like Using Mint?
Yes. One of the great things about Mint Mobile that I love is that there are no contract or cancellation fees. In fact, they have a seven day risk-free guarantee. If you don't end up liking the service, you can simply get a refund and go back to T-Mobile.
Can I Switch to Another MVNO if I Don't Like Mint Mobile?
Yup. It's pretty darn easy to switch between MVNO's.
If Mint doesn't work out for you, you can simply go to another MVNO and request a SIM card and service plan. Switching over should take less than 10 minutes once you have your new SIM card.
List of MVNOs by Carrier
If you don't currently use T-mobile, you may be wondering what options you have for your current carrier. As it turns out, there are dozens of MVNOs for each carrier.
I don't know about you, but I definitely get overwhelmed by huge lists of options, so I've narrowed them down to only the best ones for you.
I spent a couple of hours scouring Reddit for people's experiences with these MVNOs, and chose the top 4-5 that people mentioned loving over and over. Here they are, listed from most highly recommended to least. (Keep in mind, though, that these are the are still the Top 5 out of probably 20-30 options!)
(Note: I have not personally used any of the MVNOs listed below, so I can't vouch for them. This list has been curated through other people's experiences with the intent of giving you a starting place for doing your own research before purchasing.)
(Pro Tip- Many of these mobile companies offer 11% cash back or more when you purchase a plan with the Ebates extension installed. This is free to do and only takes a minute to sign up. You can read my Brutally Honest Review of Ebates here to learn how to get started.)
I've always hated that our cell phone bill was more expensive than our electric bill. To me, that just seemed a bit outrageous!
When another personal finance blogger mentioned making the switch to an MVNO, I knew I had to give it a shot. Overall for me and my family, switching to Mint has been a total win and I can't see us ever going back.
We've been able to reduce our cell phone bill by 76%, and it was such an easy process overall. No regrets.
Now I'd love to hear from you!
Have you tried an MVNO before? What have been your experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
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