I used to be tied down to one of those standard cell service plans. In my younger days, these were the only plans available….but now, we have so many options! And why spend more than you have to? I’m all about saving money. Of course I realize that sometimes you have to spend money to get something worthwhile. But I also understand, as a single mom, that sometimes you have to make do with what you can afford. And when what you can afford works out just as well as those more expensive options, then you’re in a really great place! Anyways, might as well get straight into it…
When I entered into my first cell phone contract, I used the same company my parents used. I found this to be the case with many things I eventually signed up for…insurance company, cell service provider, banking institution. It’s easy to go with what we know, what we’re familiar with. But that’s not the prudent and economically efficient thing to do! And when you find that you’re in a spot where perhaps you can’t afford those things you’re comfortable with, it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and use your brain. Use your research skills. Use your ability to differentiate between “cheap” and “less expensive”, and to decide for yourself what works in your life and what doesn’t. When I hit this point I was utilizing a cell service company that was so expensive, that even with using an 18% employee discount I was paying over $100/month just for basic cell service (and just for me!). With two young kids in the house and limited income, this was no longer feasible for me. It was time to start looking into other options.
There are multiple companies that now operate on a “pay-by-the-month” basis. There are no contracts, you are bound to no one to provide the service. I thought this would work out well for me, because it would allow me to switch companies if I signed up and then found out (for whatever reason) that I no longer wanted to use this company. I researched the different companies and found out some interesting information. These companies, in fact, utilize the same cell towers as the “standard” companies that exist. It should be noted that often these companies are also owned by the larger companies (they fall under the umbrella of the well-known companies), although this is not always the case. At any rate, you have to look at the boxes on the phones they sell, typically, to know what cell towers they utilize. Or, you have to know the company itself, as sometimes a company might utilize cell towers from one carrier specifically. But the truth is that they do, in fact, use the same towers. Now, the difference is that users with these “pay-by-the-month” companies might be throttled in circumstances where customers utilizing the actual carrier are so prolific that they are overwhelming the cell towers. This might happen, for instance, in very large cities or during high volume times. But I will tell you this: Even though I live near a very large city, I have never once experienced throttling of my cell service due to this issue. In fact, I’ve actually never experienced any problems with my cell service whatsoever.
I will tell you that the company I currently use, and have used for years, is Total Wireless (https://www.totalwireless.com/). While this is the only company I’ve used, I’ve done the research to understand that most of them operate in similar ways. While this is the company I’ll discuss in this post, I’ll provide links to other pay-by-the-month companies below, so you can do some of your own research. Total wireless allows me to set up a family plan for myself and my two kids, and for unlimited talk and text with 21GB of data, for less than $100/month. Now, I have to tell you that to pay this amount I did set up a monthly billing process. However, I will also tell you that I can cancel this set-up and switch to a different company at any time that I choose. As said before, I’ve never experienced any problems with the actual service on my phone…the talking, texting, and web surfing seems to work flawlessly. But these aren’t the only things that matter.
So, I want to make sure I share the cons as well. First, the customer service, in my experience, has not been great. I used to hate when my kids wanted to switch to a new phone (or anything else that required me to call customer service) because I knew when I called, I would be on the phone for an hour or two trying to get things set straight. The customer service agents were not always very knowledgeable. For instance, when I got divorced and tried to remove my ex-husband from my account (and it was my account, I had it set up prior to getting married and it was set up under my name, with my billing information attached)…they first tried to tell me that I needed his permission to remove his line from my plan. Then, they even tried to tell me that they had switched the plan to his name, even though my billing information and credit card were still attached! It took days to sort this out, and I almost gave up on them then, but it was finally corrected. This was almost the kicker for me, but I also knew that I could only afford so much and in other respects this company had been a good fit for me, so I gave it another chance. It’s worth noting that I have recently had to reach out to customer service, and have been able to speak with agents who were a bit more knowledgeable. But I have yet to see if this was a fluke, or if the agents are now being better trained.
Another con is that you have to purchase your own phone. When utilizing the larger carriers and signing a contract for the monthly plan, I often was able to get the phone included for free. However, I soon realized this was not good financial practice. I was paying so much per month for the service, that the free phone didn’t really matter…as long as I stuck with the less expensive phones on the pay-by-the-month service. For instance, I never pay more than $100 for a phone. I try to keep the phone for a year, but sometimes I may switch out at 6 months instead. But for me, this works. I know the phone is less expensive, and I’m not as afraid of dropping it in water, or my kids getting ahold of it and doing something to it. I’m not as afraid of how “fragile” it is, the way I would be with a several hundred dollar phone. And regardless, those types of accidents rarely happen in reality. I’ve never dropped a phone to the point of breaking it. I have dropped one in water, but I was okay with getting it replaced. Either way, what I’m saying is that getting less expensive phones is entirely okay with me. If all you like are the higher end phones, you may have to do a cost-benefit analysis to know if this type of service (and buying your own phone) is worth it. But if you’re truly a penny pincher as I am, I’m doubtful you will “only be okay” with super expensive phones. After all, if it does what you need it to do and you can get things accomplished at a lower cost, that’s really what this blog is all about. How can you live comfortably while still spending less? This is the question, and I’ve been very happy with my cell service choice.
Now that I’ve gone through all the info, what do you think is right for you? It is up to you to decide, but I will tell you that I still surprise people with my cell phone bill. People have difficulty believing me when we discuss it, maybe because they are so tied to conventional practices that they’ve been embarrassed (or simply haven’t taken the time) to look into other services. They often ask me for more information, and sometimes they even change over to plans similar to mine. But the most important thing is that once they have the knowledge, they are more empowered to make the decision. And I hope you all are now, too.
Just as a note, the large carriers often have no-contract plans now as well. But I’ve found that they are still often more expensive than the companies discussed in this post. However, if you’re more comfortable utilizing these service providers then you should definitely check out the options they have! Below are some additional links to companies that provider cheaper, pay-by-the-month service. This is not an exhaustive list, but gives you a place to start the research:
Hope this post can help someone who is struggling just like I was! It is possible to be a thrifty, yet fabulous mama.