I have a confession: I’m a carrier jumper. I have commitment issues when it comes to cell phone plans. It pains me to pay more than necessary because I use my cell phone sparingly throughout the day. I thought I had it good with AT&T. My plan had 3GB of data and unlimited calling and text messages with no contract. But when I looked at my monthly usage, I realized AT&T was practically stealing my money. I used only a fraction of my data, but I was paying full price! Surely there was a way to get the same coverage for half the cost? Thus began my search for the ultimate budget carrier.
There are now hundreds of low-cost carriers that offer a variety of plans to fit any budget. The two companies I’ve tried are Ting and Project Fi. They have their own pros and cons, so I’ve broken down my experience with both carriers to help anyone looking to save money on their cell phone plans.
This chart illustrates the cost of my plans and my usage for the past three years. The monthly and yearly prices include taxes and fees (*shakes fist at FCC*). I have Wi-Fi access throughout the day, so my usage and costs are on the low side. Someone with average usage would probably have higher costs with these plans.
|Data Plan||3 GB||300-800 MB||1 GB|
I’ve saved serious money by switching from AT&T. I’m saving even more money by switching to Project Fi. The difference in price may be small, but I’m happier with my coverage and experience with Project Fi than with Ting. I’ll explain why throughout this post.
Ting: Great For Group Plans, But Do Your Research
Ting is incredibly flexible based on your needs, and it is perfect for anyone that has low usage for calls, texts, and data. Each device costs $6.00 and you can have as many as you want, including tablets and hotspots. Ting bases its pricing on your monthly usage. A frugal consumer on an individual plan could use 100 minutes, 100 text messages, and 100MB of data and get a bill as low as $15.00. A family of four that shares 1,000 minutes, 2,000 text messages, and 2GB of data would spend $70.00 for the entire plan, or $17.50 per line. That’s absurd compared to the major carriers!
The downside of this pricing model is when you exceed the limit for each price tier. If your usage goes over, even just 105 minutes rather than 100 minutes, your bill goes up to the next price tier. I was stuck in this pattern almost every month, which made my bill more expensive than what I was actually using. I found myself turning off my data settings so I wouldn’t go over my chosen data tier. The stress of monitoring my usage outweighed the benefits of lower costs. I wanted to use my phone without worrying about how much I consumed.
Ting allows you to bring any unlocked device, and the activation process is simple. Buy a SIM card, plug it into your device, follow the set-up steps, and your phone is connected. If you have trouble getting set up, Ting’s customer support is outstanding and will bend over backwards to help.
Make sure you research the bands your device allows so you get the best coverage for your area. The network uses T-Mobile and Sprint cell towers, but your device will only be compatible with either the T-Mobile or Sprint network. My Moto X had a wide range of coverage bands to make it compatible with any carrier. On Ting I had either LTE speeds or Edge, and nothing in-between. Basically all or nothing. In the city I generally had full coverage on the T-Mobile network. But there were many dead zones and drop-offs that made using my device unreliable. Ting has a tool for checking the compatibility of your device and coverage maps that I recommend referencing before you make the switch. It will tell you exactly what coverage you can expect.
Ting is a great option for families and thrifty individuals that want to save money. For my needs, it didn’t offer great coverage in my area and caused more stress over my usage than necessary. If you’re less rigid about your usage, you should definitely check it out.
Project Fi: Clean And Simple, With Bonus Savings
The Rustic Walks household has some serious Google enthusiasts, so when Google announced Project Fi we decided to give it a shot. Mr. RW and I both have Project Fi plans, using Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X devices, and we are happy with our experience so far.
Project Fi’s plan offers unlimited calling and text messages and $10.00 per GB of data. I have 1GB of data, which makes my bill $30.00 per month. You can use Wi-Fi for calling, so my minutes usage is low. Project Fi has international coverage and unlimited international texting, which makes it a great option for frequent travelers. It uses T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular cell towers and switches between them, so we have great LTE coverage in our area. Remote areas are more spotty, but the option to use Wi-Fi for calling is a nice fallback option.
The best Project Fi feature is receiving a bill credit for unused data. If you only use 400MB of data on a 1GB plan, your bill for the next month will have a credit of $6.00. I use an average of 500MB of data, so my bill is $5.00 lower each month. That bring my monthly bill down to $25.00 before taxes and fees. If you go over your data plan the pricing is the same. Using 1.5GB of data would only increase your bill by $5.00, with no overage fees. This flexibility makes me feel less guilty when I go over my data limit, which means less stress over the final bill. I can make up for it next month!
Granted, the biggest caveat for Project Fi is the restriction to Nexus devices. Mr. RW has used Nexus devices since 2011 (like I said, Google enthusiast) so he isn’t bothered by it. I switched from an iPhone on AT&T to a Moto X on Ting, and then to a Nexus 5X on Project Fi. I’ve gotten the best phone for my money with the Nexus 5X. I don’t need fancy bells-and-whistles, just something for podcasts, music, and occassional Facebook creeping. Nexus 5X is perfect for that. Google often has specials on Nexus devices, so I was able to get mine for $250 after signing up for Project Fi. Google is releasing new Nexus models later this year, so keep an eye out and you might get a great deal on last year’s models. But if you can’t live without an iPhone, then there’s no hope for you anyway!
Project Fi offers both individual plans and group plans. Each additional user costs $15 on Group plans, for up to six lines. The pricing structure for usage is the same: $10 per GB of data and unlimited talk and text. If we switch to a group plan, even if Mr. RW goes crazy with podcast streaming and racks up our data usage, we’ll still pay way less than with the major carriers.
Find the Best Plan For Your Needs
Everyone has different needs from their cell phone plan. If you’re looking to cut costs on your monthly bill, you have countless options to choose from. Instead of jumping around like I did, take some time to research who has the best coverage and the best price. U.S. Cellular, Republic Wireless, Virgin, and Cricket all offer competitive rates with a variety of plans. Don’t be scared to switch from the Big Four Carriers. Budget carriers are no different than the major players, and they allow you to save hundreds of dollars each year. Whether you’re an iPhone enthusiast or happy with a simple smart phone, there’s a carrier out there for you.
~ Ms. RW