When I left grad school to start my first real job here at The Penny Hoarder (yay!), I took some time to craft my first-ever, line-by-line budget.
As I added each item, my budget seemed pretty reasonable. I found an internet-only cable plan for $25 per month, set aside $100 a week for food and allotted $100 for electricity.
My high-ish monthly car payment wasn’t ideal at a starting salary, but since I took a tiny apartment with below-average rent, I could afford all of the necessities — and still set some aside for my savings account.
Then, I got to my cell phone bill.
It was $90 per month. For just me. To have a cell phone.
I had to do something. Luckily, I was able to find a cheaper solution — without sacrificing quality.
The Anatomy of My Old Plan with AT&T
If $90 for a single cell phone plan sounds high to you, let me break it down.
I had a single line through AT&T. I’d been grandfathered into their unlimited data plan, which cost me $30 per month. Unlimited text messaging was another $20 on top of my base rate of $35, the lowest-priced plan available.
Throw in some service fees and taxes, and you’re looking at a bill you might as well round up to $100.
I called AT&T to see what it could do about my bill, but since it had just rolled out a new set of plans with prices based on data usage, there wasn’t anything cheaper available.
I was using tons of data — somewhere around 5GB per month — since I was used to unlimited. That much would cost $110 on the new scheme.
I knew I needed a new phone anyway, so rather than re-up my AT&T contract, I started asking around about my friends’ plans. Luckily for me, I run in tech-friendly circles, so I kept hearing one response again and again: Google Fi.
Why I Switched to Google Fi
Google Fi is Google’s revolutionary, bargain-priced cell phone service plan.
It isn’t really a network, per se. Rather, Fi piggy-backs on T-Mobile’s and Sprint’s networks, as well as available Wi-Fi wherever you are. Your device automatically switches to whatever source of connectivity is strongest.
There’s no contract, and when I say cheap, I mean it. You pay one easy, flat monthly fee of $20 for unlimited talk and text, and then $10 per GB of data you use.
No more, no less: If you don’t use up all of your data, you get a reimbursement on your next bill.
And if you go over your projected data use? You won’t find any punitive overage charges — the same $10/GB rate, and the company doesn’t even round up.
So if you sign up for 2GB and use 1.2, you’ll receive a credit for $8. If you use 2.6GB, you’ll only be charged the extra $6 — not a full $10.
Even if I continued to use the 5GB per month I was used to, I’d save $20 per month. And if I could find a way to cut back, I could spend way less!
What’s the Catch?
When I decided to switch, the service was invite-only. It only took about a week for me to get my invitation after I requested it, but it was still a barrier to entry.
But you won’t have to worry about this — the service went completely public earlier this year! That means anyone can sign up, anytime.
The only other thing that might scare you away? Fi is only compatible with Google’s Nexus line of phones, specifically the new models: 5X and 6P.
I’m an Android user who’d already owned a Nexus once and was planning to go back anyway, so this was actually a bonus for me. But if you’re an Apple user, you might not be so jazzed about making the switch.
But before you click the “Back” button and decide you’re done with this article, hear me out. You’d have to give up your preferred OS… but you can buy the 32GB 5X for just $249.
How Switching to Android Might Save You (a Lot of) Money
And it’s not a crappy phone. It’s got 2GB of RAM and it’s actually got an arguably better camera (0.3 more megapixels) than the iPhone 7.
Or, if you want to get really premium, you can pick the Nexus 6P. It’ll cost you $499 or more (depending on storage), but its octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM make it a very nice phone — and still somewhat affordable.
Heck, the 32GB iPhone 7 Plus costs $319 with a contract — just $180 less than buying the 32GB Nexus 6P outright, which will pay for itself in monthly bill savings in no time flat.
Yeah, your iPhone’s pretty, but so is the Nexus line. And paying more money for a product with less impressive specs? No, thanks.
It’s pretty clear that using a Fi-friendly Nexus is a good penny-hoarding option on paper, especially when compared to buying an iPhone, even if you find the cheapest way to do so.
But is it actually a good deal? Will you be satisfied with your service?
How Google Fi Transformed my Phone Bill
I’ve had my new phone and Fi connection for three months now, and I’m happy to say everything’s working great.
The first month, I overestimated my data usage. Looking to tone it down (but not too much), I paid for 3GB — a total of $50.
Since I knew I was paying per GB, I started paying close attention to my data usage. And because I’m usually at home or work — and almost everywhere in between has a Wi-Fi network anyway — keeping my usage down was as easy as asking for some network passwords.
I’ve actually turned it into a game to see how little data I can use, and how close to $20 I can keep my bill.
I only used 1GB of data the first month, so I got a credit for $20 on my next bill. Since then, I’ve happily been paying $30 per month or less for my cell phone service.
And even though it doesn’t have its own towers, Fi’s connectivity hasn’t given me any problems.
Every once in awhile, I’ll fall between coverage zones for a split second… but that happened on AT&T, too. The problem usually resolves itself before I drop a call or have to resend a text message.
And my phone? It’s awesome.
It’s got all the power I could ask for, and I own it free and clear. I haven’t run into a single consistent glitch.
During the past eight months, I’ve been able to stash the additional $480 into my savings account… instead of giving it to AT&T.
By the end of the year, I’ll have saved $720. Hey, you could almost buy an iPhone with that!
Your Turn: Would you consider switching to Fi to save money on your cell phone bill?
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She also writes other stuff, like wine reviews and poems — you can read along at www.jamiecattanach.com.