Common money-saving advice says to look at your current expenses, and then eliminate what you can and cut back on everything else.
Dropping the pricey gym membership you never use and reducing the number of meals you eat out offer quick budget fixes to rein in spending. Other obvious solutions including swapping expensive cable packages for Internet streaming services, or switching from higher-priced store brands to cheaper generics.
When it comes to other areas of your budget, however, there’s a lack of reasonable, smart swaps to make. Take your cell phone bill for example.
For many families, the monthly cell phone bill is one of the most expensive non-negotiable line items in their budgets. Smartphones have become the standard, and plans for these phones can easily come to $100 -- per line.
With more and more individuals tossing landlines in favor of only paying for cellular service, cell phones are becoming a necessity in the modern world -- and cellular providers know it. There’s no incentive for big companies like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint to offer lower prices or to allow consumers to bundle services in a way that might be more cost-effective.
The result is a big monthly expense for most people who use a smartphone. According to Engadget, that’s now a full two-thirds of us. But technology is changing this and providing consumers with more options for low-priced, high-quality cell phone service.
Discount options and low-cost carriers aren’t totally new in the industry. Companies like Sprint, which owns discount offshoot Boost Mobile, do provide service for a lower rate. But the service isn’t in line with what the premium price buys users.
Traditionally, trying to get away with paying less has resulted in spotty service, slower speeds and a limited selection of phones. People could reduce their cell phone bills -- if they were willing to give up their smartphones. Now, however, newer companies are taking advantage of available technology to provide high-quality service and fast speeds on some of the most desirable smartphones on the market.
Here are three, non-traditional carriers that offer service, plans, and smartphones comparable to offerings from the big mobile companies -- for a fraction of the cost.
Cricket Wireless works a little differently than the major carriers; instead of annual contracts, they have prepaid service. Customers are welcome to bring their own phones to the table, as long as they’re compatible. If you’d like a new phone, Cricket offers an impressive lineup of smartphones for you to use with their plans.
Cricket’s three main plans, Basic ($40 per month), Smart ($50 per month) and Pro ($60 per month), all include high-speed service. The amount of data available differs; the Basic plan receives 500 MB of data, while the Pro plan has 5GB.
For those wary of leaving a big, proven cell phone service provider, Cricket may be a smart first step. AT&T acquired Cricket’s parent company in 2013 with the merger being officially approved in early 2014.
While their prices are only a little lower than what you might find with traditional carriers, Cricket arguably offers the best network and coverage of the discount providers since they’re on AT&T’s LTE. For anyone living outside major cities and suburban areas, Cricket may be your best bet for a dependable network without the extremely high cost -- or limiting contract -- of the bigger, traditional cell phone service providers.
If you’re searching for something completely separate from traditional cellular companies, be sure to give Republic Wireless a look.
Republic got off to a shaky start a few years ago. As with any offering new to the market, they had their share of glitches to fix. Part of what makes them unique as a company is that all of their customer service is handled online -- which caused major frustrations for confused customers in the company’s infancy.
However, Republic is now a cellular provider to be reckoned with when it comes to offering great smartphones and reliable service.
Here’s the deal: Republic Wireless offers four plans that range from $5 per month to $40 per month. Customers choose between two Motorola phones, the Moto G for $149 and the Moto X (which is considered an iPhone competitor) for $299. Customers must buy one of these two phones outright, but never have to sign a contract. (If you’ll be selling your old phone, make sure to get as much money as possible for it!)
Republic Wireless is able to keep the cost of their plans so low because the smartphones they offer are specifically designed to run on Wi-Fi. The $5 plan is Wi-Fi only, which means the phone must be on a network to send and receive text messages and calls. The other plans -- which are $10, $25 and $40 per month -- all offer some sort of cellular service. Republic leases cellular capacity from Sprint, which means their coverage is identical to Sprint’s (because it is Sprint’s). When the phone is not on a Wi-Fi network, it automatically switches over to cellular service for voice, text and data.
A neat feature of Republic plans is that the company allows users to change plans up to two times per month. The service is highly flexible and customizable to your unique situation.
This is the non-traditional cell phone provider I chose to try after my contract with Sprint expired earlier this year. Although I wasn’t keen on giving up my iPhone and switching to an Android device, my frugal side won out and I was convinced by the $25 plan (which works out to be closer to $30 per month after taxes and fees).
Because I was previously with Sprint, I’ve noticed no change in the quality of service. In my experience, the transitions between Wi-Fi and cellular service work smoothly. And the Moto X is an excellent replacement for my iPhone; in fact, I actually prefer the Moto X because it integrates with Google much better than my iPhone did.
My one complaint is that call quality seems to be better on the cellular service -- but users don’t have the option to turn off Wi-Fi. If there’s a network the phone can connect to, it will (whether you like it or not). However, this small issue is well worth it if it means I’m saving $50 per month on my cellular bill and still have a fancy smartphone.
Other drawbacks? All customer service is dealt with via email, which may be frustrating for some consumers. And since cellular capacity is leased from Sprint, Republic Wireless won’t do you much good if you live in an area where free Wi-Fi is hard to find and you lack Sprint coverage. For others, however, Republic may offer a cost-effective, contract-free alternative to expensive smartphone plans from big cell carriers.
If a low-cost smartphone plan sounds good, wouldn’t a free smartphone plan sound, well… perfect?
One major question comes to mind: how? Followed by something along the lines of, what’s the catch?
While FreedomPop truly does offer free phone service, it comes with a few caveats. First, customers will have to provide their own Sprint-supported smartphones. (The company does offer one phone itself, though it is the extremely outdated HTC Evo from 2010.)
Second, your free usage is comes with a cap. You receive 200 minutes of talk, unlimited text and 500 MB of data to use on your smartphone each month. If you want more data, you’ll have to pay more -- and if you want faster speeds, you’ll have to pay for that, too.
Here’s a quick rundown of “extras” that customers can purchase if they hit the limits on their free usage:
Some might consider FreedomPop to be a Republic Wireless relative, seeing as this company also uses Sprint’s network to provide data. FreedomPop also piggybacks on Clearwire in certain areas.
If the service is available in your area, it might be worth looking into; however, lack of coverage is one of the biggest drawbacks with FreedomPop. It’s only available in certain markets, so check availability on their website.
Still, FreedomPop is a great alternative to look into for those who really want a smartphone but simply can’t afford the monthly bill from a traditional carrier. If you can stay within the usage limits, there’s not much that’s better than free. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)
Your Turn: Would you make the switch to one of these carriers? Have you tried a low-cost carrier before?
Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and content manager who specializes in helping financial businesses. As a member of the Millennial generation, she's passionate about helping Gen Y manage their money while learning to live well on less via her blog, Common Sense Millennial.