Thrifty Thursday: Cut Your Cell Phone Bill in Half!

It’s Thrifty Thursday here at A Lovely Place to Land and boy, do I have a thrifty plan for you. People are always asking me how we managed to upgrade to smart phones while drastically cutting our phone bill so I thought I’d turn the blogging-duties over to my other half, who is the genius behind all things money-related at our house. I might be thrifty and able to stretch a buck but thanks to his hard work and budgeting, we are debt-free (except for our mortgage.) Here are his tips for cutting your cell phone bill by as much as 50%!

Brought to you by my loving husband, Travis:

"Arrrrrr you ready to save some money?" (Sorry, Honey. I couldn't resist. I'll let you tell the story about me thinking buffalo were extinct at the wedding we're going to this weekend.)

 Hey! I’m Travis, Amanda’s husband, sounding board for crazy ideas and user of sharp and dangerous power tools.  You see, if Amanda is the creative, passionate, and artistically talented half in our relationship I am the practical, calculating, and technical minded half. (Fine, I’m a geek and I’m proud of it!)  Going along with my practicality, I am always looking for ways to shave a few dollars off our monthly expenses.  Whether that is calculating the cost per diaper between various brands or rooting around online for promo codes to get a free pizza, I like a good deal.  What’s even better is when I can find a good deal and get to use technology.  Thus I present you with a fusion of old-fashioned money-saving and technology that will help you reduce your monthly cell phone bill.

For quite some time I had been really unhappy with our previous cell phone provider, AT&T.  What seems like many years ago I had gotten my first cell phone through Cingular which was later acquired by AT&T.  At that time I thought about changing to one of the other networks out there but upon surveying the landscape, the grass on the other side of the fence didn’t look any greener so I stuck it out with AT&T.  Through the years I slowly watched with dread my cell phone bill creep ever closer to reaching triple digits.  This past year it had finally climbed to a staggering $110 a month for just a two-phone family plan with unlimited texting!  Just to be clear, we didn’t have smartphones or anything fancy, just plain old cell phones.  I think mine dated back to 2008 or so if you can believe that.  Needless to say, I started looking for cheaper options.

Why Ting is Awesome!

In the last few years a number of MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) like Boost, TracFone, Virgin Mobile and others have popped up across the landscape.  An MVNO is a cellular provider who does not actually own the towers that your phone talks to like the big boys AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.  Instead, MVNOs lease cellular services from one of the aforementioned companies for wholesale rates and then resales that to consumers.  In the case of MVNOs, they predominantly use a prepaid model compared to the subscription (contract) based model of traditional cell companies.  Each one I looked at had slightly different offerings but I was never ready to make the plunge until I read about Ting.

What sets Ting apart from the pack for me was several things:  First and foremost they allow you to tailor a cell phone package directly to your needs by means of selecting independent service tiers in the categories of voice, text and data.  What this means is that if you send a lot of texts but rarely make phone calls, you can select a package where you have minimal minutes but lots of text.  Do you just use your phone for checking Facebook and email? Go for a plan that has lots of data and small voice and text.  After doing some analysis of our AT&T bills, it turns out we do a lot of talking and a moderate amount of texting.  Therefore I can came up with a package for us as indicated below:

Ting’s plans are infinitely configurable and there are no contracts which means you can adjust your plan from month to month as you discover how your usage changes.  This brings me to the next thing I really like about Ting over AT&T.  You know those really complicated bills you get where what you owed was front and center but how they actually arrived at that number was a mystery?  Well Ting does away with this complication by being as transparent as possible.  At the end of the month you get a statement emailed to you telling you plainly and succinctly how much you used in each category and what your cost was.  Furthermore, if you log into their website they provide up-to-date and accurate tracking on how much voice/texts/data you have used.

Ting is not one of those companies where they try to sneak charges in on you without you noticing either.  If you go over the tier that you selected, they will bump you up to the next tier at no penalty.  If you don’t make it to the tier you selected, they will credit your account for the unused portion!  This alone was a major selling point for me since it prevents much of the wasted money that can come with other prepaid plans.  They also allow you to setup various alerts to let you know when you might be getting close to jumping from one tier to the next which helps you in curbing your usage before its too late.

When I looked around at some of the other MVNOs I was really disappointed with the phone offerings.  Many of them offered lower quality or older devices.  (To be fair, most of my research was done before cricKet and Virgin Mobile started offering the iPhone.)  I had previously had a dumb phone for years and I was ready to take the leap into the smartphone era and I wanted to get a decent one that would last for several years.  Ting offers a wide range of phones to fit most budgets.  We ended up going with the high-end Samsung Galaxy SII.  I won’t go into all of my details on why I selected this phone here but suffice to say it met all of my requirements for a smartphone and then some.  The only catch here is that unlike traditional cell companies, you buy the phone up front at full retail cost.  Depending on how you look at things, this is a good or bad thing.  When you get a “free” phone through a traditional cell phone contract, you end up paying for the cost of that phone over the period of your contract through hidden fees.  If you keep that phone past your contract, you end up paying far more than the phone is worth.  If you decide to upgrade your phone (and renew your contract) you can easily get locked into a vicious cycle.  However with Ting, since you buy your phone up front, there is no contract and with the other savings on cell service through Ting, you can likely recoup the cost of your new phone over the course of a few months.

So What’s it Cost?

So now that I’ve talked about how great Ting is, lets talk about actual costs.  With AT&T my last bill was for $110 for two cell phones on a family plan with a texting plan.  For the last few months with Ting we have been bumping up to the XL voice plan, stayed steady in the Medium text plan and kept a slim data diet of 100 MB or less with their Small plan.  Ting charges $6/month for each active line.  This adds up as follows:

2000 Voice Minutes (XL) $35
1000 Text Messages (M) $5
100 MB Data (S) $3
Device Charge (For 2 Devices) $2
Total $55 + Taxes

So, I’ve literally slashed my cell phone bill in half and in the process I’ve upgraded to a smartphone!

Once we factor in the cost of phones we purchased, our savings drop to about $19 month.  With our current usage levels and the phones we purchased, there is a ROI (return on investment) of 19 months, so slightly less than the typical 2 year contract with a traditional cell phone company.  With a cheaper phone or different usage, your savings could be much higher and your ROI much lower.

You can calculate your own savings on Ting’s website by going here: https://ting.com/calculator

Further Savings

My goal is to eventually shrink our voice usage to 1000 minutes or less a month in order to realize even more savings.  How can I do this without cutting back on talking on the phone?  By using the power of the internet of course!

Google currently offers a free service called Google Voice that allows you to sign up for a phone number that lets you make free calls to all US landlines and cell phones.  Typically you would use this service from your computer to make phone calls through Google’s own online services.  However there is a great little app for Android based phones called Groove IP that allows you to make calls through Google voice directly on your cell phone.  I’ve set my phone up so that anytime I’m on a wireless network all of the calls that I make will go through Google Voice which doesn’t count against either my voice minutes or data usage.  Other people can still call your cell phone or your new cost-saving google voice number like regular.

Note: You need an Android based smartphone to use GrooveIP

You can also send text messages via Google Voice for free which can allow you to save even more.  In theory, if you live predominantly in WiFi saturated areas like we do, you could offload most your communications to WiFi and get away with perhaps only Small service tiers resulting in a mind-boggling sub $20 monthly cellphone bill.

If I’ve piqued your interest enough that you are thinking of switching to this awesome service then I can sweeten the deal a little bit more by offering you this link https://z0e51a1ec.ting.com/ that will allow you to save $25 on your first device purchase.  They currently have the Samsung Galaxy SII on sale for $390 which is $95 off their regular price.  With this link, thats $120 off making the phone $365, which is an amazing deal.  (The list price for this phone without a contract on Sprint is $530 for comparison at the time of writing this.)

Summary

Ting is a great service for those interested in saving money without compromising service or quality.  It does require you think about cell phone usage a little differently if you are used to “all you can eat” or unlimited style services from traditional cell phone companies but as they state on their website, you pay for exactly what you use.  In my mind that’s a win.  The phones we selected have been great and the cell services have been good as well.  I initially had some concerns about coverage quality in switching to Ting’s Sprint powered network but so far call quality has been great.

Pros

  • Great cost-saving potential
  • Transparent Billing
  • No hidden fees or penalties
  • Good selection of phones to fit any budgets
  • Save $25 off your first device: https://z0e51a1ec.ting.com/

Cons?

  • Upfront cost of phone

Further Reading:

Other Great Reasons Why Ting is Awesome

How MVNO’s are Changing Wireless in America

Update
Since I wrote this this, Ting has announced that they are going to offer the Samsung Galaxy SIII which is the latest and greatest Android phone on the market.  Sprint has also announced that they are opening up their LTE network to MVNOs like Ting in the near future. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-03/tings-lte-victory-could-the-iphone-be-next

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11 Responses to “Thrifty Thursday: Cut Your Cell Phone Bill in Half!”

  1. Gretta (Mom) September 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Good job Travis!!!

  2. Kimmi September 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    Do you find that your service area is still good? I’ve had Verizon for years and have loved that rarely am I out of service. I’ve heard horror stories of other providers never having service. How do you feel ting is in that area? This sounds like it a a great hidden gem!

    • amanda September 6, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

      Hi, Kimmi! Travis here…it depends on where you live. Your best bet is to find someone who is currently working with Sprint in your area and ask them how their service is because they provide the service to Ting. Honestly, most of our phone calls are made using the wi-fi in our home via the GrooveIP app rather than using the cellular network. By utilizing your home internet connection to make calls, you will see the biggest savings.

      • Kayla Danelle November 14, 2012 at 1:24 am #

        Travis, would you mind doing a post about how to set up the GrooveIP and how it works??
        Love this Ting post – we just bought our phones tonight!! (We pay $170 with Verizon right now, me with an iphone and my husband with a dumb flip phone, and also with a wifi hotspot which was supposed to cost us “only $20 extra a month” but actually costs $50/month. CANNOT wait to quite Verizon and save some $$!
        Kayla

        • Travis November 15, 2012 at 9:52 am #

          Kayla,

          Yeah, I’ll try to write something up this weekend. Which phones did you end up ordering?

    • Random Reader September 10, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

      Unlike most other MVNOs, Ting actually provides roaming for voice and text service, using Verizon’s network in many areas (but they have other partners too). That means you’ll get about as good as someone on Sprint postpaid (contract) and better than most prepaid (Boost, Virgin, etc).

      Note that this does NOT include data — you’ll get data service while connected to Sprint towers only.

      The coverage map on Ting’s site can show you the areas of voice and data service for them.

  3. Kayla Danelle November 19, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    We got the Samsung Transform (Refurb). In the interest of saving money, we wanted to get some (decent) cheap phones. So far they seem not bad. No iphone (I will sure miss mine!), but not bad! I definitely will like saving the $125+ a month after switching. The only issue is that the battery in one of the phones died after being plugged in and fully charged, and then sat untouched overnight. By morning, it was completely dead! Sooo, not sure if it’s a bad battery or what? Going to have to call Ting, I guess.

  4. Jess @ Crunchy Hot Mama September 2, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    Thanks for the post! Never heard of Ting before but will definitely be checking them out (came over from Paleo Mama). I’ll pass the info to my techy husband as well 😉

  5. Tonya December 28, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    This sounds so unbeatable. My question to you is, how well do the phones work? I have a smart phone and each one I’ve ever owned I’ve either dropped and broke or they had so many issues by the time my contract was up that I just went ahead and upgraded. Now that you have been with this company for a while, what do you think of their phones? Are there any insurance policies? I know that most of the time it isn’t even worth it to purchase insurance because you still have to pay a lot to get a new phone. It all seems like such a rip off.

    • amanda January 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

      Hi Tonya,
      Sorry for the delay in my response. My husband is the pro on this but I think the phones work great. There is, of course, a up-front investment cost because you have to purchase your own phone. I use a Samsung Galaxy and as far as I can tell, have the ability to do virtually everything someone with an i-Phone can do. The key is that we pay much, much, MUCH less a month.

      My husband is working on a follow-up post with current info. We’re still loving Ting!

  6. Travis January 9, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Tonya,

    Amanda has a Samsung Galaxy S2 along with a Otterbox Defender case that has survived almost 2 years with a toddler. My original S2 was damaged in a freak drop/crush accident at an airport last summer. I’ve since replaced my phone with the awesome Samsung Galaxy S4.

    You can purchase insurance through a third party like squaretrade if you are concerned about damage.

    That said, Ting has an excellent range of devices that fit across all of the price points. The Samsung S4, Moto X and HTC One are all great (but expensive) phones while they also offer some sub $100 feature (read not smart) phones. The payoff comes though by not paying an additional subsidy every month to your carrier to get that $500 smartphone for just $100 when you sign that 2 yr contract. If you do decide to go with Ting though, be sure to use the referral link to save at least $25 off your first device: https://z0e51a1ec.ting.com/

    And yes, at some point I’ll get an update posted on our experience over the long haul.

    Thanks for reading!

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