My Frugal Cell Phone Service Trick: How I Pay $10.65 A Month
I used to pay $81 a month for my cell phone service. Now, I pay $10.65 a month.
It’s rare that there’s one weird trick to saving money. Usually, saving entails hard work and sacrifice.
Today, I bring you an exception. Today, I bring you a way to save money every month that’s easy and painless. Today, I introduce you to the world of MVNOs. I know, you’ve been thinking about your Moonbeam Vector Newt Options for years now. Just wondering when I’d finally let you in on my secret extraterrestrial newt colony.
Today’s your lucky day. It’s even luckier because MVNO actually stands for mobile virtual network operator.
What’s An MVNO?
An MVNO is a wireless service reseller. MVNOs resell brand name wireless services (such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, etc) at dirt cheap rates. This is not a hoax. Nor is it a gimmick, which is what I assumed before I tried it myself. Ever the willing guinea pigs for you folks, Mr. Frugalwoods and I went on an odyssey of testing out different MVNO providers and I’m here to tell you that they work. They legit work and they legit cost PENNIES compared to traditional cell service providers.
According to Wikipedia, an MVNO is:
…a wireless communications services provider that does not own the wireless network infrastructure over which it provides services to its customers. An MVNO enters into a business agreement with a mobile network operator to obtain bulk access to network services at wholesale rates, then sets retail prices independently.
For example: the MVNO I use, Ting, contracts with T-mobile to resell excess T-mobile capacity. This means I get EXACTLY THE SAME service as I would if I were paying full price for T-mobile. However, I get this service for $10 a month because Ting bought it at a cheap, wholesale rate and then resells it to me. T-mobile wants to do this because it means they’re making some money from their excess capacity (as opposed to no money) and Ting wants to do this because they’re making money reselling the excess T-mobile service to me. I want to do this because it means I pay A LOT LESS every month for my cell phone service. So why doesn’t everyone in America use an MVNO? Good question.
Note to you: this post contains affiliate links for MVNOs. I don’t promote stuff that I don’t personally use, which is why it took me so long to write this post (I mean, I’ve only been writing Frugalwoods for five years, so, not THAT long… ). Before writing about MVNOs, I had to first use them myself. I’m not going to write “affiliate link” after every affiliate link because that’s annoying to read. When in doubt, assume it’s an affiliate link.
Why This Is Worth Your Time To Do
Reducing recurring expenses = major savings. By switching to an MVNO, you can make ONE change and permanently save money every single month. Think about me. I was paying $81 per month plus my husband’s phone at another $81 per month, which cost us $1,944 per year.
By switching to Ting, we now pay $21.30 per month, which is $255.60 per year. That means we save $1,688.40 PER YEAR. Just by switching our cell phone service provider.
We didn’t even have to change our phone numbers or our phones–just our service provider! So even if it feels a little intimidating to embark on the MVNO journey, the savings are so substantial that it’s worth putting in the time to switch to an MVNO. You will rake in the savings month after month, year after year.
Two MVNO Companies You Might Consider: Ting and Mint
There are tons of MVNOs out there. Helpfully, Wikipedia compiled this list. I compiled an even shorter list to make this even easier. Most MVNOs (including the two I discuss) offer:
- No contracts because they’re pay as you go!
- The ability to bring your own phone (and your own phone number)
- Different data limit options at different price points
- Dirt cheap monthly bills
- Reliable service
1) Ting (resells Sprint and T-Mobile service)
Ting is the company I use and so far, I’m thrilled with it. I get better coverage than I did before and I pay less than ever. Back in the day, I used AT&T. From there, I switched to Boom Mobile (an MVNO that resells Verizon). Initially, Boom worked well for us because we had a Verizon tower near us. However, our town recently got a T-Mobile tower and so I made the switch from Boom to Ting and am super happy with them.
I am thrilled with Ting because:
- Ting is cheaper than Boom. I was paying $19.99 per phone with Boom and now pay $21.30 per month for BOTH my cell phone and Mr. Frugalwoods’ cell phone (as a sidenote, we both have Apple iPhones).
- I’ll do some math for you: that’s $10.65 per person per month for cell phone service.
- They don’t do contracts. There are no cancellation fees. You only pay for what you use.
- They have an easy-to-use, straightforward website
- They have excellent customer service (we’ve used it and they’re great)
- They offer wifi calling and texting, so if you don’t have great service in your house (which is the case for us), you can use wifi for texting and calling, which is awesome.
- You can estimate how much your monthly bill will be on their website, but…
- You only pay for what you use in a month. If you use more, you pay more. If you use less, you pay less. You’re not locked into paying for data/texts/minutes you didn’t use and you won’t be charged exorbitant fees if you use a bunch one month.
- If you’re worried about using too much data, you can set caps for yourself through Ting’s website. These’ll provide you with alerts when you’re reaching your self-imposed cap (although there’s no penalty or fee from Ting if you exceed that cap).
- It’s even cheaper per month if you add a line to your service. Kind of like a family plan! This is what Mr. FW and I do, which is why we each pay $10 a month.
- You can call internationally to 60 countries at no extra fee.
- Ting has been around for awhile as an MVNO and has a great reputation.
2) Mint (resells T-Mobile service)
I haven’t personally used Mint, but from what I’ve read, it can be a great option if you’re a heavy data user. Also, I love Mint’s website because their mascot is a fox. Ok actually I love it because they offer several comparison tools to help you figure out if Mint is right for you. But also the fox is cute.
On Mint’s site you can:
- Enter your ZIP code to see if Mint offers coverage in your area.
- Enter the brand and model of your phone to see if it’s compatible with Mint’s service (they encourage BYOP–bring your own phone).
- Select from a variety of plans with different levels of data and different price points. The cheapest plan is $15 per month. Yep. $15 per month.
- If you use a lot of data, Mint might be a better choice than Ting (we’ll discuss data usage more in a moment).
Why No AT&T or Verizon?
There are some MVNOs that resell AT&T and Verizon service, but they’re not as well regarded and their plans are not as cheap as the above options. The reason: AT&T and Verizon are the behemoths of the industry and have less profit incentive to resell unsold capacity on their cell towers.
However, if you have AT&T or Verizon, it’s totally possible that T-Mobile or Sprint would also work just fine for you. It’s easy to assume that our current cell provider is the only one that covers our area, but that’s usually not the case (except for those of us who live ultra-rurally and have like one cell tower within a 100-mile radius… speaking from experience here).
Pro tip: A great way to find an MVNO that works well in your area is to ask your most tech-minded/frugal-minded local friend or neighbor. Chances are, they’ve already figured it out and will be thrilled to help you figure it out too.
If you don’t live ultra-rurally, you likely have all manner of cell towers in your region and can change to another service provider without decreasing the quality of your reception and service. Plus, as I’ll outline in a moment, switching between MVNOs (or to an MVNO and then back to your original carrier) is easy to do because you’re not under contract with an MVNO. Use it for a month and, if you hate it? Switch back to your original company. You’ll probably get a better deal in the process since you’ll be a new or returning customer!
What’s the Catch, Mrs. Frugalwoods?
I’m so glad you asked. There’s no catch with MVNOs, but there are different parameters than with traditional cell phone service providers. These parameters vary by MVNO–they are different companies after all–but the basic guidelines are as follows:
1) You need to own your own phone.
A lot of folks finance their cell phones through their wireless service provider, which I consider a bad idea for a number of reasons. Most MVNOs do not allow you to finance a phone–you need to own it outright. Some MVNOs sell their own phones, but most allow you to BYOD (bring your own device). My husband and I own iPhones (which we paid for in full through the online Apple store), and used them with Boom and now Ting without a hitch. With most MVNOs, you can use whatever phone you currently have (iPhone, Android, etc).
2) You need to be out of contract with your current cell phone service provider.
You’ll need to terminate your contract (or be out of contract) with your current provider (unless you’re already with an MVNO and just want to switch to another MVNO).
In some instances, paying the penalty for prematurely terminating your contract will be a good financial decision in the long run because MVNO service is so darn cheap. You should run the numbers on what the penalty is for terminating your contract versus how much you’d save every month if you were using an MVNO.
3) You need to know your data needs.
This is a big one. MVNOs typically don’t offer plans with tons of data. This isn’t a problem if you usually use wifi on your phone. This COULD be a problem if you use TONS of cellular data every month. If you use TONS of cellular data every month, it’s worth determining if you could instead connect to wifi (at home, at work, at the coffee shop) and utilize wifi instead of cellular data. The potential monthly savings are so profound that I think it’s worthwhile to do an audit of how much cellular data you’re using and how you could potentially reduce your cellular data usage by instead using wifi.
Let’s Talk More About Data
Data can be expensive with an MVNO and, if you use your phone as your primary internet access, an MVNO might not make sense. However, if you can use a wifi network on your phone instead, then you are golden and an MVNO is ideal for you. This is what I do. I connect to my home wifi when I’m home and, when I’m out and about, I connect to the wifi at the library, the doctor’s office, the coffee shop, etc. If there’s no wifi available where I am, then–and only then–I use the cellular network. The key is that I don’t use the cellular network very often.
As an example, I used a meagre 41 megabytes of data last month because most of the time, I use wifi (internet) instead of data (cellular service). If you’re a heavy data user, all hope is not lost because some MVNOs offer plans with higher data caps. These plans are typically more expensive than the dirt cheapest plans, but they’re still vastly less expensive than a traditional carrier.
Mint Mobile, for example, offers plans with unlimited data and they make it super easy to buy more data (via text or through their website) if you need it in a given month.
List Of Objections to MVNOs
Every time I espouse the virtues of MVNOs, eyes start to roll and the objections roll in. But you guys, it’s not hard to do and it’s so cheap and if you don’t like it, you can just switch back!!!! Here are some of the most frequently voiced objections and my responses:
1) What if I don’t like the MVNO service and want to switch back to my traditional carrier?
Go right ahead. Most MVNOs do not require you to sign a contract, so you’re paying on a month-to-month basis for the minutes and data you’ve used (this is what I do with Ting). So, if you switch to a MVNO and find you don’t like it? You can switch right back. As an added bonus, you’ll probably get a better deal with your former carrier since you’ll be a new customer. Wins all around.
2) I want to keep my phone number.
Go right ahead. MVNOs expect you to bring your existing cell phone number. This is standard practice. Given that, every MVNO provides straightforward, step-by-step instructions on how to keep your existing number, which is called “porting your number.” I personally ported my number out of AT&T and onto the MVNO Boom and then from Boom to my current MVNO, Ting. Easy. Peasy. And I still have the same cell phone number I’ve had since I was 17.
3) Ok but really, how hard is it to “port” my number?
Not hard. Here’s the basic rundown of what you do:
- Obtain your “port out pin number” from your existing service provider. Sometimes this is available online, sometimes you have to call them.
- Ask your existing service provider if your number is unencumbered for porting out.
- Sidenote: If you’re on the phone, it’s very likely your existing service provider will put a hard sell on you to stay with their company. And hey, if that’s what you want to do, see if you can negotiate a better contract with them!
- Take that information, along with your account number and go through the porting out process as outlined by your MVNO.
- They’ll ask for your name and address exactly as it appears on your old phone bill, your phone number, your “port out pin” number…. and then, you’re all set. You’re now using your old number on a new MVNO.
- Once you’ve submitted your request, you can call your old company and let them know that your number is able to be released for porting.
- If you’re porting a number from a traditional cell service provider, it should take less than 24 hours for it to port.
- If you’re porting a number between MVNOs, it should take even less time. It took 1.5 hours for Mr. FW and I to switch between MVNOs (from Boom to Ting).
4) What if I want to try several different MVNOs?
Go right ahead. As noted above, it’s super easy to switch around between MVNOs because:
- You’re not under contract
- You own your own phone
- You can port your phone number between MVNOs with ease
Once you are free and clear and untethered by a contract to a traditional phone company, you can toggle around to as many different MVNOs as you want.
5) The coverage will be bad.
Nope. As a matter of fact, the coverage will probably be exactly the same as what you currently have if you select an MVNO that resells your existing service. MVNOs don’t operate their own cell towers. They don’t have their own satellites. All they do is resell the EXACT SAME SERVICE that the traditional companies offer. So, if you currently use T-Mobile and you switch to Ting, for example, you will literally be using the same service because Ting resells T-Mobile.
It’s weird, I know. As a business model it’s sort of hilarious, but it does make sense. T-Mobile has excess coverage that they aren’t using. Instead of declaring that coverage a total loss, they sell it at a discount to Ting and then Ting turns around and re-resells it to you at a steep discount.
6) MVNOs do not have store fronts and I like to walk into a store and talk to people.
OK, this is where you and I differ. However. There’s a way around this and it’s one I highly recommend:
Hire a local tech geek to set up your MVNO for you and pay them to explain the whole thing to you.
Why do this? You’ll get unbiased advice from your tech geek versus the biased advice you’ll get from the person at the AT&T store. The person at the AT&T store is trained to do everything in their power to keep you as an AT&T customer and to up-sell you on phones, service, and accessories at every possible opportunity. Your friendly neighborhood tech geek, on the other hand, is giving you their unvarnished tech advice. They don’t care if you use an MVNO or not–they’re getting paid either way.
MVNOs are the TJ Maxx of Cell Phone Service
People, it’s the same service. It’s just a lot cheaper. You know how TJ Maxx resells brand name clothing at a steep discount? And it’s the same clothing with the same brand name that you’d find in a high-end store at a much higher price? That’s exactly how MVNOs work.
MVNOs resell service from the major name brand cell service companies. Because they are resellers, you receive the exact same cell service, from the same towers and on the exact same network, but at a greatly reduced rate. To use an MVNO, you need to own your cell phone and not be under contract with your existing service provider.
If you don’t own your phone and/or are under contract, figure out what it would cost to buy your phone and terminate your contract. MVNOs are so much cheaper that it might be less expensive for you in the long run to buy your phone and terminate your contract.
Switching to an MVNO is not difficult and you can bring your existing phone number and your existing phone. This is because, again, MVNOs are resellers and so they expect you to bring you own number and your own phone and they expect you to be switching to their service. Because of this, they make the process quite simple. I use and recommend the MVNO Ting. Another MVNO you might check out–especially if you use a lot of data–is Mint.
TLDR: MVNOs are the TJ Maxx of the cell phone service world: the same thing, A LOT CHEAPER.
Do you use an MVNO? Do you have any questions about the process?
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I use Mint and love it. I do need more data because I do a lot of streaming while driving (long commute) and I can’t pre-download everything I need/want so streaming podcasts/music sometimes is required. I prepay for the 8gb a month data for $20 per month per person (paid once a year at $255.59 with $15.59 in local taxes).
To be fair, I’ve learned that even Verizon, the “gold standard” of reception can’t get through thick trees in valleys (no one can… and this is common in my SE PA area) or thick walls (like the brick walls at my mom’s house) so unless you’re in an area where you literally can’t get one type of reception (like T-Mobile is limited in rural central PA (again, because of hills/trees and lack of cell towers)), go with the cheaper MVNO that offers what you need.
You don’t mention this, but it is important to note that MVNOs get access to service based on capacity. So T-Mobile customers always get FIRST dibs on a crowded network, Metro gets next access, and on and on. So when you have an MVNO, there can be situations (like at a crowded event) where you may not have cell service because on an MVNO, you are at the bottom of the totem pole for access.
Also, for Verizon network needing people, look to US Mobile, Visible (Verizon’s own MVNO with unlimited data plans), Straight Talk Wireless, and Total Wireless. Lastly, if you live in an area where you have to have cable to get basic TV channels (like rural area that actually has cable access), Comcast Cable company has their own MVNO that uses a combination of Verizon MVNO and access to Comcast customer wireless routers to get cell access. They offer Xfinity Mobile for basically nothing, but you have to have cable, so I’d only suggest that for people who either don’t or can’t get rid of their Comcast cable. My in-laws use it and have had it for a while and love it. Saved them a ton, since they can’t cut their cable for TV/internet (and no, you can’t get Xfinity mobile if you only buy internet from Comcast).
Great points! Thank you for sharing your wisdom!
How do I go about getting the MNVO cable? Please advise. Thx.
Something I read at androidauthority.com from a year ago: Visible explained that it is not an MVNO, but rather a “new kind of network provider” with a “modern technology approach.” Visible only offers one product: a $40-per-month unlimited plan on the Verizon network. The answer is that Visible is essentially Verizon; Visible and Verizon are one-and-the-same.
But with Visible if you can get a group of 4 you only pay $25 a month and we got brand new phone just by trading up any android phone to them. They also have excellent reps to help 24 hours a day and anything you recieve through them you get within 24 hours! 5stars in my book
Thanks for the info! My in-laws live in SE PA with a brick house and are always have connectivity issues, so this is good to know.
Not sure if it’s true about having to have cable TV for Xfinity mobile though: https://www.xfinity.com/mobile/support/article/xfinity-mobile-eligibility. I am thinking of switching to it but I just canceled my TV and only have internet through them. Hoping it’s possible!
Great info, Tara! As a fellow SE PA resident, I agree.
Mrs. FW, if it weren’t from discovering MVNOs on your blog a year ago, I would still be paying $65 per month to AT&T. Now, I have Mint’s plan and love it! The dead spots are the same as AT&T, and where I used to have 4 bars or service, I now have 2 or 3. But it’s never an issue. One correction, though, on Mint Mobile: they do not offer unlimited data. They only offer unlimited talk and text. They’ve said they can’t offer unlimited data and keep the rates as low as they are, so they cap their data at 12 GB per month.
Anyway, thank you for introducing me to MVNOs because you’ve already saved me a bundle! 🙂
P.S. As always, cute pictures!
Most MVNOs get service based on capacity. There are some (not many) that actually run on the same priority as the postpaid (contract) service. AT&T’s GoPhone (what I use) runs on AT&T’s postpaid network at highest priority. Selectel Wireless runs on Verizon’s postpaid network at highest priority (from what I can tell).
Do you have any suggestions for purchasing Apple IPhones at a less expensive rates?
Costco! I got my last 2 iPhones from Costco–very easy to get them set up and sometimes they offer incentives like gift cards, or–I received a free external battery pack which has come in very handy. You can also check the Apple stores and ask about refurbished options. My husband has a serial problem with dropping his phones in water and rather than pay to replace it with a new one, they were able to sell him a refurbished phone for about $200. Also depends on how new you want. We’re happy with our 6S phones and haven’t been enticed to upgrade (and lose the headphone jack!)
Apple seems to essentially fair trade their hardware so iPhones don’t go on sale, at Apple or anywhere else. When a new model is due out the current one may be discounted but not by much. I’m still using my iPhone 6. But when I’m ready for a new phone, I’ll seriously consider a used phone that’s a generation old.
Possibly a friend or family member who always wants the latest and greatest phone might hand theirs down to you at a nice price.
I think those are your best bets but I’ll be watching to see if others have good ideas on this!
That is exactly what we do—we have a relative who upgrades his phone constantly. One day I opened a drawer while at his house and it was FILLED with abandoned phones. Every year he asks us what we want for Christmas and now we tell him to give us the last phone he discarded. We both now have the 6S and he doesn’t have to worry that we won’t like his gifts or that he will have to spend any money on us. (He was totally clueless that places like domestic violence programs will take cell phones and get new sim cards for them and give them to women who need them. He ended up giving the entire drawer of phones (minus one I took) to a vet program that does the same thing. He is so well read I cannot believe he didn’t know places needed his discards…)
My husband and I have been buying our iPhones used on Craigslist / fb marketplace for several years. There is no shortage of older models with lots of life still left in them, especially right after Apple releases a new model. After getting a “new to me” iPhone, the first thing I do is order a knockoff Otterbox on amazon to protect it. This process has been working great for us. I think the most I’ve spent is about $150 for both phone and case. Good luck!!
We bought seller refurbished (with thousands of good ratings) iphone 7s from ebay for my kids. Each was about $180.
My first iphone I bought from apple was refurbished and I never had a problem. They don’t have as deep of discounts, but definitely a decent discount, and it comes with their standard one year warranty.
And, if your company happens to use ADP as a payroll processor, one of my colleagues found that if you go through their portal, there is a 2-5% discount at Apple.
Can you please tell me the name of the eBay seller you used and if you’re satisfied with your phones? My daughters have iphone 5s and need an upgrade. Thanks very much!
Decluttr. They sell refurbished iPhones with a 1yr warranty and their prices almost always beat ebay, swappa, and just about any other reseller website out there. And did I mention the one year warranty? We’ve been super pleased. Their customer service is top notch, too, and they seem to under-grade their phones, so a “good” phone that purchased should have been “very good” in my estimation. Also great prices on used MacBooks.
I really love the size of the SE so when I needed a “new” one bought it refurbished felt Smarter (https://smarter-phone.co/en/). It was about $150 and has worked like new. I’d totally use them again.
Refurbished *from* Smarter that should say.
I’ve had great luck for the past several years buying certified refurbished iphones on Amazon. Just be sure that the phone you are buying is compatible with the phone service you’ll be using–AT&Tor Verizon, for example.
I would look at eBay for used iPhones, though they tend to hold their value a little bit better than a comparable Android phone. You’ll sometimes come out cheaper in an auction than a buy it now. If it were me I would seriously look at the features I cared most about and come up with two or three Android-based phones that fit. You’ll probably pay 50%-75% the cost of an iPhone, have the features that matter to you most and only have to get used to a slightly different layout. The exception to this would probably be a Samsung, as they are now costing close to the same as an iPhone and holding their used value similarly as well.
My sons have both purchased unlocked cell phones off Amazon when they wanted/needed to upgrade their phones. Once they had the phone in hand, they went to the local AT&T store for assistance in switching the SIM card and moving data to the new phone. I’m happy with my iPhone 6 for now, but I’ll go the unlocked phone route when I’m ready for a new phone. Now that I’m learning about MVNOs, I’m going to research ways to save on the monthly bill.
Additional note: If going the unlocked phone route, make sure the phone you purchase is compatible with your service provider. You need to check the fine print, but most descriptions will include that info. Make sure you’re looking at whether the phone is factory unlocked (can go with any provider) or SIM unlocked (can only go with originally intended provider).
I started using MVNOs as soon as I left the working world and had to pay for my own phone service. I live in a very rural area in Pennsylvania with no cell service, and the surrounding area is almost entirely Verizon.
I have a pay-as-you go Smartphone plan with Tracfone, and use it with a Google Pixel 2 phone. The annual cost is $150, and I can add on data in $10 increments. After five years, I find that I am paying a steady $170-180 annual amount, so just at $15.00 a year.
Though Tracfone’s reputation for Customer Service isn’t great, I have found just the opposite. Helpful and easy to get answers. I have told everyone I know that they are crazy to pay for traditional carrier contracts, but a surprising few make the change!
I’ve been using tracfone for years. The only problem I have is that there is no way to use their serviceccwhe n I travel internationally. I use whatsapp to call family when I’m travelling, which uses WiFi butbbthere are times I need to call a hotel or a call rental place. Any thoughts on how to handle that? Any of these services able to be used from other countries. I can call to other countries, Just not from them.
Your best bet is to buy/have an unlocked phone handy and a local prepaid SIM card for the country you are going to stay in. That’s the cheapest option. One option is Google Fi but that requires a Fi compatible device.
Verizon is such a behemoth that when we went to leave them for a MVNO we got rejected from Total Wireless saying they refuse to take on people straight from Verizon. Right now we’re on Total Wireless, 2 phones unlimited data for $65 a month. We could do better…. perhaps I’ll shop around. I don’t get wireless at work currently but perhaps I’ll ask around about that as my job’s pretty new.
That’s funny because I had the opposite experience. I wanted to use Total, so I started the switching process. I paid for the SIM card and the first month of service but it wouldn’t work with my phone. No one from Total could figure out why- their customer service was extremely poor. Eventually after several calls someone told me that I had to have a Verizon branded phone and couldn’t use my brand new unlocked phone. I could not get them to refund my money for the first month plus the SIM card either, and finally had to open a dispute with my credit card company to get my money back. Definitely do not recommend Total in any way, shape, or form!
This is what happens when you post from a phone! I made a typo here: “we got rejected from Total Wireless saying…” that was SUPPOSED to say: “We got rejected from BOOM”. Here I have copy and pasted the message from BOOM!:
“The reason that the device will not work with us is that the device/phone number is being used with direct Verizon and we cannot allow it on our network. Verizon charges Boom a hefty monthly fee when we have their direct customers move to Boom.”
Total was a pain in the ass to get set up with, agreed.
I love republic wireless. Have to buy their phones though. I definitely will consider using another service if I can with a used iPhone! Also, I switch to data when traveling.
Jori, you no longer need to buy the phones through Republic, you can bring your own. You do need to make sure the phone is on their approved list though. I need a new phone and am trying to figure out if I should buy one from them or not.
See my comment below re: my experience transferring my Verizon phone # to an MVNO using Verizon as the carrier. I encountered the same thing when I went with Red Pocket (see my more detailed post below). Since Red Pocket can support multiple carriers, they did a two-step migration of my number – first to ATT using one of their ATT chips, then they transferred my line internally to Verizon as the carrier (I then just put in their Verizon chip). It might be worth considering Red Pocket. Or do one month with a non-Verizon MVNO, then move to Total Wireless.
As a single line household, it was worth the brief hassle, since I don’t get any of the multi-line cost efficiencies that Verizon offers.
Sounds like Verizon is purposely making it difficult to transfer your phone number to a Verizon MVNO directly.
We’ve been using Republic Wireless for about 4 years now and love it. They also give homeschool and teacher discounts of 50%.
My daughter wanted an iPhone so she uses Xfinity mobile (we only had to have internet to qualify). But, when you run out of data they automatically give you more and charge you. Republic wireless doesn’t do that.
They no longer offer educator discounts: https://landing.republicwireless.com/educators
Interesting article which may be helpful. https://www.androidauthority.com/what-is-verizon-visible-866025/
I tried Ting and hated it. I only pay 45 for ATT with 5 GB data.
……thanks for another well researched & informative article! Technology is such a two-sided sword, yes?
Do you have to have an unlocked phone?
Yes. You need to own your phone and not be under contract, although, as I mentioned above, MVNOs are so cheap that it might be worth it to pay the penalty to terminate your contract early and purchase your phone. You’ll have to run the numbers though for your specific situation to make sure it makes sense. Good luck :)!
Great article, I’m glad you included the potential downside if there is a lot of traffic. As a very happy MVNO customer, I haven’t experienced it, but I know it’s a possibility, and am willing to take the risk.
I use Red Pocket Mobile, which is a bit unique in that you can choose the underlying carrier (ATT, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon). Verizon works best for me where I live, so I moved my phone from a similarly expensive plan (~ $90/month) to a Red Pocket plan with unlimited talk and text, and unlimited data (but really only 2 GB at LTE speeds).
First, I tried a $10, one month plan on a spare, unused phone before moving my primary phone over. I then shopped for their 360 day plans on their site (they’ll send you to eBay) and got their annual plan that averages $19.08/month (note that the other two plans are only for Sprint or AT&T). However, I caught a 10% discount on eBay, plus a “Sale” RedPocket had on that plan, and got the price down to $15.90/month.
Like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I don’t use a lot of data, I checked my data usage history on Verizon and the highest was under 1 GB, usually 500 MB or less, so this is the right plan for me.
Pro-tip: Watch Red-Pocket’s prices at Black Friday time, I heard that they have deals then. I plan to watch and hopefully, pick up my next year plan code then. Also, keep an eye out for when eBay has a % off discount on the entire site – rare, but they do happen.
If you need support with Red Pocket, use their online chat, not phone support number. They are very helpful.
If you are moving a Verizon phone number to a Red Pocket Verizon plan, apparently Verizon doesn’t let you do a direct port. I had to get a second Red Pocket chip for AT&T, port to that “line”, then Red Pocket changed the ATT line to my Red Pocket Verizon chip. It was a few days processing, but worth the savings!
Also, if you have an iPhone – I know that with the Verizon service, you can ask them to activate Visual Voicemail, as well as Voice over LTE. It’s not automatic, but they’ll turn on if you ask.
Red Pocket also lets you call international numbers for free – not all countries, and I think only land lines but that’s a nice feature. You can also use your phone as a mobile hotspot if you want (and have the data plan to support), not all MVNOs allow that.
This is a great site to compare MVNOs, where I started on this journey: https://bestmvno.com/ . You can compare plans, search based on criteria, etc.
Thank you so much for sharing this wealth of knowledge!!
Spot on, as usual Mrs Frugalwoods! I have been using Republic Wireless for over a year with great success, and I live in a tree-filled area of New England also. Keep up the good work, loved your book, did the uber frugal month challenge even though I was already frugal. Just love to keep challenging myself, so thanks for all the encouragement!
There’s a few things US and Canada could learn from our cell service providers in Finland.
– Data here is quite cheap. I use 15-20GB data per month + calls + sms, and I pay about 20eur/month. Almost all contracts have unlimited data, but if you pay more, you get faster data. If you don’t use much data or calls, the cheapest contract is 3eur/month + you pay for what you use.
– oh and you can use this same data package in all EU countries. No extra costs when travelling.
– changing your contract to a competitor, while porting your number, is a two step process: you sign up with a competitor and say you want to port your number (online, over the phone or a branch). Your current provider will send you a text message asking if you allow your number to be ported. You answer yes. You get a new SIM-card via mail, and then text message saying when is the right day and time to pop the new sim card in. You’re then using the new provider.
I’ve been living in quite a few different countries and it’s a shame how difficult and expensive it is elsewhere. But maybe it will improve over time.
Unfortunatly,Finland is a small country with dense population. Networks in the USA are already congested. In Los Angeles, Many mobile networks are strained to meet demand, add those unlimited free for all plans to the list and data speeds are becoming to the point of 1Mbps or even less. Building mobile infrastructure is costly and difficult. As such there are no new competitors foreign or domestic want to compete in the US market. If a European company wants to compete in the USA it would cost them 40-60 billion dollars just to build,maintain and market their network. No foreign or domestic company wants to take the risk.
Will the service work internationally as well?
Somebdo; some don’t. You’ll want to check that out with any company you consider.
Good article! I used Ting for years and it was very good – occasional issues being at the bottom of the coverage list as someone above mentioned, but overall fine. We just switched to comcast (Xfinity wireless) which should be free or still significantly cheaper if we happen to use more data. We have internet and landline phone with them (don’t have a tv), I like having the landline, having had an emergency situation where it was good for one of my young kids to be able to dial 911 on the house phone. Possibly unneeded, but I like it. So here (Philadelphia area) that can be a good option too.
I switched to Mint Mobile in February and I love it! I’m on the $15/month plan, paid in full for 12 months (after a three month trial at that rate). I get 3GB of data, unlimited talk and text. It’s a huge savings. Haven’t looked back!
Great post, thanks for sharing!
Our family currently uses 2 different MVNO’s for Verizon. They are both excellent and very cost effective. PagePlus has $10 cards that are good for 4 months for low usage, and also a $12/mo plan. RedPocket has a $10 plan with 500min/500txt/500mb. Other providers do not work well in my area but these have worked well for me and saved us a ton of money over the last 6 years!
I use Republic Wireless. I use about a gig a month, based on the pricing calculator, Republic is a little cheaper.
As someone who tried quite a few MVNOs, there are a couple of negatives points of MVNOs not mentioned in this article. Coverage might be the same, but you still might have a much slower connection than someone next to you that’s not on an MVNO plan. There are a couple of concerns with MVNOs that go a bit more into technical depth, such as: ping and network priority.
To illustrate network priority, let’s say you go to a very popular concert, with thousands of people with different careers. If you have a Sprint MVNO and try to download a picture, or make a call. It might not work because of the amount of people connected to the same network tower. But if someone standing next to you has Sprint not MVNO, they might still be able to place a call or download a picture. Even if both of you have the same coverage. Sprint will just give a higher network priority to someone that is directly their customer. It’s almost impossible to know how exactly how your connection is being handled. If you live in a rural area in Vermont, you shouldn’t have an overcrowding issue. But if you live in a large city, I don’t recommend MVNOs.
Concerning ping, it’s the amount of time it takes for a network request to reach a destination. Let’s say you have a phone with an MVNO and a phone without, and both have a download button to download a large video. With some MVNOs, if both phones click download at the same time, the MVNO phone could start downloading the image much later than the regular phone. Even if the download speed is the same. So the video might download in 15 seconds on both phones, but it will start a bit earlier on the MVNO phone.
This is something much less important than network priority, and won’t be noticed by most customers. I’ve noticed when doing some IT heavy tasks via my phone’s internet connection such as SSH (typing via network), and it was horrible to use because each letter typed took a while to display on the screen because of the latency. So after trying a few AT&T MVNOs (I couldn’t go with T-Mobile or Sprint because of our coverage), I went to AT&T prepaid, which was almost as cheap, but had a great ping.
These are some solid drawbacks in my opinion of MVNOs, I don’t want to be prevented from placing a call just because I wanted to save 20-30$ / month. It’s not worth it :(. But still, unlocked phones, prepaid plans, can keep you being frugal without necessarily going the MVNO route. And you can try and test yourself, the great thing with this is you can switch frequently (I did).
Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences! I confess I never find myself at a crowded concert ;). Although in May, I was in NYC and Boom worked just fine for me. Then, this month I was in Boston and Ting did great for both me and Mr. FW. I think you’re spot on that your mileage is going to vary based on your use case and your location. And that’s what I love so much about MVNOs: it’s super easy to switch between them if you find you don’t like the one you’re with.
You had me at “TJ Maxx of cell phone service.” I’m putting this on my to-do list for the week. I’ve been paying too much to Verizon for too long!
I thought Mr. Frugalwoods had his cell phone paid by his employer?
He does, but we wanted to get his employer the cheapest rate possible too! Plus, it’s actually cheaper per line to add lines on Ting, which is why we’re able to pay just $10.65 per phone. Otherwise, I’d pay circa $15 or $20/month for just one line (so, not a major difference, but it’s also easier for Mr. FW and I to both be on the same carrier).
Protip for those who use a lot of data (my work has no wifi). TWO WORDS: STRAIGHT. TALK. I was skeptical after paying up the butt for verizon for years, but straight talk is the same quality, hops off towers from Verizon+Tmobile+ATT, and is generally around $40 a month unlimited everything. “Unlimited everything” for data means up to 25 gigs of high speed data before it slows to medium speed data. No contract and you can BYO Phone. Also their customer service is excellent in that you can do literally everything you need to do yourself online if you don’t want to speak to a person.
Straight Talk is not bad, but be aware you only get one network at a time. You get what you sign up for, it doesn’t jump from one to the next.
Ohmygosh that is a great savings, the corporate system of enslaving into monthly commodities makes me so sick inside. Thanks for sharing this. I wonder if it works yet in Cananada. Wonder how I can find this pathway hete in Ontario
I wish it worked for internet services too.
, I just got enslaved by that since I moved to a rural area from 33.00 in a town to 100.00 limited internet – because 3 big players control the area or own it …Need to change that
I have Tello mobile (uses Sprint network) and I love it! I pay $11, for unlimited calls and text, plus 1 GB of data. But one thing to clarify is that it’s not EXACTLY the same service. The major carriers include roaming in their plans. For example, Sprint contracts with other major carriers to allow Sprint customers to use the competitor’s towers when they are in an area where Sprint doesn’t have any towers. So while I was a Sprint customer, and I was in remote areas camping and hiking, I would almost always have a cell signal. Instead of saying, “Sprint LTE” up in the corner of my phone, it would “Extended LTE” or Extended 3G”. Tello uses ONLY Sprint towers, so now if I’m in an area where there ARE cell towers, but no Sprint cell towers, my phone says, “No service”.
At first, this was a deal-breaker for me, but then I did the math. My cell phone coverage would be exactly the same EXCEPT for the 5-6 times per year I travel in remote areas. With Tello, I save $528/year. $528 divided by 6 trips = $88 per trip for cell phone coverage. That seemed like a ridiculous price to pay, so I tried switching to Tello. The thought of switching carriers was intimidating, but I figured I could switch back if I didn’t like it.
I’ve had Tello for over a year. I found I didn’t really miss having cell phone service when hiking/camping. I download the area I’m traveling in Google Maps ahead of time, so that I can still use the GPS, and it’s no big deal.
I used Ting for a while (after using Virgin Mobile for several years). I had trouble with the coverage when in the Midwest. I was at the hospital with my mom and was unable to communicate well with my siblings. That led me to switch a couple years ago to a no contract Verizon plan. I share it with my offspring. It has been better coverage and is not as cheap but still reasonably priced.
Thank you to your commenters for the Verizon reseller suggestions. I will look into them.
This post came at the perfect time. I’m going to switch over to Mint in a few days. Thank you for the tip! 🙂
We moved to consumer cellular. They are an AT&T reseller. For 2 gb data for the two of us combined and unlimited calling it costs $33, with tax, $40. I worked for the phone company for years and wanted US based operations and easy to access support help for issues. Have been extremely happy! Thanks for writing this article. So many good choices for so little!
We’ve been consumer cellular customers for years 🙂 We pay about $80/month for 4 of us, including two teens who are heavy data users. We never have trouble with coverage on the AT&T network and have been happy with their customer service, too.
Oh – you are the comment I have been looking for – with two adults and 4 teenagers in the home we are very heavy on the data used. I will have to look into Consumer Cellular. We are in Massachusetts within 40 miles of Boston and Mint does not cover our area (?) we pay $340 a month for the 6 phones with unlimited everything so I have to be careful with what I switch to as we have never had an issue with coverage other than when in Stowe VT!
I need to use verizon, so I switched to BOOM when you posted previously and have since converted many of my family members to it. We love it!
I’ve used Ting for over a decade and love them. They have fantastic customer service, no waiting. Last year they started offering an unlimited plan, which really is unlimited, no data slow downs, for $48 a month WITH taxes and fees. I use a lot of data at home visits now, over 30 GB last month. Works great.
They also offer 6 months zero interest financing for phones now, which came in handy when my phone died during a time of high expenses. I could have paid outright, but at zero percent I figured why not. It’s also easy to switch between Sprint and T-Mobile network of you travel and go somewhere that only has good coverage with one network. I’ve been incredibly happy with them.
Also, they offer roaming minutes and texting at no charge. There is no data roaming, though.
My husband and I have been on Ting for almost 3 years now. LOVE IT. We weren’t using a lot of data as it was–usually coming in around 1.5 or 2 GB for both of us. The willingness to switch over to an MVNO really depends on what you expect to get out of your phone. As others have mentioned, the network priority or ping speed may be an issue, but for us, the savings was more than worth the small difference in service. We chose Ting because we only pay for what we use and that allows us to have much more control over what we pay each month. It’s also forced me to be more aware of my data usage and that helps keep my screen time down 🙂 Win win!
I inherited an old Tracfone cell phone 15 years ago and have been using them ever since. It’s the same idea, but Tracfone never seems to get the same buzz as these younger whipper-snappers. I paid for some year-long contracts long ago, probably at $100 or $150 a pop, which added so many minutes that I’m still just riding off of those. So now I just extend the contract every year for $50, add 1 GB of data when I need it which is maybe another $50 a year, plus a few bucks for texts. So my phone is probably $10 a month, and my wife’s phone’s around $7 a month because she uses less data. And that’s with iPhones. Ain’t technology grand?
How do these services work when traveling abroad?
My tracfone doesn’t work when travelling abroad. I use whatsapp over WiFi to call home but have had a few glitches when I needed to contact a hotel. Solvable but I’d love to find a plan that I can use out of the country.
Something similar in Germany too. I am not using my phone a lot – so I am OK with a very small data rate and 100 minutes per month and I pay 4,95 Euro per month. But you can get LTE with much more data for 9,95 Euro.
But without a phone.
Hi, also from Germany. I use blau.de as a provider using the eplus Service and pay 8,99€/month for 300 units (either minutes or texts) and 1,75GB Data. That is more than enough for me. 🙂 Here the discount supermarkets like lidl and Aldi also have pretty cheap prepaid plans and the big guy T-mobile has his own cheap prepaid plan Magenta. There are a lot of sites where you can price compare between providers for example https://www.finanztip.de/handytarife/prepaidtarife/#c78265 . I bought my Samsung Phone via amazon – just not the latest generation and I did not want to pay more than 300€ for it. A sidenote to porting/taking your number with you in Germany: you have to pay 25€ to the provider you are leaving to take it with you. I did this two times already and still have my number from my teenyears (like Mrs. FW).
My experience is that a comparison of mobile tariffs in each country makes sense in any case. Thus, really can save a lot of money. I use, for example a congstar tariff so that I can access the D1 network (best network in Germany). Thanks to this page https://www.prepaidguide.de/prepaid , where I found the tariff.
I switched my phone from AT&T to Net10 a few years ago. I think I cut my phone bill from $70 or so to $39. Then when they upgraded the amount of data for the plan, I just downgraded my plan and now I pay $35. I had great coverage everywhere except for my parent’s property where they intended to build a house. Low and behold, this Christmas when we went to stay at the new house, I had coverage! I believe it uses AT&T towers where I live.
Now, my kids just turned 13 and I got them phones since they are starting to split up more often. They had a shared phone on a $15 tracfone plan, so I had to do a little research. There are very rarely MVNO family plans for less than four lines. I decided to purchase them Mint plans at $15 per month and test it out to see if I should also switch. I will say that their coverage isn’t as great. We are a mid-size midwestern city, but apparently there are just dead spots around town for T-mobile towers. It’s kind of bizarre. Also, they didn’t have coverage in a smaller town in the state over when they were at a soccer tournament. I’m not sure if it’s worth switching them away from Mint, but I travel more and don’t think it would work for me. However, I did some research and found Total Wireless has a 3 person family plan for $80 and uses Verizon tower so in the end, if we decide to move them fron Mint, we’ll probably move as a family to total Wireless.
Regarding the limited bandwidth available to an MVNO at a crowded event like a concert or football game, you might not be able to make and receive calls, but often you can text. It requires far less bandwidth to send a simple text (no pictures) than to make a call. This also applies in an earthquake or other disaster – your texts are more likely to get through than your calls when there’s heavy local cell network traffic.
Another great option for those in densely-populated urban areas (like ours) where MVNOs are rated terribly rated for reliability: pre-paid plans.
We made the decision to switch to a pre-paid plan based off of our own research and after a discussion with two friends who both have PhDs in economics and are both telecommunication experts. They happen to have wildly different opinions on things like net neutrality and data prioritization, but they both agreed that pre-paid plans are the best kept secret in large Metro areas.
We pay $81/month, for both phones on a Verizon pre-paid plan, which gives us unlimited calls and text and 15 GB of data on each phone. The bonus? We only pay state sales tax, none of the exorbitant service fees of a post-paid plan apply so that $81 is including tax. $81. Period.
We don’t think we’ll actually end up needing that much data but the special Verizon was running on the 15G plan was good value and we wanted to test the waters before going down to a lower data plan. We are keeping track of how much data we use each month and at the end of summer we will most likely switch to a 3GB plan, which would be $61/month. With the 3GB plan, we’ll be able to buy additional data on the fly if we need it so if we are travelling, or if our home internet is out due to a downed tree like it has been the past three days, we still have options. But we want to measure how incidents like these affect our usage so we don’t end up paying more per year if we switch and then have to buy add-ons.
The low-down: We used to pay $141/month for an unlimited plan and now pay $81/month. Savings of $60/month or $720/year. If we go down to the $61/month plan, that’s another $20/month or $240/year for a total savings of $960/year.
It’s simply amazing to me how much we’ve been able to shave out of our monthly expenses simply by taking the time to research and redirect. So far, we’ve decreased our monthly expenses in the four-figures simply by paying attention to where our money goes and finding better ways to tell it where to go. Thanks for helping us think differently!
Yes, I was going to mention this. Before I switched to Google Fi, I wanted to stick with Verizon. I looked into Red Pocket and a couple of other options that used the Verizon network and ended up on a Verizon pre-paid plan. It was $40/mo with unlimited calls/texts and 2 Gb of data. Plus when I wanted to switch to Fi I wasn’t under contract. Highly recommend it as an alternative if the MVNOs don’t work. Also recommend Fi. I pay a base rate of $20/mo plus whatever data I use at $10/Gb, but that’s pro-rated so if I use 600 mb I pay $6. Some months I pay nothing because of $20 referral credits as well. And my phone just works when I travel abroad. I step off the phone and viola, service. For someone who travels internationally often, this can be a big money saver over carrier’s travel plans or buying multiple SIM cards and data in each country.
I’m trying to understand how Google fi works. Our home internet service is Google fiber and we have a land Line phone with Google phone. Does Google also provide a mobile phone service?
Thank you so much for your very thorough explanation about MNVOs, and for sharing your recommendations and experiences. I am shopping for a new mobile phone carrier right now and will definitely check out Mint and Ting. You are the best.
We’ve been with tracfone for several years and love it. However I stay home and my husband has WiFi at work. If he didn’t have WiFi at work, we would have to research more affordable data options as you stated.
I also use MagicApp to make phone calls via WiFi, so I don’t use minutes usually. It’s $9.99 per year but I like it.
A quick note for Canadian readers: if you need any data at all, the savings are not astounding.
I live in the country where the Rogers network doesn’t extend (Bell network does, which also gives the option of Virgin), and the resellers are at similar prices to Bell/Virgin, and in some cases more expensive than Virgin.
So… here’s hoping that our home internet can improve and maybe cut the need for enough data to keep things running when the home internet goes down for a week, which it does at least once every 2 months… In the meantime, Virgin has decent customer service and the best prices I’ve found, if that helps anyone.
Ok ok – you’ve convinced me to finally give this a shot 🙂 that level of savings is too hard to pass up any longer!
Been a Mint user for about a year and I love it! One additional benefit Mint offers that I didn’t see mentioned:. FREE DATA TETHERING (you can turn your phone into a WiFi hotspot for other devices). Most cell providers charge extra fees for this!!
Good point! Ting does this for free, too. I use it almost daily.
Currently I am using Sprint unlimited everything for FREE for year. In practice that means I pay about $3/month in taxes. Anyone can do this who hasn’t been previous Sprint customer and has an eligible phone.
Typing one handed, so may be curt – broken dominant arm.
Ting started out with Sprint, later added T-Mobile. We were customers early on, but found that all too often we got bumped just barely into the next higher tier.
The best thing is to port your number to Google Voice if you can. We can’t port our home number, it has something to do with service area. Once with GV, you can direct your calls to any number, and you can make calls over wifi. So even if coverage at your house is lousy, if you’ve got decent wifi, no problem. You can even direct your GV number to your landline, if you have one. The other thing about GV is that even if you change cell service, you don’t port, you just redirect your GV number. GV is free, though there is a porting charge, I think.
Also be aware that some ports take longer, for no apparent reason, and I’m not talking about where GV is involved. We had one from AT&T to Sprint recently that took a couple of days. This was from an old secondary line to get a really good rate from Sprint called Unlimited Kickstarter.
We’ve ported all 3 of our cell numbers to GV. Our home number we were able to port to Voipo.com, which is a VOIP provider, so while it acts like a landline with multiple handsets in the house, it isn’t really.
My current cell provider is Verizon MVNO Total Wireless. With auto-refill, I have unlimited talk and text for about $21/month. I add on data for $10 for 5GB – that is not a typo, and the data doesn’t expire as long as the line is active. If you buy refill cards at a store the pricing may be different. I buy from their website. I’ve seen some data cards in stores that were $10 for 2 or 3 GB. If you find them at $10 for 5 GB someplace where you get a loyalty reward, that might make sense. I use little data around home when I can access wifi hotspots, and more when we’re traveling, but we don’t regularly stream. Total has multi-line plans as well, which can be a good deal. We will likely do that, but sometimes it is worthwhile to have service on different networks. For example, Verizon near our high school is lousy, but Sprint is very good, and both AT&T and T-Mobile are near zero. When hubby and I are out together, it can be surprising how different they can be.
I haven’t read all of the other comments, but apart from congestion throttling, be aware than the roaming on other carrier networks which you get with the big carriers directly, and almost invisibly, is usually not included. Sometimes you get roaming for calls, but not for data. You have the same issue with pre-pay plans directly from the carriers. That is why the coverage maps for regular plans and pre-pay can be different. In most parts of the country it makes little difference, but especially some areas out west, it can be major. Also, if you do stream, speeds can be restricted.
Currently I am using Sprint unlimited everything for FREE for year. In practice that means I pay about $3/month in taxes. Anyone can do this who hasn’t been previous Sprint customer and has an eligible phone. After my year ends, I’ll switch to Mint.
I just looked into that and it is $60 a month for unlimited basic. How did you find that deal?
In the search engine (like Google) – type: Sprint unlimited free for year – and it will bring Sprint page with this offer. It is BYOD though (bring your own device) – you will have to type your phone IMEI # on Sprint site and it will check if your phone is compatible with this offer. It worked for my iPhone 6s but it didn’t for grandma’s iPhone 5.
I think this deal is dead. 🙁
For those that travel a lot in the US or abroad, consider GoogleFI. It’s basically an MVNO for Sprint/TMobile/USCellular. Able to switch between those. With the TMobile support, you get international texting included for free, voice at 20c/min, and international data at the regular GoogleFI rate (though it might not be as fast).
It’s a bit more expensive than Ting at $20 for the first line, $10 for additional lines, before data, but that data is just $10/G, which is cheaper than Ting.. But if you need the flexibility, it’s been great for us.
Fi was great when traveling in Europe, uses T-Mobile roaming over there. It didn’t work so well at home, both in network switching and for data charges.
This isn’t necessarily fixed though – We usually pay $25 a month on an average, both using less than our planned data amounts (mine being 0.5GB and my wife 1GB). We absolutely love it – much more reliable than Republic which we had used for years.
So I don’t use an MVNO because I’m over thirty and am still on my parents family plan (sorry, not sorry because I pay $5 a month). However, I’ve known people who use MVNO who have issues using their phone when traveling. They used PagePlus and apparently didn’t have access to all Verizon towers. It wasn’t the same same service as Verizon and they didn’t always have service in other states. Just a consideration for people who travel, especially those who travel to rural areas for work.
And I’ve also heard the same complaint from people who use Cricket!
That’s the lack of roaming on other towers that can do that. I don’t think there’s an issue if they’re on Verizon towers.
I actually had a terrible experience with Republic Wireless. Do I liver uber-rurally? No, I live in downtown Little Rock. Apparently the entire state of Arkansas is considered not worth messing with by the cell phone gods. Terrible service in some places even with Verizon. It has made me very reluctant to switch because even if I can call over wifi, my Xfinity service also routinely drops. I really feel like there is some kind of plot against Arkansans to keep us disconnected or something. Very frustrating. I linked to my blog post about my cell phone fiasco.
Just a note for people looking for an MVNO in the UK: Giffgaff are the best that i’ve found. You can choose monthly the data and calls package you need, and this can be set to recur (with them contacting you a few days before by email if they recommend you adapt the package for the following month), or to pause any package and just use wifi/pay as you go. I hate being locked in to a contract, especially when i regularly travel, and vary i’m staying somewhere with wifi or need to rely on my own data. For price reference they packages start at £6 for 500mbs of data 300 minutes and 500 sms, and run to £20 for 40GB of that data (20GB) that can be used in the EU) with unlimited minutes and calls.
OH! AND = I used Ebates and got $20 back when purchasing the first three months! So $45 plus $20 back!!
I’ve had Ting for over a year and we love it. One thing not mentioned is amazing customer service. You call Ting, you talk to a real person, who knows what they are doing. If they say they are sending you a email, it’s there immediately. They even send followup emails, in case something is still a problem. I love them.
I agree — I’ve used Ting for about five years and have talked to their customer service a handful of times. Each time, a knowledgeable person responded and answered questions and helped find solutions. Rare to find this level of customer service. The site is easy to navigate and I love the app to help me see usage levels. While using my phone outside the US is more complicated (briefly considered Red Pocket), I do it little enough that Ting is still worth it for me.
So, in the event of a wide spread emergency such as an earthquake or wild fire we would be bumped off the service because of too many other users?
I second Tello as a wonderful MVNO of Sprint. I live in Washington DC and before using Tello was using Mint Mobile (back when it was Mint Sim). I eventually switched because the lowest price I could find was $15/month (only for new customers), which provided me with way more data than I needed. That, and the service would occasionally send calls directly to voicemail when I had cell signal, but the voicemail wouldn’t come through until hours later so I would miss a number of calls.
Since I’ve switched to Tello I’ve had none of those service problems. I currently pay $6+taxes a month. I largely use wi-fi calling and texting (either through WhatsApp, Google Voice, Google Hangouts, or similar services) to reduce the number of minutes for which I need to pay.
I feel like there’s a stigma around using MVNOs, but they are AMAZING for the wallet. If you can move past the myths Mrs. Frugalwoods helped disspell in this post and actually try an MVNO you will kick yourself for paying so much for a phone bill previously.
I also use Ting and do love it. One question I do have for Mrs. FW though–how do you keep your cell bill at $21.30 a month? Even with two lines and the lowest tier for everything, Ting would have a base price of $21 which tends to be ~$25 for us with taxes and fees. And that’s only if we stay in the lowest tier for everything which takes pretty careful management-we usually go over in at least one tier each month unless I’m very vigilant.
Some tips if you do go with a pay as you go plan that we’ve used to try and keep our bill low:
– Turn off cellular data and only turn it on if you need it (i.e. you’re lost in an unfamiliar city). This keeps you from accidentally using tons of data with, say, Outlook when you’re trying to get it to download your work calendar because you can’t remember where your first meeting is (ask me how I know. . .)
– Use Google Voice whenever you’re in wifi. That way, you don’t use minutes. I recently switched to a Google Pixel and it has apparently gotten clever and is using my phone to dial out even when I start in the Hangouts app so my minute usage has increased drastically in the last three months. I’m working to figure out a way to fix that. My husband has a Galaxy and it works fine with Hangouts Dialer (i.e. doesn’t use his minutes). The only thing to note is that I had to use two numbers to get everything forwarding correctly since we have no cell service at our house (otherwise, it goes into an infinite loop), so when I dial out, my number is different than what most people call me with. It doesn’t seem to bother anyone though.
– If you have an Apple phone, their SMS messages are sent over a special Apple thing called iMessage and actually don’t count towards your message limit for Ting. Not sure exactly why, but it’s something that I hadn’t taken into consideration when switching from an iPhone to an Android, so I wanted to point it out here since it might make the iPhone a more attractive option if you text a lot of other people with iPhones. It also makes switching to Android hard because Apple takes your number hostage and you have to go to their website to release it.
What about traveling oversees? How do MVNOs work in Canada or Europe for instance?
Not sure about Canada but to work in Europe you would have to make sure your phone supports European GSM frequencies (often sold as “international” versions of phones) and purchase a prepaid SIM from the country you are traveling in. Many phones support dual SIM cards for this purpose. So long story short, U.S. domestic MVNOs do not work in Europe, so you must purchase a prepaid SIM card from a European service provider in the area you are planning to travel.
I am a happy Republic Wireless customer in a large metro area in the Northeast. I pre-paid a year of service to save even more money. When that’s up I might explore options that would provide international service without needing to swap SIM cards, but I’ve done fine using wifi only on my most recent trips. Now that I’ve discovered MVNOs I can’t believe that I paid 3x the price per month, or that I thought an iPhone was essential. My $200 Android does the job perfectly well.
This is something I’m going to keep in mind. We currently have a grown child who added us to her plan, so our cell phones are free. She refuses payment. However, if we get off her plan, I’d like to look at this option. Our best coverage is currently Verizon, but that might change. Thanks for explaining this, because I’d heard of these but was clueless. No longer!
Great story, thank you so much! I will share with others. AT&T is the ONLY provider that works at our house — we have Consumer Cellular. Very happy with the price for 2 lines ($40/month plus tax for 250 minutes & 2 GB shared data). Once in awhile we go over on minutes or data and they auto-upgrade with no penalty and it’s easy to change back the next month. LOVE the U.S. based tech support.
Ooo, this post came at a good time! We currently pay $58 a month for two phones through Verizon (which I know is fairly cheap), but we’ve been looking into Tello for the exact reason that we’d pay about $20 a month for the two of us. We actually don’t own smartphones, but Verizon doesn’t currently offer any no-data plans, which means we’re actually paying for data we don’t use. You brought up a lot of good points in this post that have been on my mind a lot lately (like the coverage issue and switching our phone numbers), so thanks again for another great post!
For the past 4 years, I’ve had great luck buying used unlocked iPhones on swappa.com. It seems to me much more trustworthy than eBay and because they take lower fees from sellers, the prices are lower too. Sellers are quick to reply to questions, there are lots of detailed photos of the actual phone you will be buying, and you can ask for the exact battery health percentage.
I usually try to buy my used iPhones in October, after the new phones come out, and always buy a phone that is one generation old. If you look carefully on swappa, you can often find phones that still have AppleCare warranties with time remaining, giving an additional source of confidence in the sale.
When I’ve had the phone for 2 or 3 years, I buy a “new” one-generation-old phone and sell my well-used one. I’m surprised how much money I can get even for an older iPhone, if it’s in good condition!
For carriers, I’ve been using tello.com (Sprint MNVO) over the past year in suburban Boston, changing after 2 years with Ting because tello gives me even more for my money. Customer service is not quite as good as Ting, but certainly adequate. Lack of data roaming agreements could be a deal breaker if you live in/go to areas with sparse Sprint coverage.
This was such a timely post for me. I thought I was saving before, now my monthly bill is 15.00! Now if I could just save on my WI Fi at home. I come here to not only read Frugal Woods but I also love to read the comments. Lots of good stuff on this blog.
Ting is the most interesting MVNO out there, because you can use T-Mobile OR Sprint — and even mix and match having different phones on your account on different networks.
That said, to the claim that MVNO service is EXACTLY the same as being on the major network, that’s not entirely true (but it’s close). The ONE service difference is that Ting does NOT allow any data roaming, period. Not as in “it will cost you more,” but “it does not exist at all.” What does this mean? Use the T-Mobile network and roam onto an AT&T tower (or use Sprint and roam onto a Verizon tower), and you’ll be able to place voice phone calls, but won’t have any data access at all.
As a fellow Ting (via Sprint) user, I have to say that I’m finding it really hard to believe under $11/phone, unless you’re basically never using the phone, as that would require under 100 voice minutes/under 100 texts/under 100MB data between 2 phones to get to that total. I thought I was doing pretty well normally coming in at $36 for 2 lines pre-tax.
I’ve been with Republic Wireless for six years and always had great coverage in bigger cities like Orlando. Now that we moved to Wyoming, the only real network around here is Verizon, so we had to do some DIGGING to come up with Pix Wireless (a Verizon MVNO). My husband is trying it out first before I switch over (most of my calling is at home on WiFi anyway), and so far he’s had full coverage out in the mountains on hikes plus all around our new small town. MVNOs make so much sense b/c it’s really not an interruption in our day-to-day standard of living, and we get the service for a fraction of the price!
After reading your post twice, then combine websites of Ting, Mint, and several other providers, I pulled the trigger today and ordered my kit from Mint. I’ve been with T-mobile for over 15 years now and while I pay only $70 all-in, seeing how much I could save blew my mind. I went to the Mint website today and found they had a promotion for new users, buy 3 months with 8gb of data and get 3 months free. All in with shipping and taxes cost me $66.94, with 3 months for free, that’s a 50% savings. After those 6 months I can renew with the 12 month plan and pay $20 per month if all works out in the data department.
Compared to my T-mobile plan which costs me $840 per year, I’m looking at paying an estimated $275 for my first year with Mint, a savings of $565 per year or $47.08 per month…WOW, WOW, WOW. I love being frugal and am on track to having my individual expenses drop below $14k next year. Currently engaged and layed out a budget to my fiance which blew their mind, showing them we could live off of less than $20k per year making nearly $115k. Posts like yours help those of us wishing to save a lot of our hard earned money for ourselves, that it is possible.
I’ve been reading FIRE blogs for 5+ years, and everyone touts these cheap cell phone plans…but this is the first post that actually persuaded me to get off my rear and SIGN UP! I switched to Ting a few weeks ago, and I anticipate monthly savings in the $62 range. Thanks so much for spurring me to action with this great post!
Yay! So glad to hear it!!!
After reading your post, I’m going to consider changing my cell phone provider. It’s crazy how much we all spend on our phones. Thanks for this blog!
Anyone know of an MNVO that allows flip phones?
I use a flip phone with Ting and it works fine. Every phone has an ID number known as an IMEI or an MEID number. If you give Ting this number they can tell you if your phone will work with Ting. To find this number for your phone go to Ting.com and see “Check your phone”.
This is great information and thank you for sharing it. Until I stumbled on to your blog I never knew about MVNOs and Ting.
Thanks a lot for the great info. I have signed up for Ting and hope to start using the service in a few days when I receive the sim-card. T-Mobile prices were a shock when I relocated from Austria (where mobile service and mobile internet were free if one owned their phone and did not call outside the EU). I hope Ting will work, though their customer service is non-existent. I called several times but there was a recording every time that there was a heavier call load and to call later. Can you also do a post on cheaper internet? Xfinity is too expensive and Comcast told me that my internet charges would go even further up if I removed cable which I never use.
This is great! The only concern is that, well, I have a toddler. And although I can purchase a new phone from basically anywhere (once my S7 dies), my decision hinges upon the lack of insurance that Mint provides for Androids. Anyone have insight on this?
If you’ll want to use your phone in other countries, most of these MVNOs won’t be a good option for you. Several of them offer free international calling to at least a couple of countries, but don’t offer international roaming. If you want international roaming and you use use very little data, you’re probably best off switching to Google’s Fi.
If you use more than a couple gigs of data per month and want to be able to use your phone in the US, Canada and Mexico, you’re probably best off with “Metro by T-mobile” (formerly MetroPCS) — the plan we’re on includes 2 lines of unlimited data, plus 15GB of hotspot usage (using your phone to give other devices wi-fi), plus Amazon Prime and 1GB of Google One cloud storage, for $80/mo. Unlimited Canada/Mexico usage is $5/mo more per line, and gives you 5GB of hotspot usage in those countries. Right now that Metro deal includes 2 ok Android phones (Samsung Galaxy A20) for new customers.
Alternately, you can use a cheaper MVNO, then swap in a 3rd party SIM when you travel. A clear drawback to that is that your phone number changes when you change SIMs, so you wouldn’t get any calls or texts to sent your main phone number until you put your original SIM back in. Past times I’ve looked, I haven’t come up with good travel SIM options that don’t require a monthly minimum fee… I’m still periodically looking for a good “pay only when you use” travel SIM.
Thank you for this article. I’ve been using Metro PCS for about a year now and it cut my bill in half. I pay $36 a month for my phone with unlimited data. I think i could go even less if I looked at my data usage. thanks for the tip!
My wife and I have Iphones and have a Verizon plan through my company (I am one of the owners). The plan allows us to make calls and texts to and from the US, Canada and Mexico (including data). However the price is roughly $60 per phone. We plan to spend several months in Mexico this winter. Does Ting, Mint or the other plans include the ability to travel to Mexico (or Canada) and to use our phones essentially the same as if we were in the US?
One thing about MVNO’s: they generally super-compress media that you send to others. This is to save on the data usage in your plan. Photos and videos will be so compressed that they will look fine on the receiver’s device, but if they were to save the photo to their device and attempt to print it later, it would show up on the desktop as a tiny pixelated file – not one you can print. Attempting to watch MVNO-received videos on a desktop is equally worthless.
The obvious and easy workaround it to capture these moments with your device’s native apps, and if you intend to share them with friends or family for printing offload them and email them or upload them to a full resolution file sharing program when you are on wi-fi.
I switched from Verizon to Ting. Our household phone bill plummeted $30+. Totally worth it.
Not sure if anyone else said this. But do not use visable. They are two new and horrible. I have used straight talk for years with no issues. I was thinking of switching to visable because of their family type deal. Which would be 100 for 4 people. I switched mine over with no issues. But porting my wife’s over went horrible. They use Verizon to port numbers over. Somehow it got stuck at Verizon and a week later they still couldn’t fix it. Even though they insure it will be fixed in 24-48 hours. Basically this is all they tell you is they are sorry for the inconveniences and it will be fixed in 24-48 hours. The next person you talk to has no idea what they said was going to happen, then apologize and tell you 24-48 hours. She ended up loosing her long time phone number and getting a new number back on straight talk. Basically it seems like can’t fix any issues from what I find online when looking into visable complaints. If everything goes smoothly it seems fine. But any little issue never gets fixed. I’m sure others are better and straight talk has been great and alot cheaper than Verizon. But others meantioned here might be just as good. Just do not try visable unless you want to risk issues and loosing you phone number.
Thank you everyone for all of the comments! I am leaving Verizon after 10 plus years. I can not believe how cheap you guys get phone service! I had thought about going the Walmart mobile route, but $10 a month. I was paying $80 just for internet for 5 phones.
I use Cricket Wireless which runs in the AT&T network and I absolutely recommend, service is great. I pay $60 a month for unlimited talk, text, high-speed 4G LTE and 15 GB of hotspot usage. Can’t beat it.
Does anyone know of an MVNO that will allow flip phones? My husband doesn’t want to switch over to a smartphone, so that’s why we haven’t made the move to an MVNO. I’d love to save the money though!!
I use a flip phone with Ting and it works fine. Every phone has an ID number known as an IMEI or an MEID number. If you give Ting this number they can tell you if your phone will work with Ting. To find this number for your phone go to Ting.com and see “Check your phone”.
thank you so much for this post ( also in the frugal January posts). thanks to switching to Ting my husband and I are saving about 50$ a month and we would have never known about this without reading your posts. thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and tips with us.
Hey Mrs. Frugalwoods! Thank you for these tips; I am getting ready to swap over to an MVNO and start saving!! One thing I wanted to alert you and your readers to is the risk of sim-swapping. This is an identity theft tactic in which hackers impersonate the target, convince the phone company to send them a new sim card, then swap the target’s number over to that new sim and use it to get into bank accounts, email accounts, etc. using 2-factor authentication. It’s a type of attack that is becoming more common and is obviously very damaging!
The reason that this is relevant to MVNOs is that many MVNOs do not have as robust protections against sim swapping as the major carriers. On most (maybe all?) of the big 4 carriers, you can set up a pin to protect your account from impersonation, but this isn’t available on all MVNOs (e.g. Mint – see here: https://community.mintmobile.com/ask-a-question-14/sim-swap-number-port-out-attacks-537).
One relatively easy fix is to set up a VoIP (e.g. Google Voice) number to use as the 2-factor authentication number for accounts and make sure to secure this account well (using, for example, an authenticator app or hardware security key). More info on how to do that here: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/zm8a9y/how-to-protect-yourself-from-sim-swapping-hacks
Keeping bank accounts secure is an important part of financial health, so I wanted to share this information 🙂
That is an awesome point., Ruth.
Ting is going to be offering Verizon as well very soon.
This post may need to be updated…Ting now (Feb 2020) for 1 line 100 mins, 100 txts, 100 MB per month…for $15/month. So if you don’t really use your phone then this will work.
I use Ting with a good old flip phone (Kyocera Kona) for calls and messages, and I’m very happy with their service and cost. I notice there is no mention of phone ID numbers in the post. Every phone has an ID number known as an IMEI or an MEID number. If you give Ting this number they can tell you if your phone will work with Ting. To find this number for your phone go to Ting.com and see “Check your phone”.
I’m planning on getting a newer flip phone that allows internet access – any suggestions for a phone model will be appreciated!
I thought this thread might be interested in some (contractually thinly veiled) news from Ting on our new carrier:
I just want to say Thank You so very much for writing this article about the MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator). I am now officially done with T-Mobile ( I used to pay around $70 a month, $840 a year, $8,400 a decade). I was with them for more than a decade, with the amount that I used to pay them, I can practically purchase a used decent car, stupid me! I am now with Ting ($15 per month, $180 a year with unlimited text + call, 3 GB data plan). Thank you again! I really enjoy reading everything you and your other half write, please do continue, and take care.
I made the switch to Ting from AT&T in March. I’ve been very frugal with my cell phone regarding data use, relying solely on Wifi most of the time, and then only utilizing cellular for the bare minimum (phone/texts) and sometimes google maps when necessary. Still, I was paying $65/month. Now with Ting, I actually have better cell service with Ting, and my monthly bill is $16.74 per month including tax etc. I also live in Vermont in a small town rural area so the good cellular reception was a very pleasing surprise.
I am on Red Pocket and want to have reliable service when I use google maps or waze to navigate in Bloomington and Bloomington to Indianapolis, IN area. ATT and Verizon gives good coverage here. Will any MVNO fail to connect to satellites when I’m on the highways and thus get wrong navigation directions such as when roads are blocked or has traffic? I guess it could if many users are on ATT and/or Verizon at the same time. Does roaming service with MVNO solve this?
My issue with using MVNOs is that when I move from one to another, there always seems to be some technical issue that makes it a lot harder to do than you suggest.
For example, I have an iPhone. RedPocket says that they have a plan for $2.50/month if you purchase a prepaid card for one year. That’s $30 PER YEAR. They also have a $60/year plan ($5/month) that gives you a little more data and only 1/2 the minutes and # of texts. That seems odd, but anyway…
So last year I tried to put the $30/year plan on three of our family phones, only to find that it would only work with one phone, because it had to support a specific carrier and type of network. Then this year when I go to renew it, I’m told that they no longer support GSMA–the phone has to be compatible with the GSMT network. So I ask them, “Is my phone compatible with GSMT?” They say, “If it’s unlocked it is.” OK, well, I’ve been using it with your service for the last year, and still using it today. It must be unlocked, right? The reply, “We can’t say for sure, because you didn’t buy the phone from us. You need to go back to where you bought your phone and ask if it’s unlocked.” Really? You can’t tell me that it’s unlocked or not, based on the fact that I am using your service already? All I wanted to do was to continue using their service, but they seemed to be trying to find ways to keep me from sending them money.
It’s always something like that with MVNOs. I have tried T-Mobile, I’ve tried Tello, I’ve tried Ting, I’ve used PagePlus for years, but got tired of their poor customer service call quality and brain dead support personnel. That might be unfair to the support people, but PagePlus clearly seems to have trained their people to just “follow the on-screen script.” No thinking or common sense seems to be allowed.
So, being the frugal guy that I am, I keep looking for the perfect package. RedPocket was pretty close. I could be quite happy with $2.50/month because we use our cellphones for quick things, and rarely use even close to the 100 or 200 minutes a month. We have our cell phones for peace of mind, really, and an occasional quick call. Everything else is done on a cheap (free) VOIP phone at home. But there are so many cotton-pickin’ techno details that have to all line up, and none of them make it very easy to navigate them. RedPocket took the cake today for me. I’m so disgusted that I am looking for another MVNO again, although I think I may have to just end up having to eat crow and figure out a way to make it work at RedPocket, because that price is–so far–the lowest monthly cost I’ve found anywhere for a simple emergency plan.
What service do you have for a backup landline phone service and what equipment do you use for it? I remember, you posted a blog some time ago about it.