Reevaluating Your Wireless Service

Back in the sixth grade, my reading teacher Mrs. Wheaton assigned the book “Cheaper By The Dozen.” You may be familiar with the title, thanks to the 2003 movie starring Steve Martin; the original book by Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, however, is dramatically different. In the biographical novel, the two siblings recount their father’s life as an efficiency expert. The elder Frank Gilbreth increased the efficiency not only of businesses, but of his own household as well, streamlining everything from his 12 children’s morning routines to how they prepared dinner and everything in between.

These days, though, I can’t help but think how Frank Gilbreth Sr. would be turning over in his grave if he knew about the cell phone plans employed by my friends, family members, and colleagues.

Meet The Customers

Let me start by reviewing the cell phone plans of three key people in my life – I’m not naming names in order to protect the innocent, because chances are, at least two of the people I’m describing here read this blog (You can thank me for my discretion later).

* Person A – This person is a Verizon wireless customer. He currently has one of the cell phone plans his carrier recently eliminated: a package of 750 anytime minutes plus 250 texts a month for $59.98. As long as he doesn’t change his plan, he’ll be grandfathered into it, meaning Verizon will allow him to continue using their wireless service under the same terms.

* Person B – This person is the head of a household that includes a spouse, a teenager, and a ‘tween. Mom and Dad are on one family plan that includes talk, text, and data to accommodate their smartphones; their kids are on another plan that gives them only talk and text capability. Both are family plans, and both are available through T-Mobile for a combined cost of $188.97.

* Person C – This person is an AT&T customer, who uses the company’s wireless service for her iPhone. She pays for nationwide unlimited calling and texting, as well as a mid-range data plan; in all, she pays $119.98 a month.

On the surface, none of the above wireless plans sounds like that bad of a deal… until you examine how each individual is using their cell phone.

Monthly Usage Habits

Person A has a limited number of minutes and text messages to use month to month. That may leave you to think that he is fairly disciplined with his cell phone use – but he isn’t. In fact, he recently complained to me that he’d gone over his monthly minutes six months in a row, with every additional minute costing him $0.45. He pays a $0.20 overage for every text over his monthly limit of 250. Even though his basic service plan costs him just $59.98, he estimates he’s spent an average of twice that over the past six months. So why doesn’t he switch? He’s stuck on the price tag for a now-retired deal; he’s loathe to change it, since he knows once he does, he’ll never be able to get it back.

Person B is actually paying for two family plans through T-Mobile. The first is for he and his wife; they have Droids, and spend a lot of time talking, texting, and surfing the web on their phones. They pay for an unlimited plan for themselves. They have a lower-cost plan for their two kids, restricted to just text and talk; they say their children don’t need the Internet access. However, their kids’ plan doesn’t have unlimited talk and text, and the two children routinely go over their 500 shared monthly text messages (they do just fine with the shared 1000 monthly voice minutes; apparently kids don’t talk on the phone anymore).

Person C has the iPhone 4S as well as the fancy monthly data plan to go with it, which as you know, is totally cool with me since she can afford it. Yet, she rarely uses it. She also has a separate smartphone through her job, with her company footing the monthly bill for it. She really only uses her personal phone on the nights and weekends, and rarely at that, since she hates the idea of being tied at the hip to her phone.

The Right Person, The Wrong Plan

Each of these cell phone plans works – just not for the person who is currently using it.

Person A and Person C should switch cell phone plans. Person A is already paying $120 a month for text and talk, and he’s pining after a new smartphone that would let him surf the Internet. Person C, since she already has a work smartphone, wouldn’t be inconvenienced by a less bulky wireless plan that better-matched her habits. She might not be able to get the retired plan Person A has, but could still nab a 900-minute plan for $59.99 a month.

What about Person B and family? Many wireless carriers have been working on new family data plans, including Verizon and AT&T, who may roll out the shared-data option as early as this summer. Person B would be an excellent candidate for this, since they could allot a certain amount of data for each phone. Even if they didn’t, combining under the parents’ family plan makes more sense than what they’re currently doing. T-Mobile and just about every other major carrier out there right now allows plan owners to restrict Internet access (as well as phone and text access) to individual numbers on family plans, meaning Person B could still surf the web even if his kids couldn’t.

Adding a 500 minute, unlimited text plan for each of their two kids under the parents’ plan would bring their monthly bill to $159.98, saving them nearly $30 a month.

This is even worse than my brother’s $900 AT&T bill. In that case, it was a one-time fee (that we got removed), in these cases, people are throwing money down the drain month after month.

Reader, are you paying for more wireless service than you need? Or are you clinging to a plan that isn’t big enough under the guise that you’re saving money?

4 Responses to Reevaluating Your Wireless Service

  1. Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter says:

    I’m happy with the plan my husband and I have and we take full advantage of it. We each have a 4G Android (Samsung Epic) with unlimited data, talk, and text. With all fees and taxes, our monthly bill is $145. We rarely use that many of the anytime minutes, but we use a ton of data and I never want to have to think twice about texting or giving someone a call. I actually do not know if we have a current deal or one we were grandfathered into…

  2. Kathleen @ Frugal Portland says:

    My parents recently added me to their plan — it was an extra $20 for them each month, a lot cheaper than my $100/month plan!

  3. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I think researching and being a loyal customer is key when it comes to cell phone plans. Always call, ask for discounts and know what you need.

  4. Noah says:

    If you want to use an iPhone cheaply with unlimited everything, switch to Straighttalk for $45/month with no contract. Cricket and Virgin Mobile will also have sub-$50 plans this month for the iPhone. Don’t be screwed over using one of the big three :)

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