I mentioned earlier this year our current cell phone plan contract expires in May, though we are already eligible for a contract renewal with our current provider. With so many cell phone options available, I want to make sure we’re getting the most bang for our buck. I don’t want to be paying for minutes, text messages, or data that we don’t use. On the other hand, I don’t want to get caught in a plan with too few minutes/texts/data and get hit with overages all the time. So, I decided to do some digging…
Step 1: What services do we actually use?
The first part of my analysis was to determine exactly what cell phone services we actually use, and to what extent do we use them. So, I logged on to my wireless account and pulled some reports. First, I must say I was pleasantly surprised in the reporting that my current wireless company (AT&T) provides. In a few mouse clicks, I had the last nine months worth of usage for minutes, text messages, and data for both my wife and my cell phone lines.
To start things off, here are the basics of our current plan. We’re on a family plan through AT&T. The plan provides 550 shared anytime minutes, plus unlimited night and weekend minutes and unlimited calling to other AT&T customers. It also provides 200 MB of data for each of our phones (we both have the old iPhone 3GS). Along with minutes and data, our plan also provides 1,000 text messages for each line. Our plan costs around $115 a month for the two lines.
In looking through our usage, my wife and I have very different usage patterns. In terms of minutes, my wife uses an average of 2,250 minutes a month while I use around 250. Obviously this is a lot more than the 550 anytime minutes included in our plan, but the bulk of our minutes are to family that are also AT&T customers. In terms of text messages, we both tend to use around 700 a month. In terms of data, I am always right at my 200 MB data limit and have to basically turn the data functionality of my phone off for the last week or two of the month so I don’t go over it and get charged extra. However, my wife has never really used much of her data.
So, let’s summarize here: My wife uses 2,250 minutes, 700 text messages, and around 100 MB of data per month. I use 250 minutes, 700 text messages and 200 MB of data (though I could definitely use more).
Step 2: What plans are available that would meet our needs?
Now that we have an idea of what we use, I need to research what plans are out there. There are several options here. We could continue with our current plan on a month-to-month basis (with our same phones). We could renew our contract for another two-years (with new phones). We could cancel our current plan and go with another plan.
I did some research, and honestly most plans are so similar to one another that it doesn’t make much difference, at least in terms of price. I looked at family plans at all the major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile), some regional carriers (US Cellular, Cricket), and some discount no-contract carriers (Wal-Mart’s family mobile and SmartTalk). The discount no-contract plans were cheapest, but the phone selection was very limited and fairly expensive. I did the math, and over a typical two-year contract period, the monthly savings with the lower plan cost was almost totally offset by the upfront price of the phones.
I was somewhat hopeful that by doing all of this research, I could find us a really good deal on wireless service. Maybe I got a little carried away with my expectations.
Step 3: Decide on a plan
In the end, we renewed our contract with AT&T for another two years. We also modified it a bit and signed up for their mobile share plan with 1 GB of data to share between our two lines. The plan also includes unlimited calling and texting (though those weren’t major factors in our decision). It’s slightly higher at $130 a month, but now I don’t have to worry about running out of data with two weeks remaining in the month and being hit with a data overage fee.
I use my phone for almost all of my blog activity besides actually writing the posts. I read and reply to e-mails, tweet, read and comment on other blogs, respond to comments on my own blog, and do a lot of my personal finance research on my phone while on my lunch hour at work. When I run out of data with two weeks to go in the month, it really takes a lot of productivity away. So, while I know our new cell phone plan is $15 a month higher, I believe I can and should be able to make it up with increased productivity.
Have any of you had any interesting experiences looking for a cell phone plan? What did you end up doing?
Stay tuned next week for my review of our new phones: Windows Phone 8X by HTC