In Part 1 of this series, we went over special considerations for military families regarding cell phone service and questions families should ask themselves when considering switching to a less costly option. In this part, we’ll review some of the many budget services out there. Be aware that these deals can and will change.
Ting is a pay-as-you-go model that adjusts to your actual usage. If you are disciplined (or very budget-minded!) you can even pay as little as $12 per month for a line with minimal voice and texting and no data. More typically, an example family with 4 lines using 500 minutes, 1000 texts, and 3 GB of data in a month would pay $68. (You can add lines for $6/each to the basic Ting plan.) It’s a good choice for families who are able to be somewhat conservative with their minutes, texts, and especially data, in exchange for the advantage of low cost. You do have to bring your own phone (which you can buy used or new—most, but not all, phones are supported) with this plan. Ting uses the Sprint and T-Mobile networks (you choose), so coverage is okay but not the best possible. Ting is known for good customer service.
If you’re willing to go with a limited stable of 9 (decent quality) Android phones, Republic Wireless offers a very competitive pricing, starting at $20/month for unlimited talk and text plus 1 GB data. You have to get a separate plan for each phone when you use Republic, but this isn’t necessarily a reason for families to avoid the plan. An example family of 4 would have to pay a minimum of $80 month, but for that, they would get unlimited talk and text plus 4 GB of data. You can also upgrade or downgrade your plan by the month to add more or less data as needed. Republic keeps you on Wi-Fi wherever possible for savings, which may result in a slight decrease in call quality. Like Ting, Republic uses the Sprint and T-Mobile networks.
With a starter plan of 100 minutes/100 texts/100 MB at just $9, this can be a very cheap plan, but this is usage level is likely unrealistic for many. There is also no family plan here either, so each person has to decide on his or her own plan. A more reasonable plan offering 250 minutes, 500 texts, and 1 GB of data per person would ring in at $25 per person. Multiplied by 4, for an example family, this is $100—too much to pay for what you get. This plan would probably mostly be good for people able to maintain low usage who want a very low-cost service. You need to bring your own phone, and US Mobile uses the T Mobile network.
Google Fi is another no-contract service with some unique angles. The basic package is $20/month, which gives you unlimited calling and texting. (You can add family members at a cost of $15/month each.) You are then charged $10 per GB of data, with one different feature being that you are refunded (that is, the amount goes back to your account) for every “piece” of a GB you do not use. It’s hard to assign a price to a “example” family of 4 here due to the refund aspect, but for unlimited talk and text and assuming 1GB of data each with no refund, a family of 4 would pay $105 per month. This is a bit high, but the international calling and the improved network coverage may make it worth it for some.
Fi’s SIM card allows you to use coverage from Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular, giving better coverage than other resellers that rely on one network. Like Republic, it also relies on Wi-Fi whenever possible, which may result in decreased call quality. A major advantage to GoogleFi for military families is that the service works seamlessly in over 135 different countries (you’ll need to check their website for rates, but they appear reasonable). This alone may make this service the right choice for some.
One potential big disadvantage to GoogleFi is that you are very limited on phone type. Right now, there are just 3 choices.
Mint’s special angle is that it gives you a discount for buying service in advance, allowing them to offer good deals like $12/month for unlimited talk and text plus 2 GB of 4G LTE and unlimited speed-throttled data (if you pay for 3 months upfront). Although they call themselves “no contract,” this does sound a bit like a contract. Mint uses the T-Mobile network and requires you to bring your own unlocked phone. International roaming is also an option with the plan. If you’re willing to take a chance on a newer service and commit, this looks like a good deal, but it might be wise to take a look at its customer service record.
Cricket uses the AT&T network. Like other budget plans, you bring your own phone, but unlike some of these options, you have many choices, including the iPhone. Plans start at $30 per line for unlimited talk and text and 1 GB of high-speed data. Cricket provides discounts for family plans, so our example family of 4 could get unlimited talk and text and 5 GB of data to share (plus additional slower data that is unlimited) for $80/month: a good deal. This could be an excellent plan for heavy users who want a lot of phone choice but who also want to bring their costs down somewhat.
The “Big 4”
We’re not reviewing the traditional “big 4” (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile) here since most customers are familiar with or will “find” their plans on their own. Their deals also change frequently. In general, you can expect to pay $120-$200 per month for a family of 4 for unlimited talk and text and various larger quantities of data (4 GB-10GB+, to unlimited). These plans, though more expensive than the other options here, will be the best choice for some families.
Families should definitely ask about discounts with these major players; at time of writing, all 4 offered 15% discounts to at least some military members on at least some plans. Proof of service (military ID) is necessary. Be aware, however, that this may well not be the best option, and that service members have complained about discounts not applying, applying only on “Cadillac” plans, or not being worth it.
This monthly bill is one that can creep up in amount over time without us really focusing on how much it’s costing us. However (along with other recurring costs like cable, utilities, groceries, and so on), it can be an excellent place to find savings—as long families understand the tradeoffs they’re making. These less expensive options will be worth considering for some who want to cut their budgets and increase savings and decrease debt.