How to defeat your $100/month cell phone plan

This post is long overdue, as cell phone hacking is low hanging fruit in terms of expense optimization. Here’s how I have done it for the past decade, saving us over $10k in the process.

 

Google Voice – The Key Ingredient

Google Voice (https://voice.google.com/) is the critical component of our phone setup. What does Google Voice do?

  • Gives me free personal phone number.
  • If you download the Google Hangouts app, you can make and receive calls to any US number for free when connected to wifi.
  • If you download the Google Voice app, you can text for free when connected to wifi.
  • It provides me a free land line at home when coupled with this device.
    • My wife and I both have our GV accounts linked to the OBI device and have configured it to give distinctive rings for my calls vs my wife’s.
  • When someone calls my Google Voice number, I have configured my Google Voice Account to route to my work, my cell, and my home VOIP box.
    • No matter which device I pick up on, the person calling me has no idea of the underlying “complexity”. They just know that I pick up or not.
  • Google Voice handles my voicemail for me, providing excellent voicemail transcription. I never listen to voice mails any more.

The above is how I make/receive free calls and texts at home/work, where I spend 90% of my waking hours.

 

The below image shows my Google Voice settings. 2 linked phone numbers, one for work and one for my prepaid phone.

 

Prepaid Cell Plan

What about the 10% of my waking hours I’m elsewhere, like biking to/from work or at a kid’s soccer game? I use my prepaid cell phone plan and pay by the minute (I use Tello, which runs on Sprint’s network https://tello.com/rates/pay_as_you_go). You can use this strategy with any prepaid plan if you don’t like Tello.

 

Downsides of the Above Configuration

When I make outbound calls from my home VOIP device (or alternatively the Google Hangouts app), I simply dial a number and the outbound caller ID works great.

When I make outbound calls from my work, I initiate the call on the Google Voice webpage. Google calls me first then completes the call. Outbound caller ID works great.

When I make outbound calls from the road, the outbound caller ID shows up as my throw away prepaid number. There are probably ways around this but I frankly don’t care enough to implement them. I simply tell my friends/family the following. Enter into your phone two contacts for me:
* FrugalProfessor=GoogleVoiceNumber
* FrugalProfessorPleaseDon’tEverCallOrTextMeAtThisNumber=PrepaidSimNumber

 

What about Data?

If you are like me, you spend 90% of your waking hours with free Wifi. So data is pointless here.

If you use your phone for navigation, like I do, you can download and use the offline version of google maps. I have my entire state downloaded. When I travel for work, I download a map of the city I’m going to, usually at the airport.

Podcasts download automatically for me overnight at home, yet I listen to them on the road.

However, if I’m in a pinch I’ll pay $0.02/MB for data. I simply turn data on, do my business, then turn it off. Simple as that. For reference, calling an Uber takes about 2-3 MB.

 

Wrapping it up

Without committing to anything, you can sign up for Google Voice, get a free number, download the free apps, link your cell phone, and maybe even try the VOIP box. If you try it out and like it, port your cell number to GV and call it a day. It may take you an hour to get used to the above configuration.

The upside is that you can pay less than $10/year for a perfectly functioning phone system. The downsides are…..uh….you won’t be able to stream Netflix while driving (well you actually could if you simply planned ahead and downloaded them ahead of time for offline use)?

 

 

*** My friend Scott left an insightful comment below that is worth checking out. He makes a great suggestion for a low cost plan if you need to use your phone on the road more than I use mine.

7 thoughts on “How to defeat your $100/month cell phone plan

  1. It’s not a “frugal”, but since I often need cellular data for work, we’ve used an MVNO named Ting to great success. They used tiered pricing (separately for minutes, data, and texts) rather than pay per minute, but zero usage costs $0, the first tier is only $3, and the other tiers are very reasonable. You do have to pay $6/month/line, but it is much easier to scale up or down depending on your needs each month. It’s easy to “bring your own device”, which is what we have often done by separately purchasing used smartphones for very cheap.

    Additionally, Ting provides CDMA service via Sprint’s network (with voice/text roaming on Verizon!) OR GSM service via T-Mobile’s network. It is easy to switch between the two if needed (just need to switch SIM cards). (Not sure what will happen if Sprint and T-Mobile merge, but I’m guessing not much will change.) To me, voice roaming on Verizon is a very useful feature because it more-or-less ensures that I can get voice service in most places.

    Overall there is a lot of flexibility, and we have been able to keep the bill quite low each month (but obviously not $1/month low).

    • Scott,

      Thanks for chiming in with the helpful comment! I’ll update the post to reference your comment.

      Certainly what I’m proposing is the bare bones plan, which for my situation is more than adequate. In your situation with the need for mobile for work, you’re killing it with Ting.

      I think both of us agree that it’s irrational to pay full price for service from the big carriers when the MVNO carriers provide the same service at a fraction of the cost. I know a lot of bloggers like Republic Wireless, Google FI, etc.

  2. Like Scott above I use Ting for voice calling, but instead of being happy with that I got a dual SIM phone and use the free 700MB/month data on FreedomPop as well. I just checked and my wife and I have an average monthly bill of $25.42 (total with taxes; 2 lines) for the past 12 months. It’s going to go up a little now now because I need more calling, but still incredible as far as I’m concerned. And I like that I don’t have to worry about whether I have enough minutes or texts or data.

    • Thanks for the input Karol. It’s great to hear what other people are doing.

      I used FreedomPop in years past as well, and I liked them pretty well. I just googled to see if my Moto G4 could handle dual sims and unfortunately it can’t. I like your innovativeness though. Before going with Tello I strongly considered going back to FreedomPop. Perhaps I should reconsider….

      The one thing we do to avoid running out of data/minutes is auto recharge once we get below $10 in balance. That way if our car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and we spend an hour on the phone with a tow company, we can be assured that we’ll have continued service as it auto reloads.

  3. I’ve looked at Ting in the past, but unfortunately I live in the hinterlands of Appalachia and am lucky most days to have one bar of service if I’m more than a half mile from an inter-state. I look forward to the future when even the country folks like me have the advantages of technology. (ok, it’s not that bad, but still, it could be better).

    • Sorry to hear that Ting won’t work for you. With that said, my strategy can work with any prepaid provider. If Verizon is the best in your area, I suspect you can find a prepaid provider that works on its network.

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