How I’m Saving $1,828 Per Year on My Cellphone Bill

I gave up everything, and lost nothing.

Step One: Admit That You Were Just as Happy Prior to Being Shackled by Your Large Smartphone Bill.

ball-and-chainBefore I dive into what will be an extremely-detailed, tactical post for saving you well north of $1,000 per year, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. If you’re at all like me (handsome, witty, but otherwise quite normal), you 1) have a smartphone and 2) pay through the nose for it.

And if you’re at all like me, you didn’t have a smartphone…say…10 years ago.

Our first step is to admit that ten short years ago, we all at least barely survived without smartphones.

I can’t say I’m any happier now, with my fancy iPhone, than I was without it.

That being said, this post will not be about giving up convenience, but about finding an exact or near equivalent alternative to save you serious money.

One more thing: convenience and happiness are not the same. Gardening, exercise, pursuing higher education, and raising children are inconvenient, but doing all four of those things makes me happy :) You likely have similarly inconvenient pursuits in your life, and are happier for it.

A Step One Sidenote

Some of you are actually less happy since you adopted the lifestyle of the smartphone owner. Your device owns you. For the rest of us, it’s probably just a mild, to moderate addiction.

Step Two: Examine Your Current Cellphone Bill

Background: Julie and I are were with Verizon Wireless on a shared plan of unlimited talk and text, and 2GB of data each month.

Divide your examination into three components: talk, messaging, and data.


We average 675 minutes per month.

Our top twenty phone numbers that we call account for 94 percent of our total minute usage each month. It gets better when I examine our top five uses:

  • Julie and I calling each other accounts for 40 percent of our minutes.
  • Julie chatting with her mom that lives across the country accounts for another 25 percent of minutes.
  • Add Julie’s sister and two good friends, and that’s another nine percent.
  • Basically, 74 percent of our minutes are from talking with each other, and four other people.


Texting is my preferred vehicle of communication between friends. It doesn’t demand they respond immediately and it keeps things short.

Between the two of us, we send about 650 messages per month.

This does not include iMessaging between other iPhone users. Since Julie and I are both iPhone users, we iMessage a lot, and those aren’t channeled through Verizon’s system.

I don’t know where we fall in the spectrum of text usage, but we’ve proven that we use it regularly, and that it would be an adjustment to go without it.


This is the expensive part. I think across the board, data is the most expensive aspect of everyone’s smartphone plans.

Our data usage is about 1GB per month. We’re “lazy” about our data consumption, in that we don’t ever throttle our usage, wait to be in a wifi area, or generally maintain awareness of its consumption at all. Why would we maintain awareness when we rarely cross the 50 percent usage threshold (more on that later)?

Data is the carrot that carriers dangle so tantalizingly in front of us. It’s the reason some of you will resist the remainder of this post. You can’t imagine your life without a data plan, and instant, everywhere-access to whatever addiction you’re currently nursing on your smartphone ;)

I have an answer for you, where you’ll give up almost nothing, and gain a whole lot of money, and quality of life in return.

Step Three: Mentally Walk Through Your Day, and Locate Wireless Internet Around You.

Short Analysis:

My time not in a wifi-available area is limited to:

  • Going to the gym
  • Walking the dog
  • Riding my bike (80%, it’s a new habit I’m loving), or driving (20%) to and from work (12 minutes on bike, five minutes in the car).

Long Analysis that You Can Skip If You’d Like:

I wake up at 4:30 AM, in an overflowing bath of virtual wifi data, for which I’m paying $50/month—whether I use it or not. As I put on my gym clothes, drink my protein, and eat my apple, the Wifi access just floats around me. Plenty of it. More than I could ever use.

I leave for the gym at 5:05 and about fifty feet from my house, the wifi signals fade away. The gym does not broadcast wifi, and I wouldn’t need it if they did. I’m there to work out.

Home at 6:45, I’m back in a wifi area that I’m paying for.

At 8:00 the kids are sent off to school, and I walk the dog. There is no wifi during the walking of the dog, but that’s okay because it’s My Time to Think.

At 9:00 I’m back home, back where the wifi is plentiful (that I’m paying for, but rarely using—notice a pattern here?).

Here’s where I practice the piano, basically wasting the available wifi, since I don’t use it while practicing. Or showering for work.

By 10 AM, I’m off to work, with a 12-minute bike ride to the office. There is no wifi during the ride, and if there were, I couldn’t use it anyway. I survive.

Once in the office, wifi is available. Readily available. There for my consumption, and I greedily eat it up as I manage whatever needs to be managed for YNAB.

The 12-minute ride home at 5:15 PM is still wifi-less. Survivable.

Once home in the evenings, my home wifi is waiting, readily available, and stays that way until I go to sleep at 9:00 PM (You would too if you got up at 4:30 AM).

Wifi Availability Conclusion

If you’re anything like me, it’s probably all around you, for a very large chunk of your day. Based on some quick time analysis I did, I have available wifi during 88 percent of my normal day.

What does this mean for the expensive data plan I’m on? It means I’m paying through the nose to use half of the data (one nostril’s worth), where that convenience can be employed for maybe 12 percent of my day. I’d be stupid to use the data while I’m riding my bike, or driving, so I could only really use the data during the walk with the dog (again, that would ruin my Time to Think), or other exceptional uses. So without riding or driving, those data use cases are really only available to me about eight percent of my day.

What a ripoff.  WE ARE BEING RIPPED OFF.

I’m paying two times more than I should (because I only use half of my available data), to use a benefit that’s available for one tenth of my day.

Let’s start using the wifi readily available to us, shall we?

Step Four: Ditch Your Cell Minutes, and Chat over Wifi

A Quick iOS-specific Aside

Going back to my cellphone minute usage, Julie and I combined are the top chatters. I know her schedule, and know that she’s also bathed in wifi that we’re paying for and not always using. We’re both on iPhones, we’ve both updated to iOS 7, and now we’re both recognizing the benefits of the new FaceTime Audio feature (there may be an Android equivalent, I didn’t dig deep there).

FaceTime audio is a lower-bandwidth option than FaceTime video (because there’s no video), but limited to Apple devices. It’s only available over wifi, but we’ll talk about how to get wifi anywhere further on this post, so no worries there.

Bonus though:

“FaceTime Audio also provides a sharper, higher quality sound than traditional phone calls by utilizing the technology known as “Wideband Audio.” The difference is as clear as comparing a 1970′s television set to a IMAX screen. Once you hear the difference, you’re unlikely to want to go back to regular cell phone calls. Plus, the service is free.” (source)

I snagged Julie’s phone and swapped out my mobile number for my FaceTime Audio option as a Favorite in her phone. We’ve chatted over Facetime Audio for the past two weeks and the sound quality is stellar. It sounds like she’s in the office with me.

And Now for the Non-iOS-to-iOS Use Case, Which is Much Larger:

We want to chat over wifi, not cellphone towers.

Step Four (A): Sign up for Google Voice

Google Voice is not a mobile phone service provider. It’s a fancy router for your phone number, so you can do fancy things with it. You can learn about the specific features here, if you’d like, but I’ll just speak specifically to how I’m using it to save a bundle.

(Optional): Port Your Cellphone Number to Google Voice

The port cost $20, and is totally optional, but I wanted to do it so if I ever change my cellphone setup, I’ll just tell Google Voice to forward calls to whatever new cellphone I get (or any other contact point). Having your number with Google Voice gives you the flexibility to basically never have to port your number again :)

Just as a quick example, let’s say you’re at your employer’s for eight hours Monday-Friday, instead of having personal calls go to your cellphone, you’d have Google Voice route the calls to your work office number, but would have that happen Monday-Friday, from 9:00AM-12PM and 1PM-5PM (lunch break). People calling you wouldn’t know you picked up on the office phone of course, but you’d be saving minutes. This suggestion only applies if your employer is cool with it.

The port took 22.5 hours, so their estimate of 24 hours was pretty spot on. Also, Google was very clear on the ramifications of porting my number. Read those carefully.

To be clear, when Google Voice is forwarding, you’re still paying for minutes. And as I mentioned before, we don’t want to be using minutes. We want to be using the bounteous wifi available all around us to make and receive calls like everyone else. Let’s leave Google Voice for a moment, and talk about Talkatone.

Step Four (B): Install Talkatone on your Phone

The Talkatone app is a bit kludgy, it has ads (you can pay to have them removed but, honestly, they’re not that big of a deal), and the workflow could be a bit nicer.

BUT, it integrates seamlessly with Google Voice, where setup takes just a minute or so. And then you’re making calls over wifi, with your Google Voice account.

I originally set this all up using Skype, which cost me a bit of money, because I was certain that was the way I wanted to go. I was wrong. Talkatone was just as good as Skype in my testing, and costs nothing.

When setting up Talkatone, make sure you turn on the appropriate notifications for it, as an app, on your phone. For instance, on my iPhone I have it set to alert me, and make a sound—equivalent to what my phone would do if it were ringing through the native phone app.

A Few Nice Features

1) Call Screening
Google Voice has this great feature where you can basically have people report who they are, then Google Voice calls you and let’s you hear the recording. You can then decline or accept the call.

For me, this is awesome. I seem to receive business solicitations more than ever, and declining those will feel so good.

You can set up groups for your contacts, where specific groups always bypass the screening. For instance, I wouldn’t necessarily screen my wife’s calls (she’d be using FaceTime Audio anyway…but you get the drift).

2) Targeted Voicemail
With your contacts in groups, you can prepare specific voicemail messages. For instance, if you’re a small business owner, you’d want to default to having a “business-like” greeting for your voicemail, and a personal one for family. You could reserve a special one for your mother-in-law calling from Alabama…maybe you could say something like:

“Mom?…Mom?…You there? It sounds like you’re breaking up. Hang up and try to call me again…Go on and hang up…just call me right back.”

Hilarity ensues.

We’ve handled minutes usage. We’ll only make and receive calls when we’re in a wifi-plentiful area. Need for “normal” cellphone minutes: zero.

Step Four (Righteous Indignation): Breaking Down on the Side of the Road

I’ve mentioned my plan to lots of people over the past two weeks, and EVERY SINGLE ONE has asked me, “What if you break down on the side of the road?”

Originally, I entertained the idea of an emergency cellphone (or two, one for each car) for this scenario. However, the monthly maintenance cost, and thought overhead required, is too high. I looked at Tracfone, with two $10 phones, and 30 minutes of prepaid minutes that would last a year for each phone, and we’re already at $20 per month. Unacceptable.

So I looked harder for a cheaper option. No dice.

Whereupon I convinced myself that an emergency cellphone is unnecessary. This internal struggle reminded of the late comedian Mitch Hedberg’s bit:

“I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.”

Now, you certainly can accept the cost of an emergency cellphone, but consider the fact that ALL of these things would need to happen, in order for you to require one:

  1. An emergency would need to take place that was NOT worthy of 911 (you can dial 911 on any cellphone, whether or not it’s attached to a cellphone plan), AND
  2. There would be NOBODY around, whose phone you could borrow (remember, it’s a non-911 emergency, so the time sensitivity of this emergency would likely drop, making this even less likely, AND
  3. There would be no wifi available (likely, if #2 is happening), AND
  4. Plan B from an upcoming Step Six would fail.

From my recent podcast #94 – “Cellphone, Unshackled” (where I work this written plan through verbally, and was less accurate as a result), I had a podcast listener write in with the following firsthand observation. David gave up his Android smartphone last year and this is what he had to say about pre-paid backup phones. Read this slowly, then re-read it, and let it really sink in:

“For a brief while, I had a pre-paid backup phone. I ditched it when my minutes expired. Almost everyone else these days has a cell phone and every business has a land-line. If you look like you need help or you ask nicely in a safe space, many people will gladly lend you their phone for a moment or two. When I had a flat tire last Thanksgiving, a police officer offered to make a call for me.

As you said on the podcast, people got by just fine not all that long ago without cell phones.

Needing to rely on myself and strangers rather than just calling my nearest friend or family member for help has been a salutatory experience. It’s made me prepare ahead a little bit more and to pay closer attention to what resources are available just for the asking (both of which I think are excellent skills for a budgeter to practice).

When that police officer offered to make a call for me, I didn’t need it—I had everything necessary to fix the flat on my own. When I started looking around, I discovered that payphones hadn’t really disappeared from suburban America—they’d just moved inside supermarkets and Wal-Marts where vandals can’t easily damage them.”

This from a guy that’s been living sans ANY phone for the last year. I’m hoping others will chime in on the comments and relate similar stories.

If you’re still feeling your stomach turn knots over the idea of not having an emergency phone, the BEST solution I’ve found came after I’d given up the idea, courtesy of the Mr. Money Mustache forums:

“As a less extreme emergency phone only secondary option that still lets you call home or a tow truck or something while on the road if needed, obtain any Verizon or Sprint phone (might work with other regional CDMA carriers, not 100% certain on this yet – it is important that it’s a CDMA phone with a clean ESN, though – most people who do this seem to favor using Verizon handsets) take it into the store and have them deactivate it as before for the 911 only option and get the MIN/NAM set to identify the phone number as 123-456-7890 (the universal deactivated handset identification number). From this point, you should be able to try making a call and getting a woman’s voice talking about making a collect or credit card charged phone call. Congratulations! In addition to making 911 calls, you now have access to the American Roaming Network (ARN) and can make outgoing calls to the US and Canada. Although horrible expensive doing collect or credit card based calls, you can buy a 60 minute PIN card for $20 that will last a year and you can recharge the PIN account at a 25¢ a minute rate afterward. This is the perfect, lowest-cost non-911 exclusive emergency phone for the glove box option available. As before, this is also a great option to keep in mind if you’re going to try the ultra-extreme WiFi/VoIP only with no wireless carrier option with your smartphone (still not recommended). If you go this route or the 911 only route, just keep that phone turned off with about a 2/3rds battery charge in the glove box and with a car charger, and you should be covered. For safety sake, be cautious of really hot lithium ion batteries during usage in the summer, though.”

Let’s move on to Step Five, and talk about texting. This part’s easy.

Step Five: Free Texting Through Google Voice, Through Talkatone

And…that’s pretty much it. You can send and receive free SMS texts. At this point, with my testing, you cannot send pictures via text, but hey…maybe just email the picture.

A few things to note:

  1. There is currently no MMS support from Google Voice (boo), so we’ll live without it. You will not receive group texts from iPhone users unless they send it to you as an iMessage.
  2. You can’t send group texts with Talkatone. You can send group texts from within your Google Voice account on your browser, and I’ve used that as a workaround once when I had to text a half dozen people. Small price to pay for free texting, in my opinion.

Texting has been taken care of. It’s free, people. Never pay for it again (and yes, unlimited texting plans still cost money…because the unused capacity of other features pump the costs up…)

Let’s get to the biggest catch of all. Data.

Step Six (A): Go on a 24-hour Data Fast.

Every one of your smartphones lets you turn off your data. Grab your phone (if you’re not already holding it as you read this, you addict! ;)), go to the settings, and turn off the data connection.

Do not turn it back on for 24 hours.

What happened?

I’ll report my own experience, which is now going on two weeks: Nothing has happened. Except when I was at the drive-thru of Jimmy John’s (hey Jimmy John’s, could I get a truckload of coupons for mentioning you guys specifically? I could use ‘em), and found out they’re not as lightning-fast with your sub if you opt for the lettuce-wrapped Unwhich. Once I realized I’d be waiting in the drive-thru longer than 25 seconds, like an addict, I went for my phone:

“I wonder what’s going on with Twitter?! Who’s updated their Facebook status? Is there some random information I should be consuming right now? Has the President of the United States invited me to dinner tonight?! I’d better check my email to see…”

Those kinds of thoughts. In the space of waiting 45 seconds for my Unwhich to arrive.

Then I realized my data was turned off, and tossed the phone back on the other seat, thinking one thing: “I am such a sucker.”

So turn off your data. You’ll be surprised how little you need it. DON’T TURN IT BACK ON.

Step Six (B): Analyze Your 24 Hours Without Data

Here’s what you’ll realize. You’ve been had.

The vast, VAST majority of you have no real need for data. It’s a big distraction in your life, masquerading as a time-saving convenience.

And yet, this wolf in sheep’s clothing is why your cellphone bill is astronomically expensive. It’s the allure of the data…floating available everywhere you DON’T have wifi. And remember your wifi analysis? You probably could only consume data for about 10 percent of your day.

You’re fundamentally NOT getting what you’re paying through the nose for.

Step Six (C): Keep Your Data Turned Off.

And once you’ve gone a few days without it, change your cellphone plan.

Step Six (The Alternative)

If you’re worried about never having data, and being in a tight spot where you need it (Google Maps directions (which can be covered with a one-time $30 app for offline maps called Sygic, checking email for a legitimately time-sensitive item, watching YouTube videos during your lunch break off-site…), I introduce you to Karma.

Karma is a remarkably small device that could easily fit into your pocket (not conveniently, because I hate having full pockets). This little device is a mobile hotspot, and will take 4G cell data and give your phone, computer, or other wireless device a wireless connection.

The device costs $99 and comes with 1GB of data use. For every additional gigabyte of data, you pay $14. You pay the $14 up front, and Karma warns you when you’re approaching your limit. Fourteen dollars per gigabyte is much cheaper than you’d pay any major carrier.

Everything about Karma I like. Their design is spiffy (and we here at YNAB appreciate that), their communication is clear, and you get the feel that they genuinely want to make the whole process easy for you.

This is in comparison to their competitor, FreedomPop (not worth a link), that claims you get FREE data all over their website, until you go to sign up, where they then (in very small print) let you know that they’ll charge you some monthly amount thereafter. That, and the fact that their Amazon reviews reeked.

Anyway, back to Karma, you only pay for what you use, there is no monthly plan which, by definition, eliminates that thing about YOUR data plan that you should be hating right now–the fact that you will ALWAYS pay for something you aren’t completely using.

In my field testing, it worked great. Check their coverage map to see if it will work for you. However…

Now that I’ve bought the Karma device, I’m sure I’ll bring it with me when I travel, but would I recommend it for you right out of the gate? Nope. Go for a while relying on just wifi for your data. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how LITTLE you need that data after all. In two weeks, I haven’t used Karma once, except to test it for this blog post.

An Option For Those of You Scared Out of Your Minds

First, don’t let the contract “out” fee scare you. The savings you amass from switching away from a big carrier pays back most contract cancellation fees in a matter of months. The carriers want you to fear that contract cancellation fee. Fear not.

Second, you don’t HAVE to go wifi-only, as I have, in order to amass some significant savings. Mark switched to Ting, and I’ll likely be easier on Julie’s workflow, and switch her to Page Plus (a Verizon-based small carrier), where they have a $12/month plan with 250 minutes, 250 texts, and 10MB of data.

Julie will need to have her phone tweaked just slightly:

  • Call me with FaceTime Audio when she’s bathing in wifi (done).
  • Call her mom with Skype when at home.
  • Call her sister with FaceTime Audio.
  • Call (most of) her friends with FaceTime Audio.

This would cut her minutes from around 400, to about 100. So she’d be well under the 250 minute cap.

The texting would be easy for her to stay under as well, because 1) I wouldn’t be texting and 2) she’d be using iMessage for most of her friends (we tallied them up, most have iPhones).

The data will need to be turned off on her phone, so she won’t use up the 10MB in a heartbeat. If she does have a “data need” emergency, she can turn data on and use some of it.

If I wanted to take the VERY soft approach, I’d move Julie to the $30/month plan, and she wouldn’t notice a thing had changed–except for the fact that we’d be paying $70 less per month. I like going for the phone bill’s jugular on this though: $12 plan it is.

Look for the prepaid, no contract providers that are already working with your phone’s underlying network. Here’s a fantastic list to get you started.

A Conclusion Full of Options

In the end, the main takeaway is this: Don’t be a sheep and follow all of the other sheep over the cliff (as they grab their phones and Google “how to levitate in a pinch.”). Consider your options and be INTENTIONAL about what’s bringing you happiness—not just convenience.

You can:

1) Ditch your phone completely
2) Go wifi only, as I have
3) Switch to an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) for big savings, and no disruption at all to your “flow” (what I’m starting Julie on) or
4) Keep doing what you’re doing, and make me sad.

Your call, but we’re now saving ~$145/month, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

101 Responses to “How I’m Saving $1,828 Per Year on My Cellphone Bill”

  1. MrMcLargeHuge

    I’m sure you’re already aware, but in case you aren’t, iPhones are not officially supported on Page Plus. It is possible to get them on the network, with some minor hassle, but you risk being cut off at any time because you’re violating their terms.

    That being said, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

    • thegardencsa

      Yeah…I had the same thought. Customer service told me iPhones won’t work with PagePlus. How can you get around this?

      • Ray

        I switched to Page Plus three months ago. They switched my iPhone4 over, no problem. But what I found is they will tell you thru customer service, they can’t. Go to a Page Plus store and they’ll do it there. Just downgraded to the $12 plan, wow.

  2. Natasha

    Any Canadians able to weigh in on similar MVNO or other prepaid no-contract providers? I’d like to make the switch but need a small amount of data and minutes for work.

    • Laura


      I have been using SpeakOut Wireless though 7-11 (http://www.speakout7eleven.ca) for two years now – I bought an unlocked smart phone and put their SIM card in it. They have monthly value plans, but I switched to their per-use rates a few months ago. It probably works out to be about $10-15/month for me as a fairly infrequent user, but you can add/remove value plans at any time – just do it towards the end of your month of use to avoid paying twice! Caller ID, call waiting, voicemail, and incoming texts are all free. They just got data, so you’ll be good to go (can’t comment on data as I don’t use it). Every once in awhile they have a $25 bonus when you buy a $100 top-up, which is sweet. All top-ups are good for 365 days.

      As Brad mentioned below, there is no roaming (which isn’t too big of a deal with an unlocked phone, as you could get an international SIM or one that’s country-specific – or use talk/text apps over WiFi as mentioned in this post). There is also no short code use if that matters to you. However, they’re super to deal with on the phone if you have any problems and they use the Rogers towers in terms of coverage.

      I did a lot of research before picking a provider and settled on SpeakOut for my needs because it seems to have the cheapest per-use rates and pretty decent value plans…but anything looks cheap next to the Big Three :) I’ve been pretty happy with what I’ve been getting, but don’t have much to compare it to – I used a prepaid Virgin Mobile phone in university very, very infrequently and had no problems with it, either, but SpeakOut has better rates.

      Lots of info, but I hope it helps!

  3. rudeboyrg

    If you want an emergency glovebox phone for your car, you can do what I did. Get a sim card from truphone. http://www.truphone.com/US/
    They provide sim cards that work in most countries including the U.S. In the U.S. the SIM card Roams on TMobile and AT&T. I got a cheap GSM unlocked cell phone (approx 35 dollars) and inserted the Truphone SIM. I put about 50.00 dollars on the SIM card (you can put as much as you want). I also selected to have it auto charge my credit card 45.00 whenever my balance reaches below 5.00 .
    It is prepaid. There is no monthly fee and it never expires. You don’t have to pay any maintenance cost, etc like with other prepaid cards. Incoming texts are free. I deactivated voicemail (don’t need it as I use google voice). Outgoing calls are 17cents/minute. Outgoing texts are 12cents/minute. While it isn’t the cheapest rate, it is great for very low usage and for emergency purposes since I can just drop some money on the card and not worry about it expiring. It is there if/when I need it. One caveat – there needs to be some activity on the phone at least once ever 3 months to keep the account active, so I send a text messge to an obsolete number every 3 months. An emergency glovebox phone in my car that uses Tmobile and AT&T network which costs me 48Cents a year to maintain. Not bad.

  4. daysanew

    I like the point this article is trying to get across, but it sounds somewhat condescending, especially the last paragraph.

  5. vskid3

    A cheap data option for those who just can’t let go is T-Mobile’s $30 100 minutes, unlimited text and data (4G speeds only available for the first 5GB) pre-paid plan. My wife and I are in the process of switching to it from our 4GB Verizon plan, that, like you, we rarely use more than 50%. The coverage isn’t as good, but I’d much rather have the extra ~$100 a month to use for other things.

  6. brad

    @Natasha, I’ve heard good things about the Speak Out prepaid phones from 7-11 (http://www.speakout7eleven.ca). The problem with a lot of these cheap prepaid plans is that there’s no roaming in the US or overseas, which rules them out for me.

    My solution is the $15/month base plan from Fido (which actually costs about $24 after taxes), but that doesn’t give me any data. I don’t need data — I have a smartphone but have a voice-only plan and use wifi on the rare occasions (1-2 times per year) when I need data.

  7. Ryan

    I love that you found a low cost way to keep your iPhone. I am strongly considering going to Android because then I could use republic wireless, which mainly uses wi-fi but provides cellular backup automatically (no kludgy work flow)–they have a $10/month plan with unlimited talk/text and data on wifi-only. The main bummer is no iPhone (and that is a huge bummer). http://republicwireless.com/moto-x-faqs#plans

  8. Adam

    I believe you mentioned in the podcast that both you and your wife’s phones are iPhone 5’s. In that case, you may have more MVNO options than just Page Plus. According to the link below, Verizon iPhone 5’s have unlocked GSM chips, which would allow you to take them to any AT&T or T-Mobile MVNO. My wife and I moved our AT&T iPhones to Airvoice Wireless for $10/month each.


  9. Kyle

    Have used a prepaid plan w cheap android smart phone for years very happily. Was considering going to a monthly plan and your article was great on reminding me why not to do it. Kids and phones are another issue we trying to figure out. Also would love to see this same kind of dicussion regarding cable tv. We’re struggling with the high cost but can’t give up the internet, not sure about the land line, and what about those specific shows…can you purchase a series like Game of Thrones by the episode? Any suggestions on how to approach would be great.

    • Ruth

      You can buy by the episode or the season through amazon, although Amazon prime members will often get to stream recent shows for free. There is also Hulu, where you can usually see a show about a week or so after it was aired (many tv networks do the same thing on their websites). I have lived without cable for the last 4 years and really enjoy it–all of my tv/movie viewing is either via Amazon, Hulu, tv network websites or Netflix. I don’t miss cable at all.

    • Tiffany

      You cannot get Game of Thrones except through HBO. At least not until the full season in released on DVD a year after airing. :(

    • Jay Bee

      We don’t have cell phones (the kid is only five and doesn’t either); we dont’ have cable for TV, but we do have a very basic package for home internet to run our business. We download shows directly from their channels (ie, supernatural from CW), or we purchase them through iTunes. It works out great. Also, you find you watch FAR less TV. We use the library, too, to check out movies and books. Free!

  10. Thomas Nichols

    We went through this not to long ago. My wife and I had a similar plan to you and Julie (almost exactly) for two iphones. We we’re sitting in a restaurant one evening, both on our phones while we waited. It occurred to me that 2 years ago while at a restaurant, we would have been chatting and laughing while waiting for food, not playing candy crush and surfing google news. That night we started “The Talk” and eventually came to some pretty mind opening realizations:

    1.) 95% of our phone usage was “Playing.”
    2.)We paid a LOT of money to play
    3.) We’re poor college student’s, and we have very little play money in our budget

    We decided to go 1 week only touching our phones if it wasn’t a “play” thing. After a week we realized that we spent all out time on the phone either talking to each other, or texting each other. We spent a little time with reminders, and the calendar, and a little time with the maps. Other than that, we had laptops, and we had internet EVERYWHERE! The only time we wouldn’t have access to facebook or email is;

    1.) Between home and school
    2.) while camping, or otherwise recreating (usually when we don’t want distractions or connections)

    We decided that we could get by with a simple pen and paper planner, and buy a GPS, which would allow us to replace our smartphones with basic phones. WE sold our iphones for $225 each, cut our bill by over $100 and now we each have basic phones with Cricket Wireless, unlimited talk and text (also likely more than we need) for $35 each, phones were free when we ported our number over. Besides the benefit of savings, we now spend more time together, and when we watch movies, we actually watch, instead of half watch half play on phone. We also have the added benefit of more than one email or facebook update at a time (because we only check on the laptop periodically. It’s nice!

  11. LeiraHoward

    We use the AT&T GoPhones on their $0.10/minute plan. $100 a year (plus sales tax) per phone gives each phone approx 1,000 minutes. WAY more than we ever use. I’m about ready to renew for the third time, and have almost $100 in balance left on the phone (it rolls over, which is nice). My husband got an Android smart phone and just moved his SIM card to the new phone. He uses wifi (free) for all the smart phone things, and the regular calls for everything else. (Switching a basic plan to a smartphone isn’t officially supported by AT&T, but works just fine anyway, the SIM card doesn’t care what kind of phone it is in, as long as it works in-network.)

    I’m pregnant with our fourth child, so the ability to actually reach my husband whenever needed is definitely worth that $100. And having the cell phone on me to be able to call AAA if the van breaks down makes me feel a lot safer when driving the kids places by myself. So, going no-cell isn’t a real option for us. But I’m pleased with the current costs. The only thing that would make me happier is if I could buy less minutes and have them still last a year. :)

  12. Carola

    Thank you, I need to figure out something similar for Toronto. I noticed you didn’t mentioned Whatsapp, that’s the best application EVER, that’s how I text everybody. I used to pay for int’l texts (DR, Denmark, US, PR, etc) and now via wifi/network I’m texting and sending pics to everybody all the time, I have several groups, and it costs nothing, also it works with most smartphones. My mom lives abroad and she doesn’t have an iphone but an ipad, we coordinate our time/day via Whatsapp and then we connect via Facetime, I find it’s better quality than Skype.

  13. Carola

    Oh and I forgot to say that you can send voice messages via Whatsapp as well. My sister does that all the time.

  14. Jeff Arndt

    I wanted to keep some type of home phone service. Living in a rural area, sometimes cell service is an issue. I also needed something more reliable for when I am on call at work, or for my mother in law when she is over watching the kids.

    You can buy a device from OBI like an OBI-100. I picked up one for about $40. It connects to the internet and gives you an RJ-11 phone jack. I connect it to my Google voice account and now have a home phone with a regular phone number for free. Google voice allows free outgoing and incoming calls in the U.S. Having kids, I did opt to sign up for E911 service via Anveo at $12 per year. Here is a link on Obi’s Google voice integration – http://www.obihai.com/googlevoice

  15. omar

    About year ago I had the urge to throw my smartphone against the wall. I knew it was making me busier and I felt I could live without one.

    I don’t have a cell phone and I am free. I just got used to it and the alternatives just worked themselves out … without much analysis or thought.

    On a related note, I just read a new article about someone getting shot on a bus while everyone was busy on their smartphones … think about it … not one person knew that a bad guy had a gun until it was too late !!!

    Take the plunge and free yourself from the Matrix.


  16. Kara

    Ahh, AT&T has me because I’m grandfathered in to unlimited data with my iPhone and if we change it, we lose it. It’s also an 11 year old family plan for 4. It’s $200 a month, $50/person. That’s not too bad, right?? [PS- we are all adults on it. Me, my partner, her mom and my best friend. Odd? Maybe, but saves us all money.]

    • Mistrblank

      I’d recommend going into your AT&T and checking out the actual usage on your data. I had an unlimited plan with AT&T for about 5 years. In that entire time, I only went over 1GB of usage a handful of times. Every person I run into at work that has AT&T and swears they’ll never change because of their “awesome grandfathered plan”, I make them pull up their account and show them how little of their plans they’re using, and it’s the same thing, usually less than 1GB of usage. It’s even worse that we were all paying for AT&T and the coverage inside of our building was abysmal. I was lucky if a speed test pulled more than 50Kbits/s. Our phones would drop to Edge network and proclaim we had 5 bars of service, but everyone I had talked to had trouble staying on calls, I couldn’t complete texts. Everyone had convinced themselves though what they were paying was worth it.

      Meanwhile last week I dropped my grandfathered plan for T-Mobile. I dropped my bill by $40 a month (nearly one-third). I now ritually have 4 bars of service on their 4G network with my iPhone4S, my texts complete. I can upgrade when I want to, I don’t have a contract if I need to stop my service to save money. I also happen to now have unlimited talk and text, both of which were limited on our AT&T plan.

      You can get on a T-Mobile family plan with 4 phones for $100 base ($50 for first phone, $30 for second, $10 for each after) with 500MB of high speed data that is throttled after 500MB but unlimited access at the slower speed. For every phone, it’s $10 upgrade the plan to 2.5GB of data at high speed or $20 for unlimited data at high speed per phone. Hotspot usage for no additional charge was a huge “freebie” upgrade too that I would have had to pay for through AT&T. So at most, if you upgraded every phone on the plan to unlimited you’d still be saving in the neighborhood of $20 ($240 a year), if you could get away with all phones at 2.5GB, then it would be closer to $60 a month saved ($720 a year).

      That said, I recognize, it won’t work well for everyone. We learned that data driving up the NY thruway and into western Massachussets was pretty bad, however we were able to complete calls the entire trip and we only make these trips once every three months or so for a weekend at most. But I do think hanging onto “but my grandfathered plan” is actually helping AT&T line its pockets more than it’s helping you.

      It’s also not cutting the cord completely like Jesse recommends, I think the important thing though from the article is to recognize that there may be habits that can be changed and in some cases viable cheaper alternatives that can save you a significant amount of money every year. In my case I managed to save nearly $500 a year and actually upgraded my life where I might have been otherwise afraid to make the switch and stuck paying money I shouldn’t have been.

      • Kara

        Wow, excellent info [there’s a lot of good info to try to digest on this page.]
        You’re right; only one of us regularly goes over 1.5GB a month and that’s only because he works on a military base and that is his only Internet. [He’s addicted, but I can’t point fingers. I’m not free of guilt myself.]
        Thanks for the anecdote. I am stuck in the “afraid” you mention in the last paragraph, but after seeing the options T-Mobile I see that I shouldn’t be. AT&T has done a good job of marketing the illusion they offer the best coverage. Mobile-to-mobile was a selling point to me since all my family is on the service too, but honestly I don’t talk enough to warrant that. We pay $30/month for unlimited texts, and one of us never texts.
        I guess I should get motivated to [wo]man up and stop the money hemorrhaging!

  17. Jay Bee

    My husband and I have been cell-phone free for 10 days now. It’s actually quite nice to be this way. Liberating, really.

    Right now, we are pricing how we want to do communications at home. I’m looking into internet at home (for work), and then using google voice for a phone number.

    We’re experimenting with this because we do not make or receive many phone calls. We do most of our communications via email, skype, and facebook chat.

    This keeps it all quite simple.

      • Jay Bee

        actually, what I need is internet, not a home phone. the phone is through the computer via google voice.

        so far, i’m having trouble finding internet service not stuck to cable service. my friend found one program for $65/mo (cable/internet/phone bundle), and I feel like that’s a bit too high.

      • Kirby

        Jay, I realize this isn’t exactly a “timely” response, 6+ months later, but it might be useful for others with your situation. Regarding internet, if download speeds are an important factor in your various considerations, as well they should be with the increase in streaming content, or downloading large files, or any activity that requires streaming and/or moving large data files, then cable should be your first choice, unless you have access to a fiber optic network, which is only offered in a relatively few towns around the US. DSL has improved to some degree, but it’s speed is still contingent on a number of factors, such as your distance from your DSL “central office”, which can really nick your speed if you’re too far from their “central office”. Cable speeds can be affected by the number of users in your neighborhood using the same “channel” (a setting in your router config program. I’m paying $70/mo for Comcast’s “Blast Plus” tier, which consistently has download speeds of 50 Mbps, uploads around 10 Mbps. For the same price, DSL would deliver speeds significantly lower than Comcast (Xfinity).
        If you think that bundle you mentioned, at $65/mo, is too expensive, wait until that “introductory” cost expires (I assure you $60/mo is temporary), and the true monthly cost kicks in at $100+/mo.
        In conclusion, if internet speeds are an important factor, then cable is the no-brainer choice. Search online customer sat ratings for internet speed, and virtually all of the cable providers(Comcast, Cox, Charter, Time-Warner Cable) are at the top of the list. This info is primarily directed at folks whose internet speeds need to be consistently fast and reliable. In and around the Denver/Boulder area, Comcast (Xfinity) is the clear favorite. But I’m all for cord cutting to the degree you’re comfortable with. BTW, I’ve been using the VOIP based Ooma phone service provider for a couple of years and couldn’t be happier. Finally dropped CenturyLink, who was gouging me for $65/mo for not much more than a single residential line.

  18. ajpoel

    Great post. What you’re trying to do is basically exactly what Republic Wireless has done already with android smartphones. It’s called hybrid calling: wifi wherever available, and the Sprint network as a backup when wifi is not available. We’ve been using them for several months and are very happy with them. They will come out with new phones in November, with plans (no contract) as low as $5 per month. I highly recommend them. http://www.republicwireless.com

    • Milo

      I’ve been using Republic for about 6 months, my brother’s had it for over a year. Couldn’t be happier. Looking forward to the new lower cost plans coming out next month. Moto X phone, and as low as $10 per month for unlimited talk and text, with unlimited wifi data. Best part is that you will be able to change plans up to twice per month. That means if I’m taking a long trip and need unlimited data I can upgrade for the time it’s needed than downgrade back to the lower cost option once I return home.

  19. Mark Farey

    My wife has a $200 (paid in cash) Android smartphone (Galaxy Ace) which is actually a pretty nice smartphone, plus she subscribes to 7-Eleven Speakout service (in Canada). That costs a minimum of $25 to top-up, but the time can be used up to one year.

    By limiting calls when mobile, and using Wi-Fi for phone calls the majority of the time, her monthly cost is about $10, and could be much less if used for emergency calls only.

    Definitely the way to go.

  20. Ann

    The Google Voice app for Iphone has really bad reviews…are you having any trouble with it? Kinda scared to jump in when I read what other people are saying about it…

    • Ann

      Oh wait a minute. Maybe you are saying get the Google Voice ACCOUNT, but access it through the Talkatone APP. No Google Voice APP required. Is that it?

      • Adam

        The google voice app isn’t really required for this setup. You can have google forward your sms messages to either a mobile phone or your gmail account. It doesn’t make calls, but you can use it to place a call and it will call your cell phone (or whichever US number you’ve set up to ring when you are called).

  21. joe campo

    i have avoided this problem by not yet going to smartphones. we use tracfone. I pay 120/yr for my 900 minutes, and that is enough for me. This could easily serve as your emergency phone Mark. you cited 20/month, and you don’t need a monthly plan when you buy 365 days/double or triple minutes.

    I will examine these other options. 18 yr old daughter at college has virgin mobile fone for 38/month. she mostly texts. I’m wondering if we can save money on that.
    thanks for all these suggestions.

  22. Jon

    Thanks for the post Jesse. I looked into all this stuff a while back when I switched from AT&T. While I like the idea of completely free service, for me it’s worth money to not have to navigate all of the work-arounds and deal with the general clunky-ness of wifi-only. I ended up going with Virgin Mobile, which is $30/mo for 300 minutes + unlimited text and data. Still very affordable, and my iPhone “just works” (can place calls from anywhere, get visual voicemail, use maps while on the road, etc). Republic Wireless is an even cheaper option at $20/mo if you want an Android phone. I have a friend who uses it and he says it’s good.

    Not knocking going 100% free, but in my case Virgin Mobile was a good compromise. That Karma hub might change my outlook though. Assuming there’s a car charger for it, I could just throw it in my car and forget about it.

  23. wendy

    I tried to reduce my phone plan, but according to the contract (gotta love that fine print) I would have to pay the total amount of the monthly bill just to change it to a cheaper plan so it would actually cost me $140 a month instead of the curent $80 I am paying now. Welcome to Telstra Australia! So riding out the contract is the cheaper option. Will bare this blog post in mind when my contract is up for renewal next July.

  24. Kris Wise

    I’m kinda the opposite of you. I’m a data hog. I use 5gb+ a month. If you think finding your plan was tough try looking for Data only with Pay-As-You-Go Mintues. Its nearly impossible. The best I’ve found is T-mobile Walmart Exclusive Plan.

    100 Minutes
    Unlimited Text
    Unlimited 3G Web
    5Gb of 4G Web

    • Robert Blackwell

      This is the best option going. Popped the t-mobile prepaid SIM in my iPhone 5 and it works EXACTLY the same. I used Google Voice briefly but ended up porting number back to T-Mobile. The Vonage app has free outgoing calls (via data) and uses your phone number.

  25. zoya37

    I love all of this! Thank you for putting so much time and attention to detail to this post.

    Unfortunately, as with most tech things, it is not available in the rural area in which I live. And by rural, I do not mean living in a cabin in the woods. I mean living in populated small towns (3,000+ people). Neither is high-speed internet, etc, etc. Our choices are often 1) become a Luddite, or 2) pay astronomical fees to get less-than-satisfactory services.

    If you guys have a Rural Specialist on cost savings, that would be wonderful. So many things are unavailable or just plain more expensive.

    I hope this doesn’t sound complainy. That is not my intent. I just wanted to share the possibility of a niche demographic that would be truly grateful!

  26. Matthew

    I own stock in a company that sells smartphones while at the same time using a 2009 model phone with no data plan. I would rather profit from the data plan addiction than pay for it.

  27. Jeff

    Jesse, why not go all in and ditch the iPhones? Get the considerably cheaper iPod Touch instead. Facetime and iMessage over wifi, and you can use the apps that the iPhone uses. Just no cell charges, ever!

    • Jesse

      Mainly because I already own the iPhones, and would have to buy the iPod touches. But maybe I could make some money on them…

    • Jay Bee

      Yup. I use my google voice, face time, and facebook with my ipod touch (which i won in a raffle 4 years ago). It’s a great little device, that.

    • Chris

      Can you hold a “phone” conversation with an iPod or just send text messages and FaceTime chat?

      Also, can you communicate with non-apple users (Android)? I thought Face time and iMessage were proprietary.

      • Eden G.

        >> Can you hold a “phone” conversation with an iPod or just send text messages and FaceTime chat?

        You can call any phone number, via Talkatone or Mo+ (I prefer the latter.)
        You could have a “phone” conversation via one of those apps.

        >> Also, can you communicate with non-apple users (Android)? I thought Face time and iMessage were proprietary.

        FaceTime and iMessage are propriatory, so I just use Google Voice to text Android users. If I want to call them, I use Mo+ or Talkatone.

  28. Justin Randolph

    Hey just wondering if any of these options would work with an overseas number. I know google voice can forward our U.S. number to our phone overseas but could we set it up to also have the people in country with us call the foreign number and it route it?

    Does the data device happen to have overseas coverage?

  29. Lena

    I understand where this post is coming from… and yes the time wasting that occurs when I constantly check my Galaxy adds up. Let’s face it — too many things going on make it difficult to always focus on the important things. I’m working on unsubscribing to the copious amounts of spam I’m subjected to on a daily basis.

    I can’t tell you how significantly my life has changed since I got 4G. The wifi is limited at school.. works in some bldgs not in others/parking lot etc. No wifi at work. Actually I’m not allowed to use my phone at work period, but with so much to do every second I have available my 10-15 minute breaks are usually spent using my data plan. My phone bill was absurd at $94-97-ish a month by myself until I got back on my family’s plan. Android..no iPhone here. Also, though i think I’ve finally found roommates who are decent people, the last 3 houses/apartments I’ve lived in I had probably between a month and three months at each place when the people disconnected the internet without me having any control over reinstating it (all cases I was paying my share).

    The use of Evernote to search my personal files (free OCR sent to cloud from my scanner) on a whim has been invaluable. I find myself traveling a lot, and while most of the time when I plan trips, I add destinations and event details, maps, phone #’s to my calendar in advance on my computer. (all sync beautifully to Google calendar/CalenGoo/iCal on all devices). It would be impossible to manage rideshares without a phone. Perhaps using a GPS is possible, but the fact that I am 3 clicks (Calendar, Event in Particular, Address –> Navigate To) makes travel so much smoother. ie. pulling over for 2 minutes rather than the 10 it takes using the ‘ole TomTom.

  30. jarret1992

    Being a university student, budgeting has always been an ever going struggle for me. Keeping up with fees and student expenditure has always bogged my ability to save efficiently. Upon finding your blog, I’ve picked up a handful of tips that will help me save faster and smarter without sacrificing my monthly necessities. The tips and budget plans are some of the things I will take away from your blog and hopefully put to good use one day. Thank you very much.

  31. Rachel Ruhlen

    For me, giving up the data plan would mean giving up a convenience. Maybe I’m the only one who uses maps and routing?

    I’m not saying this is an essential smartphone function that I can’t live without, but as far as convenience it is really nice. We moved recently and I found myself using Maps all the time. Even with the occasional dumb routing (rare but it did happen) it was so nice.

    I could look up my route before I leave, where I probably have WiFi. But there have been several times when I was already out & about before I thought “I’m not 100% sure how to get to my next stop” and at the next stop light I’d punch it in the phone & listen for directions. My Dad & I are planning a bicycle tour and we’ll have limited WiFi and data access–we’ll need to take what we can get. (Smart phone is cheaper than hotels & cars?)

    I like to use Zombies, Run! and Map My Ride. As soon as I’m away from the house I lose WiFi. Again these aren’t essential to my life but I like to use them, I like the social aspect of sharing my workouts, and I used Map My Ride for a project where I bicycled all 97 miles of city street in the small town we lived in.

    Just thought I’d throw that out. Maybe it’s like SUVs and trucks–most people who own them don’t need them, but some people who own them do.

    • Adam

      Giving up data doesn’t mean you have to give up maps and routing. There are many map applications that allow you to download maps to your phone and then you can get directions without data. Jesse linked one option in his post that costs $30 for the entire US. If you’re on a typical 2+GB or “unlimited” postpaid data plan, you’d save that in no more than 2 months. There may be an offline mapping application that is more specifically targeted to bicycling if you need that.

      I’m not intimately familiar with Zombies, Run! or Map My Ride, but I would guess that they don’t require data while you’re running or riding. I think they just use the GPS, not the cellular data. It’d be easy to test this by turning off cellular data (but not putting the phone in airplane mode) and walk/jog around the block.

      • Rachel Ruhlen

        Ah, I could really use a better understanding of the technology. I don’t mind admitting it is pretty confusing to me. (I have a PhD so I can say things like that without feeling embarrassed. :D ) I will try it out, you are probably right. And I’ll look into downloading maps. I don’t need the entire US and I don’t have a ton of memory, so I hope I can download smaller portions.

      • Adam

        With sygic, I only downloaded the maps for the state I live in and the neighboring state my parents live in. You do have to download state by state, but the app tells you how much free space you have left.

  32. Julie Hart Davis

    I took the challenge yesterday and went into my iPhone and turned off my data… I found that I could probably live with not having instant access to Facebook, emails, chrome, etc where ever I was at any time. I can wait for those things. However, what I can’t wait for are MMS messages. I missed three very important messages from a friend letting me know that she couldn’t meet me for lunch (all while patiently waiting at the restaurant). As soon as I turned my data back on, the messages arrived. I’m not sure if there is a way to get around this other than telling all my friends to not use MMS when texting me. Unfortunately, for me, this may be a deal breaker for the totally data-free options. Like Jesse’s Julie, I need a gentler approach to cutting the data cord.

  33. Daniel McDougall

    Great Post

    My wife’s iPhone 3G plan has messaging but no data. When she was away from a network, she would not get text messages as they were sent through the data network. I had to turn off iMessage so that the phone only received MMS messages. Now she receives messages no problem. You may want to test your messaging abilities when you are away from wifi.

  34. Jameson King

    Many comments referred to Republic Wireless ($10/month for unlimited calls/text – data uses wifi… for android phones). This seems to utilize what Jesse’s ideas of using calls/text when in a wifi connection. I think it would be a great hybrid plan to pay $10 to know you can always call/text when you are out and about if needed. I do have an android phone so I was excited… until I looked it up and found out that you are required to buy THEIR phone. Just an additional cost. I think I’m leaning to Jesse’s suggestions.

    Also, a quick question. I know you tried to find options for “emergencies”. If you have the Karma device, can you connect to it to make texts or calls? Is this a solution instead of having an emergency phone in the glove box?

    • Jameson King

      Scratch my last question. After looking at Karma’s coverage I would not be able to rely on it for emergencies.

  35. Cass

    This post has made me very excited.

    I had no idea you could a.) SMS with Google Voice, b.) buy Google Maps for $30 or c.) that Karma existed.

    It’s ridiculous for me to pay through the nose for data. I work from home. I need maps sometimes when I’m out, but that’s about it. iMessage is already a big friend of mine.

    I can’t believe it’s this possible to eliminate an iPhone’s cell plan. Thank you, Jesse!!!

    I suppose the only thing that would worry me is someone trying to get in touch with me for an emergency while I happen to be out. I do go for long hikes…

    • Cass

      Also, I have just turned off my data and I know I won’t even notice on most days. I recently canceled Spotify, even, so no need to miss streaming in the car since I’d already decided I don’t care about it.

    • Cass

      Sorry for another comment. If you go wi-fi only, could you completely get away with an iPod Touch (aside from 911 calls, which you can have a cheap device for) if you still have your number with Google Voice?

      • Jesse

        You could definitely use an iPod touch with the setup described above.

    • David A. Harding

      Hi, Cass.

      Not being available for emergencies during your long hikes may make you feel like you’re letting your family down, but I don’t think that’s actually the case.

      In the post above, Jesse quoted (with permission) from an email I sent him about how the need to handle emergencies without a cell phone helped me better prepare and examine what I had available. I think it works the other way around too: when your family and friends can’t contact you at arbitrary times, they’ll better prepare for emergencies and use other resources which are available.

      Before I gave up my cell phone, I made a mental list of every emergency cell call I had ever made or received. Then I tried to imagine what would have happened if I didn’t have a cell phone at the time. In every single case, the outcome would’ve been fundamentally the same—or better.

      (Why better? Because sometimes people called me when they should’ve called 911.)

      Remember that anyone who can call you can alternatively call emergency services or the next-door neighbor. This is something that I tried to make clear in the paragraphs Jesse quoted: help is not just available—it’s abundant.

      Take a moment and think through your own experiences with cell-phone emergency calls. Figure out how essential or non-essential that cell phone really is.


  36. Lora Friedenthal (@darkmagess)

    I have a Verizon Droid 4. Is there any way I can do any of this with that device? Because I’d still need a plan of *some* kind in order to have a phone number attached to the phone for Google Voice to forward to.

  37. dcbenji@gmail.com

    GV Mobile + lets you do VOIP calling FROM your Google Voice number. The most recent version (came out a few months ago) added the VOIP option and it works great.

    The interface is a lot cleaner than Talkatone and there are NO adds. I think the app cost a couple bucks. You set up push notifications for incoming texts via a gmail forwarding option. Basically you have google voice forward texts to a special email provided by GV Mobile +. This is pretty easy to set up and once you configure it you never have to do it again even when the app is updated as the fowarding address is associated with your GV Mobile + user account.

    I think this is a much better option than Talkatone, check it out!

  38. Eden G.

    We’d been discussing this very idea for weeks when we heard YNAB’s podcast. It was the final confirmation we needed!

    We unshackled from Verizon last week and couldn’t be happier. Our bill for 4 lines was $250ish per month.

    We kept all of our iPhones (4S) and bought 4 TracFones (LG 840) at $19.99 each. We are now on their family value plan, for just under $30 per month for all 4 lines.

    Our LG phones (act and look like a smaller, not as smart iPhone) have triple minutes for life, so we will get 120 mins per month loaded on to each phone. Since the TracFones are our “emergency phones”, only the 4 of us know our new numbers, so we won’t go over in minutes. We primarily text each other, which only uses .3 of a minute. So we have plenty of texts we can send each other when we’re away from wifi. TracFones have rollover minutes so I’m sure we will be racking up a lot of minutes.

    As for everyone else, we gave out our Google Voice numbers. We get our voicemails/texts when we’re around wifi.

    3 of us are around wifi all day, so we are using Google Voice for texting and FaceTime Audio and Mo+ (for non-Apple friends) for free wifi calls. Mo+ is similar to Talktone but we like it better. My husband is not around wifi during the day, but if he needs to call me he uses his work phone to call my Google Voice number.

    He primarily used his iPhone during the day for google maps, so we had to buy a small GPS from Walmart. ($70 Garmin, works great!)

    Since we still have our iPhones, we use iMessage for texting family and friends with Apple products. We’ve used FaceTime Audio quite a few times now and it works wonderfully!

    Since we’ve unplugged from the Matrix, Verizon has called me daily, trying to win us back. I told them I doubt they can beat $30 per month for 4 lines. I then informed them I was actually speaking to them over wifi and they were shocked. The representative admitted that they couldn’t come close to matching what we’re paying now, and said they understand why we unplugged.

    All in all we are SO glad we unplugged! Less distractions during the day, and feeling more connected to the people around us. We too were the type of people that mindlessly check Instagram if we had 3 seconds to kill while waiting in line. I must say it feels really good to be *present* and not feel like we have to keep up with what everyone is doing at any given moment. Thanks for the push, YNAB!!

  39. Les

    Just wanted to know if I should set up the google/ talkatone first before canceling service or does it not matter. Thanks for any help

  40. Winnie Nguyen (@huuynie)

    Wow! Nice tips on saving phone bills.
    I am an international student. Luckily, my university provides free Wi-Fi. Therefore, I did save a lot for my data usage. I definitely agree with you about using messenger application. Other apps might be Whatsapp, and Viber, which save me on texting credit. However, my problem is calling credit since I call my parents in oversea a lot and as old generation, they ain’t familiar with some apps like Google voice or Face Time. In the end, I always exceed my monthly plan credit for calling and they cost me quite a lot in my expense budget. I believe lots of oversea students are also facing the same problem with me.

    • Alex

      This is old school – but look into getting a calling card. You can get great Overseas rates on them and your mobile only gets charged a local call.

  41. Rachel

    I had been thinking about this very idea when I heard your original podcast. I started doing my research and uplugged a day or two before your post. It has been fine! I’m at work 8 hours a day, at home 12 hours a day (with sleeping) and driving for 1-2 hours a day (shouldn’t be using my phone!) so I knew I could do it. I’m a 34-year-old single mom, overly plugged-in, and needing some mental peace. Knowing that I *can’t* check Facebook at stoplights has actually been liberating! Similar to how I felt when I cancelled my Twitter and Pintrest accounts last year. So far I have had zero problems going wifi-only. I am not at all worried about emergencies, but I am going to get a Karma for those times I am out and about and awaiting messages (like where we are meeting for lunch, or if someone is running late). I bought the 7GB data package with my Karma and I bet that will last me a year.

    Sayonara, Verizon!

  42. September Gerety

    We pay about $145/month for unlimited talk/text/data on 4 phones (throttling on 2 of them after 1GB, I think, but those are teenagers’ phones, so I don’t care). After reading all this, I’ve come to three conclusions:

    1) There are people out there paying WAY more than we are.

    2) We could pay less but I want the convenience we have with no workarounds, so for now I’m going to stick with what we’ve got. We do a lot of texting and I like the ease of communication I have with my kids when they are at their various activities (though I know that this is not strictly “necessary” – when one of our phones died, my son had no trouble finding access to a phone to call me, but I like being able to call him, too!) Also, because we are a stepfamily, there are complicated dynamics that would not be helped by changing our current system. The way it is now seems “fair” to all four kids.

    3) This was the kick in the pants I needed to quit my cellphone facebook/twitter/pintrest addiction. I turned off my own phone’s data two days ago, and I’m happy. My running app still works with GPS and Google calendar still sends me text alerts. Those were the two things I have “needed” so far and worried that I wouldn’t have with no data. So at this point for me it’s not about the money, but about the quality of life and putting my focus on my work and family, where it should be!

    • September Gerety

      Just spent a little while figuring out our actual usage – we average 2,160 minutes, 4,852 texts, and 1.834 GB a month. Ting says they can’t beat our current service for what we use.

  43. Bits of Simplicity | Simple Heart

    […] cell phone service for free—yes, FREE!—with a digital device and a few cool apps, but a superlative post has already been written on the subject.) I also use a number of apps daily that have really […]

  44. Ross Edgin


    I’m turning off cellular data on my iPhone as a trial. I’m noticing an effect on the functionality of YNAB. IOS won’t allow YNAB to update unless I open the YNAB app. I think IOS 7 allows for background processing for apps now. Is this something that YNAB is going to support? That way, I can add transactions while I’m out, as normal. And when I return to a wifi connection, the app will sync automatically.

  45. mrsf15e

    If we have android Galaxy phones with AT&T contracts, what is the most efficient order for switching to Google Voice and AirVoice? Should we port our number to AirVoice first and cancel AT&T, then port again to Google Voice once we are up and running? Or should we do Google Voice port first, then sign on with Air Voice? The step by step process is a little confusing. Thanks!

    • Adam

      1. Buy your Airvoice SIM cards on eBay. Figure out which size you need (mini, micro, or nano).

      2. Set up your account with Airvoice. Get a new phone number.

      3. Port your phone number to google voice. This automatically cancels your AT&T account.

      • mrsf15e

        I would like to not have to get a new number, but use our existing one. So should I port my current number to AirVoice?

      • Adam

        If you want to use google voice, you need to have a different number for your cell phone. If you port your phone number to google voice then when someone calls you at your old number, it will ring through to your new one.

  46. Jessica

    Holy complicated, batman. My husband and I are in our thirties, and spend $100 for 1000 minutes every six months. The phone, which I suppose is ‘smart,’ lives in the car and is only used when we run into an emergency such as getting lost or have car trouble. Our kids can also call us on it when we are out together. If we find wifi out and about we can use the other smart features, but that almost never happens.

    We use free Google Voice and an Obi box at home, so our ‘land line’ which isn’t really, is free. We both work from home, and while I abhor texting, ALL my friends love it so I just text from my computer via Google Voice since my butt is in this office chair the bulk of the day. It’s been a nice solution.

    No, I am not 100% reachable all the time. In fact I LOVE being able to unplug and go to the grocery store without having sixteen people ‘need’ to contact me. Everything can wait while I pick out produce and breathe in and out. I haven’t had anyone bleed to death just because I didn’t have a phone stapled to my hand.

    I know many legitimately need their phones for work and such, but I can’t help but think that most of us would be happier without 24/7 access to the interwebs. Live a little, people. Facebook a little less.

  47. Gilbert_Sundevil

    Haven’t seen anybody mention FreedomPop, which is relatively new. Paid $100 for a refurbed HTC andrios OS phone. 250 min of Talk, 500 texts, and 500mgb of data for FREE.
    I’m test driving right now.

  48. beastofbodmin

    $ 1800 a year?!?

    I live in Switzerland, home of the not-very-cheap anything. Unless you really try to hunt deals down. The attitude of the Swiss seems to be to happily pay over the odds for services without thinking.

    My average expenditure is CHF 21.14 per month (that’s over the last 5 months, as I only recently got started with YNAB again after a long hiatus…). Or CHF 253.68 annualised. For me this has been a relatively busy period as I am in the process of buying an apartment, so I have to make calls on my mobile phone.

    That is with a monthly contract, not pre pay or pay as you go. No data plan either.

    What makes it work is I get a CHF 10.- per month loyalty discount, and I also pay CHF 10.- per month to have 3 Swiss numbers, fixed line or mobile, that I can call for free. My elected numbers are:

    My wife’s mobile number
    My home number
    The Rebtel access number in Switzerland

    That means I can call a fixed line in Switzerland for CHF 0.02 per minute. Mobile rates are CHF 0.20 – 0.30 but I am averse to using the mobile phone in the first place. I resent giving money to Orange.

  49. J.D.

    I guess the port works in your area? I tried porting my number, and it says it’s not available. I’m wondering if you can still do all this with the Google Voice Lite version. Does anybody know the answer to that before I decide to port my number to the lite version?

  50. Lainey

    I work for a regional cell phone company, and so get my smart phone for free through work. I was toying with the idea of getting an iPhone on a personal line of service recently (our work phones are Android but I prefer iPhones), which would cost a minimum of $60/mo. I was trying to justify the cost during a discussion with my boss a couple of weeks ago and he said, “Why don’t you just get a 5th generation iPod Touch? It’s basically an iPhone without the phone or service fees.” Done! Why hadn’t I thought of that?!? Now, I’m getting an iPod and can use it on the WiFi we already pay for at home and we have WiFi at work… Brilliant! Your article here just reinforced that that was the best decision!

  51. Perry-David van Dillen

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Scratch Wireless. $269 one time fee for the phone plus shipping (which was waived for me by their excellent customer service due to a shipping error), and after that no monthly payments. For $0 you get free texting from anywhere on Sprint’s network, free GPS use, and of course free calling, data and texting over WiFi. They provide you with a somewhat random phone number, but do offer the option to port your own. The nice thing about this option is that everything is already set up for you and you don’t have to do complex work arounds. Coming from a feature phone I would have preferred a non smartphone option (mainly for simplicity and the excellent battery life; smart phones really suck in that department), but for absolutely $0/month this is hard to beat. In a non-911 emergency I have also have the option to purchase a pass from Scratch Wireless for a few bucks to make that emergency call. And remember, texting is free on this, even when away from WiFi.

  52. Bea

    I switched my parents from Verizon to PagePlus almost a year ago and they have not noticed a difference in service. They had been paying $130 a month for 2 flip phones with no data. With PP I buy them 1,000 minutes for $80 and it last for 5 to 6 months. At one point I had my mom on the $30 monthly plan, but she was only using a fraction of the minutes, so I switched her to the pay per minute plan. If their usage changes, we’ll re-evaluate.

    I recently switched my iPhone from AT&T to H20. Unlike most of those who posted, I was paying about $40 a month with no data. I wanted some data, but would have had to double my plan to get it, and I only used a fraction of my allotted minutes and text (not unlimited) and was tired of giving AT&T money for something I wasn’t using. In my first month with H20 I used about $16 of my $30 pay per minute card and this includes using about 25 mb of data. As you can see I’m not a heavy data user and I mostly use wifi. I don’t have my cellular turned off, but it is turned off for most of my apps. I use iMessage but many of my friends and family do not have iPhones. I also use FaceTime Audio. Most of my usage is calls to non iPhone users, as it was when I had AT&T, but now I only pay for what I use. So far so good with H20, but the MMS situation can be annoying. I don’t use it a lot, but I sometimes miss those messages and pictures from friends and family because my workaround has failed. When i refill I’ll buy 1,000 minutes for $100 and see how long it lasts. If my needs change, I’ll re-evaluate.

  53. Denise

    I love this article on saving money on cell phone. I use prepaid in Canada with Fido for 365 days, $100 a year. My husband pays around $80 for his monthly fido bill. I use my iphone 4 for emergencies, plus I use Fongo. Fongo is an app on my iphone which is a free cdn VoIP. I use Fongo when I have access to wifi. I can live without data because wifi is almost everywhere.
    To save on my txts, I use Imessenger and Whatsapp. When I feel the need to have data, I can buy a data day pass for $1.00
    I am still trying to find a way to have a data only plan on my iphone 4 so I can use Fongo as my main cell which will be VoIP.

  54. Rick Stevens

    I bought a Moto G with Republic Wireless to take advantage of all of the WiFi capabilities you mention here–highly recommend it! If you’d like to save $20 on your own Republic Wireless purchase, feel free to use this referral link: http://rwshar.es/1r3e

  55. C. Jackson

    A lot of people mention the need for mobile data to use Google maps. All Nokia handsets running Windows Phone have built-in off-line mapping capability. Just download whatever maps you need (they’re available by state/country) over WiFi and they’re on your phone forever. GPS will work whether or not you have any cell service at all. Super simple and no need to pay for a $30 app. Never understood why Google/Android couldn’t do the same thing.

    I’m on T-Mobile’s $30/month prepaid plan with unlimited data (4G for first 500MB), text, and 100 minutes. I thought I was doing pretty well (my friends all pay $70+ for AT&T or Verizon) until I read this article. I’m now inspired to find an even cheaper alternative!

  56. Gabriel Rivas

    Little is mentioned about FreedomPop. You pay nothing to get 200 mins, 500 texts and 500MB in data. Also, FreedomPop has Unlimited Everything for only $20 (no fees or taxes) that gives unlimited texts, unlimited talk and unlimited data (after 1GB it is reduced to 3G). FreedomPop has the Samsung Galaxy S3 for $200 and the Samsung S4 for $350. You can use these Android phones as WIFI Hotspot for free too. Furthermore, the iPhone5 is offered for $400, but it can’t be used for wifi hotspot (unless you jailbreak it).

    I cancelled my Sprint service, and brought my own phone to FreedomPop. I paid $20 for activation. Now I only pay $6.50 a month ($2.50 for voicemail, and $4 for Data Rollover). I have the free voice plan and data plan which I pay nothing.

  57. Pat Jones

    I just use a T-Mobile flip phone using a prepaid plan. $100 a year for 1,000 minutes. I can call home, emergency services, taxi, tow truck, ect.

  58. wendell

    I have my personal version of Republic Wireless (sorta) that I came up with that is a blend of cell phone and voip (wi fi phone) . It is not for everyone in that I don’t make that many phone calls and I don’t have data but it saves me a bundle.

    I use an old T-Mobile dumb phone(bought it 5 years ago with a 2 year contract) with prepaid minutes and TextMe, a voip app on my Ipod Touch.
    On the TextMe wifi phone I buy 1000 minutes for $16.00 which also gives me nationwide calling in the US and Canada and unlimited texting (SMS, MMS including group texting) to 40 other countries.

    As a back up I put 1000 minutes on my T-Mobile ($100.00) cell phone to supplement the wifi phone for emergencies etc where I call and be called when I am away from home and other wifi hotspots.

    I use my wifi phone on my ITouch 90% of the time and the cell the rest of the time. I also use Skype voice calls free to other skypers and Imessage for free texts to fellow Itouch/Iphone friends and family.
    This plan gives me adequate personal communication at a fraction of what it would cost to own a smartphone for the basics…calling and texting.

    My cost for a year? On average a little over 10 bucks a month.

    Of course the above cost is without data and, again my plan is not for everyone but it sure works for me and am loving all the money I save.

    • perrydavid

      If you think you could live without MMS and shortcodes you should definitely look into Scratch Wireless. It would likely be cheaper for you and would certainly be a less cumbersome option. Free calls and texts over wifi and unlimited texts over cell in the US for $0/month. You have the option to purchase 24 hour voice (our even data) passes for about $2 if the need arises. Check them out: http://bit.ly/1zUNTFn

      • wendell

        Thanks perrydavid for the Scratch Wireless info.
        However two things worry me about that service.
        User reviews on the phone all to frequently mention battery problems.
        The other is Sprint coverage. I have heard they are using Verizon on roaming but here in Seattle they have far fewer towers than TMobile and I have doubts about the quality of service I’d get from Sprint.
        In 5 years of using T-Mobile I have had good reception everywhere I have traveled in the US and dropped calls are a rarity.
        So probably I am going to stay with my old technology feature phone and the voip I have.
        I treat my cell like a landline for the most part. I leave it at home unless I am going on a trip.
        Otherwise I don’t need it unless it would be for the “sky is falling” variety of emergency like an 8.0 quake , flood, or Mt Rainier eruption. My wifi phone can handled everything else. That, or I’ll borrow somebody’s phone.

  59. jive365

    So, one of the problems I have with many of these, and many heavily marketed, “budget” solutions using minor carriers is coverage. Verizon/AT&T still lead the pack here and I am very familiar with the real differences because I have family members using other minor carriers, they frankly stink outside major metro’s (which is where you could most easily get away with the wifi-only options anyway).

    I know my solution won’t help most folks who’ve either chosen or been tricked out of their unlimited data plans by the big guys, but I am now paying $45 a month to Verizon for unlimited data, talk, and text. I have a $15/month, 30-minute (none of which I use) calling plan, and my $29.99 unlimited data plan, AND I’m now entirely out of contract.

    I have a google voice number integrated with Hangouts and that’s the key and the only thing you need to make this work. You can use your existing Google Voice number, port your cell number into Google Voice and use that, or get a new number from Google Voice; you just need to make sure people call you on the Google Voice phone number linked with your Hangouts app. These calls are completely data and use no minutes at all; if Verizon would let me drop my 30-minute plan, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

    The catch really is that you need to make sure you place all calls (as well as texts) from Hangouts because the app doesn’t (yet) position itself as a phone app to Android and so phone number “links” in texts, webpages, emails, etc automatically load to the Phone app and would use your minutes if you called from there; instead just copy and paste the number into Hangouts. Obviously, also no more discounted phone upgrades, but frankly the savings more than make up for it and this really puts you in the driver seat again when deciding when you REALLY want to upgrade your phone next.

    • jive365

      Oh, and by the way, if you have employer/group discounts those all apply to both plans too. For example, in reality I also have a total 15% discount off of those two plans I mentioned. Total monthly charges: ~$38.25+tax.

  60. Ambz

    if your unable to set up a wifi connection in your home, is there anything else you could buy that will allow you to use internet on a disconnected iphone 5 (plan being restricted)

  61. gman

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned Republic Wireless or not, basically uses the wifi for your texting, talking etc.. but gives you cell coverage when you need it, you decide if you what you need and what you pay for so these company’s are not continuing to double dip on us like leaches!! I got it for my 12 year old, paid for a smart phone for him through this service and will be changing over my other two lines upon completion of my current obligation to the evil empire called verizon. such a colossal waste of money these things we say we cant live without.

  62. wendell

    Wifi will become even more available as time marches on.
    I have heard that Google is in the process of “wi-fying” major malls and community centers across the country with free wifi.

    I understand the much detested Comcast hit the panic button recently when they learned of this move by Google and made available to their customers “xfinity wifi”.
    Xfinity Wifi allows a Comcast customer to use other Comcast customers wifi (a sub band or something like that) thus expanding the Comcast Xfinity wifi network by millions of users.
    As a Comcast customer I plugged into the free Xfinity Wifi and I have been kinda impressed.
    One of my favorite places here is Seattle is a an upscale supermarket with dining areas where one can partake of their purchased beverage and, or, food.

    The market has no wifi.

    That all changed when I added Xfinity Wifi as I now pick up xfinity wifi from somewhere. This without having to go through the usual log in drill at places like Starbucks. In fact I have used Xfinity Wifi instead of Starbucks wifi on a few occasions.
    If anyone is using Xfinity Wifi would like to get your opinion this service.

  63. Marianne

    This is a great article and thread.

    I sold my iPhone 5 in May which I had a grandfathered unlimited data plan with Verizon but felt I just couldn’t keep paying $105/month for. I have been since using a Moto X with Republic Wireless and Google Voice (I live in a bad cell area so I also use Ooma with GV as a home phone). I began with RW’s $25/month plan which is unlimited talk/text/3G data. After several months I realized that I mostly used the Moto X with wifi cause RWs Sprint network was not working for me and so I switched to the $5/month wifi only plan. I wanted a phone that would work outside and in my neighborhood so I got an ATT GoPhone and activated it with a sim from Walmart. The ATT coverage map looked good with LTE in my area but it turns out it is not. Pretty much anywhere out of downtown areas (I’m in rural-ish SC) is owned by Verizon. Not sure what to do now. I’d like to have something with talk and text that works on VZW and that I can use with my GV number. I don’t need a large allotment of minutes/texts but something to communicate when I am out and about. My vision is not good and would need a decent touchscreen keyboard for texting. I have an iPad mini that can work with VZW but am not sure if I can use it to text with Google Voice or Hangouts or make receive calls on it OR if I could use it as a wifi hotspot with the RW Moto X. Do anyone know about this or have any ideas? Thanks.

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