Friday, June 12, 2015

Phrugal Phones

I've previously written about changing our cell phone service to one we hoped would be more budget friendly. We had been with T-Mobile, and our two smartphones were costing us around $115 a month including taxes.  Given I know of folks that pay upwards of $200 a month for similar service, it wasn't bad...but I wanted to do better.  So, with some specific requirements in mind, we made the switch (for more details on the requirements and decision making progress, check out these posts). We have been with the Ting cell service for over 3 months now (3 billing cycles) and have traveled up the coast, so I figure it is time for an update.

So far we are very happy with the service. Our theory of having one phone on each network seems to have paid off as at least one phone has had service any time we have wanted it...including a few spots where I didn't expect any signal at all. The best part though, is that our bill has been $31.36 a month (including all taxes and fees) for the last 3 months. That means we have saved $250.92 since we switched. If you include buying the one new phone (we didn't have one that would work on the Sprint network), we are still ahead by about $80. I consider this to be a big budget win for us.

To consistently get this low of a bill, we have made some changes to how we use our phones. If you recall, our provider bills based on actual usage. Understanding how our phones work and slightly adjusting our phone usage habbits, we have been able to reduce our usage in most categories. In case you are interested in reducing your phone bill, keep reading and I will highlight what we have done.

For basic phone service, you are charged for the minutes of conversation used. We used to use around 500 minutes a month. We now seem to use 250 to 400 minutes a month (and did a lot of calling to marinas and boatyard this past month) putting us into the $9 "medium" charge group. To reduce our minutes usage, we try to utilize VOIP solutions when we have access to reliable, reasonably fast, and free WiFi service. For our newer Android phone, the Google Hangouts Dialer (part of Google Voice) usually works well. We also use GrooveIP with a RingTo number on both phones (and have a "local" Florida number in addition to our Colorado numbers).  Using VOIP for longer conversations with family and other calls can really save some minutes. I've made calls using WiFi at marinas and restaurants with success. The typical downsides with VOIP are delays and dropouts when Internet connectivity isn't good...but it is similar to a bad cell phone connection and you can always call back using minutes if needed.

We never used to do much texting, but now do use it from time to time for shorter messages. We have been in the $3 "small" message charge group. The key with messages is to avoid a lot of back and forth "conversations" that can result in 25 or more messages for one interaction.

Megabytes of data has been the place we seem to have saved the most. We used to have an unlimited plan and I think we were between 500 and 600 megabytes a month. So far we have managed to stay under 100 MB in the $3 "small" data charge group. To reduce our data consumption, we typically try to connect the phones to WiFi signals when they are available and do more data intensive tasks only on WiFi (including blog posts). We changed the phone update settings to manual and only do updates when on WiFi.  We also turn off the cellular data connection (not WiFi but 3G, 4G, LTE) when we are not actively using it since there are a lot of applications that regularly communicate over the Internet (it is how your phone knows you have new mail and that your Facebook friend just "liked" that you had spaghetti for lunch).

One big data hog we used to use was the Google integrated navigation app that supplied turn by turn directions. This application is constantly downloading map images and data and can run up your usage.  We still need navigation help, but use an application called Navmii that allows you to download navigation data (by state) while connected to WiFi. When searching for places, it helps to be connected, but the downloaded data includes some street addresses and has been able to get us where we needed to go. This is a great app to have even if you are not trying to reduce usage if you happen to go to places with bad cell phone coverage.

So, there you have it. So far so good. I still expect our bill to occasionally go higher when we aren't near any free WiFi, but even then I expect it will be a lower bill than before. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the 2/3 savings.

If you are interested in giving Ting a try, this link should give you a $25 credit on a device or your first month's service (and it helps me out too):

No comments:

Post a Comment