The Cheapest Cell Phone Plans for Every Type of Person

by Chris Tecmire

Cell Phone

 

I don’t like cell phones.

I have no desire to be available 24/7.  If I’m out of the house, I’m probably busy, so leave a message at my house and I’ll get back to you when I’m able to.  In other words, I’d like the option to ignore you without you knowing that I’m ignoring you.

I don’t like that every 8 year old in America now has one.  I could say a lot more about this, but that’s not the point of this article and you don’t want me wandering down that rabbit trail.

But, most of all, I don’t like how much money they cost.  As you know, cell phone plans generally cost between $50 and $1,000,000 per month.

 

However, I understand that I’m out-numbered in my hatred for cell phones.  Additionally, I know that I’m a grouch, I’m old (I’m turning 33 in a few days), and I’m out of touch.  Bah humbug!

So, I’ve put aside my feelings to do some research to find the cheapest cell phone plans on the market today.  But, we all have different needs, so one or two plans won’t work.  The following list has been divided into 5 distinct types of plans.  We’ll look at everything from “all I want is an emergency cell phone” to “I’d like to be able to run a small country from my smart phone.”  There are deals to be found no matter what your situation.

 

By the way, each of the following plans should be “no contract” plans.  They are either prepaid cards or monthly plans that you can set up to renew automatically each month, but can be canceled anytime.

 

 

The Cheapest Cell Phone Plans for Every Type of Person

 

But, what if my toe falls off and there’s no phone around?

Less than 50 minutes/month

 

This is for those who want a true emergency cell phone – for those who aren’t interested in chatting, but like the convenience and safety of having a phone with them in an emergency.

1.  T-mobile ($3.33/month)

$10 prepaid card – 30 minutes – expires in 90 days

This is the epitome of an emergency phone.  You only have 30 minutes for a 3 month period, but that’s all you need if it’s only for emergencies.  Unless you are REALLY accident prone.

2.  Airvoice ($4.33/month)

$10 prepaid card – 100 minutes – expires in 90 days – $1/month “maintenance fee”

The maintenance fee puts the price at $4 per month instead of $3, but you do get a few more minutes in case you need them.  The coverage map looks pretty decent too.

 

You can talk to me, but keep it brief!

50 – 200 minutes/month

 

1.  Platinumtel ($5/month)

$10 prepaid card – 200 minutes – expires in 60 days (100 minutes/month)

Platinumtel can certainly lay claim to having the cheapest overall plans on the market.  That’s who I’ve been using for the last couple years (an even cheaper option that’s no longer available), but they recently changed their coverage and apparently I’m being pushed out.

I live in Northern Michigan – not exactly 7G territory (or whatever they’re up to now).  However, they didn’t even warn me of the changes.  I happened to call them when doing some research for this article because there were some inconsistencies between the website and the current service I have, and they sprung the bad news on me.  So, needless to say, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Platinumtel, but they are the cheapest service available, so I figured I should at least mention them.

Plus, I must say that I haven’t had any problem with their cell phone service during the time we’ve used their phone, and if you live near a metropolitan area you’re probably still within reach of their new coverage.  So, go ahead…I won’t blame you if you choose the enemy ;)

2.  Airvoice ($6/month)

$20 prepaid card – 210 minutes – expires in 120 days – $1/month “maintenance fee” (52.5 minutes/month)

3.  Platinumtel ($8.33/month)

$100 prepaid card – 2000 minutes – expires in 1 year (167 minutes/month)

Same price as the options to follow, but double the minutes.

4a.  T-mobile ($8.33/month)

$100 prepaid card - 1000 minutes – expires in 1 year (83 minutes/month)

4b.  AT & T ($8.33/month)

$25 prepaid card – 250 minutes – expires in 90 days (83 minutes/month)

Each of these options are from major carriers and allow texting as well.  T-mobile texts count as 1 minute and AT&T texts count as 2 minutes.  Additional texting plans are available.

Other Considerations

Several companies, including AT&T, have a prepaid option that charges you $2 per day instead of per minute.  Meaning you can talk or text as much as your little heart desires during a single day and they will only charge you $2 for that day.  However, if Aunt Josephine texts you the next day and that’s the only communication you have all day, you still get charged $2 for that day as well.

The $2 a day plans use the normal prepaid cards and the expiration dates of the cards still apply, so you can’t wait 6 months in between cell phone splurges.

 

I love to talk to my friends…but I don’t have a lot of friends

200 – 500 minutes (talk and text only)

 

This is for the casual cell phone user who doesn’t need a data plan because they’re willing to wait until they get home to read the next incredible article from SimpleFamilyFinance.

1.  Airvoice ($10/month)

Airvoice offers a 250 minute monthly plan with no contracts (can be set up to automatically renew each month).  Texts counts as only half a minute, so you could talk for 250 minutes or send 500 texts instead.  That’s a pretty great value.

2.  Net10 ($15/month)

This is a monthly plan with 200 minutes.  Net10 also offers a $100, 1500 minute prepaid card that lasts for 6 months.  So, for less than $2/month more, you would end up with an extra 50 minutes per month on average.

3.  Virgin Mobile ($20/month)

You get 400 minutes, but it’s a little unclear how the texting works.  They say it costs 15 cents per text, so I’m assuming that just comes out of your minutes (3 minutes).

Other Consideration

If you don’t really need a data plan, but would like to text to your heart’s content, AT&T has a prepaid $25 monthly plan that includes 250 minutes (talk) and unlimited texting.  However, it may be cheaper to simply use the $8.33/month prepaid card above (only 83 minutes per month) and add a $10/month texting plan that allows for 1000 texts.

 

I may not have an iPhone, but that doesn’t mean I’m not important

Plenty of Minutes (Talk, Text, and Data)

 

1.  Airvoice ($30/month)

$30 monthly plan with unlimited talk and texting and 100 MB data.  There is also a $40/month plan with 1 GB of data!

2.  Virgin Mobile ($30/month)

$30 monthly plan with 1500 talk, 1500 text, and 30 MB data

3.  StraightTalk ($30/month)

$30 monthly plan with 1000 talk, 1000 text, and 30MB data

Straight Talk is owned by Verizon and are available at Wal Mart.  It’s a similar plan to the Virgin Mobile option above, but offers less talk and text minutes.  Airvoice is a little bit more, but might be the best value since it gives you 3x the data and unlimited talk and text.  The Airvoice plan once again looks pretty appealing.

 

I love my Smart Phone more than my children…and I’m not ashamed to admit it

Unlimited talk, text, and data plans designed for smart phones

 

1.  Platinumtel ($40/month)

You get unlimited talk, text, and data with 4G speed for the first 250 MB of data.  A $50/month version is available if you need 4G speeds for the first 2 GB instead.

2.  Metro PCS ($40/month)

A similar plan as the Platinumtel option above, except you receive 4G for the first 500 MB instead.  The $50 version offers high speed data for 2.5 GB.  However, it appears that you have to buy a 4G phone from Metro PCS to receive the offer.

3.  Straight Talk ($45/month)

Unlimited talk, text, and data.  A prepaid 1 year option is available for $495.  If you chose the one year plan it would knock the monthly cost down to $41.25/month.

4.  Net10 ($45/month)

Unlimited everything once again.  The $45 charge is only if the plan is on “auto refill.”  Otherwise, it’s $50/month.

Other Consideration

Virgin Mobile offers a smart phone plan that’s reasonably priced, but not included in this section because it’s not completely “unlimited.”  However, for those of you who want plenty of data and would rather text than talk, they offer a 300 minute (talk) and unlimited text and data plan for only $35/month.

 

 

Parting Thoughts

  • Most wireless companies are heading away from contract-based plans due to customer demand, but you’ll want to make sure before jumping into anything.
  • The majority of the companies that I checked now allow you to keep your old phone and buy a SIM card from them for $5 – $15, but if they don’t allow that option, you may to factor the price of one of their phones into the equation as well.
  • If you have a large family and everyone has a phone, you’ll want to consider family plans as well.  They usually work out to around a $5/month discount per line from what I’ve seen.  Just do the math to figure out what’s best for your family.  Sometimes it might even be best to stay away from the family plan and share fewer phones.  It depends on your situation.
  • Depending on your location, not all of these companies may offer coverage in your area.  Check the map on their website before buying.
  • We’ll take a look at a few frugal home phone options in the weeks to come.

 

If you’re still spending $70 – $100+ each month on your cell phone plan it’s time to take a closer look at what you really need.  How many minutes do you use each month?  Do you usually text or call?  Do you need a data plan, and if so, is 4G really necessary?  Analyze your cell phone bill in order to find any wasted dollars that may be lying around.  Once you’ve decide what you need from your phone, determine if any of the plans listed above will save you some cash.

Or do what you SHOULD do and chuck your cell phone against the nearest tree :)   Talk about savings!

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Cell Phone image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Krystal May 2, 2013 at 9:10 am

I too like being unavailable so I typically give out my home number.. But we travel a lot so a cell phone feels necessary… Luckily I know some really great people who added a line to their sprint plan so my bill is only $30 a month for unlimited everything on my free iPhone! I think I am a little spoiled!! :)

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Sarah T. May 2, 2013 at 9:45 am

I’d like to think another in the running is Tracfone. Their minutes are more expensive on paper but do have phones that automatically triple any card you buy. You do have to get their phone, but they are not too bad ($50 or less). For $200 you can get 1500 min triples to 4500 for a year of service. That’s $16.66/mo. for 375min. Or you can do 90 days and 200 (600) min for $40 which is $13.33/mo for 200min. Or for $8.33/mo you can get 100 min. when you buy a $100 year card with 400 (tripled to 1200). What I like about them is that texts are .3 min and getting on the web is .5 min/minute. So while any part of a minute talking is a minute, each text is a lot less. Plus if you *need* to access something online, it is available, albiet slower than molasses in January (or in this case, May). All minutes carry over as long as you keep your phone active. We had great service wherever we went with them too.

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Chris Tecmire May 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Good point. Sounds like they’re in the running too. When I checked their website, they mention double points, but not triple. Double points still put them behind the rest, but it sounds like triple would do the job :) Thanks for the info Sarah!

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tereza crump aka mytreasuredcreations May 3, 2013 at 2:02 am

We hate cell phones too. Only use them for emergencies and for my dH work. We use tracfone. We spend about $100/ year.

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joyce May 2, 2013 at 12:25 pm

you might also want to check out kajeet. my daughters have plans with them. one has 30 min talk/unlimited text for $16.49; the other has 140 (?) min talk/unlimited text/unlimited picture messaging for $22-something a month. kajeet is designed for parents to allow their kids to have cell phones and set boundaries on the usage, but anyone over 18 can have his/her own account with kajeet. my girls have been pleased with the service and rates. they have the amount deducted from their bank account each month.
and i would second sarah’s comment above about tracfone. definitely an inexpensive option for basic cell service. i used them for about 5 years. i like that as long as you renew before your minutes run out, you can roll them over to the next set of minutes purchased. but i was only using my phone to talk, and mostly for emergencies (i carry it in the car with me) so i ended up with lots of minutes left over at the end of my year, and had to buy so many more to extend it for another year that it finally got to be more expensive, so i switched to t-mobile. so i buy 1000 minutes for $100 and it will last me all year, or longer. but with them, once you’ve purchased $100 worth of minutes (cumulative), all your additional purchases, no matter the amount, add a small percentage of bonus minutes to your account and extend the usage deadline.

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Lynn May 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm

A less-than-thirty-five-year-old who hates cellphones? That’s amazing! And refreshing! I have and older-style flip phone which puts me in the old-timer’s category….but I don’t care. The phone and I have a long-term relationship and we understand each other perfectly. Why change now?? My children think I’m hilarious. Eight-year-olds with cellphones? That’s sad.

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Rachel May 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I recently saw Walmart advertising an unlimited plan (talk, text and data), for $40 a month. The difference is the data at one point switches over from 4g to 2g. Never used it but thought it was worth mentioning.

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Chris Tecmire May 2, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Thanks for the tip Rachel. I think that’s what a lot of the cheaper unlimited plans are doing now. They give you a certain amount of 4G and then it switches to 2G. You have to pay more if you want the super fast speeds all the time. Or you could just use the internet less on your phone. The ones I found seemed to switch around 250 MB to 500 MB for the cheapest plan and around 2 GB for the second tier. Thanks for the comment!

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margaret May 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I buy used phones on Ebay that will work with ATT. I then put my sim card for my prepaid plan into that phone (I’ve traded up through the years). What I have now is a phone I bought for $35–has a decent camera, does email etc etc. I buy a $25 3-month card which is usually all I need, along with a $3-$4 message plan.
Works great for me, but then I hate cell phones also–just need one sometimes.

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Bill May 31, 2013 at 10:23 pm

A couple you missed that will run circles around these plans.

For the, “You can talk to me, but keep it brief!”, section, nothing beats PagePlus. For $10, 100 minutes every 4 months. That’s $2.50 a month. My wife uses this plan, and has minutes carried over from previous months. I think she’s at 160+ minutes. It works for her.

http://www.pagepluscellular.com/

For me, I’ve been using a phone on my dad’s plan, but I’m 43, and should be buying my own phone. I only had it because my mom could talk to me for free, but she passed away a couple years ago, so it is high time to let it go. I’m considering using Ting. It’s really hard to pin it down to any section here, but for as low as $9 a month for 100 minutes, it’s pretty good.

You pay a $6 fee per phone per month. You can use 100 minutes or less for $3, jump up to 500 minutes for $9, 1000 for $18, etc. Same sort of thing for messaging and data. But here’s the kicker. You aren’t set into any tier. You only pay for what you use each month. So use 500 minutes one month, pay $9. Next month only 50 minutes, $3. Right now, I would probably use $9 a month, as I can move my messaging to my Google Voice number. Devices are as low as $69 new, $43 used, and you can bring your Sprint phone with you if you have one. Only problem may be it’s on the Sprint network. Check it out:

https://ting.com/plans

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Chris Tecmire June 3, 2013 at 7:23 am

Thanks for the heads up Bill! I hadn’t heard of those companies, but they sound like they’d make good options as well. I’ll definitely check them out.

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Ann July 28, 2013 at 2:28 am

Republic Wireless has an unlimited phone, text and data plan for $19/mo. The only downside is that you have to buy their phone, as it’s a hybrid Wifi/cell network. http://www.republicwireless.com

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Judy September 20, 2013 at 11:14 pm

The link to Airvoice opens a new window with this message:
The page cannot be found

The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable.
Please try the following:

Make sure that the Web site address displayed in the address bar of your browser is spelled and formatted correctly.
If you reached this page by clicking a link, contact the Web site administrator to alert them that the link is incorrectly formatted.
Click the Back button to try another link.
HTTP Error 404 – File or directory not found.
Internet Information Services (IIS)

Technical Information (for support personnel)

Go to Microsoft Product Support Services and perform a title search for the words HTTP and 404.
Open IIS Help, which is accessible in IIS Manager (inetmgr), and search for topics titled Web Site Setup, Common Administrative Tasks, and About Custom Error Messages.

Reply

Chris Tecmire September 21, 2013 at 7:41 am

Thanks for the comment Judy. I have updated the links, so they should take you to the appropriate site now. It looks like Airvoice recently changed their website (as well as lowered one of their prices from $35 to $30/mo!). Thanks for pointing this out.

Reply

carl September 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm

What about Wal-Mart’s Family Mobile plan? you get unlimited talk, text and web (albeit throttled after 2gigs) for only $40 a month ($35 additional lines). It’s not a contract and not prepaid either. It kicks Sprint’s butt and sounds better than some of these plans you’ve mentioned and the coverage is great (through T-mobile).

Reply

Chris Tecmire September 21, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Sounds pretty good Carl. Thanks for pointing it out – I wasn’t aware.

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carl September 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Ann: I tried Republic for about a month. The calls mainly either didn’t go through or I couldn’t receive or they dropped. You have to hook up through wifi and if you’re driving, you get out of that zone quickly. Their pass-off from wifi to 3g through Sprint is anything but seamless.
If you or someone you know makes less than 125% of the poverty level, try Safelink Wireless. You’ll get a free phone with 250 minutes a month. Texts count as 1/5 minute. No data though.

Reply

Rosedala November 16, 2013 at 12:35 am

Thanks for great and useful article! I’m looking for a very simple and inexpensive cellphone (never had one) with an inexpensive plan.
Tracfone offers cellphones for $10 or a free one plus $19.99 for 120 minutes for 60 or 90 days (don’t recall). I only need this phone for 2 or 3 times a month and this would more than adequately serve the purpose. But when I called them I could hardly understand their heavy Filippino accent so I couldn’t communicate well. If anyone knows of a similar offering, kindly let me know? My zip code is 10036. Thanks ever so much! :o )

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products December 17, 2013 at 12:25 am

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