I've shared my cell phone woes (or should I spell it "woe$"?) before. For years, my family has spent upwards of $300 per month for cell phone stuff. This is not exactly *my* choice. In fact, there's a chance that I've violated my own "don't-drive-them-crazy" rule and have nagged at my husband about the absurdity of flinging large amounts of perfectly good money at conglomerate cell phone companies. Nonetheless, thousands upon thousands of Miser Mom's Money has buoyed up a certain cell phone company.
We've finally made a switch to several other providers, and it seems like a good time for a comparison. I'm going to name names, but that's not because I am a brand-loyal person: it's more to give a sense of what kinds of options we've rumbled across.
Both of my sons and I are now on a phone plan that seems to be working really well. The three of us pay $37/month, for all three of our phones combined; this includes talk, cell, and data most places.
One of the things I love most about our current plan is that we never get hit with surprise charges. Well, almost never: the two times I've had a bill larger than $37 was when N-son's phone broke (this has happened twice) and we ordered a new one; each time, the next bill came with charges for four lines instead of three lines. We immediately cancelled the fourth line, and went back to the usual monthly fee.
In particular, my sons can't download things (ringtones, photos) that cost extra money. They can't go over some weird limit on calls or texts or data, so they never run up the bill. This is a HUGE help to me as a parent.
Our plan (through Republic Wireless) gives us unlimited calls and texts anywhere there's cell phone service, and we also get unlimited data wherever we connect to the internet. When my sisters and dad and I were vacationing in cell-phone-dead-zones in Tahoe last week, my phone was the only one that worked, because we happened to be in a place that had wi-fi. I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of wi-fi, and less and less of a fan of cellular anything. (More about this when I compare to Verizon and Ting).
If I wanted to use the phone out of wi-fi range for data, I could upgrade my plan for a bit more money: my daughter also uses Republic, and she gets the unlimited everything on 3G service, which costs about $30/month for one person. But as for me, I like the enforced frugality of using email and the web only in designated areas.
For my husband, the killer is that Republic only accepts their own kind of phones (Motorola something-or-others). He can't bring his iPhone over. For me, a smart phone is a huge upgrade from my Captain Kirk flip-phone, so I don't know what I'm missing -- which is okay; I don't want to know, either.
Our long-term provider has a cellular network with good reception. That's why my husband has stuck with it so long -- extreme reliability was extremely important to him at his job. A PR guy has to be instantly accessible, and he spent untold hours on his phone, schmoozing with friends and editors and colleagues and reporters.
But as for me, I always felt like I was going into some kind of battle of the wits when I tried to deal with Verizon. It started when my husband explained that the reason we couldn't switch is because we'd get a kill fee before our contract expired, and then our contract kept getting extended, and extended . . . in the end, when my husband actually was truly ready to switch providers, he discovered that Verizon had extended our contract yet again. (They did this by telling him, "If you switch to such-and-such a data plan, you'll save $10/month," -- but didn't tell him about the contract. By this point, even my husband was so infuriated at their bait-and-switch that we paid two kill fees and ditched the service anyway.) Moral of the story: if you think you or any other person in your household isn't up for a battle of the wits, it's better to pay the kill fee now rather than paying it five years and many thousand dollars from now.
But even without the cancellation fee, there had been surprise costs sprung on us. Before my children left the plan (bringing our bill down to "only" $120/month), Verizon had found numerous other ways to lure unsuspecting members of my family to pay more than they knew they were paying. Tech-savvy daughters had their data plans changed under their noses. My sons ran up high bills by purchasing ring tones and sending photos on phones -- phones that I had carefully set up to be call-only phones (or so I thought after spending several hours on the phone with Verizon reps). And these surprise charges came on top of regular, hefty family-plan monthly charges. Enough. We're done already.
And the Mis-Matched:
Switching my husband off of the phone plan he'd come to rely on was traumatic for him. It's difficult to convey to normal people just how important a phone is to my husband. Here's one true story that sort-of gets at his phone-o-philia: in 2007, my husband was racing his bike downhill, when he crashed. He was taken by helicopter to the hospital with many broken bones, including three bones in his neck. When I saw him, he was lying on his back in the emergency room, strapped to a gurney with a neck brace holding him in place, and there was a plastic surgeon at his head stitching up a giant gash in his face. The first thing my husband said at that moment was, "I need to get a new cell phone."
(Because he thought his phone had been smashed in the crash, just like his neck).
(But his phone was just fine; it hadn't gotten hurt at all).
(Oh, thank goodness).
So as I tried to convince my husband to switch away from the money pit that was our cell-phone bill, I followed the advice of two bloggers who are financially careful, but who aren't as . . . um, extreme as I am. Both Mrs. Planting Our Pennies and the The Frugal Girl are cost conscious, but unlike me they buy things that have brand names. I mean, on purpose. And they both have had several posts raving about Ting, which I shared with my husband.
Their posts convinced him a change was possible. Early this year, he told me he'd decided to make the switch June 14, after he was done with Army Drill. June 14, he changed his mind and said he'd switch in early July, after he was done with a trip to the Senior Olympics. Early July, he needed to wait a bit longer so he could help J-son get a job. The tension was mounting.
July 31, the day he actually did switch over from Verizon to Ting, he was a total wreck. I tried to do just what I'd been taught in my training as a Hospice Volunteer: I stayed nearby, serving as "a calm, non-anxious presence". My husband panicked a few times during the transfer . . . the password didn't work!!! (Then he tried it again, and it did work the second time). We need to change the sim chip!! (I looked it up on my computer, found a paperclip to stick in the right hole, and switched out the sim chip.)
Finally, the time had come. The switch had been made. My husband turned on his phone, now hooked up to Ting, and . . . it worked! Yay!!!
Um, except it doesn't.
In spite of the raves of others who love it, we can't get reception in our home -- something about Ting going through T-Mobile's network. It's been two weeks now, and whenever my husband gets a phone call, he has to run out of the house, through the yard, and into the garage before he can talk. Clearly, this is not going to be a long-term success.
In the interim, my guy has gamely figured out how to set up Skype inside the house, so if someone calls him, even though the call is immediately dropped, he can tell who called and call back on his computer. He's surprisingly cheerful about it, given how much a good cell connection means to him, but this is still not optimal.
But it gets (slightly) worse. Unlike our old Verizon plan or my current Republic plan, Ting is pay-what-you-use. For frugal people like me or the Frugal Gal or Mrs. PoP, that would translate into low bills. But my husband is an "extra large" user of talk and data; even without using the phone inside our home -- and because he's retired, he's home a lot -- he's racked up $75 in charges this first month. So we're still paying a lot of money for a phone that doesn't work reliably. Sigh.
|My husband talks and uses data in an XL way. |
His texting is only a Medium.
Clearly, we're going to have to find something new. We're not sure what yet. Our host-daughter, Y, tells us that her AT&T phone works fine in the house -- so we're probably looking at something that runs off of AT&T or Verizon. But we have the luxury of time; we don't have a contract. So this is temporarily do-able, even if it's not perfect.