Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Here we continue with our monthly series on personal finance and budgeting, where I lay out real figures and percentages of income in an attempt to clear the collective air around these "highly sensitive" matters.  After all, until we get real about money, how can we ever resolve some of the class conflicts that are so prevalent in American society?

We've talked about insurance and health care.

We've discussed home ownership and the American dream.

Today, the digital revolution:  phones.

Let me preface all of this by saying that we are kind of phone snobs.  This is a luxury that we allow ourselves.  We have no land line, no home internet, and no cable.  But we have top of the line phones.  I have a sleek black iPhone 4, and Jeff has a nice Android.  I don't talk on the phone that much, but I use it for data constantly.  (It especially saved my sanity when I was spending hours and hours a day trapped in bed with a newborn.)  Jeff talks on the phone more than anyone I've ever met in my life.  In the past, when we have had plans with a defined number of minutes, he always uses them all or exceeds the limit.

We were with Verizon for years.  After we married and my contract with AT&T ended, I switched over to his plan.  We were satisfied with the service.  And then we bought our house.

Our modest little home, in the middle of a city block in the middle of a city neighborhood, gets absolutely no service from:  Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or Net10.  I mean, you can't make a call.  I couldn't have called the police if I needed to.  I couldn't send a single text message.  We spent several months after we moved trying to resolve this with Verizon.  It made no sense.  Our friends who live across the street have flawless Verizon service.  The best I can figure out is that we live on some kind of Indian burial ground or radioactive forcefield.  (Could this be related to the field of glass bottles that we live on?) (Sidenote:  we also have a ridiculously hard time receiving signal for basic television access with the bunny ears.)

After telling us that we lived in a "KTA" (known trouble area), and that the only option for reasonable service was to buy their expensive home internet service and a signal-boosting tower, all on our own dime, Verizon released us from our contract.

We cycled through the gamut of cell carriers, and nobody worked.  Nobody.  It was bizarre.

The one provider that we eventually discovered provided some semblance of coverage at our address was Cricket.  That's right - the ultra-budget pay-as-you-go no-contract service.  And we've never looked back.  The customer service has been great, we get reasonably good speed, and mostly - it works at our house.  The coverage area is drastically limited compared to Verizon, though.  When we go on road trips, we are without service for any length of time that we are in rural areas.  There are also a lot more dropped calls and missed texts.  I guess you get what you pay for.

We pay for Jeff's grandmother to be on our plan.  She has a very simple little phone with the most basic, utilitarian features.  She does so much for us - it's our little way of saying, "Just don't worry about this one thing."

I have an unlimited data and minutes plan.  Jeff also has an unlimited data and minutes plan.  No contract.

For the three of us, each month, we are paying $147.59.  This is a savings of almost $100 over what we paid for the same phones and less usage per month for just the two of us on Verizon.  And like I said, this is still with very nice phones.  We did have to buy the devices out of pocket, since Cricket isn't able to offer the same kinds of deep discounts on phones along with contract purchases.  But, I sold my Verizon iPhone on Craigslist quickly and only had to pay a bit to buy the Cricket version.

This $147.59 represents just 4.7% of our monthly income.  Grouped together with other utilities (water, electric, gas), we fluctuate from 10-12% of income, depending on floating factors like weather and season.

The move from a "name-brand" cell phone service to a budget carrier was a good move for us, and one that we never would have considered if we hadn't been forced into it by our strange signal-receiving situation.

What do you pay for cell phone service?  Do you like to have a flashy phone, or keep it simple?


Andrea said...

My husband and I had Sprint service for a very very long time, and were mostly happy with it, except with the bill. I think we were paying about $170ish a month on our last contract for two nice Android smartphones. And then my husband learned about Republic wireless and did a beta test with them. And thought they were decent enough that we gave up our old phones and service and switched over completely. We too had to pay for our new smartphones outright, which was quite a bit, but the monthly savings was totally worth it, as we'd save the amount in a mere 4 months time. The new phones are a small step down from the phones we had before, but are still totally functional as smart phones, and do all I need it to do. And for $20/month/phone, totally worth it. The one catch is that they ask you to use it on wifi internet as much as you can. It's not at all difficult to do, just set it up for each place we spend time regularly that has wifi access. Since my husband works from home, we have good home internet with wifi, so it may not work for you in your weird dead-zone unless you also had home internet service.

Emily said...

Interesting! I will have to check them out. Our situation is so strange with living in a signal-sucking zone. It really is the oddest thing.

Heather said...

We have Verizon! Only way to get service at the farm! We have 2 iPhone 5s and unlimited text talk and 4g data for $159/mo. We do get a small data discount with johns work. This is also our Internet source! We had tmobile and a regular Internet before and paid about $30 less.

Emily said...

Dang! We never even got close to that kind of rate when we were with Verizon. Of course, when you factor the price of "free" devices into the monthly rate, it makes a little more sense. But $159 would have been amazing! We were paying closer to $250.