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Looking for the best cheap cellphone plans? I tried a whole bunch of plans so you don’t have to… Read on for my comparison of the pros and cons.
For my personal pick, take a look at the summary here:
Review of: Mint Mobile
- easy-to-use mobile app
- great price
- “just works” on an iPhone
- unique branding
- bring your own device
- generous data allowance
- 7-day money-back guarantee
Use: best cheap cellphone plan
I don’t like
- have to pay for multiple months upfront
- Android requires a little more hands-on setup
- no visual voicemail on Android
Summary: Mint Mobile is my pick for the best cheap cellphone plan. The prices are great; the app for managing your account (payments, checking your usage) is easy to use, and for the most part things just work. You do have to pay up front for 3, 6, or 12 months for the best pricing, so if you switch carriers a lot, this plan may not be for you.
That’s why I put this review together–to show you the pros and cons of several cheap cellphone plans and to give you some guidelines for choosing the plan that’s best for you. Enjoy!
As much as I love new technology, I held off for years buying a smartphone because I didn’t want to pay for a monthly data plan… True story. In 2011 someone asked why my husband and I had “burner phones.” (That’s another name for a flip phone, in case you’re as clueless as I was.)
Now that I have a smartphone, though, I’m not sure what I’d do without it. It’s become (sometimes frighteningly so) an indispensable part of my life.
But I still hate paying for the monthly plan and look for ways to make it as inexpensive as possible. Recently we were looking at the best cheap cellphone plans to replace our T-Mobile unlimited everything plan.
Now let me tell you a secret. An unlimited everything plan sounds like the opposite of frugal, right? But true to our frugal personalities, we actually first signed up for the plan because it was going to save us money. At the time we joined, there was a special promotion of 10 GB of high-speed hotspot data per line.
So even though it limited how we connected to the internet from home, at $100/month it was cheaper than any cellphone + home internet service we could find. We opted not to get dedicated home internet service and instead just tethered our home devices whenever we needed to connect our laptops.
Then I started blogging, and my monthly bandwidth needs skyrocketed. What with the time spent online researching, and downloading and uploading blog images and Pinterest graphics, in addition to my normal, everyday usage, I started burning through my available hotspot data SO fast and then suffered painfully slow connection speeds to get my blog posts written.
So we bit the bullet, signed up for a home internet connection, and started shopping around for the best cheap cellphone plans. (Speaking of home internet, there’s ONE option in our area. And we live in a moderately sized city. Can we just have a moment of silence for how ridiculous that is?)
After sifting through several options, we finally found a plan we were happy with–and one that was surprisingly better than we anticipated.
Here’s how you can do the same and choose from the best cheap cellphone plans the one that’s right for you… And I’ll tell you all about the one we ended up choosing too!
Disclaimer: Plan pricing changes all the time. These numbers were valid as of the last time this post was updated, 5/2019.
Table of Contents
1. Determine your priorities
Finding the cheap cellphone plan that’s right for you is an exercise in tradeoffs. Are you absolutely set on unlimited data? Need to send 500,000 text messages every month? Can’t afford to be flexible about call quality? Need a new phone and don’t have the funds to pay in full?
It’s important to know upfront what your necessities are and what you’re willing to compromise on. Maybe it goes without saying, but if you can get by with less, you’ll have more options on the cheap cellphone plan front; if you need a little more wiggle room your options will be fewer.
In our case, we were willing to limit our data options once we had home internet. I’m home most of the time, and my husband has WiFi at school. We knew we needed some connectivity out of the house for those times we needed to look something up on the go, so zero-data plans weren’t an option. But we certainly didn’t need unlimited data.
We didn’t need a huge amount of voice minutes and texts either, but I wanted flexibility there, so plans with a higher number of voice and texts were more appealing to me. Fortunately, unlimited talk and text are pretty standard and inexpensive.
You may also want to consider where you’ll need coverage. I grew up in Maine, where coverage is more limited, so we needed to at least consider service while visiting my family.
2. Go off the beaten path
It seems to get harder all the time to find the best cheap cellphone plans with the standard cellphone service carriers. There was a time when low-data plans were standard offerings, but it seems that everyone is moving toward higher and higher data limits (and the price tags to go with them).
But if you’re willing to consider prepaid or a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), a whole new world of possibilities will open up for you.
What is an MVNO? Essentially it’s an airtime reseller. An MVNO wholesale leases service from one of the major carriers–Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, or Sprint–and then resells it to their subscribers.
You’re probably already familiar with a few of these. Boost Mobile, for example, runs on the Sprint network. Republic Wireless is a popular one that resells service from Sprint and T-Mobile. You can see a pretty complete list of United States MVNOs here.
You do have to keep in mind that, at least on paper, your service will be lower priority than service for standard subscribers. If the network is super saturated, you may experience some lag or lower call quality, but in our practical experience with MVNOs, it’s never been an issue.
It’s worth noting that if your phone is locked to a specific network (AT&T, for example), you should be able to switch to an MVNO if you pick one that runs on that same network. For example, I’ve used an AT&T locked phone on the AirVoice (AT&T-based MVNO) network.
3. Compare Your Options Among the Best Cheap Cellphone Plans
Here are the pros and cons of each and what we eventually settled on.
I see a lot of people talking about Republic Wireless. Plans start at just $15 for unlimited talk and text, and you pay as you go for data, $5 at a time per GB. This is appealing if you’re planning to keep your data usage down anyway. You stop paying for data after 15 GB, so your bill will never be higher than $90.
Why We Didn’t Choose Republic Wireless: WiFi calling and Android
Republic Wireless is able to keep costs down by routing as many of your calls and texts as possible over WiFi. We had just experienced an issue where my husband tried to call me when I had WiFi calling enabled with T-Mobile–he called 3 times, and I never even knew it. The call never went through.
Though Republic boasts “Adaptive Coverage,” which they claim “seamlessly switches between WiFi and Cell networks without dropping your call,” it was a risk I personally didn’t want to take.
In addition, because of the proprietary WiFi-first approach, you can bring your own phone with Republic Wireless, but it has to be an approved Android phone. Although my husband and I both have Android phones that would work on the network, we’ve talked about eventually switching to iPhone. That wouldn’t be an option on Republic.
We also ended up finding some cheaper options.
Since we already knew we were happy with T-Mobile, this was one of the first options we looked at. Sadly, T-Mobile’s offerings are very limited if you want to move away from T-Mobile One (unlimited everything). And don’t get me wrong, T-Mobile One is awesome. But it had become more than we needed.
T-Mobile’s pay-as-you-go plans start at just $3/month for 30 voice minutes or 30 texts, and after that it’s $.10 per minute or text. I like the thought of paying only for what you use, and if you don’t need data at all, this is a dirt-cheap, no-brainer option.
Why We Didn’t Choose T-Mobile Prepaid: Limited Data Options
The problem here came when we started looking at adding on data. If you need data, you’re looking at either $5/day or $10/week. If you know for certain that there are days or weeks you won’t need any data, this could be a good option for you.
But for us, the unpredictability of when we might need data made this option less appealing. And since we were looking to keep our home Internet + phone plan costs at or below the $100/month we’d been paying with T-Mobile, an extra $40/month per person was really unappealing.
The monthly prepaid plans with 10GB data included weren’t any better at $40/month per person.
Going with Verizon gets you on one of the nation’s best networks. And what makes this network most appealing to us is that it’s the only nationwide network that gets reliable coverage in Maine, my home state. With any other network, we’re on roaming when we’re visiting my family.
Verizon offers prepaid family plans, which is a little unusual from what I’ve seen in the lower-cost cell coverage world. So you get a little discount when you add on a second plan.
For the two of us to get unlimited talk & text, 500 MB data on the first line (my husband’s since he uses mobile data less than I do) and 3 GB on the second line, we’d be looking at $60/month, which is right where we needed to be to keep us at the $100/month threshold of our previous setup with T-Mobile.
In case you’re wondering, we also looked at splitting a Verizon family plan with my siblings, but the cost was just not where we needed it to be.
Why We Didn’t Choose Verizon Prepaid: We Found a Cheaper Option
We almost went this route, but we ended up finding a cheaper option. However (spoiler alert!), the option we did choose is not on the Verizon network and so may not work for when we visit my family in Maine. If this ends up being a big enough issue, we might switch to Verizon (or an MVNO on Verizon’s network) down the road.
I came across this option while I was sitting at the Spectrum store waiting to pick up our home internet equipment. (See above about having only one home internet option in our area of the city.)
Spectrum Mobile is a fairly new MVNO on Verizon’s network. Unlimited everything is $45/person, which isn’t bad as far as unlimited plans go. To keep us below the $100/month for home internet + wireless, however, we were looking at their by-the-gig plan.
The by-the-gig plan includes free unlimited talk and text. You pay $14/line for the first GB (so if you have 2 lines, you’d start at $28/month). Your GBs are shared between lines, and when you run out, it’s just $14/GB after. So, for example, if your two lines used 2.5 GB between the two of them, you’d pay $42 total for the month.
If you’re keeping close tabs on your data usage and keeping it fairly low, this looks like an excellent option. The one drawback: you must be a Spectrum/Charter internet customer to get this pricing. Otherwise you pay an extra $20 per line… which isn’t exactly what I’d call a cheap cellphone plan.
Why We Didn’t Choose Spectrum Mobile: No BYOD At the Time
You can now bring your own phone to Spectrum Mobile, but at the time it wasn’t an option. If we’d been able to bring our own devices, we probably would have signed up. At this point, we’ll stick with our current service for a while, but at some point in the future we may end up switching.
However, this service is also dependent on our staying with our current internet provider, and since we don’t plan on living here longterm (and who knows what will happen when our Spectrum introductory price goes up, up, up, ugh), there’s no telling if we’ll actually make the switch or not.
I find Google Fi intriguing because it runs on not one, but three of the big wireless carrier networks (Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular). If you use one of the handful of Android phones designed for Fi, you’ll get intelligent switching between the networks for the best connectivity no matter where you are in the country.
So if you travel a lot and need dependable coverage (and don’t mind giving Google control over yet another area of your life), this may be the provider for you. Plans start at $20 for unlimited talk and text.
You’ll pay for data at the rate of $10/GB, but what I find additionally interesting about Google Fi is that you literally pay only for the data you use. If you use less than a GB of data, you don’t pay the full $10. 0.2 GB of data usage = $2 added to your base $20 bill.
Why We Didn’t Choose Google Fi: It’s Google, Yo
OK, so that’s not the full answer… But it is a little bit frightening how much Big Daddy Google knows about us already. We already use Android phones, so maybe it’s a moot point, but do we really want to give Google access to yet another area of our lives?
It also sounds like Google’s backend payment processor, Google Payments, may have some pretty serious kinks to work out.
Additionally, Google Fi just wasn’t the cheapest option we found.
AirVoice Wireless and Page Plus Cellular
I’m covering these two together because they’re providers we’ve used in the past and are honestly just two more names in a sea of MVNOs. AirVoice works on AT&T’s network, and Page Plus is a Verizon reseller. Both are decent in the realm of best cheap cellphone plans.
AirVoice starts at $20 for an unlimited talk+text plan with 2GB of data. If you like AT&T’s network but not their pricing, then this is a great option for you.
Page Plus plans start at $12 for 500 minutes + 500 texts and 100 MB of data. For the super light cellphone user, this is a stellar option. Their pay-as-you-go options are great too for the light user–you could pay as little as $10 every 120 days if you’re not using any more than 166 minutes in that time frame.
Why We Didn’t Choose AirVoice or Page Plus
AT&T’s coverage with AirVoice isn’t terrible, but it just isn’t our favorite. My mother-in-law uses AirVoice and sometimes has issues with connectivity.
Page Plus is great as a Verizon carrier, but our data usage is a little heavy for the cheapest plans, and to get a higher data plan we found a better option. Which brings us to…
Our Pick of the Best Cheap Cellphone Plans: Mint Mobile
Sometimes ad targeting can be creepy–like when you’re talking face-to-face with a friend about a new store and you find out your phone was listening when you see an ad for that store in your Facebook feed.
But sometimes I’m thankful for ad targeting. Like when I’m researching the best cheap cellphone plans and see an ad for a company I’ve never heard of.
Like Mint Mobile. Mint is a T-Mobile reseller (remember I said we were happy with our T-Mobile experience?) with really great pricing. When we signed up there was an unbelievable promo going for the first 3 months, but even without promos their pricing is good.
Now here’s where Mint Mobile is unique, so bear with me for a minute. You don’t pay by the month with Mint. You pay in 3-, 6-, or 12-month blocks of service. I think this is why they’re able to keep their pricing low. If they know they have you as a customer for a few months at a time, they can afford to charge you less for each month of service.
3 months of service with Mint starts at $25/month for unlimited talk and text plus 3GB of data per month (though at the time of this writing there’s an introductory offer of $15/month for the same plan). You pay those 3 months upfront and don’t worry about paying again until those 3 months are up.
Get 6 months upfront and you pay just $20/month for those 3GB, and when you commit to 12 months your price drops to $15/month.
I love the fun, casual vibe of Mint’s branding and advertising (what’s not to love about a quirky, mint-green fox?), and setup was super easy. Their setup directions are clear and easy to follow–and everything *just works* on the iPhone. Their app for switching plans, making payments, and checking your usage is super simple to navigate.
Pretty much the only thing I miss since switching is visual voicemail. And that’s really not a big enough deal to justify paying more.
Update: with my new iPhone I get visual voicemail built in! Cue celebration dance.
Side-by-side Best Cheap Cellphone Plans Comparison
You may not like the commitment of 3-12 months with Mint. I get that. Or maybe T-Mobile doesn’t offer coverage where you need it to.
In that case, I offer you my side-by-side comparison to help you choose the cheap cellphone plan that’s right for you.
Click on the linked company names to go to my writeup in this post on each one.
|Republic Wireless||Sprint, T-Mobile||$15 unlimited talk+text, $5/GB||WiFi calling, Android phone required|
|T-Mobile Prepaid||T-Mobile||$3 for 30 texts or 30 minutes, $5/day or $10/week for data||no monthly data options|
|Verizon Prepaid||Verizon||$60/month for 2 lines||only 500 MB data on 1st line at this price, not the cheapest option|
|Spectrum Mobile||Verizon||$14/month per GB||must be a Spectrum customer, no BYOD yet|
|Google Fi||Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular||$20 for unlimited tax+text, $10/GB||It’s Big Google…|
|AirVoice Wireless||AT&T||$20 for unlimited talk+text and 2GB data||sometimes sketchy coverage|
|Page Plus Cellular||Verizon|| |
$12 for 500 minutes + 500 texts and 100 MB
|not the best price for heavier data usage|
|Mint Mobile||T-Mobile||$25, $20, or $15/month for unlimited talk+text and 3GB data||must buy service in 3-, 6-, or 12-month chunks|
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