Kate Is Clueless: Cell Phone Expenses


If you’re a regular reader here at the Paycheck Chronicles, you’ll know that we are moving back to the actual United States this summer. In addition to all the usual PCS moving chaos, there is the additional stuff that you have to do when you return from overseas. In our case, it means getting (probably all new) cell phones. For a family of six.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, research, and asking around, and I am absolutely stupified at the amount of money that people are telling me that they spend on mobile phones. In my completely unscientific poll, the majority of families tell me that they spend between $200 and $300 per month on their mobile calling, texting, and data needs.

That is insane.

Our last two overseas duty stations have been blessed with very affordable internet. My current plan is about $25 per month, depending on the exchange rate, for 300 minutes, 300 texts, and unlimited data. Unlimited. My husband pays about $15 every few months to top up his pay-as-you-go plan, as do the kids.  All told, our cellular budget is about $30 a month.

Now, my frugal friends tell me that they use options like Republic Wireless or pay-as-you-go plans such as Tracphone to keep their spending in line with their budget. However, the prices of even these bargain brands is way more than I’m paying now.  And, it seems like going with anything other than a big-name, national brand brings logistical challenges such as having to order the phone or SIM card only via the internet, or not having customer service at shops or to call.

While I am all about saving money, I’m also dealing with the reality of landing in a “new” country, dealing with pets, buying cars, finding a place to live (story for another day), getting children enrolled in schools, and all the other drama that comes with moving.  At some point, I am going to give in and take the simplest option I can quickly find.

Which is why I am trying to gather as much information as possible before we land and are pulled 62 different directions.  So, dear readers, what does your family do for cell phones and service?  How much do you spend, and what does that give you?  What sort of tricks do you have for keeping your bill at something that resembles a reasonable level?

All information most appreciated, by me and also by all the people who read the Paycheck Chronicles!


About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • 4M

    We’ve got zero debt other than a car loan (could pay it off no problem, but financing got us an extra $1,000 off and we enjoy a stupid low interest rate), no cable, perfect level of insurance, save 25% for retirement, don’t overspend or buy into consumerism, and have a large emergency fund.

    That’s not what you asked, but I’ve got to prep for saying that I spend $180/month on cell service.

    It’s so much money, even on our comfortable household income, but work all but requires a smartphone, and the ability to share my day with my spouse as it happens is clutch.

    $180/month gets us:
    Two iPhones, unlimited talk, text, and LTE internet
    One dumb phone for my father.
    The ability to add two more lines at $10 a pop.

    That is a lot of money, but makes up a small part of my household budget. I’m not happy about it, but its a cost of doing business.

  • Bethany

    Yeah, you’re not going to find anything that cheap in the US. We manage about $70/month for two dumb phones (unlimited talk and text) by being on a family plan with 5 other people. The total plan is $70/month for unlimited talk and text plus $30 for each dumb phone and $40 for each smart phone. I think the per phone charge can be less if you purchase your own phone instead of getting a “free” one.

  • Dave

    Prepaid/pay as you go is the cheapest option out there. Here’s an article that highlights several options, and is a good starting point:

    I’ve used Kitty Wireless, a re-seller of PagePlus, a re-seller of Verizon, and was very happy with both customer service and price. I’m currently using Republic Wireless because it fits my needs. As my situation changes, I may go in a different direction.

  • joeaverager

    I have a Tracphone pay as you go. It works out roughly to $10 per month with a a phone that I paid $30 for new and bought outright (phone is mine to keep). Each text, call; and internet access is charged agains the minutes reserve.

    Now – consider what it would cost to talk alot on a pay-as-you-go phone. Me? I am happy if I don’t use my phone once in a month. Maybe 1-2 texts a month, and I have never used the internet access (its a pretty pretty poor tool on a phone this basic). I have a landline on my desk at work and a landline at home with “free” long distance (large long distance allowance built into the home landline plan). People who need me know where I am at during the different parts of the day. I have wi-fi access at work and home – and my tablet checks for email all day.

    If you like to talk on your cellphone or use the internet then look at Virgin Mobile USA. My wife has an iPhone that we bought outright a few years ago and her plan is roughly $30-$35. I think the specs are unlimited data and texts, 300 minutes of talk. She too doesn’t make much use of the phone but she does use the data and text alot. When we started this plan I compared – using rough math – buying the phone outright with a subscription plan that included a phone from one of the big carriers and Virgin beat them at the 7 month point even with us spending $450 cash back then to buy the phone outright. We’ve happily used their service for several years now.

  • john F

    I have a prepaid cell phone through Verizon $20 dollars a month the minutes rollover if not used I also do not use text or e-mail services on the phone.

    I tell my sister and my brother to call me in an emergency since they are long distance otherwise I have google e-mail, Facebook and Skype at home on my computer for anyone to talk to me.

    Whats the catch well it costs 2.00 every phone call i make coming in from friends or family etc: or going out so I tell everyone to use one of the above to talk to me therefore I use the phone as necessary saving me lots of money which goes towards another monthly bill.

    Bye the way on Verizon they have the plans 99 cent a minute check it out I have one of these the plans for three years now.

    Remember if you have one of these plans you must limit your calls it may be hard if you have a family for this plan to work but you can get individual plans an phones

    I suggest you check out Dave Ramsey.com website also be frugal ….be debt free have a great day….

  • guest

    We’ve used Republic, unless you are in a major (and I mean major) metro area, their service SUCKS but they are one of the cheapest around. Both DH and I are extensive cell users for work so their plans were a detriment to us. We ended up with Tmobile and brought our own phones. They beat verizon and ATT by a lot. Anything over 2 lines is 10 bucks a month, their data service isn’t as good as the other two but it beats the pants off of Republic.

    • Dave

      Actually, I don’t live in a major metro area, and my service is fine. It’s Sprint, so it depends on Sprint coverage in your particular area. Another plus is that I live in a coverage hole. None of the major providers have really good coverage at my house. However, because Republic can also work over my high speed wifi, I’ve now finally got great coverage at home.

      • guest

        Wifi calling is dependent on the phone, not the provider. My iPhone does wireless calling as do several of the Android phones.

        • Dave

          There are apps that allow to call over wifi, but it’s up to your service provider to allow you to use wifi in conjunction with you phone number. I think it’s becoming more common because it takes the load off of their network. Broadband’s the future of communication.

  • guest

    Oh, for us at 3 lines it’s 135 a month, 2 with unlimited data talk and text and 5 gigs of tethering a month, 1 with 1 gig data, unlimited talk text

  • Jamie

    3 smartphones (me, him, his mom) on AT&T (with their military discount), $160/month with unlimited talk and text and 10 GB of shared data, insurance on one phone. We don’t tend to upgrade phones often, and I almost always bring my own rooted, stripped, and decrapified Android device because of tech preferences.

    We could go a lot cheaper, but this not only exceeds our needs, but actually saves us money compared to our previous rate plan, while locking in an amount of data that will keep us for quite some time.

    Really, I’m just looking forward to the day we’re not paying to run two households. This geobach business is good for each of our careers, and my income insulates up from any military screwups with his pay, but it’ll be great not having cell phone and utility and other bills on two continents!

  • Morgan

    I have used metro pcs for the past two years at $25 each month, unlimited talk and txt, txt is local,and international. I live without the data since I have access to a computer or iPad at all times. Got fed up with paying sprint over $250 a month. The metro pcs feeds on the sprint network therefore the service is excellent. I have travelled to east coast, west coast, south, north and currently living in the Midwest. The service is great, never a problem.

  • ldajnowski

    AAFES does not offer more cost effective cell phone plans and even no contract plans. AAFES does not represent the Military Family in regards to cell phone plans. We called them and they always say that we do not offer this plan or the other like the major carriers do and we say WHY NOT?

  • sandra simpdon

    I am with T- Mobile and I have a veteran discount and with tax included I pay 129 dollars a month for unlimited talk, text , and internent on five phones that are on my plan check it out it is a great deal and under no contract