Kate Is Clueless About Cell Phone Spending

We’ve been back in the United States for three-ish days, and we’re knocking through all those “get settled in a new country” chores.  One job that is making me crazy is setting up cell phone service for our family of six.  I’ve spent the last few months gathering information and doing research, and I am still overwhelmed by the decisions.

As part of my research, I asked for advice from two Facebook groups that have people I trust.  I was amazed at how different the responses were between the two groups!!!  One group suggested name-brand carriers, long contracts, unlimited data, and expensive monthly charges.  The other group almost unanimously suggested buying used phones, limiting data to special occasion use, and using off-brand carriers such as Republic Wireless and Ting.

Amongst the more spendy group, various people have reported to me that they spend $260 for five people, $183 for three people, $280 for five people – these numbers are insane.  And these prices are for family plans, with military discounts.  Crazy!  I’m just not spending that.

Since I am cheap, I am planning to either use phones that we already have, or purchase used phones, and go with an off-brand carrier. My family already knows that we only use data when we have a need;  we don’t keep data on all the time.  I am hoping that these three factors will help us find a plan or plans that will keep our bills more reasonable.  Ideally, I’m looking for under $100 per month for the six of us.  I don’t know if it is possible, but my cheaper friends are paying $20 or $40 a month for 2 to three people.  It definitely seems like it should be possible.

So, here’s my question:  why would someone make the choice to have more expensive cell phone service when there are so many cheaper options available?  Do people just prefer to have name brand carriers, even though the off-brand carriers use the same networks?  Or are the “free phone with contract” deals too good to give up?  Do consumers want to have contracts?  Or are the off-brands not well-known?

I’ll be spending today continuing to figure out how to get the cell phone service we need for the price I want to pay.  I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject – maybe they will help point me in the right direction.

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

    New cars and top tier cellphones are my downfall, and for some of the same reasons.

    Reliability is paramount in my family, to a fault. ATT and Verizon have massive amounts of bandwidth at the frequencies I need and have their own towers everywhere I’ve been.

    Those second tier carriers rent unused bandwidth.

    If I didn’t need lightning fast internet or maximum reliability I’d love to save the extra $1,200 a year, but there are no work issued cellphones in my family so it’s on us to provide our own “on-call” phone.

    I’d absolutely recommend Republic Wireless to anyone, same with used cars. It’s just not something we can afford to cutback on in my family (however we do meet all of our savings and vacatio goals, so these necessary luxuries are not having a negative impact elsewhere).

    • Kate

      I’m curious about your use of the word “need.” I work exclusively online, and I don’t “need” lightening fast internet on my cell phone. As long as the phone works, that is enough for me. What sort of situations require you to need super-fast internet??

      • guest

        We use TMobile, looks like minimum plan for phones for you guys is 120 a month if you bring your own phones.

        Us, we can’t use Republic or TIng, their networks (Sprint) are just FAR too shabby in most areas of the country to be useful to us. We travel a lot and I have to work when we travel, and I travel a ton for work as well. Usually that means no wifi or really really unsecure wifi so I resort to encrypted tethering off my phone (basic tethering is included with Tmobile) when I need to send files from my computer.

        I also happen to work in systems security for a living, so for all those people that say you can use free wifi to call at coffee shops etc…I implore you to NEVER use that phone on public wifi if you have a call you don’t want people hearing both sides of, and never, ever, ever, ever EVER do anything involving passwords. People like me can sniff public wifi and pretty much steal anything and everything on your computer, phone etc to include passwords, files, and yea…intercept your phone conversations (it requires decryption but is completely doable) if you aren’t careful. Read some of the Blackhat papers/presentations, it’s enough to turn anyone paranoid.

      • 4M

        Need for fast/reliable internet would be when you must access a fee for use subscription database multiple times a day while in a highly mobile and time constrained workplace.

        Reliable so you get those texts and phone calls 100% of the time as you really are on call 24/7 some periods of the year.

        Do I think this applies to the majority of the people out there? No, but it applies in my household, and although I think it’s unfortunate that the service is needed for work when there are no work issued phones, when you get down to brass tacks its really no different than paying out of pocket for pro-gear and uniforms; it’s just a cost of doing business.


  • Dave

    The name brand networks lure most people in by either offering the latest iPhone or other cutting edge smart phone, or by getting a spendy phone for buying into a contract.

    Coverage is a major consideration. We’re able to use Sprint networks without issues, so we use Republic Wireless. Very economical.

  • The other group almost unanimously suggested buying used phones, limiting data to special occasion use, and using off-brand carriers such as Republic Wireless and Ting.

    Read more: https://paycheck-chronicles.military.com/2015/07/2
    The Paycheck Chronicles