How We Found the Best Cheap Family Cell Phone Plan –
Cell phone bills are one of the largest monthly expenses many families face today, and that does not have to be the case.
As a large family living on one income, we’ve had to be extremely cautious about our monthly spending, so finding the best cheap family cell phone plan was an absolute necessity.
A Cell Phone Is Not a Necessity for Every Single Person in a Household
First I want to make it clear, contrary to popular opinion today, a cell phone is not a need for most people. It could be argued that a cell phone is not a need for any person. I went roughly 30 years of my life without a cell phone, and I survived perfectly fine. I survived the teen years without a cell phone.
More importantly, my mom survived our teen years without any of us having cell phones. Can you imagine that? My mom did not even know where we were lots of times. We were out AT NIGHT with friends, and our moms didn’t necessarily know where we were!
They didn’t necessarily know when we were coming home even. If you wanted to call your mom to see if you could stay someplace later, you had to either put a quarter in a pay phone or use someone’s home phone that was possibly attached to a wall.
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I realize people today think they need cell phones. Kids today think they need cell phones. The only people who could arguably NEED cell phones are people with medical conditions who might have to make an emergency call or people who actually have to have them as part of their job which in turn makes them the income they need to support themselves and a family.
The rest of us could find ways to survive without a cell phone if we had no other choice.
People today WANT cell phones. Kids today want cell phones. I have no problem with whatever parents decide about their kids having cell phones. You’re the parents. That’s your call. If you can afford to give your kids cell phones, by all means, that’s up to you.
But you should not be living in a continual monthly budget deficit just so your kids can have cell phones. If you can’t afford cell phones for your kids, don’t get them. Whatever you do, do not lock yourself into a contract on a family cell phone plan that costs more than your house payment!
A solution that works for some families with limited income is having children share a cell phone. The shared cell phone can be sent with a child attending an activity where they will need to call for a ride.
If money is tight for your family, you should not be locked into a cell phone contract at all!
Unless you have quite a bit of wiggle room in your monthly budget and a hefty emergency savings fund, you should not imprison yourself with a cell phone contract. What happens if something comes along to alter your income even temporarily? What if you or your spouse need to have even a minor surgery that results in one of you not working for several weeks?
What if an unexpected car repair is needed? If you are locked into a cell phone contract, you are still required to pay that bill even if your income is altered dramatically. If you are not under contract, you could temporarily drop your phone coverage to reduce expenses and make ends meet.
Do you really need a smartphone?
Don’t worry! We do have smartphones now. I don’t want you to quit reading because you think this is a post about sticking with dumb phones to save money.
My husband and I had dumb phones way longer than most people our age. For us, having one of us at home with the kids was more important than having the latest gadgets, so we spent many years with outdated phones. We did not suffer because of this. We were not, in anyway, harmed by this.
We did not have cell phones at all during college. Imagine that! First, we made it through dating without cell phones. Then we even made it through college without cell phones.
When my husband started working in insurance after college, it became apparent that he would have to get a cell phone for the job. He makes appointments with people and then goes to their houses to meet with them.
Sometimes Jobs Require Cell Phones
Without a cell phone, he was not able to call the potential clients if he couldn’t find their house or if he was running behind from his last appointment. For him, not having a cell phone would very likely mean a loss of income. If the cell phone increases your earnings at your job, then it’s arguably a need.
He started with a TracFone. He was beginning from scratch in a commission-only job. Locking into a cell phone contract at that time with no guaranteed income would have been unwise for us. The TracFone was sufficient for a while.
We Did Not Have Cell Phones While Growing Up!
I just want to point out that, like my husband, most of the people our age did not get a cell phone until they had a job to pay for their own cell phones. I do not remember knowing a single person in high school or college who had a cell phone provided by their parents.
Cell phones were just starting to be common, so some of my friends who had jobs got their own cell phones. Nobody’s parents thought it was an obligation to provide their child with a cell phone.
It is still not a parent’s obligation to provide their child with a cell phone, no matter how many other people might tell you it is. If you can not afford cell phones, you should not feel pressured by other people to give your child a cell phone.
If you just don’t want your child to have a cell phone, for whatever reason, you should not feel pressured by others or by your kid to do so!
We eventually had to get a contract cell phone plan for a while.
The prepaid TracFone was sufficient for my husband for a while. We could put a $15 card on it every month, and if he was somewhat careful, that would last.
As more and more of his clients started getting his number, they began calling that instead of the home phone (Gasp, what’s a home phone?). Eventually, when we were having to put two $15 cards on the TracFone every month, we realized it would be better to just get him a $30 plan from Verizon.
When my husband had that TracFone, I did not have a phone. I was pregnant a couple of times. I gave birth a couple of times. I still did not have a cell phone. A cell phone is not a necessity for a pregnant lady.
Women have been pregnant and given birth for thousands of years, and somehow they managed it without a cell phone. A cell phone is nice to have, but it’s a luxury. You can get by without it.
When my husband got a Verizon contract phone, I then had the TracFone. We basically just kept it in the console of the van, along with the charger. It didn’t always have minutes on it.
The one time I slid off the road due to ice and totaled the van on a telephone pole with three little ones in the van and pregnant with my fourth, that phone wouldn’t even work because the charger was fried or something. It was fine though because a county salt truck came by shortly after, and that guy let me use his phone. I didn’t really need my own phone after all.
Then we added cell phone lines.
Over the years our income increased, and Verizon Wireless started offering Add a Line for $9.99 (this price tells you how long ago that was). We added a line for me and added a line for my mom. For a long time, that bill was only $50-$60 a month which was doable.
Then texting happened. At first, we just added texting to my husband’s line for $5. He coaches a lot of different teams, and texting makes it easier to communicate with many parents at once about practice times and so on. For the longest time, my mom and I did not have texting on our lines. We still had flip phones. GASP!
Then Texting Took Over the World
Eventually, I had to get a hand-me-down phone and add texting because all teams and activities began communicating that way. I didn’t have unlimited texting though. My husband was able to get unlimited texts for $10 (his line was grandfathered in on a promotion).
It was costing another $10 per line for my mom and me to have 1000 texts. As more and more people began using texts, I began to reach my 1000 texts every single month, so we had to up mine to a more expensive texting plan (around $15 I think).
One Cost Leads to Another
Do you see how having a phone just kept costing us more and more money? We didn’t even have data on any of our phones then.
We were unwilling to lock into a huge contract to get data on our phones. Even if we had wanted to, there was no way we could afford several hundred dollars as a cell phone bill. Our bill was over $100 anyway without data.
It was getting to the point that my husband knew he needed a data plan for his job to make changes on people’s policies online from his phone. When Verizon came out with prepaid data, he added it to his line.
At least we weren’t locked into a monthly contract on that, but it upped the bill to around $130 to have data on just that one line and voice and text on the other two.
They left us with no other choice but smartphones.
Then something horrible happened. There was some major switch going on where they moved all the television signals from analog to digital, and in the process of that, the cell phone signals also became digital. My ancient phone was an analog phone. My mom’s was too. Our phones no longer worked for voice or text. We could get no signal.
I started shopping for different phones with Verizon, but every phone by then required a data plan. There were only two phone models available that could still work without a data plan. We knew adding data to all three lines was not an option but were not willing to pay $200 a month to have internet on our phones.
I didn’t want to use a phone upgrade to get the rare, doesn’t-need-data phone. Nor did I want to lock us into another two years with Verizon. We started researching the various prepaid family cell phone plans.
Thankfully, there were non-contract cell phone options.
[Update: Total Wireless is no longer a company. It’s now Total by Verizon which offers a similar service. However, our family is now on a Verizon Wireless contract plan because it made more sense as our children grew older, and mobile devices became a bigger part of our income-producing activities.]
Although we’ve moved to a cell phone contract plan, I stand by everything I wrote here for anyone who finds themselves in the situation we were in when I wrote the post.]
We looked into StraightTalk which starts at $45 per line with unlimited text, voice, and data. That would have been a better cost for just my husband, but the cost for two additional lines would have been more than what we were paying with Verizon.
Prepaid Options Can Be a Good Cell Phone Solution
We noticed another prepaid service offering even better cheap family cell phone plans. It was a fairly new company at the time, but we were assured the signal was from the Verizon towers, so our coverage would be just the same. We live in a rural area where the Verizon towers are really the only coverage.
We decided to give Total Wireless a chance because we were going to get so much more for an even lower price. With Total Wireless, we could get three lines with unlimited voice and text and a sufficient amount of shared data for just $85.
I have to admit, we were skeptical. The super low price made us think there had to be some catch. We figured the signal would be spotty or there would be other issues. We have been pleasantly surprised!
Our signal really is the same quality as Verizon. My son-in-law’s phone is still with Verizon, and he gets the very same signal at our house as all our Total Wireless phones.
What is Total Wireless?
Total Wireless is a prepaid cell phone service. Single lines start at $25 for just voice and text or $35 for unlimited voice and text plus 5GB of data. You can bring your own phone from Verizon if it’s out of contract, or you can buy a phone from Total Wireless.
Total Wireless also has family plans. We pay $104 (including taxes) now for 4 lines with unlimited voice and text plus 25 GB of shared data. We have our plan set on automatic renewal with an automatic payment. It’s so easy and so much cheaper.
These Data Limits Were Fine at the Time
The 25 GB of data was adequate about 95% of the time when I originally wrote this post. There were a couple of times when we reached our data limit back then. We would just add a $10 data card (leftover data from the extra card rolled over).
We ran out of data the month we went camping. (You can read about that adventure here.) We ran out one time during hunting season because my son and husband are in tree stands away from wifi signals for a much larger portion of their time that month.
Even if we ran out of data every month and needed to add $10, we would still be well below the cost of any other family cell plan available to us where we live. We have been extremely happy with the amount of data.
We were able to bring our old phone numbers from Verizon with us to Total Wireless. My husband and I have pre-owned phones. My husband’s phone is an iPhone 5 that was purchased from a rummage site when the original owner upgraded. It was previously on Verizon. (You can call and check the ESN on any phone to make sure it will work with Total Wireless.)
My iPhone 5c was also one that used to be on Verizon. Our two middle children both have the iPhone 6 which can be purchased at Walmart for $200. They saved up their own $100 each, and then we paid the other $100 as a Christmas present.
We are not the only satisfied customers.
Our oldest also has Total Wireless on her own plan. My mom replaced her home phone with two lines of Total Wireless for about what she was paying for her landline which was down for three days everytime it rained anyway.
She was able to transfer her old landline phone number to one of her Total Wireless phones, and it just sits on her table at home pretending to be a landline because my dad won’t carry it. He thinks “cell phones are the devil.” This is hugely inconvenient to him and to everyone who tries to reach him. When my sister and nephew were meeting him for lunch at Golden Corral recently, he was late because he dropped his truck off at the tire place and then walked down a busy highway to Golden Corral.
He couldn’t call my sister to pick him up because he won’t carry a cell phone. My sister couldn’t call him to find out why he wasn’t at Golden Corral yet because he won’t carry a cell phone. My dad does finally know how to answer the one sitting on the table at his house now though.
Our family has saved hundreds of dollars by switching to Total Wireless, and we’re not locked into a huge, expensive contract if our income or needs ever change. Stop paying hundreds of dollars for a family cell phone plan.