If you’re trying to find ways to save money on bills this year, your cell phone bill is a smart place to start, since there are plenty of cheap cell phone plans available.
The big four cell phone providers mentioned above have lesser-known spin-off bargain cell phone plans. They are known as MVNOs (which stands for mobile virtual network operators), that run on the big four networks.
For example, low-cost carrier Cricket is run by AT&T, Sprint owns Boost, while T-Mobile offers Metro and GoSmart.
With so many options, it’s just a matter of finding the plan that works for your lifestyle and budget.
Table of Contents
- Best Plans vs Cheap Plans
- What should you consider before changing plans?
- The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans
- Spending $40+ — Consider Unlimited Plans
- How much data do you need?
- Check the coverage
Best Plans vs Cheap Plans
You’ve probably never heard of many of these plans, but they’re worth checking out if you’re looking for cheap options. If you don’t need a family plan and are just wanting an individual plan, you can find even less expensive deals.
When searching for cheaper plans, first ask yourself if you want a more affordable plan while still being able to keep a reasonable amount of data. Or is the price the most important factor in finding the best plan?
If you only care about price, you’ll most likely want to choose a pay-as-you-go plan that many carriers offer. Plus, you will need to scale back on the amount of data you’re using on your phone.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $40 a month for cheaper, pay-as-you-go individual plans.
If you are someone who doesn’t use their phone much, or if you’re looking for a plan for someone else who doesn’t necessarily need a lot of data, like your elderly parent, this type of plan is best for you.
Many of these carriers offer plans that are contract-free, with the flexibility to only pick and choose what you need in order to bring your total bill down each month.
What should you consider before changing plans?
Here’s a quick list of what to think about before you switch over to a cheap plan from pay-as-you-go carriers:
- Are you in a contract with your current plan? If so, you’ll need to wait until your contract ends, unless you want to pay an early cancellation fee.
- Are you prepared to use less data on your phone?
- Do you own your phone, or are you leasing it? If you’re leasing, you should consider paying off the balance, so you have your own phone when signing up for a new carrier. Otherwise, it’ll be an added cost.
- In contrast, if you own your phone, is it compatible with the low-cost carrier? If you’re not sure, call and ask first.
Cheaper plans mean less data, so you’ll need to learn how to scale back on your browsing habits and make some adjustments on your phone’s settings as well. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)
These plans are probably not best for those who are in the habit of using their cell phones heavily, since cutting back requires some training and practice. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up paying a lot more since you’ll need to keep adding data each time you run out.
The Best Cheap Cell Phone Plans
It may come as a surprise for you, but you can find cell phone plans in all price ranges. In fact, some plans cost $10 or less. Don’t expect a whole lot, though.
Here’s a sample of some of least expensive plans we found as we were shopping for cheap cell phone plans. Below that, you’ll get details on each plan.
- Scratch Wireless: $69 total, for a year (~ $5.75 a month)
- Red Pocket: $10 Essentials Plan
- Freedom Pop: Free, but $20 for activation & $10 to move your phone number over
- Republic Wireless: $15 a month
- Mint Mobile: $15 a month (3 month service minimum). *Watch for current specials*
Now, onto the details.
FreedomPop’s basic plan is 100% free, meaning you don’t pay anything for talk, text and data. But, with 200 minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB data each month, the trade-off is pretty limited.
They charge $20 to activate your phone and another $10 to transfer your phone number to the carrier.
FreedomPop is compatible with most unlocked AT&T or T-Mobile phones. You also have the option to purchase some phones (mostly older models) directly from them, if you don’t have your own phone.
Keep in mind you have to buy the phone and pay in full. There are no monthly installments to pay for your phone as larger phone carriers offer.
Before you sign up, their site asks for your ZIP code and email address to check availability in your area. It also allows you to activate your phone online if you already own a device by entering your MEID or ICCID number and an email address.
This plan is suitable if you’re very disciplined about using your phone when you’re tethered to WiFi since it supports WiFi Calling, a feature that lets you make calls and send texts when you’re connected to WiFi.
2. Republic Wireless
Republic Wireless gives you the option to only pay for what you use. The company is known for its awesome customer service, and a popular deal is its $20 plan. It includes unlimited talk, text and 1 GB of data on Sprint or T-Mobile networks.
Their My Choice Plan offers unlimited talk and text for $15 and high speed LTE cell data for $5 per GB. When you are reaching your limit for cell data usage, you can always add 1GB at a time for $5 through the app, which is pretty convenient.
This plan is great for people who may need various degrees of data, from month to month, because you can adjust how much data you need from the app.
When you get to the site, you can check to see if Republic Wireless is covered in your area, and they even offer a handy tool that gives you an estimate of how much you’d pay, given the amount of data you want to purchase.
3. Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile works slightly different than the other plans because you are allowed to prepay for up to three months in advance — they call it buying “wireless in bulk.”
Their current deals start with unlimited talk and text with 3GB of 4G LTE data for $15, as long as you purchase three months in advance. Prices increase to $20 for 8GB and $25 for 12GB.
They offer 0% financing and free shipping on the newest phones.
You have the option of customizing your plan in advance for 3 to 12 months.
Ting is another inexpensive option, and according to their site, the average Ting bill is just $23 per phone per month. Since you only pay for what you use, Ting rolls over unused minutes to your next month.
Because you only pay for what you use each month, the pricing is different each month. The company charges $6 per device as a basic service fee. Then you’ll pay varying amounts based on how many talk and text minutes you use and how much data you use.
Ting monitors how many talk minutes you use, how many texts you send and receive and how much data you use. They also have a helpful tool to estimate how much it would cost if you used Ting.
You can use your existing phone or buy a phone from them. Plus, they offer nationwide coverage and don’t have contracts either. Note: if you use a fair amount of data, talk, and text, you might be better off with a package deal like Republic Wireless has.
5. Scratch Wireless
The cheapest plan is from a company called Scratch Wireless, which sells a year’s worth of service for only $69. That comes out to $5.75 a month!
Because the price is so cheap, there’s a catch. The service only works on their own phone, which is an $89 Android phone called the Coolpad Arise. The $69 yearly cost only pays for calling over WiFi and cellular texting.
They give you the option of using Sprint’s network to make calls or use data and you can get 100 minutes for $7.99 more, or $14.99 a month for unlimited calls.
6. Red Pocket
If you want a plan that has options outside of just talking, check out Red Pocket’s $10 Essentials Plan that works with any of the four major U.S. networks and offers 500 minutes, 500 texts and 500 MB of LTE data each month.
For five bucks more you can get 1,000 minutes, 1,000 texts and 1GB of LTE data. The plan above is the best deal, offering unlimited minutes, text and 500 MB of LTE data, as long as you sign up for auto-refill that has a one-time fee of $19.
6. Project Fi
Project Fi is operated by Google that uses the following big carriers: Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Three.
This plan costs $20 for unlimited domestic talk and text, unlimited international texts, WiFi tethering to use your phone as a hotspot and more.
This plan is ideal for someone who needs to text international numbers or travels frequently, since Project Fi offers cellular coverage in 135 countries.
You can add up to 5 more people to your plan for $15 per month, per person. Data costs $10 per GB until Bill Protection kicks in.
Bill Protection is a feature that helps customers save money by allowing customers to pay for only the data they use.
8. Consumer Cellular
Consumer Cellular, which targets senior citizens, runs on AT&T’s network and has a plan that offers unlimited talk and text and 500MB for about $25 per month.
The plan makes it easy for seniors to use their phones and gives a 5 percent discount for AARP members.
According to their site, the average customer pays around $25 a month. Their straightforward plan allows you to share your minutes, text and data by adding a line for $15 per month.
You can change your plan at any time, since there are no additional fees for switching.
9. Total Wireless
Total Wireless has a no-worry 30-day plan that costs $23.70 a month and has unlimited talk and text for one line. It also comes with 1GB of data.
Or you can sign up for the next plan up, which is $33.20 a month and has unlimited talk and text and 5GB of data.
Total Wireless uses Verizon’s network, so the coverage is solid. You can also save 5 percent of your bill if you sign up for autopay.
Note that the data consists of a hybrid plan of high-speed internet and 2G.
10. h2O Wireless
h2O Wireless is a prepaid option that offers unlimited talk and text for $30 a month. This option gives you 5GB of 4G LTE.
For $54 a month, you get unlimited data, talk and text with unlimited 4GB LTE data.
Check the h20 Wireless site for special ongoing deals.
Bonus: They also offer unlimited calling and texting to 50 international destinations.
Cricket uses AT&T’s network, and for $30 a month, you get unlimited talk, 2GB and 4G LTE data. For $40 a month, you can get 5GB of data.
If you don’t need any data, they offer a talk and text plan for $35 a month. You can buy a phone or bring your own.
Spending $40+ — Consider Unlimited Plans
The plans mentioned above are the cheapest plans. However, when you’re using limited data, talk and text, you might find that some of these more expensive plans are cheaper in the long run.
These plans might be for you if you use more data, talk and text.
- Sprint 2GB: $35 a month
- Verizon’s Go Unlimited: $35 a month (with four phones)
- Xfinity Mobile: $45 a month
- ROK Mobile: $45 a month
- Metro PCS: $50
- Boost Mobile: $50
- Sprint Unlimited Basic Plan: $60
- T-Mobile Unlimited for Seniors: $60
If you’re willing to spend over $40 for each individual line, look into unlimited plans. Unlimited plans give you peace of mind to freely use your phone as you please.
A short while back, cell phone companies removed many of their unlimited plans, but the good news is they’re making a come back, as many carriers have started offering them again.
Here are some of the cheapest unlimited plans:
12. Sprint 2GB Single Line
Sprint has a 2GB plan for $35 a month, which gives you unlimited talk and text, unlimited international text and mobile hotspot too.
This deal applies as long as you sign up for AutoPay and get a discount on your monthly bill.
13. Verizon’s Go Unlimited
For $35 a month, per line, Verizon’s Start Unlimited gives you unlimited 4LTE data, unlimited talk and text, DVD-quality streaming and unlimited mobile hotspot.
Note that you have to have four phones to qualify for this price. If you wanted to do Start Unlimited on your own, the cost would jump up to a whopping $70 per month.
There are additional discounts for two and three phone plans.
14. Xfinity Mobile
For those people signed up with Comcast, this deal is for you. Xfinity Mobile is offering current customers unlimited talk, text and data for $45 a month.
Xfinity Mobile has unlimited data for $45 a month on Verizon, which means you’ll have good coverage. The only caveat is that once you use up 20GB of data, your high speed will be reduced.
15. ROK Mobile
Using unlimited data for $45 a month on the Sprint network, ROK Mobile is comparable to Xfinity. Once you reach 20GB of data, you’ll experience a high speed reduction.
16. Metro by T-Mobile
Metro by T-Mobile has a $25 plan that gives you unlimited 4G LTE data and WiFi calling. You can add an additional line for $25, and the plan is contract-free. Taxes and fees are included in the prices.
17. Boost Mobile
Similar to MetroPCS, Boost Mobile has a $50 unlimited plan that includes taxes and fees. If you bring your own phone, you can get a free month ($50 credit).
Also, look into their inexpensive family plans if you need more than one line. For $100, Metro PCS has unlimited talk and text data for four people.
18. Sprint Unlimited Basic Plan
In addition to Sprint’s 2GB plan, they also have a Basic Plan for $60, which includes unlimited talk, text and data, as well as 500MB of hotspot data per line.
You can add a second line for $40 a month and $30 for each additional line after that.
19. T-Mobile: $60+ for seniors
For those who are 55 and up, T-Mobile has a $60 unlimited plan for 2 lines. The plan includes unlimited talk, text and LTE data and you have to sign up for autopay in order to qualify for this price.
How much data do you need?
You’re on the train and scrolling through Facebook, you’re waiting in line at Starbucks and watching a YouTube video someone sent you, you check emails obsessively – these are all things that use up a lot of data from your phone. Data is one of the main reasons cell phone plans can be so pricey.
The average cell phone user uses 3GB each month, according to a market research firm, NPD Group. These are the smartphone users who are streaming videos, music, posting to Instagram, and using their favorite apps constantly.
Not everyone falls into this group, though. NPD Group said 30 percent of smartphone users currently use about 500MB.
Know how much data you use
If you’re unsure how much data you’re using, go to your phone’s settings and tap the network and Internet data usage to see what the total is.
When in doubt, just call up your cell phone carrier and ask, so you have an idea of how much data you and your family are using. See if you can scale back your data usage by 25 percent or more, and then find a plan that fits accordingly.
Verizon Wireless has a useful tool that allows you to estimate how much data you’re using each month.
How to use less cellular data
If you don’t go with one of the unlimited plans, you’ll most likely need to scale back on your data usage. Just imagine you’re traveling abroad and can’t access data unless you’re connected to WiFi.
Get into the habit of doing the following:
- Connect to WiFi every chance you get.
- Limit browsing time to when you’re on WiFi.
- For apps that constantly refresh using data (i.e., emails), change your settings on your phone, so it only updates when you’re on WiFi, or set it, so it refreshes less frequently.
- For less important apps, set it so that you can only access them when you’re on WiFi.
Examples of phone activities that should be done when you’re on WiFi:
- Browsing and Googling
- Streaming video, music or podcasts
- Sending/receiving emails
- Posting photos to Facebook, Instagram
- Sending photos via text message or texting apps
- Using Google maps
Streaming music or podcasts
Download your music playlist or your podcast subscriptions directly to your phone, rather than streaming them. However, if your phone doesn’t have a lot of gigs, you won’t be able to store a lot of songs or podcasts.
Apps like Spotify and Soundcloud let you download music in an offline mode (if you’re paying for the subscription), which means when you’re connected to WiFi, you can download your favorite playlists directly to your device.
If you need to use Google maps, all you need to do is put in the destination while you’re on WiFi, and it’ll navigate you all the way there (even after you’re not on WiFi anymore).
Keep in mind if you decide to take a detour or reroute, it won’t automatically sync to the final destination. However, both Android and iPhones are capable of doing this.
Check the coverage
Having terrible reception in your own home is like death by 1,000 paper cuts, and you don’t want to turn into the “Can you hear me now?” guy.
Before switching plans, make sure the cell phone carrier has great coverage in your area. Many of the carriers allow you to easily check their site to see if your area is covered by asking you to type in your ZIP code.
No matter what kind of plan you decide to choose, make sure it’s realistic to your habits and lifestyle. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can hang with a $10 plan, but end up going over the data. Or you’ll keep adding more gigs, which ultimately adds to the cost of your bill.
The good thing is, there are plenty of plans available. So, if one doesn’t work out, you can always try out another to see if it’s to your liking.
Have you tried any of these cheap cell phone plans? Tell us in the comments.