I don’t go quite as far as Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme, who advocates to simply drop your entire cell phone plan on your way to extremely early retirement. That seems a little aggressive given the huge modern convenience of being connected wherever you are (those NFL box scores can’t check themselves). However, I do advocate for only paying for what you need, and not overpaying.
The problem with cell phone plans, much like cable plans, gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, household lighting, or countless other money sinks that we need to optimize, is that most people grossly overpay for what they actually use. The average cell phone bill for the major carriers sits somewhere between $140-145/mo, with the average individual bill being about $73/mo. We’ve grown so accustomed to these bills, that shelling out the cost of 50 pounds of economy-pack boneless skinless chicken breast just seems like a necessary expense. Even 81% of impoverished households have cell phones, and those cellular plans (if they are paying the going rates) are undoubtedly contributing to that poverty.
My family, for the longest time, was on a unlimited everything plan with Sprint. For about $50/mo per person, we got everything we needed. Then, I had my moment of enlightenment, which caused me to look a little further at our monthly expenses. I found that I used only a few dozen text messages (I use iMessage and Facebook Messenger for everything now), a couple hundred call minutes, and about 700MB of data for each of us. We use tons of free wifi, and my wife is a SAHM, so we aren’t hugely mobile data dependent—but 700MB each is still a good bit. Seeing the actual numbers we were using, I decided to try out the field.
The $9.54 iPhone Plan Provider
Most of us are familiar with Republic Wireless. For $25, you get unlimited T&T and 1 GB of data (Republic dropped the uber-popular $20 unlimited data plan in July). However, any unused data is issued as a cash refund to your account. That’s pretty sweet.
The biggest hit against Republic Wireless is that only two phones are available on the program, the MotoX and the MotoE. Those are both tremendous Android phones, both with over 4.5 star ratings on Amazon. The lack of iPhones on the plan, though, make it a no-go for us Apple addicts (like the Retire29 household). So, are iPhone users left to fend on the battlefields of pricey AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon? Or are we left to navigate the murky waters of Cricket, Boost, Virgin, or StraightTalk? Heck no! In fact, those “2nd tier” provider plans are still in the $30-$50 range.
The solution: a little-known up-and-comer called RingPlus.
A Little About RingPlus
What do you want in a cell phone provider? If you’re like me, you want something that you don’t even have to think about. You want something inexpensive. You want the bill to pay automatically, you want service to always be on, you don’t want to have to “add more data to the plan,” and you basically want it to be a non-factor in your life. For a long time, that WAS NOT RingPlus.
We’ve been on RingPlus for almost a year now, and only now am I recommending it. Prior to that we were on Ting, which was also good, but ended up being not much less than Sprint’s $40 unlimited plan.
For the first few months on RingPlus, service was spotty—we’d have no cell signal for an hour or two for no apparent reason. Then, data would just go down, and we’d send a help ticket to customer service, they’d take a few hours to reply, and finally they’d ask us to do a PRL update on the phone. We must have done a half-dozen PRL updates those first couple months. Thankfully, though, they seem to have cleaned up their game, and we’ve been going strong for six months now with no issues.
However, a major problem still lurked. We were on the RingPlus “Delight” plan (see screenshot below), which gives you 700 minutes, 300 SMS, and 300 MB of data for $9.99/month (additional data were 2 cents/MB). That’s not a bad plan, but whenever you ran out of data mid-month, the service just stopped working. You would have to go into your account and manually “top up” your balance which is then drawn down for overages. You couldn’t automatically do this—you literally would have to find some wifi (or use somebody else’s phone) and go to your account to add $5 to get you through the month. Remember, you data plan was locked out since you were over, so you needed another way to access the internet. A classic “first-world” problem, but still… Not convenient.
That all changed this month with the new “Pepper” plan. The Pepper plan is a free plan that gives you 250/500/10 for Min/SMS/MB. The data allocation is obviously nothing, however, the key is the automatic top-up feature which hits your credit card for $5 every time you balance hits $0. No more service outages! No more logging in to add money to the plan. No more nothing! I now, finally, no longer think about my cell phone bill.
How The Plan is $9.54
I wouldn’t stop at just saying, “Go to RingPlus.net and get the Pepper plan.” So, there’s one other element to add. At 2 cents per MB, a GB of data (which is about what I plan on using in a bad month) will cost you $20. That’s not all that great. However, RingPlus allows you to purchase add-ons to your plan.
If you’re a heavy minutes user, you can add 500 minutes for $7/mo. If you text a lot, you can add 5,000 SMS for $8/mo. Or, if you use a lot of data, you can add 1 GB of data for $8/mo (or $9.54 with taxes and fees). These add-ons auto-renew each month, so you don’t need to keep adding them.
Bottom line, go to RingPlus.net, select the Pepper plan, add 1GB of add-on data, and you’ll be getting an iPhone plan with 250 Minutes, 500 SMS, and 1.01GB for $9.54 per month.
Some Things to Consider About This Great Deal
Full disclosure. RingPlus customer service is entirely e-mail based (although they are very nice), so it’s not the absolute easiest to work with (yet). Also, a feature of RingPlus that many might find annoying is that when you call out, you’ll hear the latest music (with a “Press 5 to Buy”). This is a bit like listening to advertising on voice calls, but it’s part of the reason why plans are so cheap. (Note: people calling you just hear a normal ring tone).
Also, the latest version of any phone is (and this is true for all MVNOs) “black-listed” on the service. As such, you can’t use the iPhone 6 or 6-Plus, or SGS6. However, with the new iPhone 6S line coming out September 25th, the iPhone 6 will then be available. Obviously, all older versions of the iPhone are good to go.
Lastly, RingPlus operates on the Sprint network, so your phone needs to have a Sprint SIM card.
Yes, Do This
I know what you’re thinking. Inertia. You’re already on a phone plan that works fine for you. It only costs you $50 a month (or whatever). You don’t have a Sprint phone. All these steps to change plans make your head hurt.
Listen, I get it. Changing phone providers can suck for a day or two. You might be without service for a few hours, you’ll probably have to call customer service or do something out of the ordinary that is a minor inconvenience. However, once you’re over, you’re over. Think about it like this, if you pay $50/mo now, what will $9.54 mean to you in ten years? At 8% yearly returns, $40.46 a month in savings equals $7,400. Maybe you’re being hosed over even worse than $50/mo. If you’re currently paying $100, then your 10-year savings will be $16,500.
Despite all the bad press we get about morning lattes and buying organic, this is how early retirement is made. Change those things about your finances that you don’t see. Change those things that just get paid without thought. Make this change as an investment in your early freedom. Even if you decide to avoid RingPlus, check out the massive list of MVNOs and get on a plan where you’re not wasting so much money.
Thanks for reading!