life optimization strategies for reducing the cost of cell phones without feeling deprived
by FI Designer
Anyone working towards a life of financial independence knows how important it is to reduce recurring expenses. Slicing and dicing your cell phone bill(s) is one of the lowest hanging fruits when it comes to cutting expenses. This article focuses on optimization strategies to get more value from your phone without costing you more money.
My wife and I have had $10 a month (give or take) cell phone bills for the last 2 years and I would like to tell you how to do the same without feeling like you are giving something up.
Shopping discount carriers will save you greatly as opposed to the big name national carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. The discount carriers are typically using the networks of the national carriers anyway so it will not dramatically reduce the quality of your network coverage. Clark Howard has one of the best resources I have seen for shopping cheap cell phone plans called Best Cell Phone Plans and Deals. Two years ago we started using UNREAL Mobile ($10/mo for 1GB/mo); until they were acquired by Ting Mobile ($10/mo + tax for 1GB/mo); and this year we switched to using Boost Mobile ($10/mo for 1GB/mo). I was pleasantly surprised that UNREAL and Boost both were a flat $10/mo with no extra taxes and fees.
Reduce Mobile Data Usage
To pay the absolute minimum on your monthly cell phone bill, which presently appears to be around $10 per month, you are going to have to limit your consumption of mobile data. This means learning to live with 1GB per month of mobile data. A key to designing a life under 1GB per month is eliminating streaming content like video and audio unless you are on WiFi. That may sound extreme if you have never tried it before, but with some intentionality you can get the same benefits from your phone without feeling deprived.
Set Data Usage Warnings
On Android you can set up mobile data usage warnings that will notify you when you have reached a certain threshold. I have my notification set at 500MB. Next you can set a limit for your mobile data usage. I have my limit set around 900MB just to have a good buffer in case there is a discrepancy on the billing cycle date. At this point for my wife and I these usage warnings serve more as a backstop in case an app setting somehow changes and starts to suck data in the background.
To live your life under the 1GB ceiling having plenty of internal data storage on your phone is important. Generally speaking Android phones have an advantage over iPhones in that Androids usually have external microSD cards.
I try to keep the largest SD card on my phone I can buy for around $20. When I upgrade cards I typically pass my old card down to my wife who stores far less music on her device than I do.
If you use Google Maps for navigation, while on WiFi you can download maps for offline use to reduce your mobile data demand. I also recommend downloading the maps ahead of time for trips outside your home area. The download file sizes can be fairly large depending on the distance traveled, but the files can be deleted after you are done with them. Another benefit of the microSD recommendation above is that it frees up internal storage for maps and other app needs.
My wife and I try to avoid using our phones as a pacifier for our young children when at a store or restaurant, but there are occasions when we resort to it. We call that our “Nuclear Option.” To avoid streaming YouTube on mobile data we store some of their favorite videos on our phones. Honestly we play movies on our phones so rarely that they feel like it’s a treat.
Being intentional and downloading music or podcasts to my phone, in lieu of streaming them, is one of my favorite life optimization strategies. It must be because I grew up in the Napster generation, but I actually prefer to have the music or podcast files on my device instead of streaming them. I have also found that music podcasts are an excellent way to get well curated new music. You simply need to search for podcasts in the genres of your choice. Personally, I am an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) fanatic and there is a seemingly endless number of music podcasters with various genres of EDM. Getting the podcasts and music on your Android phone is the topic of my next article on the Rocket Player app for music.
Call to Action
Please don’t stop here. Consider if some variation of this could work for you to save money on your cell phone without feeling deprived. And if not, ask yourself what steps can you take to optimize elsewhere?
- Clark Howard’s Best Cell Phone Plans and Deals
- Designing FI’s article on Rocket Player app for music