Depending on your income and lifestyle or spending habits, you’ll likely be rich regardless of whether you follow my lead in this post. But this is not so much about making you “rich” as it is about helping you to understanding a very key principle about a very money-hungry service most Americans can’t live without these days: your cell phone plan. It’s topics like this (even if it’s not really teaching you how to use technology) that get me super pumped about doing what I do. Today, I want to help you understand what you can start doing now to increase the amount of money you save each month.
Don’t get me wrong when I say that I don’t understand why people use AT&T, Verizon or Sprint (I had the worst coverage and customer service experience of ANY company, not just cellular, with Sprint). My wife and I have been customers of all the major providers, but we have only been with one “prepaid” carrier, and that’s Straight Talk. Straight Talk is a subsidiary of TracFone Wireless and is only offered on Straight Talk’s website and in Walmart stores, as an exclusive corporate partnership. I’ve never tried MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, or any other prepaid services out of sheer hesitation, but I’m glad I took a chance on Straight Talk.
With all that said, I want to give you my personal take on why Straight Talk is my preferred cell provider and how I use their program.
To begin, after spending hours (literally) on the phone with AT&T, just a few months shy of the end of what felt like a never ending two-year contract, they kept me in frustrated suspense saying “We can’t end your contract early unless you pay the early termination fee (ETF).” After the representative said that a number of times, he finally said “… BUT, I could change your contract end date to today and then you wouldn’t have to pay the ETF if you’d like?”
“OF COURSE, I’D LIKE!!!”
Why would one not suggest that to begin with?? It was a very maddening experience. At the beginning of my contract with them, my wife and I had put down a significant down-payment on the phones we had at the time (iPhone 5s), so we had paid off the installment portion of our monthly bill before the contract ended. Because of this, when we terminated the contract, we owned the phones and were free to do what we wanted with them. I forget who I was with, but I used their phone before leaving the parking lot to call Straight Talk and activate new service with them, which only took ten minutes or so. To do this, I had gone into Walmart earlier and purchased their Straight Talk’s “Bring Your Own Phone” Activation Kit, which includes a Nano SIM card for iPhones.
[I want to note that the above Activation Kit link is available for purchase in most Walmart stores and online for $0.99. This kit allows you to convert your iPhone from use with a carrier like AT&T to active service as a “prepaid” phone. This is a lot of jargon, all to say that they have many “rules and specifications” that say you have to have a “CDMA” Activation Kit if you’re coming from AT&T or T-Mobile, or a “GSM” Activation Kit if you’re coming from Verizon or Sprint. Do NOT let that get you tangled up in “which kit should I buy?” I have always bought phones from third-party resellers, and picked phones that were said to originally be on AT&T or T-Mobile, and then just purchased the SIM kit linked above.]
With all that said, again, don’t get bogged down in that detailed mumbo-jumbo. You can always email me if you want to start with Straight Talk and ask anything you need to. Keep in mind, you’re only buying the SIM kit once if you plan to stay with iPhone (and assuming Apple stays with the current Nano SIM setup, which has been used since the iPhone 5 released in September of 2012.)
Once I purchased this, I use the SIM card removal tool to remove the AT&T SIM card and placed the new Straight Talk SIM card in its place. Inside the packet I purchased was a serial number that is linked to that SIM card, which I would then call Straight Talk and use to activate and connect the service to that iPhone and SIM card. You’ll then be asked by the Straight Talk representative which service plan you would like to apply to your phone.
Credit: Straight Talk
The plans above are pretty straightforward, but let me clear up a question you may be asking. Though popular with the national contract carriers, Straight Talk does not offer “Rollover Data.” I believe Straight Talk will eventually, but should already, offer a 2-3GB plan for ~$35 as smartphones continue to purge the market of antiquated devices like flip phones and non-data capable devices. Moreover, for those who are high data users, I’d like to see a 15GB plan for ~$65, but we have to be realistic that, until this prepaid phenomenon becomes more of a standard and begins to push the major carrier plans to the side, we may have to stick with 5-10GB data plans.
Once you’ve selected your plan with the representative, he or she will apply that coverage to your phone and give you the option of using your preferred payment method as an “Auto-Refill” preference. We use “Auto-Refill” and for both phones, we pay a total of $88/month. We know some people who go to Walmart or call Straight Talk each month and refill service that way, as well. Again, if you’re not familiar with prepaid services, unlike the contract plans where your minutes/text/data allocations are “just there,” these Straight Talk plans are good for 30 days of service (with the exception of the 60+ day plans where you can prepay for 3 months ($130), 6 months ($255) or one year ($495)). If you use up all of your 5-10GB of data before the 30 days are up, you can use the slower speeds or contact Straight Talk and have them apply a new 30-day service card to your account and everything will reset starting on that day.
If you choose to utilize “Auto-Refill” with your credit or debit card, you will get $1 off your service plan each month, so you’d pay $44 instead of $45.
Now for the phones. We’ve already covered A LOT, but I want to make sure you understand, despite my detailed breakdown, setting up with Straight Talk on that first day took about ten minutes and, after enrolling in Auto-Refill, I don’t have to do anything anymore. I keep a regular eye on my data usage (because we use the 5GB plan) around the 20-day mark, so if I ever get the suspicion that I’m going to run out of data, I can use the Straight Talk app and do a “One-Time” manual refill.
Like I said before, we buy our iPhones outright from eBay mostly. As you’ll see in the screenshot below, I used the search query “iPhone 6s Plus 64GB Unlocked” and I’ll look for the listings that are “Buy It Now” with stock photos, because those will likely be sellers that have many options and configurations in stock and be more reliable purchased. YES, you are buy a high-dollar item sight-unseen, I get that. But, keep in mind that this is becoming much more of a standard nowadays. I’ve purchased approximately eight to ten iPhones, mostly from eBay and a couple from Craigslist, and had one issue out of all them. That particular phone was purchased from eBay and the listing stated that it had AppleCare warranty included, so I was able to simply take it to Apple and have them replace it for a brand new phone. Yes, it was a little bit of extra work on my part, but I saved about $300 by buying used and still got a manufacturer-insured refurbished phone that I could trust in the quality.
In the end, the only question remains to be “What about reliability of coverage?” I can’t speak to that outside the areas I live and travel. I live 35 miles outside of Atlanta, Georgia and am always driving all around the city and within. I never have service issues here, or in the small town in South Georgia where I’m from while visiting family. Very rarely will I be in a spot notorious for “muffled” signal, but I’ve noticed it’s not limited to Straight Talk reception, but other carriers as well. It’s just a geographical anomaly.
The best part of this whole deal is that you’re not paying ridiculous amounts in taxes or “line access” fees (whatever that is!)
I just window-shopped on Verizon’s site after announcing they have “Unlimited” data, and I chose the $80 plan (which includes a 128GB iPhone 7 Plus (after $350 down-payment) installment of $21.xx/month, $20 line access, and the difference for the plan, it added $50 (FIFTY) in taxes/fees to the Monthly bill! No thank you!
Like I said earlier, this is a lot of information, so I hope you’ll ask any questions you may have. I will be sure to answer them same day for the most part. I would love to hear what cell provider you use and if you’re strongly considering a switch!
Until next time, enjoy the week!