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Save on Your Next Smartphone with a Prepaid Carrier

By Edited Jun 10, 2015 0 2
Save Money On a Smartphone
Credit: Diana Poisson

I love saving money and since switching over to a prepaid smartphone wireless plan eighteen months ago, I calculated that I have saved $400.00 even with purchasing two new phones during that time.  I was on a contract cell phone plan for four years with AT&T before I looked into the prepaid cellular market.  I did find that there are a few disadvantages to being a prepaid customer, but if I can save a few extra dollars each month, the drawbacks are worth it to me.

With AT&T, I was using a basic phone and looking forward to the day that I would qualify for a smartphone at a subsidized cost.  I knew I would have to extend my contract for another 24 months, but I was okay with that since I was a satisfied AT&T customer.   When the day came that I was eligible for a new smartphone, I was disappointed to find that if I purchased one, I would also have to purchase a data plan.  At the time, I was on a tight budget and I could not justify increasing my monthly expenses for a “want” versus a “need”. 

Granted, a smartphone is definitely not needed in my daily life, but I wanted a cooler phone with all of the features that I was lacking with my basic phone.  I checked on smartphone plans with T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint.  They all were in the same price range as AT&T and I was getting further discouraged.  Since I had my heart set on a smartphone, I broadened my search to the prepaid carriers – Boost Mobile, Cricket and Virgin Mobile – and was delighted to see that my monthly cell phone expense would go down if I switched over to one of them. After reviewing phone selections and plans for each of them and also based on a recommendation from a family member, I purchased my first smartphone from Virgin Mobile.

Samsung Galaxy Reverb (Virgin Mobile)
Amazon Price: $199.99 $139.95 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 10, 2015)

 Prepaid Smartphones
When shopping for your prepaid phone, you may be surprised at the prices that they charge for their phones.  Current smartphone prices for the three prepaid carriers listed above range in price from $50.00 for a low-end android to $450.00 for an iPhone.  Each carrier lists the phone specifications on their websites, but if you want a more general idea on the differences between the inexpensive and more expensive smartphones, please check this article.

Contract carriers subsidize a portion of the cost of their cell phones.  In exchange, you commit to a long term contract, typically 24 months.  If your budget changes later and you want to cancel your contract, you will be charged an early termination fee.  With a prepaid carrier, you pay a higher price for the phone up front, but in return, you are not committing to a long term contract.  You buy your phone, buy some minutes and start using your phone.  You are never obligated to purchase more minutes and you can switch to another carrier at anytime.

The prepaid carriers aren’t going to sell the newest phones the same day that they are available to the contract carriers.  I wanted a Windows 8 phone when they came out last year, but I didn’t have any luck in finding a prepaid carrier that sells them.  Cricket does carry the iPhone 5, but Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile do not.  However, Virgin Mobile does offer the iPhone 4.  If you are interested in a Blackberry, then Boost Mobile may be your only option today. 

All three carriers offer a 30-day return policy on their phones purchased from their website.  If you purchase your phone from a different retailer, be sure to check their return policy.  I like knowing that if I spend $300.00 on a phone, that I can return it if I don’t like it.

LG Venice (Boost Mobile)
Amazon Price: $179.99 $104.95 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 10, 2015)

 How Much Are the Monthly Plans?
Though there are other prepaid carriers available that offer smartphones, I am going to limit this article to Boost Mobile, Cricket and Virgin Mobile.  All three offer unlimited voice, messaging and data plans that range from $35.00 to $55.00 per month.

Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk Unlimited Data and Messaging Plans apply to both the iPhone and Android phones:

Plan

Anytime Minutes

Messaging

Data

$35.00 / month

300

Unlimited

Unlimited*

$45.00 / month

1200

Unlimited

Unlimited*

$55.00 / month

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited*

*All plans include 2.5 GB high speed data

Boost Mobile rewards their customers if they make on-time payments.  Their $55.00 plan for android phones includes unlimited voice, messaging and data (2.5 GB high speed).  However, for the first three times that you make 6 on-time payments, they reduce your monthly fee by $5.00 until your reach 18 on-time payments.  After that, your fee is just $40.00 per month.

Cricket has a separate iPhone plan for $55.00 per month which includes unlimited voice, messaging and data (2.5 GB high speed).  Their android plans are:

Plan

Anytime Minutes

Messaging

Data

$50.00 / month

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited
1 GB High Speed

$60.00 / month

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited
2.5 GB High Speed

$70.00 / month

Unlimited

Unlimited

Unlimited
5 GB High Speed

Price Comparisons Between Prepaid and Contract Plans
I admit that the cost of the high-end prepaid smartphones almost made me stay with a contract plan.  However, I did the math and calculated that in the long run, I would be saving money. 

First, is a comparison between Virgin Mobile and AT&T for an iPhone 4S 16 GB purchase:

  • Virgin Mobile
    • Phone Cost: $449.99
    • Activation Fee: $0.00
    • Monthly Fee: $55.00 (unlimited voice, messaging, data (2.5 GB high speed))
    • Two-Year Total: $1769.99
  • AT&T
    • Phone Cost: $99.99
    • Activation Fee: $36.00
    • Monthly Fee: $119.99 (unlimited voice, messaging, 3 GB data)
    • Two-Year Total: $3015.75

With Virgin Mobile, you will save $1245.76 over two years. 

This comparison is between Cricket and Verizon for a Samsung Galaxy S III phone:

  • Cricket
    • Phone Cost:: $379.99
    • Activation Fee: $0.00
    • Monthly Fee: $70.00 (unlimited voice, messaging, data (5 GB high speed))
    • Two-Year  Total: $2059.99
  • Verizon
    • Phone Cost: $199.99
    • Activation Fee: $0.00
    • Monthly Fee: $110.00 (unlimited voice, messaging, 4 GB shared data)
    • Two-Year Total: $2839.99

With Cricket, you will save $780.00 over two years and have more monthly data.

Conclusion
The next time you are in the market for a new smartphone, please check out the prepaid wireless carriers.  If you are currently under a contract plan, it may be wise to start saving a little bit each month to pay for the initial cost of the phone.  Take a look at the coverage maps of the wireless carriers and make sure that your area is covered.  If so, select a phone and plan and do the math.  I personally don’t mind having an older model phone if that means extra money in my savings account.

Huawei Ascend M860 Cricket Touchscreen Android Smartphone - NICE
Amazon Price: $49.95 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 10, 2015)
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Comments

Apr 12, 2013 1:36am
silverstreak
informative! thanks
Apr 12, 2013 7:21am
dlpoisson
Thank you! Every time I pay my monthly cell phone bill, I am always thankful that it's under $50.00.
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