Prepaid Wireless: How to Save $800 This Year

Entrepreneurship, Media


Entrepreneurs are always looking for ways to economize.  I’ve recently found prepaid wireless to be a great source of savings.

A few months ago I left Verizon for Virgin Mobile, and I couldn’t be happier.  I was lucky a friend had persuaded me to give it a try.  Before then, prepaid mobile service wasn’t on my radar, at all.  Why is that?

For one thing, there’s the stigma.  I’d always thought of the prepaid market as being for the credit-challenged among us.  This understanding was accurate at one point.  Prepaid cell service began as a way for someone with bad credit or no credit to essentially put down a “deposit” (hence, pre-paying for service).  By contrast, if you were middle class and credit worthy, the major carriers trusted you enough to give you service and take your payment at month’s end (aka, “post-paid”), even gave you a free phone.  It’s a little-recognized symbol of socioeconomic status.  Even more to the point of stigma:  prepaid phone cards and disposable “burner” phones purchased in convenience stores were associated with drug dealers who needed untraceable hardware for illicit communications.

There is admittedly a somewhat sketchy feel to using prepaid service.  My experience is with Virgin Mobile (VM), but I imagine this applies to most of the prepaid sector.  VM clearly insulates itself behind the Internet, encouraging all customer contact to happen through their website.  And even on the website, there is no traditional “bill”– no “statement”, no calls log, and most importantly, no account number.  If you’re able to figure out how to get an actual human being on the phone at Virgin Mobile, you’ll find them seriously cagey upon you requesting your account number.  Ask them for your account number, and they ask you why you want it.  I guess most customers seek their account number when they’re jumping ship to another carrier (you need it to port your number to another carrier).  For my part, I wanted my account number to set up VM as a “payee” at my bank to schedule automatic monthly payments.  Guess what?  Virgin Mobile doesn’t deal with banks.  They only accept credit / debit cards or “Top Up” cards purchased at drugstores and big-box retailers.  They do not accept paper checks.  Nor can you register a bank account with them for electronic payments.  (Not that I would ever do that, but since when does a company not want your bank account info?)

So what convinced me to try them?

How about saving $70 every month?  Yep, my Verizon bill was $107 each month.  I’m now paying only $37 a month to Virgin Mobile.  Sure, this is for only 300 minutes.  But $107 only got me 450 minutes from Verizon.  And with VM I get unlimited texting and data.  My $107 with Verizon only gave me 4 gigs of data.

The unlimited data has been a big plus.  I now get to watch Netflix on my phone anytime I want, without worrying about my data plan.  With Verizon, that 4 gigs of data was good for only about eight episodes of “Breaking Bad.”  One caveat for heavy data users:   there have been reports of data “throttling”.  I have yet to experience this, but I’m actually not that heavy of a data user.

How do I manage with only 300 minutes on my plan?  The same way I managed with only 450 minutes on my Verizon plan:  I make most of my calls via the Internet.  I use an inexpensive ($5 one-time purchase) VoIP app called GrooveIP.  GrooveIP uses Google Voice to make and receive free calls over the Internet.  It works best over Wi-Fi and 4G, and it does work well enough over 3G, as well.  VoIP setup is somewhat complicated, but here’s how:

I’ve definitely encountered some drawbacks.  Make special note of this one — although there are a number of BYOD (bring your own device) prepaid carriers, Virgin Mobile isn’t one of them.  You have to buy a Virgin Mobile phone, whose offerings are somewhat limited.  Better than in the past (they carry iPhones, now).  But still limited.  There’s no contract, so there’s no discount on any of the phones.  So I limited myself to a $200 phone budget.  I chose the Samsung Galaxy Reverb.

The Reverb was VM’s top-of-the-line smart phone a year ago (now $130).  It sports a great feature set; by comparison, my Verizon phone was the vaunted Motorola Razr, and the Reverb has every feature I ever used on my Razr.  But, like so many of the lower-cost Android phones, the Reverb has only 2 gigs of RAM memory, and this is the source of my one regret:  with such limited RAM, my Reverb slowed to a crawl once I loaded it up with apps.  Why not install the apps on the external SD card?  Current versions of android (all versions since Froyo 2.2) have allowed users to move apps from internal memory to the external SD card.  The only problem here is, in order for this work, the developer of the app must enable the app to run from the external SD card.  Most app developers have not taken the time to do this.

But, wait, there’s a solution.  It takes some doing.  And customer service certainly doesn’t endorse this since it is essentially a hack.  But here’s how to move almost any app to your external SD card:  It’s worked great for me.  Now my phone has regained its zip and pizzazz.

So despite some drawbacks, if you’re pretty handy with cell phone configuration, and you don’t rely much on mobile carrier customer service, then going prepaid is not only doable.  It’s great.  What’s not great about saving $840 every year?

(PS:  What does the photo above have to do with prepaid wireless?  Not a thing.  I just think it’s hilarious to see people talking on phablets.)

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