From the Blog

How I Reduced My iPhone Bill to Under $30 A Month (And Maybe Less)

Please note: In April of 2012, AT&T changed their goPhone plans to require smart phone data plan users to buy a minimum of $25 minutes per month. I certainly don’t need that many minutes, and it’s obnoxious to have to pay for something I’m not really going to use. But paying the $25 a month and getting a small data plan is still the cheapest option for me, and my bill is still around $30 a month. 

The advice below is just how I was able to switch my iPhone 3Gs to a goPhone plan. Your mileage may vary. Please do your research and see if it will work for you. Try it at your own risk. I’m not an expert. I’m just someone on the internet. Thanks! 

As I’ve mentioned, we are trying to be thrifty. We’ve reduced our expenses pretty much everywhere we could. So it burned my ass that we were paying $120 a month for our cellphones. We were locked into a contract until the end of this year.

When we first got our iPhones, I felt pretty good that we’d get a discount from my employer, saving 16% on service. Then, Dave and I shared a family plan which made it even cheaper. We both had unlimited data and shared 550 minutes. Which totally worked for us. Dave pretty much doesn’t talk on the phone, and I usually only talk to my far-away family on weekends.

So I patted myself on the back for these cost cutting tactics. It was way to justify our iPhones. But really, it was still a stupid amount of money.

Two iPhones: $600
Monthly service: $120 (usually)
Apps: Who fricken knows
Cost over two year contract: $3,480

They don’t really encourage you to think of the total amount of money you are spending for your gizmos. And while we were employed, iPhones just seemed like one of those things we “had to have” and we just shrugged at the cost. “Everyone else was doing it.” That reasoning doesn’t factor into our thinking very often, but it’s helpful when you think you must have something. Sigh.

We had four months to go on our contract. Dave was ready to get rid of his phone completely, or he was ready to get a crappy dumb phone and pay for texts. I wanted to reduce the expense for BOTH of us. And it seemed silly not to use our current phones with cheaper service. There had to be a way.

Here it is. I didn’t have to “hack” our phones, but we did have to go outside At&t’s support. And I did have to break our contracts. But even with paying the remaining $75 cancelation fee per phone, it will still save us money.

Phase One: I started with Dave’s phone and followed the instructions (also here) on turning your iPhone into a prepaid phone. Basically, I followed those instructions and it worked perfectly. We got Dave set up with a $25 data/500mb data plan and $.10 minute calling plan. We will probably only need the $15/100 mb plan next month. He never makes calls, so we can load up on the bare minimum monthly minutes and he will probably never use them.

We did have to switch the number on his phone with the new sim card. So we could have lost his old number. He wasn’t concerned about that, but we solved that problem anyway further below.

He does text, and there is a $5/200 text plan, and we considered getting that too. Paying for texts is super annoying because it basically costs providers nothing, but they charge outrageous monthly fees. I decided to try something else (see Phase Three).

Phase Two: We got everything set up and tested to make sure his phone and data were actually working. We now had two sim cards working in his phone. His old one, and the new prepaid card. Before we cancelled the At&t contract, we ported his old number to Google Voice. Now his old number is attached to his Google account. We added the Google Voice app to his iPhone. So now he can make calls online, get his voicemail online, and forward calls to his phone. AND, he can send and receive texts for free through the GV app.

He still pays for minutes if someone calls his old number and Google forwards it to his phone. But since we spend most of our time sitting in front of computers, we can answer those calls online for free. After everything was set up and working perfectly on his phone, I switched over mine too.

Phase Three: The Google Voice settings take some tinkering, especially for the text messages. The default is for your incoming texts to be forwarded to your phone’s native text app. For us, that means $.20 a text. But you can switch that setting off so all texts are handled through the Google Voice app for free.

It works. We use the wifi at home to keep from using our data plan. So far this month, I’ve used less than 10%, so it’s possible I can get less data for even cheaper.

If you don’t text, and you’re not concerned about keeping your old number, you don’t have to sign up for Google Voice. You can just do the prepaid trick. But for me, I like taking calls on my computer, Google Voice has neat features, and I basically get to keep this number for the rest of my life, or until Google and/or the planet explodes.

Did your eyes glaze over? Mine did too. But it was so worth it to keep chipping away until we found a solution. And now we pay less than half for our phone bill.

You know how it feels? It feels like VICTORY!

Comments

  1. This is awesome. I love that you priced it out over the contract. Your comparison cost is, what? about $800 with the cancellations over two years? I feel fortunate that, since I really dislike talking on the phone, I’ve never fallen for iPhone’s or droids like others have. $15/month prepaid for me. More minutes than I’ll ever need, I can surf if I wanted to. Texts work great and the phone is easy to operate.

  2. Good point, Bruce. For the two of us:
    One-time hard costs:
    Two Go-Phones: $10 each
    Cancellation Charge: $75 each
    Port Numbers to Google $20 each
    Total one time costs=$105 each ($210 total together)

    Usage charges per month:
    Minutes: $8.33 each($100 prepaid card over the course of 12 months for 1000 minutes)
    Data: $15/100mb month each.
    Total per month: $23.33 each
    Per year: $279.96 each, $559.92 for both.

    That’s the equivalent of 4.5 of our old phone bills to pay for a whole year. Kinda awesome.

    • Heather –

      My 15 yr old daughter has been dying for an iphone and I got her a used one. We have Google voice setup and she can do the wifi piece but I can’t find how to marry per minute voice and data. I set the plan up for a credit card monthly refill but cancelled and will go forward w/ a prepaid card. Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

      • Heather says:

        Hi Jack, the plans have changed a bit since I wrote this post. AT&T now requires a minimum $25 monthly minute plan in order to buy a any data for a smart phone. $25 is waaaay more expensive than I need for minutes. But it’s the only way they allow you to buy a data plan.

        For me, I only need $5.00/50 mb data, because I’m often home on our own wifi. This means my bill is still under $30 a month. I just logged into my goPhone account, bought the damn $25 minute plan, then added the $5 data. It was pretty straightforward.

        It does burn my butt to have to pay $25 a month for something I barely use. Jerks.

  3. Cool website! Your living the dream!

    Question with google voice: You mentioned you “we ported his old number to Google Voice”, I am not very familiar with google voice, could you tell me how you do this?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Katrina, here’s more detail from Google Voice. It’s like moving your number from on cell phone provider to another. Google makes it pretty easy. Make sure you understand everything first. Once you port over to Google, you are canceling your old cellphone service.

  4. Alright, about to do this with our lines. And by doing this, we can even afford to buy a pair of non-subsidized iPhone 4Ses! (We have ancient iPhone 3G’s right now.)

    • Go, Ed, go! If you get a full priced new phone, the provider might just let you do a legit pre paid plan, instead of going the sneaky round-a-bout route we went. Not sure, though. They are touchy about it. Worth asking.

  5. Alright, just started the process! Bought the GoPhone, tested it on my iPhone with my existing Google Voice account at work, and it worked as planned. Going to officially port my wife’s cell phone number to Google Voice for her first, and do the swap for her phone first. If, after a month or two, things look like they’re working well, I’ll switch mine.

  6. No, I’m likely going to be sneaky. At least for the current iPhone 4, it is cheaper to buy the subsidized phone, then cancel and pay the early termination fee than to buy the unsubsidized phone (price difference: $450; cancellation fee: $350.) Assuming that stays true for the iPhone 4S (no pricing on the unsubsidized 4S yet,) I’ll likely upgrade my phone, then cancel once we determine this will work. Save $100!

    Hey, we’ve been loyal AT&T customers for five years now, LONG since covering the subsidy on our iPhone 3G’s – the original iPhone had no subsidy, and we brought our own phones before that, so they’ve only ever subsidized the two phones; over two-to-three lines over five years. I feel no guilt getting one last subsidy out of them. (Especially after they screwed us and refused to give us a discounted upgrade for an original iPhone that WE BROUGHT TO THEM when activating a new line – there was ZERO acquisition-or-subsidy cost, yet they decided that original iPhone had to be on our family plan for 2 years before we could get a discounted upgrade. Asses. Almost quit them then, only we had 1.5 years left on one of the lines, and inertia being what it is….)

  7. Did the same thing! Although dropped the phone service completely, no contract, no “pay as you go!” Everywhere has wifi now, even my local grocery stores. So GV delivers my messages and call straight thru on GV, facetime, or skype. When I went to the pay as you go I turned off the data, the first few days I didn’t and chewed right thru my plan.

    Also cancelled my cable tv. Got a Roku and apple tv. Subsription to Hulu+ and NHL center ice. Going on 6 months now and the wife and kids like it.

  8. Cautionary tale folks: I tried to do this step-by-step as described above, and hit a snag early. I think I’m out about $80 now. Don’t do what I did, folks. And if any of you know the way forward, please chime in.

    I’m trying to convert all 3 iPhone 4’s in our family. So I bought 3 Go Phones, activated them, added money to their plans, and called ATT to do the transfer. And was told that the GoPhone SIMs are locked to the devices they were activated with for 180 days, and they can’t help me.

    I also tried physically trimming the standard SIMs that come with the GoPhones to the microSIM format required for iPhone 4 (there are templates and even cutters online for this operation), but the iPhone rejects the “invalid SIM” even after iOS5 software restore, where the error message says explicitly that i need a non-PIN-locked SIM, i.e., one that hasn’t already been activated in another device.

    I think I just have to eat the loss on the GoPhones and related plans. I think I need now to get 3 virgin GoPhone SIMs, trim as required, and activate them *in the iPhones*, not in the GoPhones. Can anybody tell me if this is going to fail, too? And what to do instead if so?

    • Hi Todd. You *have* to activate the goPhone sim card in the *iphone.* Otherwise, just as you describe, the sim card is “locked” to the phone it was activated in. So, yes, yes, yes, activate the new sim in your iphone. I didn’t have to trim our sims since we have G3s. But it sounds like you’ve got that covered.

      • Update: bought new GoPhone SIMs. Tried to activate online using iPhone IMEI number: would time out with bogus message advising me to try later. Called. Person on phone couldn’t/wouldn’t help me after speaking with supervisor. I had visions of the same thing happening if I visited an ATT store asking for help with a minified GoPhone SIM in an “unsupported” iPhone. Much Googling ensued. The key: activate the new SIM using something other than an iPhone IMEI number: they block iPhone IMEIs now. Which to use? Well, 111111111111111 worked for me.

        It took them 8 hours to “review my request” before accepting my payment to initialize voice service online. Data service was initialized immediately. I don’t know if the delay had anything to do with the bogus IMEI, or was just a fluke. Now on to Google Voice…

        • Just in case anybody’s still following this folly: it sort of works now. Actually it seems to work well but it hasn’t been long enough yet for me to declare victory. Google Voice setup was fine. Imagine my disappointment, however, to learn late that GV would not let me use my iPhone for making or receiving calls over WiFi *at all,* ever. I thought that was the point, but then I am known for a certain willful optimism. Ever talk on the phone? If GV is all you have, you’re going to use minutes, or else be jabbering into your computer instead of your phone. I tend to perambulate when I need to call, or be out and about. Google Voice is finally just a glorified voicemail service that lets you keep your old number, and will forward calls to phones. That use paid talk minutes.

          It gets better, though: there’s an iPhone app called Talkatone that fixes everything. It pipes calls through Google’s chat service in conjunction with Google Voice (you need an account), over WiFi or 3G. So at most you pay for 3G data usage when away from WiFi, never talk minutes. In WiFi there’s no charge of any kind, except you have to look at in-app ads unless you pay for the premium flavor. The setup instructions are a wee bit complex, but I seem to have managed, so you can too.

          Thanks Heather! Next: same procedure for the 2 other iPhones in the household.

          • Thanks for the updates, Todd. I was bummed to learn calls wouldn’t go over data and that I’d have to use minutes. But then I realized, I almost never make calls away from home, and I’ve been using GV over my computer just fine. I got $.10/1000 minute prepaid and I probably won’t have to worry about a refill for a whole year.

            It sounds like the Talkatone you found might eliminate the need for minutes, too. Pretty cool! It’s ridiculous to pay $100 or more a month for cell+data services. With a little digging, there are other solutions out there. Glad it finally worked for you.

  9. Hi! I just bought a factory unlocked iPhone 4S and going to use as GoPhone. I’ve been researching and found that many people claimed the data would quit working after a while. Is your data still working? thanks!

    • @Noriko – I don’t think the instructions here work on the iPhone 4S – I recommend googleing around to see if other folks have had luck with that model.

      • Hi, Dave. Thanks for your comment. I’ve been googling around and found some people tried the same method on iPhone 4S. They reported the method did work… I’m a little anxious, but I guess I will find out soon :) I hope it will work!

  10. Hi, Noriko. Our data plans are both still working on both our phones.

    I hit a snag once when I got a spam text to the phone’s native go-phone number (not the Google Voice number). I didn’t want to get spam texts on my phone that cost $.20 each, so I called and asked AT&T to shut off texts. But when they did that, it also shut off my data. So I had three days of calls back an forth, trying to figure it out. They didn’t want to help because what we are doing is “unsupported.” But all they needed to do was turn texts back on, and they eventually did. No problems since.

    Also, we used the unlockit.co.nz APN. If you accidentally delete it off your phone, your data stops working. You can reinstall no problem.

    Other than that, no issues. Good luck!

  11. Thanks for your comments, Heather and Dave! The phone will arrive on Wednesday. I will report back then :) I have been using a VM PAYG ($15 top up every three months) and a 2nd gen. iPod Touch. The combo had been great for last several years, but I finally decided to upgrade a little. I’m planning to go with 10c per minute, $5 texting and $15 data plan. I use very little cell phone, so this set up will be more than good enough! Thanks!

  12. Just got my iPhone today and everything works great! Thanks!!!

  13. I have an out-of-contract iPhone 3GS and a Google Voice number. Following the instructions on this site and the pages referenced (and the comments herein and therein), I went to an AT&T store and told the sales person that I needed a goPhone SIM card for an out-of-contract AT&T phone with a $15 data and $5 text plan. I didn’t mention that it was an iPhone, but from what I could gather this sales person would not have cared. He got the goPhone SIM and transferred my number to the goPhone SIM. When I got home, I put the goPhone SIM in my iPhone and immediately had phone service. After I went to unlockit.co.nz the data plan worked immediately too. I never had to call anyone at AT&T customer service at all to convince them to do anything. It was a perfectly flawless procedure for me.
    Thank you!!! This change will save me about $50/mo.

  14. Michelle says:

    I just changed over our three iPhones after putting it off for months since reading this. We had out of contract 3GS iPhones. I bought the $10 go phone and called at&t (for each phone). I asked them if I could move my number to a go phone. They said, no problem. When they asked for info, I gave them the info from the new go phone package. So far so good! We are doing the $25 a month plan with 250 minutes and unlimited texting (no data). Our bill was $230 a month ($2760 p/yr) we now pay $75 a month ($900 p/yr). That is almost a third of what we were paying. So freakin’ cool.

  15. ATT no longer lets you use data services on smartphones unless you have a monthly voice plan, which currently start at $25/mo. I’m not sure if the GoPhone SIMs in our iPhone 4s are now worthless except for voice (which we never use). All we want is data over 3g/4g. How have others been coping with this change?

    • Heather says:

      Todd, I have been meaning to update this post. I had to deal with this a few weeks ago. I just went with the $25 a month plan, and got $5 of data. I use mostly my home wifi, so I don’t need a lot of data. I do make some calls, but I certainly don’t need $25 worth of minutes, and it’s obnoxious to have to pay it. But it’s still cheaper than a full plan.

      And I’m glad to get unlimited texts now, since I get a lot of spam texts to my GoPhone number, which I used to have to pay $.20 for. Super duper obnoxious.

  16. Hi Heather,

    Since you did your first post things changed a lot with ATT.
    I just got my 4S and need to reduce my bill. Because of work I use 1000 minutes a month and I wonder if will be worth it to go trhu the whole process and ended up paying the same or more with the go plan.
    Please advice!
    Thanks

    • Heather says:

      Hi Andrea, I am by no means an expert on AT&T service or their plans. Going the thrifty route was easier for us since we had light usage and didn’t need many minutes. You may just want the $50 unlimited gophone plan. But you’ll have to do your research.

      • As of now, you can purchase the $50 per month unlimited plan, but you can not purchase a data plan for your iphone. You can only use the internet on it where there is wifi. I was very excited to cut my bill in half, but AT&T, in usual fashion, has found a way to not let that happen. Even though my data usage is very very low, I use it mostly not on a wifi network.

  17. Can anybody tell me if this trick still works? I am thinking about doing it but do not want to spend 250-300 on an iphone 4 or 4gs if it is not going to work. Donna above says that they are no longer allowing pre-paid data to be tied to the iphones, can anybody verify?

    Is your $5.00 data a month you add on still working Heather, and if so is it only because you are using an iphone 3?

  18. Ryan,

    I just got off my iPhone 4 contract with AT&T and turned my iPhone 4 into a GoPhone, brought the $25/250min plan and added $5 to 50MB of data. This is my monthly cost, much cheaper than $75/month.

    I did this on Dec 1 2012.

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