How to Choose a Cell Phone Plan

Do Something to Stand Out

Boiling Frog Cell Phone PlansMy wife and I have been hanging on to our $6/mo* cellphone plans for many, many years. Until this week. We recently received notice that our cell phone provider was forcing us into a $10/mo plan, but one that didn’t align with our usage at all.

*Ok, I lied. It’s actually only $5.75/mo, but plus tax, so I guess that makes it about $6.50/mo.

We would have to go up to around $15/mo to get what we needed, at which point you have to start to rethink whether to go just a little further for more stuff. Sort of like the frog who doesn’t realize the water is boiling when you turn it up slowly. “But for only an extra $5/mo, we can get…”

And voila. We have a trade study thrust upon us.

Even though we strive to save money, or at least get good value, what I really try to promote is the act of good decision-making. So if you want to spend a little more, go ahead, but do it deliberately and be fully aware of the options, advantages and consequences.

Let’s get back to cellphones. This week I’m going to walk you through our thought process and actions as we figured out where to take our family phones. It’s not about needing to make the exact same choice as us. Rather, it’s about how to make the choice that’s right for you.

We’ll follow the 10 Steps to Great Decisions I presented in one of my very first posts ever:

  1. How Important Is It?
  2. Wait!
  3. Is It Even a Decision?
  4. Engage Your Advisors and Stakeholders
  5. What Do You Need and Want?
  6. What Are Your Choices?
  7. Get the Data
  8. Crunch the Numbers
  9. What Does Your Gut Say?
  10. Make a Call and Do it!

It’s important to note that I didn’t go and literally follow this guide as we were deciding, although the spreadsheet is real. Rather, my natural way of decision-making already follows the steps, so it’s aligned by default, as you’ll soon see.

One

How Important Is It?

We’re talking about adding at least $15/mo to the family budget, and possibly much more than that. Since this is a one-time “set it and forget it” type of decision with the potential to easily hit $100/mo, it warrants some consideration.

Jump to: TopSteps

Two

Wait!

When we first received the change notice, I felt myself getting angry and frustrated, and quickly went into “problem solving mode”. In this case, it is about the nail.

Fortunately my emotional intelligence training kicked in. I had to keep reminding myself that it is not an emergency, and we still have time. I therefore channelled my energy into figuring out our next steps, without feeling rushed or pressured.

Jump to: TopSteps

Three

Is It Even a Decision?

Yes. Although we could have just let it sit and roll into the new plan. But that wouldn’t suit our needs, so back to “yes” again.

Jump to: TopSteps

Four

Engage Your Advisors and Stakeholders

The obvious stakeholder here is my wife. Other than that, nobody really cares what we do with our phones as long as they can reach us. As for advisors, I spoke with some friends and asked for some recommendations in the London ON Fire Facebook group I’m part of. Nothing substantial, really. I also asked how different people run their household communications, just to help us brainstorm.

Jump to: TopSteps

Five

What Do You Need and Want?

This is where my wife and I really started having the important discussions. Our $6/mo plans made our phones text and wifi machines only, with a small 15c/min local airtime charge for those rare occasions. We also have a basic home phone service from MagicJack at $96/yr that we renewed back in the spring.

We had previously spoken about dumping MagicJack and moving full-time onto our cellphones, particularly since we aren’t all that happy with the MagicJack call quality. But it was a tough pill to swallow to jump from $6/mo up to around $30/mo (for each of us). So we never did it. But now that we were forced into the $15/mo range anyway, it was worth considering.

We need the ability to make unlimited phone calls to areas an hour or two away. International and national isn’t that important because we have Skype and text for that. And we need a good amount of texts, but not necessarily unlimited.

At this point, we had narrowed down our cellphone needs and wants: Need to have solid texting. Want to have unlimited local-ish calling. Reuse our current phones or pick up new lower-end phones; no new $1000 phones for this family!

Jump to: TopSteps

Six

and Seven

What Are Your Choices? and Get the Data

I combined steps 6 & 7 when working through the options. By the time you’ve identified the choices, you’re already on the provider’s website and might as well just record the price, since price and coverage area are pretty much the only data necessary. (Ok, maybe sign-up or referral bonuses, but start with the monthly costs and branch out from there if required.)

Given our usage, I did a quick check and noticed that postpaid plans were definitely more expensive. So I stuck with prepaid plans for now, to see if we could find something that worked. Here’s what I found (spreadsheet is largely unchanged, but formatted slightly for web purposes):

Cell Phone Cost Matrix

I was surprised at the number of providers, and I even learned of a few more later, such as Chatr, PC Mobile, and PetroCanada Mobile. (Gas station and grocery store cell phones, eh?)

I took a quick look at Chatr just now and they’re worth investigating further if starting from scratch. But I’ve already made my choice and Chatr seems a little pricier for us, so I’m not fussed about missing them initially.

There is one more important source of options and data to investigate: The retentions department of your current provider. So I made a point of calling. This provided no real benefit on pricing, but provided an additional option at the $15/mo point for more texts than we needed plus 500 local minutes. Not bad, really, for a $15/mo plan.

Jump to: TopSteps

Eight

Crunch the Numbers

Looking at the options, we determined that the customer retention $15/mo plan and the Public Mobile $25/mo plan (minus rewards = $22.50/mo**) were the two final options, based on whether we wanted unlimited provincewide calling or not. If we went unlimited calling, we would not renew MagicJack, and therefore save $8/mo starting next year.

**$22 for one phone and $23 for the other phone, based on referring each other, means $22.50 average per phone.

And so we had boiled this whole thing down to one simple choice: Pay about $8/mo to have unlimited provincewide calling on each phone, or stick with just texting machines?

If you are able to boil down a complex decision into a simple statement or two like the one above, then you are really rocking the decision-making process! This is a great way to make an informed decision without information overload or too much emotional attachment.

Why? Because at this point you have a clear case of paying $x for such and such a product or service. And then it’s up to you if it’s worth it.

Jump to: TopSteps

Nine

What Does Your Gut Say?

There’s one more thing to consider: Every time someone called our cellphones, we got antsy and wanted to call back on whatever landline was nearby. This was starting to become a nuisance and was unprofessional for a variety of fairly obvious reasons. I was really liking the idea of having one phone number for people to reach me, instead of “call this number, but text that number”.

Jump to: TopSteps

Ten

Make a Call and Do it!

And so we decided to upgrade to the unlimited provincewide calling plan with Public Mobile for $22.50/mo each. I negotiated to transfer our unused prepaid credits from the old provider to a relative, bought new sim cards, and ported our numbers over. We’ve now joined the early 21st century! But we still don’t have data, which is fine. We’ll just keep close to all those public wifi spots if we ever “need” it!

Pencil with ShadowYour Turn Now!

What do you do for cell phones? Do you follow a similar process for your decisions?

Do Something to Stand Out

Comments

  1. Just wanted to say that I enjoyed the post and analysis. Thank you

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