We’ve all spent time staring at our cell phone bill at the end of the month and wondering why it’s so expensive. Premium service costs a lot each month, and if you are a high-data user, all the affordable MVNO plans are off the table. That leaves family plans as a viable option for saving money each month on premium wireless plans. The downside of the shared plan is that you have to make every decision with all the members of the family plan, creating potential problems.
There are a few factors in whether or not a family plan is worth it for you. If you can take advantage of the savings without running into too many issues it is absolutely worth it! In this article, we’re going to talk about the different tiers of data users, how that fits into family plans, and whether or not a family cell phone plan is worth it for you!
What is a Family Cell Phone Plan?
In a general sense, family cell phone plans are any plan where you combine multiple lines on a single account. At this point, most “family plans” don’t limit you to your family. You can grab anyone who's willing to join your account to take advantage of family plan savings. From that point you have multiple lines on the same account, the specifics of the savings vary from carrier to carrier. Most carriers make your “family plan” to all be the same kind of account, and each additional line confers more monthly savings. Family plan savings are oftentimes quite impressive, with per-line costs falling by up to 50% with the maximum number of lines.
Another way for family cell phone plan savings comes in the form of mix-and-match plans, where each user can choose their own plan. These often give fewer savings, but there are perks to these plans as well.
The Three Kinds of Data Users
One of our biggest reservations regarding family cell phone plans is that most of them don’t mesh well when each person on the plan uses a different amount of data. A lot of the mix-and-match family plans are on MVNOs that don’t have a truly unlimited plan, and on the other side of the spectrum, the unlimited family plans as a part of major wireless networks are a lot more expensive overall. In this section, we want to break down three tiers of data users, what they do on their devices, and an estimate of how much data they use each month.
High Data User
We’ll start at the top. High-data users are people who use more than 50 GB every month. That’s a lot. Fifty gigabytes get you pretty far. These users are streaming audio and video on their mobile network or on social media. Mobile gaming, depending on the game, can also use a ton of mobile data.
High-data users need unlimited plans. MVNOs often offer cheaper “unlimited plans” that have soft caps on data usage. These plans provide anywhere from 20 to 50 GB of high-speed data before capping speeds at 3G or so. Compared to 4G LTE, 3G speeds are incredibly slow. While it is enough to surf the web and open up maps, trying to stream anything other than audio will be almost impossible. Whenever you look for a phone plan, we recommend making sure you have enough high-speed data to get through the month. High-data users especially. In general, high-data users have to pay more for their phone bills each month, but it is worthwhile when you need it. Being able to stream or play games when out and about provides a constant source of entertainment.
High-data users always benefit from family cell phone plans, as it allows them to enjoy premium data plans at a much-reduced cost.
Medium Data User
The middle range of data user comes in as people who use between 20 and 50 GB of mobile data each month. This qualifies them for a lot of the MVNO unlimited plans as well as other larger MVNO plans on the market. As well as, of course, unlimited data plans on major wireless networks. The only problem there is that you may be overpaying or your cell phone plan. Medium data users and especially low data users run into the risk of overpaying for their cell phone plan because it gives them an overload of data and other bells and whistles that they don’t need.
With regards to whether family cell phone plans are worth it, mid-data users sometimes benefit from them. Mix-and-match plans are awesome for mid-data users, as it opens up savings without too much compromise. There are, unfortunately, not too many mix-and-match phone plans out there. We’ll highlight one later in the article for you to check out! Mid-data users can also become high-data users if they are on an unlimited data plan with other users.
Low Data User
At the bottom of the list are our low-data users. We classify these as people who use between 0 and 20 GB of mobile data each month. These users don’t use their devices much at all when outside of WiFi zones. Even background processes can eat up multiple gigabytes during the month, so it is important to modify settings within the device so certain apps don’t continue to operate while on mobile data. Low data users aren’t necessarily only those who don’t use their phone. They can use their phone as much as they want on WiFi, it is only their mobile data usage that affects the kind of phone plan that is best.
You can work out how much data you use in your phone’s settings. If possible, we recommend checking out your data usage for the past three months or so to better understand your average data consumption. If you are a low-data user, family cell phone plans are usually not worth it. Low-data phone plans are super affordable without any additional discounts, and switching to a higher-data family plan will almost always increase your phone bill and give you a ton of data and services that you do not need.
- Family plans are almost always worth it for high-data users
- Family plans are sometimes worth it for medium-data users
- Family plans are almost never worth it for low-data users
Is a Family Cell Phone Plan Worth it?
Keep your data usage in mind when looking at the pros and cons of family cell phone plans. While family plans are amazing cost-savers and we recommend them for almost everyone, weighing in the downsides is essential to optimize your plan and service.
Pros of Family Cell Phone Plans
Family cell phone plans allow users to save money on their phone bill, and make premium plans more affordable. Let’s take a look at how those affect whether a family cell phone plan is worth it.
Cost Savings With Family Cell Phone Plans
Family cell phone plans shine as one of the few ways to save money on your cell phone plan. Lots of mid and high-range plans receive serious discounts when you have multi-line plans. Even a two-line plan oftentimes nets you at least $10 savings on each line. At three lines, many plans are over half off.
- For example, the Verizon Start Unlimited plan costs $80 for one line and $45 per line for three lines.
The intense savings of multi-line plans make them worthwhile for mid-data users. Even if they don’t need unlimited data, it is a nice thing to have.
Premium Plans Become Affordable
Family cell phone plans drastically lower per-line costs on all the premium plans. This puts them at a price point that’s similar to some MVNO plans. Let’s look at Verizon Start Unlimited and Unreal Mobile’s 12 GB phone plan again. Looking at the non-family plans, there’s a huge difference between the $80s for Verizon’s plan and Unreal Mobile’s plan, which is $40 a month. If you wanted to save on your phone bill, the $40 price point of Unreal Mobile is really nice and saves you $40 a month. That’s huge. If, however, you are part of a family plan at Verizon, each person pays $45 for their unlimited phone plan. Choosing between spending $45 for unlimited high-speed data and $40 for 12 GB of high-speed data is a pretty easy decision.
This price reduction with shared phone service plans is amazing on the highest tier of price points, but these cost savings also apply to mid-level plans. Mid-level plans (think MVNO plans that cost around $30 to $50 per line per month) get much more affordable with multi-line savings.
- For example, the Cricket Unlimited Plan goes from $55 per month per line in a single-line plan down to $25 per month per line in a shared phone service plan with four lines. That’s more than 50% savings on their best family plan deal.
The majority of value plans do not have multi-line savings because they are already so affordable. One of our favorite value plans, Tello Economy, only costs $10 a month. Any savings on top of that would quickly bring it down to $0!
Cons of Multi-Line Plans
While the cost savings of family cell phone plans are great, there are a few downsides to sharing a plan with other individuals. Sharing data and decreased flexibility are the big downsides of family plans.
Shared Data Between Lines
This downside is only for family plans that do not include unlimited high-speed data. Some of the more affordable family plans utilize a shared data system, where every line pulls data from the same shared pool of monthly data. This is unfriendly towards plans where there are low-data users and high-data users, especially because most of these plans come with a fairly small pool of data. MVNO shared plans always have less than 50 GB of data and are usually around 15-30 GBs, and sharing that with two, three, or even four lines means no one has much data to work with. Without proper preparation it is easy for someone to accidentally use a lot over the course of a few days.
When looking at a multi-line plan that does not have unlimited data make sure to check whether each line has its own data allocation or if the data is shared between them all. For example, Reach Mobile’s multi-line plans use the same pool of data, but Mint Mobile’s family plans each get their own pool of data.
Naturally, unlimited data family plans don’t have this problem. Let’s look at another downside that might make family cell phone plans not worth it — decreased flexibility.
Multiple lines and multiple people on the same account make it more complicated to find a plan that’s right for everyone. If you use a different amount of data as other people on the plan, it means that someone has to make the sacrifice and get a plan that’s not perfect for them. This is ameliorated somewhat by the awesome savings from family cell phone plans, where lots of mid-data users are able to pay a similar amount for an unlimited plan on a family plan as a single-line deal for a limited plan.
Our Top 3 Family Cell Phone Plans
Family plans are pretty great. We think that family cell phone plans are worth it for just about everyone because of the tremendous savings that come from each one. With that in mind, we wanted to touch on our top three family cell phone plans and what each one brings to the table. We want to highlight some different cell phone plans with this list because there is no family cell phone plan that’s better than all the rest. It is all up to the plan that’s best for you based on what you need out of your wireless service. With that in mind, check out these three awesome family cell phone plans. We hope that they will help you decide whether or not family cell phone plans are worth it for you and your family.
The best premium wireless family cell phone plan
- $60/45/30/25 a month
- Unlimited talk and text
- 50 GB premium data, unlimited high-speed data
- No contract
Our pick for a major wireless company’s data plan is T-Mobile Essentials. Right off the bat, the multi-line savings are fantastic. Halving the cost with a three-line plan is a great deal, and the plan comes with a lot of great advantages as well. It has no contract, which is always good, and it comes with unlimited high-speed data and 50 GB of premium data as well. The premium data is a nice boon, but all it means is that your first 50 GB of data usage each month is protected against any slowdowns that occur in times of high usage.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to know how much data shortages will affect you, but it usually only happens when there are an extraordinary number of people in an area. Whenever the bandwidth in an area is strained, major networks will slow down MVNO users to free up more bandwidth for their customers. If it gets strained again, the network will slow down users without premium data, leaving only premium users with full-speed data while the high data consumption persists. The other unlimited plans at T-Mobile have more bells and whistles attached, like additional premium data, high-speed hotspot allocation, and other incentives like a free Netflix account. If the price hike is worthwhile for you, you can switch to one of those!
Best MVNO unlimited family plan
- $55/40/30/25 per month
- Prepaid Plan
- AT&T’s 4G LTE and 5G networks
- No Contract
Cricket Wireless is our top pick for an MVNO with amazing family plans. This is a great plan, but keep in mind how similar the prices are between this MVNO and T-Mobile’s unlimited plan. This highlights the similarity between MVNOs and major wireless companies. The big difference here is that the unlimited plan at Cricket Wireless is the third most expensive plan out of the four, and the T-Mobile Essentials plan is the least expensive out of their big three plans. Cricket Wireless customers can move down to a 10 GB mobile plan and, importantly, each line receives its own 10 GB data pool. No need to worry about sharing data with this one!
Mint Mobile Family Plan
Best value family cell phone plan for mixed-data users
- Mix and match phone plans per line
- Prepaid Plan
- T-Mobile’s 4G LTE and 5G networks
- Data-dependent on plan
- Hotspot data
Next up is Mint Mobile’s Family Plan. This plan lets every user pick their data allocation for the month, making this a great choice for shared phone service plans with mixed-data users. A mix-and-match plan like this lets members take a cheaper option while letting high-data users get one of Mint Mobile’s more robust offerings.
Mint Mobile uses contract-based savings, but family plans get the cheapest plans with the shortest contracts, which is a win all around. This gives families a lot more flexibility, especially if there are kids whose data you want to limit, or if anyone is uncertain of how much data they really need.
Our last piece of advice is just to read the fine print of any plan before you purchase it. Some plans come with great new-customer deals that, once they run out, leave you stuck in a plan that is more expensive than you expected or ties you to another item that you don’t want or need. After making it through this article, do you think that family cell phone plans are worth it? As long as you are able to find a group of people who have similar needs out of a wireless plan, we think they are fantastic options that save you lots on your monthly cell phone bill.