Wireless Service

Ways to Save on Your Wireless Bill as a College Student

By
Kyle Reyes
September 14, 2022

Cell phones are a necessity for college students. Friends, clubs, and classes are digitally connected, making it almost impossible to exist without a cell phone on campus. It is common for students to leave their parents’ phone plans. Unfortunately, carriers, plans, and phone payments are a mess of complications and very difficult to decipher. College students are always looking for ways to save money, and phone plans are no exception.

This article will talk about how to get everything you need in a phone and phone plan while saving as much money as possible. Phone plans, smartphones, and deals all contribute to the phone bill, and this article will talk about how to find the right balance between all of them. Read on for information about:

  • The Goldilocks plan
  • Saving money with MVNOs and student deals
  • Some of the best phone plans for college students

Find the Right Plan for You

You want to have enough talk, data, and text with your plan that you know you can use it if you need it. 

When looking for a phone plan, it is important to know what you need out of it. Plans are constructed so that more expensive plans give a ton of extra value, but if it’s not being used, then that money goes down the drain. Coupled with how tedious and difficult it can be to switch plans and hidden binds keeping you from switching, it is imperative to pick the right plan, first try. 

This section will cover how to figure out how to get the most out of your plan without paying too much, how to work around having limited talk, text, or data in your plan, and the hidden dangers of buying the newest phones. 

Limiting Data, Talk, and Text

The first step in the process is to figure out how much you really use your phone. How many minutes do you call each month, how often do you text, and how much data do you use are all questions that can help understand your plan's needs.

Getting anything other than an unlimited plan is a difficult decision to make, made doubly so by how many unlimited plans are marketed and advertised on television and social media. Especially unlimited talk and text. Those two can seem like pillars of having a phone plan. Who wants to be stopped from texting or calling their friends and family at the end of the month? That is the risk of limited plans, but it’s not always as bad as it appears. 

The upside of the tremendous quantity of phone plans is that there’s just about one for every situation. There are phone plans at many limited text and minute amounts, and if you have a rough estimate of how many you use each month, you can pick the right plan for you. If not, no worries, you can always pick one with a little extra leeway, especially if the company has a variety of limited plans. 

From there, you can track how many minutes and texts you use each month and change plans accordingly. If you decide on a plan and are worried about going over, check out the company's policy for that situation. Many will add another amount of minutes or texts for a few dollars. For instance, Freedom Pop offers a variety of limited plans and if you use more than the allocated amount, they add 100 extra minutes of talk for $2, or 100 text messages for $2. 

Most companies have a similar set of rules regarding overages, but it is crucial to check to make sure they don’t charge a huge sum if talk, text, or data is exceeded. That will affect how much you should worry if you are running close to the end of your allocated minutes. Going on a limited plan comes with significant disadvantages, but the savings are incredible. There’s even a plan from Freedom Pop that’s free! You only get 10 minutes, 10 texts, and 25 MB per month, but it’s a way to have a number, and, if you can take advantage of Wi-Fi and non-data means of communication, it is a great way to save a lot of money on your phone bill. 

Think Twice Before Buying the Newest Phones

Companies spend lots of money marketing their newest phones and new releases. They are getting more and more expensive, and the option to pay them off over two or three years makes the phones seem way cheaper than they are in reality. Right now on Verizon’s website, the iPhone 13 is cheap at $22.22 a month. For 36 months, which brings the total to $800 over those three years. That’s a lot of money! It is purposefully easy to commit to a large phone contract like this one. If you have an expensive phone and a plan to pay it over a few years, it does two major things to you: 

  • New phones get released before the plan is up, and the company will offer a nifty deal to trade in the old phone for a discount on the new one. Unfortunately, it turns that phone payment into a never ending loop where you will purchase the next phone before paying off the last. 
  • It makes it almost impossible to leave that service provider. Since you are paying off their phone, they will “lock” it, meaning you can’t use it for any other service provider. 

Take Advantage of Wi-Fi Coverage on Campus

With limited plans, each minute, MB, and text might feel like an investment. Fortunately, as a college student, there is a lot of public Wi-Fi available to you, many phones are equipped with Wi-Fi calling and texting (Apple iMessage, for example) and there are other apps that you can configure to operate only over Wi-Fi, like Groupme or Skype. You can use as much Wi-Fi as you want, and making sure to do as much calling and texting as you can in areas with Wi-Fi connections can make limited plans go a long way.

Unlimited Plans

While more expensive, unlimited plans take that worry away. With unlimited talk, text, and data, Wi-Fi is nice because it is usually faster than cell service, but there’s no danger of going over and having to pay an overage fee if one month is particularly packed with phone usage on the network. 

The major problem with unlimited plans is that they often pack on extra frills for extra money each month. These are nice when you use them, like Cricket Wireless’ Unlimited plan offering the basic HBO Max subscription. If, however, you don’t, then it adds to the financial burden of phone plans without bringing you anything in return. 

So, when picking your plan, take into account all of the items that you need, and consider all of the extras added on top. They are often offered at great deals, but that’s only if you use them! 

Save Money With MVNOs and Student Deals

There are two major ways in which phone providers operate. There are major networks and MVNOs. Major networks, like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint all construct and maintain cell towers that comprise their cellular networks. MVNOs, on the other hand, rent out those cell towers, making the cost to operate those companies much less expensive. That coupled with fewer employees, less marketing, and fewer overall running costs lets them offer cheaper plans. 

There are pros and cons of MVNOs, just as there are pros and cons of getting a plan with a major wireless company. 

Why are MVNOs so Cheap?

One of the main reasons MVNOs are able to offer cheaper plans is that they don’t have to construct, operate, and maintain their own cell towers. They are much smaller, in general, so across the board, they are paying less to run their company. This, in turn, lets them make less expensive plans that offer the same nationwide coverage as the major companies. In fact, there are some MVNOs that are owned by the major carriers whose cell towers they rent. One problem with MVNOs: a lot of people just don’t know about them. 

Since they are so small, they don’t have the marketing budgets of those larger companies. Major wireless companies also have the advantage that they’ve been around for a long time and that, well, it is very inconvenient to switch companies. For a college student who isn’t tied to any major carrier at the moment, well, an MVNO has a lot of advantages. 

Multi-Line Plans

Every wireless company has deals where plans are cheaper when it has multiple lines. The savings are immense. Verizon’s welcome unlimited plan is $10 cheaper with two lines, Cricket’s 10 GB plan goes from $40 to $35 with two lines, and the savings only get better and better as more lines are added. This is, of course, a risky way to save money, but if there’s anyone you trust to be on a plan with you, then going in on one together will net extra savings each month.

Popular Student Deals

That being said, do not underestimate the power of student deals. Verizon has a student deal right now with their unlimited plan. It allows students to save $10 on all of their unlimited plans, including their welcome unlimited plan, which is their lowest-cost unlimited. It is normally $65 a month for unlimited talk, text, and data. 

US Mobile offers 20% off of any plan for college students and one month free, and there are a handful of schools that offer extra perks on top of the discount. Student deals offer better prices than normal, but there are always extra steps to verify that you are a student and apply the deal to your plan, so while they are a nice bonus to lower costs, there are many other plans that offer similar amounts at similar price points that might be a better fit. 

Pros and Cons of MVNOs

This article has talked a lot about MVNOs, also known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators. They offer lower prices, yes, but there are reasons that they haven’t boomed to become the leading source of wireless plans across the country. This section will discuss the pros and cons of MVNOs. Spoiler: most of the cons don’t affect college students! 

Pros 

  • MVNOs offer cheap plans, contributing to overall savings on wireless bills every month. Oftentimes every one of their plans is at a lower price point than the cheapest plan at a major network.
  • MVNOs offer service on major networks, using the same coverage nationwide. Some even use multiple networks! 
  • MVNOs love it when you switch. The nicest a phone company will ever be to its customers is the moment they say they’re joining the party. All phone companies are looking to get new business, and you can also find the best deals as a first-time customer. 

Cons

  • MVNOs have slower service. While they use major networks, their customers have less priority over the bandwidth, so in times of heavy use, MVNO customers will lose data speed.

Best Phone Plans for College Students

After all this talk about how to save money on phone plans for college students, this list is some of the great plans out there. Finding the right phone plan for a college student is all about figuring out a plan that’s not too little and not too much. Now that there’s a free plan, it is easy to scale from 10 texts, 10 minutes, and 50 MB for zero dollars all the way up to the most expensive plan. 

Freedom Pop’s Free Plan

The free plan at Freedom Pop is uniquely cost-effective and must be recommended for college students looking to save money on their phone bills. Not only is it free, but their overage fees are only a few dollars, keeping the chances low that you will be blindsided by a bill. This plan is for those who are willing to make sacrifices in order to keep their cell usage down since their plans for a few bucks offer more than if you get those overages each month. 

Freedom Pop’s limited plans are great for those who are able to take advantage of Wi-Fi on their campus. Wi-Fi is free, and it can be used in unlimited amounts no matter what the plan is. To this degree, a good way to limit usage is to tie certain talk and text apps to Wi-Fi, so they don’t use any data while you are going between Wi-Fi zones. 

Verizon’s Welcome Unlimited Plan

While the most expensive monthly plan on this list, Verizon’s Welcome Unlimited Plan is a great choice for students looking to get that major carrier service while still saving some money. At $55 a month, it is a premium plan, but access to Verizon’s library of phones and high-speed network might be worth the cost. 

If you have decided on an unlimited plan, Verizon’s welcome unlimited is good for students because it doesn’t have anything added-on that will drive up the plan’s cost. That being said, it is still quite expensive compared to, say, Mint Mobile’s unlimited plan.

Mint Mobile’s Unlimited Plan

Mint Mobile’s Unlimited Plan slides in at $30 a month, almost half of Verizon’s cost. In order to stay at the price point, you have to purchase the plan three months at a time, but the prices are excellent. Mint’s plan puts unlimited on the table if you are concerned about data usage. There are many ways in which college students can go over their data usage from group projects to video calls with a club or other activity. 

College students just about live on their phones, and having the security of an unlimited plan is very valuable. If Mint’s unlimited plan is too pricey, they have three other options at lower price points that offer unlimited talk and text with limited data.

Hopefully, this article provided some direction when it comes to finding the right phone plan as a college student. Phone plans are a large cost, and finding ways to mitigate and lower that monthly payment adds up very fast. College is an important time for phone usage, and your phone usage in college might look way different than in the few years after college. It is true that it is a pain to change carriers and plans, but you can always go up or down (assuming you don’t have any contract tying you to your company) to get more data or less data. 

There are so many options for plans and phones out there. We wish you the best of luck in finding the right balance between cost and savings on your phone plan! 

Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.