Home / News / Best Cellular Data Plans for People on a Tight Budget
Whether you’re a first-time smartphone owner, or a mobile-pro, chances are you’re at least somewhat familiar with the fact that mobile data is quite the expensive proposition. And if you’ve signed onto a glamorous plan offered by one of the ‘Big Four’ domestic carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon — then you’re certainly well aware that data doesn’t come cheap.
Regardless of the speed, quality, or consistency of their networks, though, wireless carriers will more often than not have you know that you really should have much more data than you’re currently paying for — or even that you use more data than you actually do. But there are ways around those issues.
Save Money with MVNOs
Here’s the bottom line: there are some fantastic deals to be had in wireless data, particularly those offered by Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), who actually lease network space from the Big Four, and then sell it to users at generous discounts over what you’d pay otherwise. Think of it almost like buying the store-branded version of your favorite skin cream. Brand-name products will certainly cost you more, and come all bundled up in a pretty package; but if you compare the ingredients listed on the label between the two of them, you’ll be shocked to know that you’ll be getting the same product at a fraction of the price if you simply go with the store-brand.
That being said, we’re going to share with you a rather extensive list of the best deals you can currently get on wireless service and mobile data in the U.S. through a number of leading MVNOs.
But before we get started, it’s important to assess what your wireless needs actually are. While most carriers these days will give you unlimited talk and text as part of your wireless plan, the data is where they truly make the money each month — and they’ll do whatever they can to try and sell you more. So if you’re not so in-the-know with your own usage patterns, you just might wind up buying into something that you really don’t need.
Start By Asking Yourself:
How much data do I actually use in an average month?
Check your profile online through your wireless carrier and skim over your most recent bill. Or even text your carrier’s designated #DATA hotline to find out what your usage actually comes out to each month — the truth may surprise you.
Do I really need an unlimited data plan?
All of the Big Four carriers recently launched (or re-launched) unlimited data plan offerings, which come with unlimited talk, text, and a certain amount of unlimited LTE data. That’s all well and good — it’s nice not having to worry about overages. But if you’re getting an allowance of 20+ gigabytes a month, and are only using 4 or 5 of them, then it might not really pay to be unlimited.
Am I on Wi-Fi more often than I realize?
There are tons of Wi-Fi networks out there, extending even far beyond the comfort of your own home. Whether you’re out and about on the town, or even 35,000 feet up in the air, you should always check to see if an open Wi-Fi network is available — since using one won’t dip into your data allowance.
Now, on to the best deals you can currently get on mobile data plans.
If it just so happens that you’re usage is on the leaner side of the spectrum, around 2 GB per month or less, then Mint SIM — an MVNO that operates on T-Mobile’s network — is a fantastic option. You won’t have to sign a long-term contract, but the carrier’s best deals are reserved for those who pay in advance — by 3, 6, or 12-months, respectively — which will save you more money the longer you’re willing to sign up for.
Best Deal: 2 GB LTE/month for 3-months at $35 up front ($11.67/mo.)
Plan goes up to $23/month thereafter, and includes unlimited talk, text, 2G data after your 4G allowance is expended, and free tethering.
2. Boost Mobile
Boost Mobile is an MVNO that’s owned and operated by Sprint. You wont have to sign a contract, but if you sign up for “auto re-boost “ (auto-pay) you’ll save more money in the long run.
Best Deal: $30/month with auto re-boost ($35/month without) buys you 2 GB of 4G LTE data/month, plus unlimited talk, text, and 2G data after your 4G allowance is expended.
3. Republic Wireless
Our last contender in the >2GB per month category is Republic Wireless, who combines the strength of both T-Mobile and Sprint networks to maximize your coverage from coast to coast. Republic wireless also encourages you, by making it super-easy, to connect your device to open Wi-Fi networks, such as at Starbucks, McDonalds, or elsewhere, when they’re available.
Best Deal: 1GB/month of LTE data for $20 or 2GB/month of LTE data for $30. Plans include unlimited talk, text, and tethering.
Best Inexpensive Data Plans 4GB and Under
Did you know that the average American uses around 4GB of data per month? If you check into your usage and find that you fall into this category, then be sure to check out these mid-range options from the carriers below.
1. Mint Sim
Mint SIM, which is owned by Ultra Mobile and operates on T-Mobile’s network in the U.S., provides additional plans with higher data quantities at the same pre-payment bargains as their lower offerings. Pay in advance for 1, 3, 6, or 12-months, and the more you pay, the more you’ll save.
Best Deal: 4GB+ plan buys 5GB of LTE data/month for $50 up front ($16.67/month)
After that, the plan goes up to $33/month ($99 up front for 3-months).
You’ll get 5GB of LTE data/month, unlimited talk, text, 2G data once your 4G allowance is expended, and tethering.
2. Virgin Mobile
Virgin Mobile U.S.A. is an MVNO that is both owned and operated by Sprint. No long-term contract is required.
Simple Mobile is an MVNO that is owned by TracFone, and operates on T-Mobile’s network. No long-term contract is required.
Best Deal: 4GB of LTE data/month for $37.50/month, includes unlimited talk, text, and 2G data, unlimited international calling to mobile lines in these 20 countries, unlimited international calling to landlines in these 65 countries, data roaming in Mexico, and unlimited international text.
Best Inexpensive Data Plans 10GB and Up
If you find that you’re actually a power-user, and burn through data at the rate of, say, 10GB per month or more, then you may find these offerings to be a bit more on the affordable side than a traditional carrier plan.
1. Mint Sim
Mint SIM is currently offering a 10GB plan, which includes 10GB of LTE data/month, unlimited talk, text, 2G data after LTE allowance is expended, and tethering. For those willing to pay in advance, you can score a huge savings on Mint service by pre-paying for 6-months or 12-months — $209 ($34.83/month) or $399 ($33.25/month), respectively.
2. Boost Mobile
Boost Mobile, which operates on the Sprint network, is currently offering a $50/month ‘unlimited’ plan with no annual contract required. You’ll get 23GB of LTE data/month, unlimited talk, text, and 2G data once your 4G allowance is expended.
3. Cricket Wireless
Cricket Wireless, which is owned and operated by AT&T, is offering an unlimited plan with no monthly contracts. For $55/month (with auto-pay) you’ll get 22GB of LTE data on AT&T’s network, unlimited talk, text, and 2G data once your 4G allowance is expended, unlimited international texting, and free roaming in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.)