How I Saved $15,000 (really) by Switching Cell Phone Carriers, and You Can, Too (maybe)

I’ve been an AT&T wireless customer for over 15 years, back when I joined Cingular Wireless in 2003. Cingular got purchased by AT&T somewhere along the way, and my pricing and service quality seemed to stay the same, so I stayed.

I stayed there for so long, I am sure I missed out on all kinds of “new customer” promotions that get offered by other carriers. That’s not why I finally dropped AT&T. Actually, I had more reasons to stay with them another 15 years than I did to leave them.

I’ll get to the part about saving $15,000 (really) soon.

Four reasons I almost stayed with AT&T another 15 years

I never calculated the true cost of buying of this service

There’s a story, from where I don’t recall, that goes like this: two fish are swimming along, and one looks at the other and says:

“How’s the water today?”

The other fish replies, “What do you mean, water?”

Fish don’t realize they are in water. (Ok, fine – one out of the two fish in the brief story above realized they were in water.)

The point of the story is that we are all fish, and the water is our group of decisions that we made long ago. We no longer think about the decisions we made, and swimming through them isn’t something we notice anymore. We no longer think about the water.

Perhaps it’s because I watched Marie Kondo on Netflix. Perhaps it’s because I finally paid off all the debt except for my house recently. For whatever reason, I’m thinking about whether or not I want to carry certain things in my life with me into the future.

Also, I watched this commercial:

It’s gross, and memorable. It made me visit the Mint Mobile website. Then I ran the numbers from their site, calculated what my current costs really were, and I realized I was paying about $100 more per month in cell service than I needed to.

I was trying to “save” money and energy by avoiding churn

There’s always a cost associated with change. Think of every time you’ve moved from a home or an apartment. It’s a monumental task. It’s draining on every level, even if you are excited about the move.

When you sign up with a new cell carrier, there are costs to join, usually called a “line activation fee” of anywhere from $25-35 per line. You have to get a new bill. A new online login and password. You have to pass a credit check.

Given it’s all millennials can do just to set up a doctor’s appointment and vote, I “just can’t even” on this whole changing my communications lifecycle. So, I “saved” money and energy by staying with AT&T for seemingly forever.

Inertia – Or, how I thought I would lose my long-time cell phone numbers

I’ve had my same cell phone number since 2003. Ever since the advent of long distance being free for many cell phone carriers, there’s no longer a need to switch to a local number if you relocate.

Factor in 2-factor – that is, two-factor authentication, wherein many services such as banking, social media, and even your home alarm system, use your cell phone number as a way to authenticate you, and I really didn’t want to risk losing my cell phone number.

“But”, you say, “you just port your number to your new carrier”. Of course, it sounds so simple. Port your number, take it with you. What if it doesn’t work correctly? What if my number gets released, inadvertently, back into the pool of available cell numbers and I never get it back?

It sounds like an irrational fear, and yet, we are all afraid of small things, aren’t we? We choose not to rock the boat of our lives and to go along with our inertia all the time, for things that shouldn’t stop us from making important changes.

I was worried the service would be bad.

Simple. I didn’t the cell service would be as good as AT&T.

It turns out that Mint Mobile piggy-backs, or purchases access, through T-Mobile’s service. If you already have T-Mobile service and like it, then it’s the same network.

For my exact situation, where I live about 18 miles out from my largest downtown area, AT&T service was bad at my house. Until they enabled WiFi-calling, I couldn’t hold a cell phone call at my home.

T-Mobile/Mint Mobile has the same problem where I live, but given we have WiFi-calling on Mint Mobile, it’s fine. Reception around town is all good.

Excuse me, you promised you’d tell me the math on the $15,000 savings

Oh, thanks for the reminder! The writing is what brings you here, dear reader, but we all know it’s math that keeps you here. Let’s do this:

I was paying AT&T for a grandfathered plan that is cheaper than their current offerings. 2 lines at a shared 15GB per month, unlimited talk/text, with a company discount from my work, for just under $130 a month. Annualized, that’s $1,560.

I’ve paid about that price for the last 15 years, roughly equaling $23,400.

I now have 2 lines with Mint Mobile, at $20 a month per line for 8GB each line and unlimited talk/text, and I pay yearly for the best rate. By paying yearly, I get that $20 rate per line, which is actually $23 after taxes in my area. Annualized, that’s $552 for both lines.

If I carry this service into the future for the next 15 years, it’s roughly $8,280.

AT&T for 15 years = 23,400

Mint Mobile for 15 years = $8,280

Savings = $15,120.

That’s money you can start writing home about.

Great for you, Home Life Hero, but I’m happy with my cell phone carrier

“So, what”, you say? Not interesting in switching carriers and saving money? All good.

The lessons from above I learned through this process (and that you’ve been reading about this whole time, Daniel-san) actually have nothing to do with cell phone plans. Yes, this post isn’t just a overt referral post for Mint Mobile so that we can both save money through my referral link, it’s also about how we learned to wax-on/wax-off and paint the fence of our decision-making processes.

How to think about decisions that “past-you” made years ago

  1. Evaluate your past decisions on a regular basis
  2. Give yourself permission to change your mind about an old decision – you may have learned something new since then!
  3. Don’t be afraid of change. Or do allow that fear, if you must, but also acknowledge that not changing when you should is also scary
  4. Evaluate your money decisions on a long time-scale to see their impact. What feels good today may not feel good when you reveal the true costs

I hope this article was valuable to you.

Have you evaluated any of your long-ago decisions recently? What changes did you make?

If you want to take the plunge into Mint Mobile, click this link and we will both receive a $15 credit after you buy your first 3, 6, or 12 month plan. That’s a win-win.

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