My mission: cut my AT&T phone bill by 30% (farewell unlimited iPhone data plans!)

Ever since my decision to pay to download two tv shows to my phone that I already had sitting on my TiVo, I’ve been thinking a lot about whether we are getting the full value for the money we are spending on some of our electronic services.  Now that we have two kids, money is tighter than ever, and given that there have been no raises in two and a half years, even some small savings would make a difference.

One area that has come under scrutiny lately is our mobile phone bill.  We both have iPhones, and while we have a relatively low minute plan (700 anytime minutes) and no text messaging, our phone bill still weighs in at around $145 every month, or a little over $1700 a year.

We bought our iPhone’s before AT&T rolled out limited data usage plans, so we have been paying $30 each.  We are not heavy data users, since I download podcasts once a day at work, and I find trying to stream YouTube or NetFlix over 3G too choppy to be worth it.  Any heavy data transfers can be done at home over our wireless network.  Even though I know our data usage is low, the very fact that we could never go back if we switched has always kept me from seriously looking at switching to a cheaper limited plan.  

I knew there were two cheaper options – 200MB for $15 or 2GB for $25.  Would it be worth it?  I went to AT&T’s website to see how much we are really using.  Here’s how to find it:

  1. Log into the AT&T website
  2. Click “Bill & Payments” near the top
  3. On the list of links on the left, choose “Billing Reports”
  4. Choose “Data Usage Trend” from the report options

My data usage pattern shows this is a pretty easy decision:

Screen_shot_2010-12-05_at_8

In the last year, the closest I have gotten the lowest data usage limit (200MB) is around 160MB.  I am throwing money away on theory that some day my data consumption habits might change drastically.  Aviva’s graph looks similar, so switching both of us to the $15 plan is a no brainer.  $15 x 2 phones x 12 months = $360 a year savings.

Whether we could go to a lower minute plan is a harder decision.  AT&T does everything they can to show you how much data you are using, since they want to limit the amount of data on their network.  However, it’s not so easy to see how many minutes you are rolling over.  While there is a “Breakdown of Rollover” report, it shows all zeros, which I know is not correct.

I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to bills, so I have folder with all of my AT&T bills over the last year.  A quick look showed me that most months we use between 300 and 400 minutes rollover minutes, once you factor out the in network phone calls.  There were two months where we hit the low six hundreds (around when our second child was born), but this seems to be the anomaly.  

Looking at the available plans, there was another plan for 550 minutes, saving us $10 a month.  This would have been enough to cover most months in the last year, and with rollover, we would have easily had enough spare minutes from previous months to cover the overages.  So, time to switch.  $10 x 12 months = $120 a year savings.

As I made the switch, we got hit by one catch.  We have thousands of rollover minutes from having many more minutes than we were using.  When I went about switching plans, AT&T warned me that I would only be able to save the number of minutes equal to one month of my new plan, i.e. 550. I’m guessing they do this to keep people from periodically dropping their phone plan down to a very low level to save money and use minutes that were going to expire.  Annoying, but I clearly have not been using these minutes anyways.  550 it is.

In the end, we will cut our bill from $145 a month to around $105 – a savings of 28%.  We may save a little more due to paying lower taxes on a lower bill, so I am considering this mission accomplished.

Best of all, we don’t need to make any changes to how we are using our phones – we are just optimizing our plans to our behavior.

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