I was recently reading the comments on a post in a Facebook group. The post was a question about how to save money on the family wireless bill.
Many of the responses simply laughed at the notion of using less data. Others questioned whether the original poster truly needed unlimited data. Some seemed to be okay with paying more than $100 monthly for the family’s wireless bill.
One of those might be you right now. But I am thoroughly convinced that no individual or family needs unlimited data.
I’ll say it again: No one needs unlimited data.
Before you close this article, hear me out. There are two pretty compelling reasons to cut back your data use that I want you to honestly and objectively consider.
Even if you think your wireless bill is in good shape, you can probably save more on it than you already are. There are legions of dedicated Straight Talk fans, and for good reason – their pricing is great. A two-line unlimited plan for $90 sounds amazing. T-Mobile has an unlimited family plan that is an even better deal at $120 monthly for four lines.
Let’s imagine, though, that you were not spending $120 monthly for wireless. My wife and I are going to San Diego over the July 4 holiday and the total for the place we’re staying is about $400. In San Diego, on a holiday weekend, in the summer, that is a good deal. And paid for with only about four months of wireless savings. That’s how much we’re saving on our phone bill.
So, picture something that you really want to do as a family or with your wife that you may not be able to afford to do. Imagine that the extra cash is yours for the taking without having to work some part time job or side gig.
This concept, by the way, of missing out on something (a vacation) because of something else (a wireless bill) is what microeconomics textbooks call opportunity cost. Simply put, opportunity cost is the trade-off that occurs when a choice is made.
So, effectively, you are choosing one less vacation when you choose to be content with a $100 cell phone bill.
Does your family appreciate that about you? Didn’t think so.
Are you with me so far? Good.
You’ve hopefully dreamed up what you could do with cost savings of a cheaper wireless bill. Now let’s look at the other major thing we tend to do with unlimited data.
We waste time. We waste a lot of time.
In fact, a Nielsen survey from last year says that US adults spend 11 hours each day consuming media of some kind. Eleven hours! That’s more than a full time job! And another survey by eMarketer indicates that three and a half of those hours are spent looking at our smartphones.
Can you imagine if we had 3.5 extra hours each day? We could spend more time with our wives, kids, and God. Some of us, myself included, claim we don’t have enough time in the day to consistently do quiet time. Or that we don’t have time to go on consistent dates with our wives.
But if we cut down our phone use, we could easily make the time. Instead of scrolling on Instagram on breaks, we could pray and read the Bible.
Instead of watching Netflix in the bathroom (you do it or you know someone who does, let’s be real), we could take care of business quicker and get on with life.
We could be fully present at home instead of scrolling through political news stories and watching movies.
So if we could give up the time we spend in front of our screens and replace it with God, our wives, and our kids, we’d gladly do it… Right?
Spending less time and money on data use
Enter data plans that aren’t unlimited. When our data plans are finite, we have to be more selective.
It wasn’t easy for me at first. I was never able to afford a totally unlimited data plan so I already had that going for me. But when I was at home or work, I was connected to WiFi and you can bet I was aimlessly scrolling through social media and news feeds.
But if you are currently on an unlimited plan, it has to start with cutting it just like many of us are doing with cable. Making the switch to a different carrier isn’t difficult. More on that in a minute.
Once you have a data limit, you have to ration the data and decide what’s really important when it comes to phone use.
Consider needs and wants. Needs are more function-driven: Slack if you use that for work. Maps if you live in a big city (but even that isn’t a true need, if you think about it). Google Drive if you use it for business.
What’s not a need? Social media. Netflix. Spotify. News and magazines. Podcasts. Audiobooks. Not that there isn’t some value in these things, but they’re wants and not needs. I still use some of them – I use Spotify and Stitcher quite heavily, actually. But I download for offline use and stream via WiFi only – no wireless data required.
Once you’ve decided what apps you absolutely need to spend your data on, start deleting apps. If it’s not something you have a real need for, delete it. This helps you stick to the plan you’ve made regarding which apps are a need vs. a want.
Consider changing where and how you use them – again, download content to listen to at work during the day and avoid streaming with data. Avoid using Instagram when not on WiFi. Even better, avoid using it at all. I use it occasionally, over WiFi, to make posts for Dad Choices and the occasional personal post. But I no longer scroll aimlessly.
Ultimately, It’s all about self-control and limiting yourself.
Four steps to saving money and time by using your phone less
In case you need some tips for getting started, here’s how I started using my phone less, allowing me to get a cheaper plan and spend more time with my family:
1. Cancel unlimited data plans. Consider a less expensive one from a small carrier. I highly endorse Mint Mobile – my wife and I use the pre-paid yearly 3GB plan. We pay a total of $30 monthly for two lines! This includes 3GB high speed data and unlimited talk/text.
2. Adjust using habits. I started with deleting apps I wanted to use less but had a problem using less, like Facebook. I deleted the ones I didn’t use much, like Twitter. I made sure to listen to music and podcasts during the day that I had downloaded, and stream only on WiFi.
3. Delete more apps. I noticed I was still drawn to Instagram but had been keeping it for my photography side business. So during Lent, I put up a notice on the account and deleted the Instagram app. I also noticed I was still going to Facebook via the web browser on my phone – so I deleted the browser. If I really needed to look something up, I waited til I got home.
4. Be intentional about replacing the time spent with something profitable, like Bible reading. I used to scroll social media on breaks, and now I use them as quiet time. Same thing at home – I put my phone down when I want to scroll, and play with my daughter. This step is critical, and it really plays two roles.
Firstly it will make the need to scroll less and less until it isn’t a need, or a want. You will begin to easily choose God, your wife, and your kids over your phone.
Secondly, you will be leading your family by example. By being intentional about spending your time with God and family instead of with Instagram and Netflix, they will see a change in you. They will see a leader, and they will begin to emulate the same behaviors.
Wrapping it all up
Switching to a data plan that isn’t as scary as it sounds, especially when you put it in terms of what you could be doing instead.
Save a ton of money (my wife and I now spend $360 yearly, or $30 monthly for two lines, instead of $150 monthly – which equates to $1800 annually – holy vacation!).
Repurpose your time for better, kingdom-building things.
Lead your family well and choose them instead of your phone. And reap the benefits that follow.
Disclosure: A couple of the links in the story above are affiliate links for Mint Mobile, because if you click them and sign up I will get a statement credit. I am so happy with the price I pay with them – $30 for two lines – that I genuinely want to share it to help other dads lead their families well financially and choose wisely how they spend time.
In fact, that price is so cheap that if I get eleven readers to sign up using one of these affiliate links (like the one in the paragraph above), the service for my line will be free for a whole year and I can allocate that money toward a well-needed family vacation. Who else can say that??
If you have any questions or hesitations about switching, please share them in the comments. I’ve been using Mint Mobile since 2017 and would be happy to honestly answer questions about my experiences with network coverage, speed, billing, etc.