Most of us spend a small fortune every month on the standard “Triple Combo” offered by our internet, cable, and home phone provider. They lock you in with a bundle, then try to upsell you. At the same time, you’re also paying for your cell phone and it’s text, talk, and data plans. It’s not uncommon for these combined services to run well over $150/month. For many, this creates hard choices of where to cut corners, because, let’s face it, getting anything done in today’s world requires internet and cell phone service.
So, why not just strip down to internet and drop the cable and home phone? The answer, unsurprisingly, is that in many areas you don’t have a plethora of choices on your internet provider and they offer their bundles at prices that are equivalent to their internet only options. In some areas I’ve even seen companies charge more for internet on its own than for internet + cable or internet + cable + phone.
However, if you’re on a tight budget I have a real pro-tip on how you can potentially save big – use your cell phone for all your internet needs! In this article I’ll go over exactly how to do this, what you need to look for in a phone plan, and how you can still keep some of the comforts you’re used to.
How To Do It
Almost all modern smartphones can act as a mobile hotspot – essentially you can use your phone the same way you use a wireless router. The data comes into your phone, which is “tethered” (i.e., connected via a login) to your other devices, such as your laptop or tablet. Although the process varies by phone, you essentially do the following:
- Go into your phone’s settings and select “Tethering & Mobile Hotspot”
- Enable this feature and set the password for other devices to login
- On your laptop, select your phone as the WiFi you want to use and enter in the password
And “Hey Presto!” you are now connected to the internet via your phone. By doing this, you now have the ability to surf the web anywhere you have a good network signal on your phone. However, to take full advantage of this and turn it into your primary internet source you need to make sure you have the right plan.
Generally, I wouldn’t advise using your hotspot for internet connected TV. Instead I would play Netflix or YouTube on my phone and then use something like Google ChromeCast to then display it onto your TV (which avoids using tethering – see why this is important below).
Choosing The Right Plan
Not all cell phone plans are created equal. Your text and talk are a personal decision based on how you use your phone, but to use this method you really need to choose the right cell phone plan. Features you need to look for include:
- Unlimited Data – we are going to be using lots of cell phone data when we make this our primary option.
- No or loose restrictions on tethering – many cell phone plans don’t want or allow you to use your phone for tethering, while others will let you use a high limit or even no limit to tethering.
- Throttling – many “unlimited” plans are only unlimited for the first few GB and then they throttle you back to 3G. We are going to want a very high limit before throttling sets in.
So, who offers plans like these? T-Mobile and Sprint offer two of the best plans, and they are in the neighborhood of $60-70/month although you can find these on sale at various times of the year. It is important to read the fine print on each. You’ll notice that they both offer two levels of service. The basic or essentials level usually starts throttling at lower data limits, while their premium plan, at only $10 more per month doesn’t start throttling until much higher. With T-Mobile, at last check you could do up to 15GB/month of tethering and there was no throttling until you hit 50GB total. I personally prefer T-Mobile because they have free data roaming while abroad, which can save you a ton if you travel (only available on premium tier plan).
Keeping It Real
So now you’ve lost your cable… so no TV. First suggestion here is to use Netflix or a similar service and cast that to your TV (as mentioned above). Second, go out and get an Antenna! If you live near any metro areas you might be surprised at how many broadcast channels you can get. I did a quick check in my neighborhood, and with a $10 digital antenna I can get CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, and about 20 other random stations, meaning I can still watch loads of NFL, College Football, and other sports, plus the prime-time network shows.
Although I don’t necessarily advocate everyone going out and doing this because it does involve some inconvenience and work, but if you are in a pinch and you need to knock $75-100 off your bills straight away, this can be a way to do it. However, before you take this step you should call up all your providers and tell them you are going to cancel unless you get a killer discount. A lot of them will come back with discounts of up to 50% for a year.
Wondering how I came up with this idea? When I was doing some work in Africa it was really difficult to get wired internet as there were no landlines available. So, the locals were quite innovative and were using dedicated mobile hotspots to stream all their internet needs. For them, this was out of necessity instead of to save money, but the concept translates over really well. Remember, cost-savings ideas can come from anywhere, so keep your eyes open.
Have questions? Drop us a message with questions about your finances and we’ll do our best to get them answered during our Friday Q&A.
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