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How My Search for an MVNO Cost Me More Than I Bargained For

Living frugally means looking for sensible ways to cut down on costs while beefing up your savings. Sometimes, experiments in frugality work well! Other times, they fail miserably. This is the story of how our quest to save a little money on our phone bill by switching to an MVNO ended up costing us money (and how we fixed it in the end!)

Million Dollar Baby

My husband and I welcomed our 3rd little one three months ago and, boy oh boy, was he expensive! We were counting on a peaceful, natural home birth (which we had 100% of the funds for), but my body and our baby had different plans.

After days of unproductive contractions, my little prince was safely delivered via (a costly) C-section by an incredibly sweet and well-respected surgeon. Financial surprise aside, saving the life of my baby was money well spent!

Still, this turn of events means our budget will look a little different until we’ve finished paying our additional out of pocket medical expenses.

I’m always looking for ways to be a good steward of our family finances. Since we are now funneling hundreds of dollars each month towards medical bills, I began to think about ways to compensate. When I read about MVNOs on one of my favorite blogs, I felt like this would be the perfect way to trim some of the fat from our mobile bill.

The majority of my husband’s time on the phone is spent working and he uses a company phone for that. But he also has a rarely used personal phone that we’ve kept on our plan for years. 

As for me, I rarely speak to people on the phone unless I absolutely have to, which isn’t that often. Consequently, we hadn’t been paying much for our mobile service anyway because we’d been grandfathered into a plan with a well known provider over 6 years ago.

Even so, our relatively puny bills seemed to be a waste ever since discovering we could have been paying even less. Paying as little as $15/month per person for mobile service is an opportunity that’s hard to pass up!

Cue the magic of MVNOs!

MVNO FAQs

Mobile Virtual Network Operators – better known as MVNOs – are cell phone carriers that purchase and resell cellular network coverage and data from larger carriers such as ATT and Sprint.

MVNOs do not own any infrastructure on which to operate their services. Instead, they buy access to other networks at wholesale prices.

Then, they provide access to consumers at low retail prices. MVNO plans tend to be prepaid and very flexible.

Since there is a cloud within every silver lining, it’s important to understand the downside to using an MVNO.

The major drawback is the strength of the coverage. In short, the customers of the major carriers will always be prioritized over the MVNO customers during peak usage times.

Additionally, depending on where you live and what phone model you own, an MVNO may not even be an option for you.

Bearing these facts in mind, I made sure both my phone model and zip code were suitable for the MVNO I recently tried. All signs pointed to this particular company being a good fit for me, so I decided to take the plunge.

Sometimes, my experiments in frugality pay off. Other times, they go horribly wrong.

Have you ever wanted to save big on your cellular phone service? Then an MVNO may be right for you. Learn from our mistakes and go with the right MVNO the first time around so you don’t end up spending more money than you bargained for.

My Initial MVNO Experience

I found out about MVNOs right after paying for another month of service with the mobile company we’d been using, so I made a note to make the switch at the end of our billing cycle.

I discussed the move with my husband, and we decided we’d use my phone as the guinea pig since he could rely upon his business phone as a backup while we figured out whether this MVNO thing would work for us.

When our month of service was nearly up with our former carrier, I checked once more that my phone model and zip code were compatible with the MVNO that most appealed to us. Satisfied with their assurance that our mobile needs would be met, I proceeded to order one of their SIM cards for my existing phone.

The SIM card arrived quickly, just one day before our service expired with the other network. Switching my service over to the MVNO was slightly more complicated than expected, but not so off-putting that it would’ve prevented me from recommending the company to a friend.

What did put me off is that I was stuck with restricted cell phone service.

Only certain numbers were able to call mine, usually only those that were operated on landlines. Of the few lucky mobile phone users who could successfully contact me, my husband was not one of them. Neither was my sister nor some of my dearest friends.

After spending two hours on the phone with a very friendly company representative, he concluded the issue was the SIM card. He immediately sent a new one out, free of charge. 

All this took place while we were enjoying the company of one of our relatives who has come to town. So I decided to put the phone business out of my mind so I could enjoy our family time.

A couple of days later, the new SIM card arrived and I breathed a sigh of relief. That relief was short lived because after going through the not-so-easy setup a second time, I experienced the same issue before. 

I ended up trying the service in 3 different phones with 2 brand new SIM cards, yet the problem persisted. The level of frustration I experienced during this time was off the charts. 

My husband patiently endured while I tried to get my MVNO experiment to work, but I could tell as the days passed, he was growing weary of it. He likes to check on the kids and me for safety and because it brightens his day.

Likewise, the kids and I love that we have the freedom to call Daddy virtually any time we please.

The new restrictions on our communication options made us all feel strangely distant from one another during the workday. 

After almost an entire month of this telecommunications disaster, I threw in the towel.

In the end, it appeared the MVNO experience was not meant to be for us.

Of course, there were plenty of other MVNO companies we could’ve tried to see if there was a better fit for us, but the mounting frustration my husband and I both felt over my extremely limited ability to use my phone left us feeling hesitant to take the same risk again.

Still, I didn’t want to go crawling back to our former carrier. Where would we go from here?

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An MVNO Done Right

Feeling defeated and foolish for having spent so much time and money in the pursuit of saving a few dollars a month, I began looking for a way out of our relationship with the MVNO provider we’d experimented with. 

Rather than immediately returning to our original mobile company, I committed to researching our options. Surely there was a reputable service provider that would allow us to pay only for the minimal amount of data we actually use.

And that’s how we switched to Google Fi.

Google Fi is actually an MVNO, but unlike the others out there, it’s backed by a powerhouse company. 

The customer service and network coverage we’ve experienced with Google Fi has been incredible. The agents are knowledgeable and friendly. Coverage is strong and consistent.

Like most MVNOs, Google Fi has a standard plan that consists of base amount that covers unlimited calls and texts plus data coverage that is doled out by the gigabyte. Your bill is based on how much data you use each month. 

If you’re a heavy data user, you may think Google Fi isn’t for you, but there’s two reasons that thought is wrong.

First of all, you can set your phone to WiFi only. While this isn’t a guarantee no data will be used, you will use significantly less data.

Secondly, after you’ve used 6GB on the standard plan, the rest of the data you use is free!

Google Fi recently expanded its plan offerings. Check out the new structure here to discover which plan is right for you.

Switching to Google Fi was quick and painless. I won’t bore you with the details, but know that this is the best service I’ve had from a mobile company – both in terms of network AND customer care – during the past decade. 

With the Google Fi app, I can closely monitor my data usage as frequently as I want. This means no surprising, out of control bill at the end of the month!

Overall I’m really enjoying our Google Fi experience, even if it isn’t quite as cheap as the MVNO we had our hearts set on at the beginning.

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Cellular phones are a major part of modern society and it can cost a significant amount of money to access good cellular service. MVNOs are an alternative to traditional mobile services, but they aren’t all created equal! Learn from our mistakes and discover which MVNO is ultimately a winner (in our experience!)

The Verdict

Though I’m content with how things ultimately turned out, I’ll admit my attempt to save our household a handful of dollars per month ended up being costlier up front than anticipated.

I suppose the lesson here is to beware that your attempt to save a penny may end up costing you a dollar!

Have your good intentions ever lead to a serious budget blunder? Share the story in the comments!

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