Don't tell my daughter this, but she's probably going to get a smartphone soon. And that means my wife and I are going to have to revisit our wireless plan to accommodate a third line of data.
When you've got a kid approaching the age of smartphone ownership, you've got a lot of internal debates facing your family. Is my child old enough for a phone? Should I invest in the best parental control apps? What kind of device is even the right one for a first-time smartphone owner?
Against those contentious questions, the issue of whether your current wireless data plan is the right one for a family with a growing number of smartphone users seems like it's less rife with the potential for family drama. But it's nevertheless an important question to answer as what you decide will definitely impact your monthly budget.
You could simply call up your current wireless provider and tack on another line to your current plan. (Indeed, if you've already got more than two users on one plan, that's probably the best course of action.) But the simplest move isn't always the most cost effective one, and any change to your smartphone usage is an excellent opportunity to figure out whether you and your family have the best cell phone plan for your needs.
Based on our phone plan deliberations in the Michaels household, we're making the switch from Verizon to Visible. Here's why.
Assessing our current family plan
My wife and I currently get by on 3GB of shared data from Verizon, a plan we've held onto for the last... seven years? Eight years? It's been so long since I've gone shopping for cell phone plans, I don't rightly remember. It was certainly back before phone carriers started doing everything they could to get you to switch over to an unlimited data plan.
Now, 3GB of data may not seem like enough for two people to use comfortably, but it's worked out well for us. My wife and I both work at home, so there's no data-sucking commutes, and neither one of us does a lot of streaming. A few years back, we even downgraded from a 4GB plan when we realized we weren't consuming anywhere near that amount of data each month. I can count the number of times we've been hit with an overage in the last eight years on one hand.
That's going to change once our daughter joins the land of smartphone-toting citizens. For starters, Verizon would likely insist that we upgrade from our Obama administration era tiered data plan to a more expansive — and more expensive — unlimited offering. And even when we impose some limits on our daughter's phone usage, there's still going to be a notable uptick in data over what we're currently using. That forces us to look at all the best unlimited data plan options out there.
AT&T vs Verizon vs T-Mobile
Before we even start searching for a new monthly data plan, AT&T is out of the running. Someone somewhere in my Northern California municipality has built an anti-AT&T defensive shield that begins approximately on my front porch and stretches to my backyard. Save for AT&T erecting a cell phone tower in my kitchen — sorry, space is tight enough already — we're not about to sign up for a service we can't ever use.
We could stick with Verizon, which offers a number of different types of unlimited plans at various prices. Even better, you can mix and match those plans, so that my wife — who's more inclined to stream things than I am — gets the Verizon Play More plan while I opt for the cheaper Start Unlimited plan. Play More bundles in Disney's three streaming services, so that's another expense we can wipe off the budget.
Additionally, Verizon offers a Just Kids option when you've already got at least one line of unlimited data. Just Kids caps talk and text to 20 contacts and includes some parental controls. It also costs less than a full unlimited data plan, though not that much less.
The trouble with Verizon is that it's one of the pricier carriers out when it comes to unlimited data. Mixing and matching the plans outlined above would still put a $170 dent in my monthly budget, about $80 more than what we're paying now for our tiered plan.
T-Mobile is appealing because its costs are generally lower than Verizon's. Indeed, three lines of the T-Mobile Magenta unlimited data plan would cost us $120 a month, though it's important to realize that reflects a current promotion where T-Mobile is waiving the cost of the third line. Otherwise, three lines cost $140 a month, with perks like a free Netflix account. (You may recall we recently cancelled Netflix, a move not well-received by the youngest member of our family.)
T-Mobile does not let you mix-and-match the Magenta plan with the cheaper Essentials plan, though. There's also no kids plan with a lower cost and any parent-friendly caps like there is at Verizon.
But there are options beyond the major carriers. And the best one for my family means we won't have to stray from the Verizon network that's served us so reliably.
Why Visible works for my family
Visible is a Verizon-owned mobile operator that uses Verizon's network to provide cell phone service. There's no cap on LTE data speeds, though I have noticed that Verizon prioritizes its own traffic, which means data on Visible can move just a tad slower. (Visible does cap 5G speeds at 200 Mbps and you can only get 5G service on select phones at the carrier.) Basically, though, if you get good service from Verizon, you can expect similar performance from Visible.
And that performance comes much cheaper at Visible. The carrier has a single unlimited data plan, which costs $40 a month, taxes and fees included. That's half the price of Verizon's best unlimited plan. Even better, Visible discounts your per line fee as you add more lines, so as a family of three, I'd be paying $30 a month — or the same discounted $120 price T-Mobile currently offers.
The perks at Visible aren't plentiful — I'm once again on my own for any streaming services I'd want to pay for. But in the end, the lower monthly bill is worth far more to my bottom line.
We're a ways off from my daughter getting her cell phone, and data plan prices have a way of shifting. So what looks like a good deal now may be topped by something better once my wife and I are ready to sign off on a phone for our kid.
The point of this exercise, though, is to show that parents have a lot of different options for family plans beyond just shrugging and adding an extra line to the plan they already have. And if you're willing to go beyond the likes of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon for service, you just might find some real bargains that will keep the cost of your monthly smartphone bill at a reasonable level.
Visible | unlimited data | $40/pm - The best unlimited data prepaid on a budget (opens in new tab)
Visible doesn't exactly go all out on prepaid plans and you'll find yourself limited to just one option. The good news is that the one available choice is pretty great — unlimited data for half of what you'd pay at a big carrier. Plus Visible uses Verizon's speedy network, and you can even get 5G access depending on which phone you use.
Pros: Very affordable, 5G unlimited data
Cons: There are cheaper prepaid plans, 5G data speeds are capped