Five years after giving up unlimited wireless data, this is the monthly bill

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Back in 2012, I was one of those early AT&T customers who was grandfathered into an unlimited data plan, determined not to give it up — until I realized just how much it was costing me every month, unnecessarily.

I made the switch, wrote about it at the time, and concluded, “Did I make the right decision? Ask me 3-5 years from now when I’m using gobs of data for all those yet-to-be invented devices. In the meantime, I’m happy to pocket that $400/year in savings.”

Well, here we are. Five years later, I’ve received more reader questions about that story than just about any other piece I’ve written.

This is an example from last month, from a reader named Tiffany: “i read your article – now 5 years later do you regret giving up your grandfathered in data or you are glad you did. …  i have desperately held on to mine – and now they slow me down after 3gb and my bill is outrageous – with three teenagers.”

OK, so do I regret it? Answering that question took some digging. I’ve been going back through my bills. Bottom line, I don’t regret it doing what I did when I did it — it has saved me many hundreds of dollars — but I actually see even more value in unlimited plans today than I did back then.

Here’s the progression of events: I was paying $212/month for a plan with unlimited data and an iPhone on AT&T until September 2012. This is the “grandfathered” plan that was difficult to give up.

When I switched away from unlimited data, the cost dropped to about $175/month on AT&T for a plan with 4GB of monthly data. I did go over the 4GB limit a couple times after, but even with the extra cost when that happened, I was paying in those months what I used to pay for unlimited data — a little less, actually.

Then I made a big move: I switched to T-Mobile in 2014 as a shameless maneuver to get T-Mobile CEO John Legere to speak at our events. (It was totally worth it.)

After that, I was on a T-Mobile Simple Choice plan with 6GB of monthly data for myself and 3GB for my wife.

We also got T-Mobile’s “Data Stash,” which lets you save unused data for use in future months. There were months when I dipped into my data stash, but I never exhausted it. My monthly data usage on this plan ranged from 4 GB to closer to 7 GB in some months. Once, my wife didn’t connect her phone to the home WiFi for a few weeks. She used up her data and got slower speeds.

Addressing one of the concerned that I had back in 2012: My current data usage is a big increase from the 1 GB a month we were using in 2012, when I decided to give up unlimited data on AT&T. I don’t regularly wear a smartwatch or use another device such as a tablet that would require additional data. I do use my phone regularly as mobile hotspot for my laptop when I’m running around town.

Even with that, my data usage today isn’t nearly as outrageous as I feared when I gave up unlimited data.

I’ve been mostly happy with T-Mobile’s coverage, although there were a few times when I regretted the decision, primarily when struggling to get a strong signal outside of urban areas in my first couple of years as a T-Mobile customer. I have noticed an improvement over the past year or so.

But what about the monthly cost?

We were initially paying $205/month total to T-Mobile, including the data plan and device installment payments. Over time, we paid off one of our devices through the installment plan and reduced the bill to about $179/month. This separation of the wireless data plan from the device cost was one of T-Mobile’s first “Un-carrier” initiatives, signature moves by Legere and team to upend the wireless industry.

But the email from Tiffany above prompted me to do something I’d been meaning to do for a while: A couple weeks ago, I spent time researching the T-Mobile One unlimited data plan. The introduction of T-Mobile One last year helped to spark a broader shift by the industry back to unlimited data plans.

So a couple weeks ago, I decided to make the move. I had to pay $5 extra per month for T-Mobile One Plus, to get 10 GB/month of 4G LTE mobile hotspot data, which is critical for me to keep my computer connected on the go. Without that extra boost, the hotspot would have been at 3G speeds … which I can’t even imagine having to deal with.

A summary of my new T-Mobile bill.

My new T-Mobile One bill arrived a few days ago, and it dropped to a little more than $157/month. This includes all of T-Mobile’s latest gimmicks, such as the inclusion of taxes and fees into the advertised rate. I’ll save more than more than $264 over the course of a year compared to what I was paying before on T-Mobile.

(If we pay off another device on the installment plan, the monthly cost would by drop another $30. We’ve got about 10 months left with a current balance of $300 on our remaining equipment plan, although it’s likely that I’ll get a new phone prior to that.)

A good lesson here: I shouldn’t have waited. I missed out on T-Mobile promotions, which have since ended, that would have reduced my bill even more, as my co-host Andru Edwards points out on this week’s episode of our Geared Up podcast. (You can listen to that conversation above or download the MP3 here.)

So that’s the situation, five years later. I’m back on an unlimited plan, but at a much lower cost this time.

This isn’t meant to be an endorsement of one wireless carrier over another, or a suggestion that anyone else should do exactly what I did. Instead, it’s a reminder to pay attention and do your research, because even small monthly savings add up significantly over time.

For the record, the decrease from $212/month on my original unlimited plan five years ago, to $157/month on my current unlimited plan, translates into $55/month — or about $660 a year.  With that, I’d say the answer to my original question from 2012 is, yes, I made the right decision, with some important tweaks along the way.

Subscribe to Geared Up on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

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