July 4, 2013

In the Spotlight: Time for Ting!

Disclaimer: I don't often promote goods and services on my blog because I think it is somewhat creepy and, when I see others do it, I can't help but wonder what they are getting out of it.  But lately I've been so proud of my friends that I've started promoting them. And even though I don't personally know anyone that works for Ting, I have been so satisfied with their service that I feel it is  VERY important to spread the word so that you can stop selling your souls to the big name cell companies. I promise I am getting nothing out of this except the satisfaction that you will save a ton of money! Read on!


I bought my first smartphone three years ago. Though I wanted an iPhone and all the glory that goes with it, I was unwilling to spend the money. I settled for a refurbished, original Droid. I had been a faithful Verizon patron for a very long part of my rather short life, and I was consistently impressed with their customer service. I was even more pleased those few times they called me to inform me that I had exceeded my texting package and, instead of being charged outrageous fees, they wanted to change my package to the next highest one (thus saving me money). So, I decided that paying $29.99/month for unlimited web on my Droid was reasonable and worthwhile, and I signed my life away with another two year contract.

One year ago I started feeling antsy. Tired of paying for data for a screen the size of my palm and tired of spending $125 (plus taxes) each month for cell service, I decided that there has got to be something better out there. I began realizing that while I was biding time in a two-year contract, the cell market was evolving, and I was completely ignorant of that fact. I began getting sick of the demand of having a smartphone. I began using it less and less. I began realizing that just because someone texted me it doesn't mean I need to immediately cease the actual human conversation I was currently having to reply. I began wishing my phone was just a phone. But I still wasn't ready to give up the convenience of having the internet in my pocket.

Knowing my contract end date was on the Verizon horizon, and having ample time while living in London, I began my research. I researched prepaid plans, pay-per-minute plans, no contract monthly plans, family plans, unlimited plans, and the age old two-year plans. I realized the following:

  • There are so, so, so, so many alternatives in the cell market. It is overwhelming. Even Verizon has "no-contract" plans. Who knew??
  • We had decided not to get cell phones during our year in Europe. Well, actually, we had decided that we would buy them, but ended up not particularly needing to. Having to figure out other ways to communicate was surprisingly easy. With the help of free wifi in Starbucks and other such locations, we realized that we could communicate absolutely for free. For instance, we used an app called Talkatone to use our iPad to text and call to the states for free. We used Skype and FaceTime to video chat for free. We used Facebook, Twitter, and email to instantly communicate for free. 
  • So what did I actually use my phone for? Taking the time to sit down and analyze my usage history proved that what I thought I used my phone for was not actually what I used it for. It revealed way to many unnecessary Facebook checks [mostly due to being bored at work]. It revealed that I didn't actually use my voice minutes as much as I thought. In the end though, I concluded that it was not worth paying $29.99/month for a data package. I just wanted my phone to be a phone.

So after months of research I was still very overwhelmed and had zero answers. Yes, there was potential to save a ton of money if we were strategic about it. But I didn't want to have the stress of only using my phone ten days out of the month, or for only 200 minutes, or 100 texts. There is something freeing about having an unlimited package. So even though there were many potential ways to save, sticking with my current Verizon plan still looked reasonable...

...Until that one fateful day that I was sitting outside of a Portland Starbucks, all by myself, reading a magazine. I turned the page. What caught my eye was not the colors on the page, the font, or any photos. In fact, I had no idea what service was being advertised. Portland, Let Us Treat You to Starbucks. OF COURSE you can treat me to Starbucks, you lovely little sneaky advertisement, you. Tell me more!

The ad was for a cell phone company called Ting. I had never heard of them before but, of course, I can't pass up a good opportunity for free Starbucks more research. All I had to do was give them the last three months of statements from Verizon. They would analyze the statements, inform me on how much I would have saved had I used Ting, and then feed my addiction. Done. Of course, though, being the skeptic that I am and not trusting their conclusion, I decided to compare and analyze on my own. What I found was astonishing (and, happily enough, Ting concluded the same thing): On average, we would have saved an estimated $50 EACH MONTH by using Ting. That's $600 each year. That's equivalent  to using 1,200 fifty-cent coupons, buying 150 grande vanilla lattes, or about 150 gallons of gas.

Fast forward to today. We have been using Ting for a little over a month. Our first bill is a whopping $27 (plus taxes). This is how this month's bill breaks down:

$12 monthly usage fee: Ting charges a $6 usage fee per phone each month. We have two phones. Verizon was charging almost $10 per phone.
$9 for up to 500 shared voice minutes: We haven't even used half of that. Since Verizon won't let me log in to my account anymore, I can't tell you exactly what we were paying in the past. But I believe it was around $50 each month for about 500 shared minutes (whether or not we used them).
$3 for up to 100 text messages: We used less than 50 texts this month. With Verizon, I was paying $5 for 250 texts, or $10 for unlimited.
$3 for up to 100MB of data: We used about 50MB. With Verizon we were paying $29.99 per smart phone for unlimited web. It was so ridiculous that we were only using one smartphone between the two of us.

Convinced yet? Let me tell you a bit about how Ting works:

Ting is a hybrid between a pay-per-minute and an unlimited plan. They have six different bucket sizes in three categories: voice, messages, and data. For example, the following list shows the options for voice usage:

XS: zero minutes, $0
S:  up to 100 minutes, $3
M: up to 500 minutes, $9
L: up to 1000 minutes, $18
XL: up to 2000 minutes, $35
XXL: up to 3000 minutes, $52

You pay for the bucket in which you fall for that month. So if you use 1000 minutes this month, then you pay $18. If you use only 100 minutes next month, then you pay $3. On average, we use about 500 minutes each month (though it varies ALOT).

With Verizon, if we go over our minutes, we are charged an extreme amount of money (an overage penalty) for every minute more than our package. This is what happens in those horror-story-situations where people end up with cell phone bills totaling thousands of dollars. With Ting, there is no penalty for using more than you agreed to because you don't agree to anything. In fact, the more minutes you use, the cheaper they are.

There is no contract to sign. You can stop service whenever you want.

Ting piggybacks off of the Sprint network. I was initially concerned that I would not have as good as coverage as I had with Verizon, but have not had issues with that [yet]. It is a chance I am willing to take.

Ting offers the following services for free: picture and video messaging!, voicemail, call forwarding, three-way calling, tethering!, hotspotting!, number porting, and account cancellation. Though many companies also offer these services for free, I hear that free tethering and hotspotting is a great deal (though we don't use those features).

Ting has very clearly defined bills, an extremely user friendly website, and great customer support. Check out their website here.

My favorite features are when I log onto my online account. It clearly shows me our current usage and also my projected estimated usage for the month. It shows me what bucket I am currently in. I also set up alerts to tell me when I'm getting close to the next-sized bucket. For instance, I will get an email when I reach 90 texts this month (so that I can choose not to text any more and thus not to roll over into the next bucket). I have set up a similar alert with data usage. In addition, I have chosen (with the click of a button) to have the data shut off on my phone once I reach a certain point. When the new billing period begins, it automatically turns back on. This relieves me from having to check my usage every day and prevents me from worrying about spending more money than I want to.

The biggest downside that I can see right now is that, unless you already have a Sprint phone, you will need to buy a new phone when you sign up. We bought two pretty basic (aka crappy) smartphones for about $50 each (the cheapest they had available). They do have better options, but unlike with two-year contracts, the cost of Ting's phones are not subsidized. For instance, if you sign up for a contract with Verizon, you can buy an iPhone for $199. Without a contract, it may cost $399 or more. I won't lie... I was disappointed that I could not use my Droid with Ting and that I had to spend the extra money on a new, crappier phone. However, having to buy a new phone is still a lot cheaper than sticking with our old plan. We were able to transfer our current phone numbers to the new phones. I am sure that as the company grows, phone options will grow as well.

Another downside is there are no "free" nights/weekends and friends/family minutes. One of the reasons I stuck with Verizon for so long was because both our families had Verizon. Thus, we could chat with any family member for as long as we wanted "for free." But what I have learned is that any company that offers this service has to make the money up somewhere else (i.e. overage charges). After analyzing all our usage, though, this ended up not being a huge deal because we still didn't use our phones to chat with family very often-- instead we use Skype and Facetime for long conversations.

Ting is currently a smaller company and, like many other small companies these days, are willing to make less money per customer in order to create loyalty with a larger customer base. While their ethics and morals are great for now, I am always aware that as a company grows, these things may change. But I am willing to be loyal until I have reason not too.

I will also say this: Ting is not for everyone. If you are someone who needs an unlimited data package to run your business, then Ting may not be for you. If you are someone who regularly spends three hours chatting on the phone, then Ting may not be for you. If you are someone who is not willing to limit actual text messages, then Ting may not be for you. Ting may not be for you if you are the kind of person who MUST have the newest and best cell phone. Ting IS for you if you are like us:

  • We don't care what phone we have.
  • We don't use our phones for our primary internet source. We use it to occasionally look something up, check our email, and check Facebook. We turn off 3G and use wireless where we can. 
  • We don't text a lot.
  • We use a moderate amount of voice minutes. In order to do this, we do have to make a tiny bit of extra effort to use video chat more frequently.
  • We basically just want our phones to be phones, with optional internet service when we need it.

When I began my research a year ago, I did not think I would find an alternative that I would be this pleased with. But I have. For now. And I know now that the cell market will continue to morph and change, with better options becoming more readily available. From now on, I will keep my eyes wide open and avoid committing to the "safety" of a two-year contract. And in the mean time, I have 600 more dollars to invest in my IRA for when Social Security becomes extinct next year.

If you are interested in signing up for Ting, tell me. I know a little secret on how new customers can save a bit more money (though, sadly, I don't think they are treating anyone to coffee anymore). 

Happy July 4th!!
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<< UPDATE 7.29.13 >>

I must be honest with you. Remember when I said it is a bit creepy when bloggers promote goods on their site because you never know what they are getting out of it? Well, check out these bad boys:

Shortly after I posted my review of Ting, I received a package which included these socks and a thank you letter. I wanted to be honest with you and tell you that this review may now be a bit biased (free socks can be quite persuasive). And while I wish they would have bought me another Starbucks instead, I am quite thankful for my uber warm limbs. Thanks, Ting!

And for a more detailed update, read this.

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