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Living Without a Cell Phone Plan – Going Cell-free

I cancelled my cell phone today and think this would make for a good post on this blog. I went cell-free once before, back in 2016. I had just retired from Kaiser Permanente and didn’t see the need for a cell phone plan. I restarted it because I was dabbling in some telemedicine and needed a reliable way to call patients. Since then, VoIP has gotten better and making phone calls using WiFi has become the norm.

I titled this post “Living Without a Cell Phone Plan” because I am still planning on having a cell phone – just not a cellphone plan which is the only real cost when it comes to owning a cell phone.


My current cell phone

I got this iPhone 7 gifted to me by a telemedicine company in 2016. I reached out to them and told them that I needed a new cell phone since my Galaxy S2 from 2011 was on its last leg. They thought about it and told me that a brand new, unlocked cell phone was coming my way.

I still have this phone. It’s worked well for me in Spain and I used it without a cell plan for a few months when I went cell-less. No complaints.

My cell carrier is (was) Ting which rents cell towers from Sprint. They are an incredibly intelligent company and function more as a community and less like a cell carrier company.

You can read more about my experience with Ting here.

With Ting I can go online and post questions or comments in the forum. I can send messages to the support team in numerous ways. And when I call, someone picks up the phone within 2-3 rings – every time. I can handle everything online or from the Ting app. Cancelling my Ting account was stupidly easy: I called, some dude picked up, asked if they could do anything better or if I just had a unique circumstance, I told him how much I love Ting, he told me that I could always return in the future since there is no contract and pick up right where I left off. I won’t be billed after 7 days and that’s it.

Ting wants their customers to save money – they aren’t about upselling or trying to rip you off. Their transparency is blinding. They have all sorts of app settings and tips & tricks they share with you so that you can save on data, text, and minutes.

My average cell bill is about $25. However, back in my frugal days, my average cell bill was only $12 per month. There is always a base pay of $6 just to have the account active and some taxes. After that I pay in increments of 100 text messages, 100 minutes, and 100mg of data, etc.

The most I ever paid was $64 because I was making a ton of phone calls and doing a ton downloads for work related shit.

Going cell-free

I went cell-free for a year in 2016. Right after retiring from Kaiser Permanente, I turned off my cell phone and just made due with the cell phone’s WiFi. It wasn’t difficult at all. The only thing I missed was being able to call my mom when I would go on longer walks. These days she just lectures me on what I do wrong so I’ve resorted to just emailing her.

Going cell-free is no longer a rebellious or flagrant move. With WiFi hotspots in so many places, having cell-service is a luxury. Using those WiFi maps can help you find the free spots.

Some say that it’s dangerous not having a cell phone. What if something happens and someone needs to reach you in the case of an emergency? The situation might be different for those of you with families. I can’t think of a single true emergency that would require a person to have a cell phone.

The hardest thing about going cell-free is a change in behavior. Apparently it takes on average 3 months for a change in behavior to become a habit. When I did it back in 2016, it took maybe 2 weeks. I needed to learn which apps to download and which WiFi signals to hit up.


Using a cell phone without cell-service

Your phone has 2 main wireless connections – the WiFi signal and the cell signal. Almost all phones will be able to function fully on either connection.

I have long been in the habit of putting my phone in airplane mode. In airplane mode, you can still turn on bluetooth and WiFi – only the cell-service is switched off. We can thank the airline industry for this functionality. I’m not being sarcastic, if it wasn’t for their push to turn off cell-service, we wouldn’t be able to have this dual functionality on our phones.

Without a cell-service my cell phone can still make phone calls, send text messages, and stream shit. All I need is WiFi. Let me go over each of these commonly used tasks individually and tell you how I get around them.


Making voice calls

I have Google Hangouts and Google Voice on my phone. It’s an app and it’s connected to your Gmail account. It’s a free service which you can use for making phone calls. In order to use it you need a Google Voice phone number which you can obtain for a one-time fee of $10.

I can dial any US number and make a phone call as long as I have a decent WiFi connection. If it’s a sensitive call then I just let the other person know that I’m making a WiFi call and that it might break up on occasion but that the connection will reset.

Sometimes when the connection is really shitty, I hang up, turn off the WiFi, reestablish the connection, and everything is back to normal.

I have made the majority of my patient phone calls this way without any issues when I was doing telemedicine. It’s free and I can make unlimited calls using Google Voice.


Sending text messages

As for sending text messages, I use the same service, Google Hangouts.

I can text people directly to their cell phone number or I can message them to their Gmail accounts. It’s free either way.

I can send group messages, I can send videos, and I can send photos. I have never had a problem with this other than normal glitches which I used to get with any cell phone and any operating system.

And when it comes to 2-factor authentication or needing to receive those annoying security codes, I can still use my Google Voice number without any problems.


Downloading data

Whether you’re streaming YouTube on your phone, streaming music, googling something on the mobile browser, or using an app which needs a data connection, I can do all o that using my phone as long as it’s connected to WiFi.

I can upload shit, download shit using a WiFi service.


Relying less on systems

Going car-less and going cell-free have been great experiences for me. The car definitely has saved me a lot of money, though I don’t think the cell-free thing will be a big money saver. Instead, it just frees me a little from the grips of these systems which pop up around us.

I don’t want to get accustomed to a system and then not know how to live without it. For example, I know people who don’t have home WiFi, which is something I definitely couldn’t do right now. Maybe it’s something I’ll try in the future.

I also managed to get rid of my health insurance in the US ever since last year. It’s just a good habit to constantly shop around and see what you can do without and what you could do with less of. Decoupling from these systems makes you stronger.

2 replies on “Living Without a Cell Phone Plan – Going Cell-free”

I didn’t know you decided to stop buying Health Insurance in the US. I know you have been living in Spain and you were getting Spanish Health insurance while there. What are you using for healthcare bills (or potential Emergency healthcare bills) while you are in the US?

I don’t have much faith in the US health care system ever since I started practicing in it. So I still have my health insurance in Spain and would pay for any emergency care in the US out of pocket and manage the rest overseas. It doesn’t have to be Spain, Mexico would still be better. Not because the doctors are bad here but the legal and administrative forces are too hard to overcome for docs.

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