If you’re looking for the best place to buy cell phones in 2021, don’t make the mistake of going to the most apparent place to buy your phone.
Unfortunately, heading to the most obvious store probably isn’t the best place to buy cell phones.
Sadly, many people head straight to their current cell phone provider’s local shop to pick out a new phone.
The big three cell phone service providers (AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) have plenty of locations to cater to all of your smartphone needs.
Of course, people don’t stop to think that these one-stop phone shops won’t always be the best place to buy a cell phone.
In fact, the only people who get a good deal is usually the cell phone service provider and their shareholders.
Instead of heading to the cell phone provider’s store to buy your next cell phone, here’s the easiest way to get a great deal.
After that, we’ll explore the absolute best way to save money and get the best deal on a cell phone as well as the service that comes with it.
Finding The Best Place To Buy Phones
Finding the best place to buy a new phone is fairly straightforward. While I used to think Sam’s Club was the absolute best place to buy a phone, the death of free phones and 2-year contracts changed my mind.
Overall, Amazon is my favorite place to start shopping for a cell phone. That said, putting in a little bit of time to research other options could offer other options.
Finding the best price on the phone you want won’t take long, but just a little bit of effort could save you $100 or more.
Start Your Shopping At Amazon
You’ll almost always want to start your search at Amazon. This online retailer offers a quick way to shop for and purchase a phone.
If you’re already an Amazon Prime member, you definitely want to check out your phone options on Amazon now. If you’re not an Amazon Prime member, you can sign up here. However, even non-Prime members get amazing deals.
Take A Look At Online Retailers And Use Rakuten
After I check out Amazon, I look at other online retailers online because online shopping is easiest. You can compare many options from almost anywhere including your current cell phone service provider.
If you aren’t using Rakuten (formerly Ebates) to earn free cash back already, you can sign up here or read my full review here. Before I check any prices, I make sure I have the Rakuten browser extension installed.
As a special incentive to sign up for Rakuten, they offer a $20 welcome bonus for using Rakuten to make a $20+ qualifying purchase within 90 days of becoming a member.
Once you sign up for Rakuten, be sure to install the browser extension.
The Rakuten browser extension will alert you whenever you’re on a website where making a purchase could earn you cash back. Just click the activate button before you check out to qualify for earning cash back.
Here’s what the browser extension looks like when it finds a deal on a website you’re browsing. This particular deal popped up when I was shopping at Walmart.com.
If you can earn 5% cash back on a $600 phone, that’s a $30 savings for having a browser extension installed and clicking an activate cashback link. You’ll also save money on plenty of other online purchases.
Once I have Rakuten and the browser extension installed, I’ll start checking the prices of the phone I want at the major online retailers.
When checking out other online retailers, don’t forget about the big box stores you shop at, too. Personally, I’d check Best Buy, Walmart, Target and Sam’s Club or any other store you can think of that sells cell phones.
First, I’d check on the stores’ websites for pricing information. You can usually find great deals online. Even so, sometimes it’s best to actually visit the physical stores to see if they’re running any specials that aren’t advertised online.
Occasionally, you can get a gift card with the purchase of a phone or purchase an open box phone in perfect shape at a much lower price.
Check With Your Carrier
You won’t be doing yourself any favors by forgetting to price check with your cell phone carrier. Occasionally, carriers offer deep discounts on certain phones to entice new customers to their service or keep existing customers from leaving.
Most of the time your carrier won’t have the best deal, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
If you shop online and are willing to switch carriers, you can often get huge cash back with Rakuten.
Don’t Forget About Big Sales
Finally, don’t forget to consider big sales that happen at various times throughout the year.
The biggest sales tend to pop up on phones one generation old when a new phone comes out. For instance, you can probably get a good deal on the Samsung Galaxy S20 right after the Samsung Galaxy S21 comes out.
If you want the latest and greatest phones, wait a few months after the new version debuts and demand dies down to spot deals.
The other great time to buy a cell phone is around the holidays. Around Black Friday through Christmas, retailers will be offering all sorts of deals on cell phones.
Some retailers will discount the price of the phone directly while others offer hundreds of dollars in gift cards with a phone purchase.
However, you’ll want to consider the following if you really want to save money on your next cell phone purchase.
Consider Switching To Another Provider
Before you freak out and say, “I could never leave Verizon!” take a second and breathe.
If you’re currently with one of the big three carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) you’re probably not getting the best deal on your monthly cell phone bill.
The savings on your cell phone service bill by switching to a cheaper carrier that offers the same exact service can add up to the cost of a brand new phone very fast, sometimes in just a few months.
What most people don’t realize is you can still get Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile service (yes the same service) at a cheaper rate through one of the other cell phone brands that buy network usage from the big four carriers.
These other cell phone brands are called MVNOs or Mobile Virtual Network Operators. They don’t own the cell phone towers or the network but instead lease the network for their customers to use.
Every single major cell phone service provider has multiple MVNOs that offer the same service at a cheaper price.
My Favorite MVNOs
After using a few MVNOs first hand, I’ve found that they work almost exactly like a phone would on the main provider’s network. You’ll have to go through the MVNO for customer service and phone issues, but cell service acts about the same.
Here are my favorite MVNOs for different networks and different levels of cell phone use.
Republic Wireless – Uses T-Mobile
Republic Wireless is my absolute favorite MVNO and is the cell phone service provider my wife and I have used for the past six years.
Why do we love Republic Wireless? Their plans are dirt cheap. Unlimited talk and text is just $15 per month per line and data costs just $5 per GB. You can buy no data if you wish or as much as you’d like.
This dirt-cheap cell phone plan saves us hundreds of dollars per year. The best part is you can start with no data each month and only add GBs when you want, allowing you total control over your cell phone service bill.
Republic Wireless also offers calls and texts over WiFi which is a pretty unique feature. If you don’t get service somewhere but have access to WiFi, you can make phone calls and send text messages just like you had service.
You can buy phones directly from Republic Wireless here or you can buy a compatible phone elsewhere and just buy a Republic Wireless SIM card.
You can read our full Republic Wireless review here.
Ting Wireless – Uses Verizon or T-Mobile
I’ve also had the chance to test out Ting Wireless first hand. Ting Wireless works just like a cell phone would if you had Verizon or T-Mobile service.
What I love about Ting Wireless is the fact that you only pay for the minutes, texts and data you actually use. If you’re a light cell phone user, you could save a ton of money with Ting Wireless.
Here are Ting’s current rates:
We didn’t go with Ting Wireless because we didn’t want to worry about how many minutes or texts we used each month.
You can purchase a phone directly from Ting or bring your own device and purchase a Ting SIM card. Use their device compatibility checker on their website before you purchase a phone elsewhere to make sure your new phone will work with Ting.
Your phone will likely determine whether you use Verizon or T-Mobile coverage while using Ting. Some phones allow you to choose which provider you’d prefer to have coverage through.
You can read our full review of Ting Wireless here.
Cricket Wireless – Uses AT&T
Cricket has no contracts or overages and actually includes taxes in their monthly rates, which is pretty sweet.
You can get unlimited talk and text for $25 per month or add 2 GB of data for $30 per month. If you want 5 GB of data, the bill would be $40 a month or unlimited high-speed data is just $60 per month.
With the 5 GB and unlimited data plans, you can save $5 per month if you set up auto-pay with Cricket Wireless.
Cricket Wireless also offers multiple line discounts, but you must have the $40 per month plan or higher to qualify. The second line’s bill is reduced by $10 and lines 3-5 have their bills reduced by $20 each.
Remember: Find The Best Overall Price
Remember, your goal is to find the best overall price when you’re buying a phone. My favorite place to start shopping is Amazon.
Make sure to account for any gift cards, discounts, sales tax, cash back or other promotions that may affect the price before comparing where to buy your phone. Don’t forget to check if Rakuten offers cash back, too.
If you do buy your cell phone outright and pay for it in full up front, consider purchasing your phone on a credit card. It may offer extended warranty protection, accidental breakage protection in the first 90 days or even free cell phone insurance.
You can read more about these little-known credit card benefits here.
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Where is your favorite place to buy your cell phone? Does it have the best prices or do you buy there for some other reason?
Lance Cothern, CPA holds a CPA license in Indiana. He’s a personal finance, debt and credit expert that writes professionally for top-tier publications including U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, Investopedia, Credit Karma, Business Insider and more.
Additionally, his expertise has been featured on Yahoo, MSN, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Kiplinger, Reuters, CNBC and more.
Lance is the founder of Money Manifesto. He started writing about money and helping people solve their financial problems in 2012. You can read more about him and find links to his other work and media mentions here.