If you’re in the market for a new smartphone, chances are you’re going to head to the most obvious place to pick up your phone.
Unfortunately, heading to the most obvious place probably isn’t the best place to buy cell phones.
Sadly, many people head straight to their current cell phone provider’s local store to pick out a new phone.
The big four cell phone service providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint 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 most obvious place to buy your next cell phone, here are a few other options that could get you a better deal.
But first, let’s look at 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.
Consider Switching To Another Provider First
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 four carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint 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, Sprint or T-Mobile service, yes the same exact service, at a cheaper rate through one of the other cell phone brands that buys 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 couple MVNOs, I’ve found that they work exactly like a phone would on the main providers network. You’ll have to go through the MVNO for customer service and phone issues, but cell service acts just the same.
Here are my favorite MVNOs for different networks and different levels of cell phone use. After this, we’ll get to the best place to actually buy the phone itself.
Republic Wireless – Uses Sprint Or 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 four 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’ll use either the Sprint or T-Mobile network depending on the phone you buy. 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 Sprint 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 Sprint 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 Sprint 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.
Total Wireless – Uses Verizon
While I haven’t had a chance to test out Total Wireless, I’ve learned from testing Republic Wireless and Ting that the service you get on Total Wireless should be the same as the service you’d get on Verizon.
Total Wireless is a pay as you go phone service that doesn’t charge any activation fees, has no contracts and doesn’t perform a credit check. You buy 30 day service plans and can get a 5% discount if you sign up for auto-refill.
For a single line, you can pay $25 per month for unlimited talk and text or $35 per month for unlimited talk and text with 5 GB of data. Auto-refill reduces this to $23.70 and $32.20, respectively.
If you’d rather sign up for a family plan, you can have two lines for $60 per month with 15 GB of shared data, 3 lines for $85 per month with 20 GB of shared data or 4 lines for $100 per month with 25 GB of shared data.
Auto-refill reduces these rates to $57, $80.70 and $95 respectively.
Cricket Wireless – Uses AT&T
I haven’t tested out Cricket Wireless yet, but my dad uses it and loves it. It runs on AT&T and you get the same exact cell service you’d have on AT&T, which my dad has verified.
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.
Finding The Best Place To Buy Phones
Finding the best place to buy a new phone is an art. 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 has changed the industry and my mind.
After deciding whether you want to stick with a big four carrier or switch to a cheaper MVNO, it’s time to start the phone price search.
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.
Take A Look At Online Retailers And Use Ebates
The first place I start my phone search is online because it is easiest. You can compare multiple options from almost anywhere including your current cell phone.
The Ebates browser extension will alert you whenever a site you’re on could earn you free cash back. 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 cash back link.
Once I have the browser extension installed, I’ll start checking prices of the phone I want with a quick Google search. I’ll browse through the first few results to check prices and cash back before moving on to my next usual targets.
Amazon Prime Members Could Save Big
Amazon offers many phones at a huge discount if you’re willing to deal with Amazon advertisements on your lock screen and have a few Amazon apps preloaded. For instance, the Moto G5S Plus I just bought had a $60 savings.
If at any time you want to disable the lock screen ads or get rid of the Amazon apps, just pay the original discount amount and you can remove them.
Even if you aren’t an Amazon Prime member or you don’t want lock screen ads, Amazon still offers very competitive phone prices. Make sure to check them out as part of your research.
Check Out Other Online and Big Box 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, Sams Club, Costco, Office Depot, Staples and any other store you can think of.
First, I’d check on the stores’ websites for pricing information. Sometimes you can find great deals online and get the physical locations to match the deal you found online if you want to get the phone the same day.
However, sometimes it’s best to actually visit the physical stores to see if they’re running any specials that aren’t advertised online.
Sometimes 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 wouldn’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 customer 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.
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 S8 right after the Samsung Galaxy S9 comes out.
If you want the latest and greatest phones, wait a few months after the new version comes out 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.
Remember: Find The Best Overall Price
Remember, your goal is to find the best overall price when you’re buying a phone. 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.
One last tip.
If you do buy your cell phone outright and pay for it in full up front, consider purchasing your phone on a credit card that offers 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?