Best Places to Find a Decent Used Car For Under $1,000

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I suppose my pre-Uber generation might be the last one to equate having your own car with fun and freedom. In high school, I would comb through the “Under $2,000” section of the newspaper classified ads every day. How it looked didn’t matter as long as it meant I could go places without my parents. More recently, I bought a cheap beater car on Craigslist in order to learn how to drive a stick shift. Goofing around in that thing was great nostalgic fun, although I sold it soon after.

This Car and Driver article compares the various places that you can find your own cheap-yet-decent car:

  • Impound lots
  • Junkyards
  • Airport Auctions
  • Public Auctions
  • The Spare Car on Facebook
  • Government Auctions

The author Steven Lang has been an “auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction for nearly two decades”. Amazingly, even after inflation the target price point is under $1,000.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: To spend less than $1000 on a car, you have to be willing to risk that money and spend maybe $500 to $1000 more to get it back into tip-top mechanical shape. So do yourself a big favor and don’t be lazy in your pursuit. Go where you can have the least uncertainty and invest in the automotive beauty that lies within.

While I still enjoy learning tips about the “hunt”, these days you will find me driving around in a comfortable and reliable Toyota Minivan. My philosophy is now “buy new and drive it for at least a decade”.

See also: Top 10 Best Dirt Cheap Beater Car Models?

Free eBook on Reducing Smartphone Data Usage

tingdataTing Mobile has a free Cut Your Data eBook (PDF) about lowering your cellular data usage. The eBook is a nice collection of data cutting tips that ideally don’t reduce your actual enjoyment. Examples include:

  • How to turn off background data usage.
  • Disabling auto-play videos or auto-downloads in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat.
  • Data compression in Google Chrome and Opera Mini web browsers.
  • Offline downloads of music, maps, Netflix, and other media.

Worth a download if you are trying to maintain a lower tier on your cellular data bill. You don’t need to be a Ting customer (I use them for my parents’ phones – see my Ting Review).

Digit Review: “You Won’t Even Notice” Automated Savings Account

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Update April 2017. Digit is now a paid service. After a 100-day free trial, Digit will charge a $2.99 monthly subscription. If you are a current user, you also get another 100 days free but after that they will start taking $2.99 out of your linked checking account automatically. If you don’t want this to happen, you need to close your Digit account at this link. All your Digit balances will be moved back into your linked checking account.

I am disappointed Digit couldn’t make their business model work by simply earning interest off people’s savings balances. While some people criticized that aspect, I thought it was a fair trade-off. Although transparency is good in theory, my prediction is most people will balk at paying $3 a month. Digit has increased their Savings Bonus to 1% annualized (previously it was 0.20%). However, you can earn that at online banks elsewhere.

Updated full review:

Want to save more, but don’t want to actually think about it? Digit is a fintech start-up that combines a FDIC-insured savings account that want you to give it permission to tuck some of your own money away for you. There’s mindless eating, mindless spending, and now mindless saving.

How does it work? Instead of rounding up your card purchases or getting you to commit a regular savings schedule, Digit is like a helicopter parent sneaking into your wallet/purse and taking out money when it thinks you won’t notice. Okay, so it’s more about an algorithm that tracks your income and spending patterns… and then takes out money when it thinks you won’t notice. It keeps on depositing that money into a savings account until hopefully one day you have something substantial Here’s a slick video about it:

SMS Text-based interface. After you link up an existing checking account, ongoing interactions with Digit can be done almost completely by text message. If you prefer apps, Digit now has an iOS app that offers a little bit of extra polish to your normal text message program. I thought it might be redundant, but I actually prefer using the app now. A few screenshots:

digit1   digit2

Free. $2.99 a month. Digit used to make money by keeping any interest that might be earned on your savings balance. As of April 11, 2017, they now offer a 100-day free trial and then will charge a $2.99 monthly subscription fee. The good news is that you now earn more interest, currently a 1% annual Savings Bonus (details below). They still promise not to sell your transaction data.

Minimum balance protection. I actually started using Digit a few months ago, but turned it off when I found out they didn’t (at the time) have a minimum balance protection feature. For example, you might have a bank account that requires a $1,000 minimum daily balance to avoid a $10 monthly fee. Digit used to have no way of knowing that, although they did promise to refund any overdraft fees. Now, you can set a minimum value that Digit will not allow your account to go below.

Savings Bonus. Essentially, Digit pays you interest on your balances with them including your Rainy Day balance and any Goalmojis. Every 3 months you will receive a Savings Bonus from Digit based on your average total balance over the previous 3 months. Currently Digit pays a annual 1% Savings bonus. So for example if your average balance was $4,000 over the last 3 months you would get a $10.00 savings bonus that quarter.

My personal experience. Every few days, random amount like $5.22 or $11.35 would be debited from my checking account. Honestly, for some who likes to be in control, having all those extra entries on my bank statements got to be a bit annoying. After a couple months though, I had over $300 saved up. Was this amount more than I would have saved anyway? Would I be better off with a formal budget? It’s hard to say. I can imagine some people really liking the feeling of “found money”, though.

Recap. Digit offers mindless automated saving, which is definitely a unique proposition. After a 100-day free trial, Digit will charge a $2.99 monthly subscription fee. You’ll have to balance that fee with their ability to save you money that you wouldn’t otherwise. You might prefer giving someone else the steering wheel. You might not. If previously-reviewed Qapital was “set-your-own-rules”, Digit is more “leave-it-up-to-the-robots”. You could even use both apps at the same time.

Buy It Nice, or Buy It Twice: Kitchen Edition

wusthof200Reader Chris sent in the following question (edited for clarity):

I read in your website about cast iron pans and KitchenAid mixers. I want to buy a small home and have nothing. What are some must-have kitchen items that will last a long time and be used most often? So they are an “investment”.

I finally figured out why people make you register for nice things on your wedding registry. After getting married over 12 years ago, I had to stop buying Hungry Man frozen dinners and really learn to cook at home. This also meant developing an appreciation for well-made kitchen items. When you “go cheap” on certain things, you not only have to replace it down the road (“Buy It Nice or Buy It Twice”), but you also feel a bit of annoyance and regret every time you use the inferior tool. In the words of Marie Kondo, owning high-quality tools “bring me joy”.

Here’s a list of high-quality items that are actually in my kitchen as I type this. There is no order, just a quick mental inventory. Some cost a few bucks. Some cost hundreds.

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Lodge 12″ Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet
With over 10,000 reviews (!) and a 4.6 out of 5 star average rating, I know I’m not the only fan of these heavy-duty beasts. Great for searing and pan-frying, oven-safe, no worrying about scratches or dings. They will outlive you. Got a rusty one? They are easy to resurrect; here’s a quick video on how to season your cast iron.

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Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round Dutch Oven
I cook multiple times a week with our Staub and Le Creuset enameled cast-iron dutch ovens. Cast iron isn’t a lot of maintenance, but you do have to keep it dry after each use to prevent rusting (and seasoning it again takes time). With enameling, you can just wash and leave it wet. The dutch oven shape also makes it perfect for braises, stews, and soups. (They also look nicer at dinner parties.) They do run $200-$300 but spread out over 30+ years of use it’s not that bad. But I’ll be honest, I don’t know how much better they are than this Lodge Enameled Dutch Oven which regularly runs under $80.

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KitchenAid Artisan 5-Quart Stand Mixer
We’ve used this machine regularly without any issues for over 10 years across multiple apartments, studios, and houses. We use it to beat eggs and knead dough for pizza, pasta, cookies, and bread. I don’t know what kind of motor is inside, but it is durable. The bowl has some small dings and there is a little rust on the exterior but nothing that prevents good operation. I notice a ton of different versions now, but I think the Artisan is the classic version.

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Kuhn Rikon 3-Set Original Swiss Peeler, Red/Green/Yellow
These may not last forever, but they have lasted a lot longer than my previous peelers and I’m still on my first one. (I also have a serrated version that I don’t use as often.) I bought these after seeing them recommended by America’s Test Kitchen and they peel much more easily and comfortably. Note: I see some Amazon reviews that say “I love my old Kuhn Rikon peeler but this one I just bought from Amazon is horrible.” My thought? Counterfeits. I would only buy these “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com”, even if it costs a few cents more. You’re still getting the best peeler out there for ~$4.

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Wusthof Classic 7-piece Knife Block Set
I remember wondering if Wusthof and Henckels were worth the price as I zapped them onto our wedding registry. Then someone actually bought us a set of Wusthof Classic knives and we proceeded to use them nearly every day for over a decade. They have been professionally sharpened a couple of times (less often than recommended), but they still work perfectly with no chips or rust spots. I bought a $40 Asian cleaver from a shop in Chinatown a couple years ago, and it only lasted a few months before large rust spots appeared. My mom told me I didn’t treat it right. I told her I’d rather spend $80 on a knife and have it last decades even after not treating it right. So I did. 🙂

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J.A. Henckels International 8-pc Steak Knife Set
We also got a set of Henckels steak knives as a wedding gift. They’ve also lasted over a decade as our family’s only set of steak knives. They still cut great. Yes, they cost about double the price of the AmazonBasics steak knives set, but I wonder if I’ll ever have to buy steak knives again.

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Zeroll 1020 Original Ice Cream Scoop, 2 Ounce
Didn’t see this coming, huh? This is the best ice cream scoop, period. Once you try it, you will wonder why all the other ice cream scoops in the world are so bad in comparison. If you walk into an ice cream shop, this is probably the brand that they use. It has conductive fluid that makes it easier to get through rock-hard ice cream. It creates the perfect ball shape for placing on cones. The 2-ounce size makes a small/medium-sized ball, but other sizes are available. Why not own the best ice cream scoop in the world for about $15?

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things. There are also many other items I on my wish list that I haven’t bought yet. What high-quality kitchen items would you consider a good “investment”?

Shout out to Gita, Ben, Kiran, and family! Thanks for reading!

Dollar Shave Club vs. Dorco USA Razor Price Comparison

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Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s are supposedly “disrupting” the shaving industry. Honestly, I don’t get it. Buying a razor is like buying shampoo, soap, or toilet paper. In other words, I buy them in bulk when Costco has a coupon for it. 😉 Last time, I bought this set for $1 per 3-blad razor and it lasted me two years. However, after doing some research, I decided to try a different product for 2017 and 2018. (I already tried Harry’s razors and decided it wasn’t for me.)

Did you know that Dollar Shave Club doesn’t even make their own razors? Well, now that they’ve been bought for $1 billion by Unilever, this might change, but for now their 4-blade and 6-blade razors are made by a company named Dorco. Dorco also sells razors directly to US consumers at DorcoUSA.com. Which is the cheaper option?

Dorco USA has regular sales and coupons. There’s always some sort of sale or coupon, so you should never pay full price. You can sign up for their newsletter for updates, although it is a bit annoying to get weekly e-mails when you only buy razors once a year. You can also check the usual coupon sites. In my opinion, I would wait until I see a discount of 40% to 50% off with free shipping. (Maybe I’ll refresh this post once a year when a good sale hits.)

Use a cashback shopping portal too. You can also stack additional savings via cashback shopping portals. Specifically, both BeFrugal and TopCashBack offer 10% cashback at the time of this writing and I can confirm that I got the cash back credited through TopCashBack.

Example deal with 4-blade razors. Right now until 3/25/17, you can get $20 off $50 order with free shipping with code MMadness20. Here’s an example of what you could put together. I’m doing Men’s razors but they have equivalent Women’s razors as well.

The Pace 4 Starter set includes 1 handle and 2 cartridges for $6. The Pace 4 refill set has 4 cartridges and costs $7.15. Buying 1 starter set + 7 refill sets = $6.50 + $50.05 – $20 coupon = $36.05. That’s 30 cartridges total at $1.20 per Dorco 4-blade razor. If you use a 10% cashback portal, that’s $1.08 per razor.

The Pace 4 looks nearly identical (see top image) to the “4X” blade from Dollar Shave Club, which runs $6 for 4 cartridges per month. This works out to $1.50 per Dollar Shave Club 4-blade razor. If you count the $1 first month promo, over a year you’d pay $1.40 per razor.

Example deal with 6-blade razors. The Pace 6 Plus has 6 blades + beard trimmer blade. The Pace 6 Plus starter set with 1 weighted handle and 2 cartridges cost $6.50. Pace 6 refill sets are $9.65 for 4 cartridges. Buying 1 starter set + 5 refill sets = $6.50 + $48.25 – $20 coupon = $34.75. That’s 22 razor cartridges total at $1.58 per 6-blade Dorco razor. If you use a 10% cashback portal, that’s $1.42 per razor.

The Pace 6 Plus looks nearly identical to the “Executive” blade from Dollar Shave Club, which runs $9 for 4 cartridges per month. This works out to $2.25 per 6-blade Dollar Shave Club razor. If you count the $1 first month promo, over a year you’d pay $2.08 per razor.

The specific numbers may change as the promotions vary, but the Dorco razors usually still come out ahead. You may see $10 off $30, $20 off $40, Buy 1 Get 1 Free, etc.

Bottom line. If you are okay buying in bulk (20+ razors), buying directly from Dorco USA can be cheaper than getting what appears to be the same razor from Dollar Shave Club. In the examples above using frequent sale pricing, the savings were roughly 30% off. You also avoid a recurring subscription (always try to automate savings, not spending).

(How are the Pace 4 razors? In my non-fussy opinion, they are fine. They are slightly nicer than my 3-blade razors from Costco, but that’s about it. So far, it appears they will last about the same length of time as well.)

Food Rankings: Most Protein Per Dollar, Caffeine Per Dollar

icedteamixA while back I did a post on What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity, where I found that you can find the cheapest calories in things like flour, pasta, oil, bread, and doughnuts. Meanwhile, the most expensive calories included all the fresh fruits and vegetables.

Michael Kirk of Efficiency Is Everything has put together his own nutritional spreadsheets and come up with other rankings. Below is an excerpt of his list of foods with the most protein per dollar. While lentils and pinto beans aren’t a surprise, I did find it interesting that white bread had more protein per dollar than whole wheat bread. White pasta also ranked higher than whole wheat pasta. Obviously, there will be some variability in the actual prices at your local grocery store.

proteindollar

Below is an excerpt of his list of foods with the most caffeine per dollar. It’s good to know that powdered iced tea can give good caffeine pop for the buck (I’m saving this discovery for summertime), but I’d still rather drink a good cup of coffee than take a pill.

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I do like efficiency, although I don’t know if it is “everything”. I probably won’t plan my weekends around the alcohol per dollar list. 🙂

RingPlus: Free Cellular Phone Service Ending 2/11

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February 2017 Update. Well, looks like the party is officially over. As predicted, it ended quickly and messily. Ringplus sued Sprint. Sprint announced they were kicking R+ off the Sprint network on February 11th. Both announced that R+ users will be automatically migrated over to Ting if they don’t leave on their own. The timeline is yet unannounced. More details here and here. This is a soft landing as Ting has solid customer service has agreed to honor R+ balances. At the minimum, they’ll give you $35 in Ting credit. To activate service, you will need to put a credit card on file and agree to Ting’s terms of service online. My Ting Review here.

Ting will gladly honor the RingPlus Top Up balance that you had as of February 5, 2017. If you had $35.00 or less in RingPlus TopUp credit, you’ll receive $35 in Ting credit before your first bill. If you had $35.01 or more in RingPlus TopUp credit, you’ll receive $35.00 to start and then $5.00 each month until all of your remaining RingPlus TopUp credit balance has been honored.

I received over 1.5 years of free service on a secondary line for a one-time $10 fee and I’ll still end up with $35 in Ting credit, so it ended up bring a pretty good deal overall.


November 2016 Update. The most recent update:

Starting December 1, 2016, all Plans that are not Mad Plans will not renew at the end of their billing cycle. Members can change to any of the currently offered plans from our website. Phone Swaps will be free starting Wednesday (11/23/16) until further notice.

Realistically, this was always the type of deal that was not going to last forever, and hopefully if you participated you got good value out of it. I got over a year of Sprint-based cellular service with 1,000 minutes, 1,000 text, and 1 GB of data for an total cost of $10 (technically the $10 is still in my account). The party is winding down… in the meantime I recommend taking the following precautions:

Know that your plans can and will be discontinued with little or no notice. Don’t buy an expensive phone just to switch to R+. Don’t pay for their lifetime Member+ plan. To put it simply, commit as little money as possible. Have a plan to port your number elsewhere; Ting can use Sprint or there are many free or $1 SIM cards out there on GSM networks.


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Generic Epipen Alternative from CVS for $110 Cash or $10 with Insurance

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If you are like me and have to purchase multiple Epipens every year, you may like to know that CVS has a new generic Epipen alternative with a cash cost of $110 with a cost of $10 for many people with commercial health insurance. In most cases, the discount can be applied right at the pharmacy counter. You have heard of Adrenaclick, but this is technically a generic version of Adrenaclick made by the same laboratory.

Patients can now purchase the authorized generic for Adrenaclick® at a cash price of $109.99 for a two-pack – the lowest cash price in the market. This authorized generic is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved device with the same active ingredient as other epinephrine auto-injector devices.

Many parents of children with allergies have to buy multiple Epipens. The school usually requires one to be stored with them at all times in the classroom. If there is an afterschool program in a different area, that’s another Epipen. You may also want one to keep one at home, one at the grandparent’s house, and more for your purse, “Go Bag”, or vehicles. On top of all that, they expire after only one year, so you have to buy them all over again every school year.

Even with health insurance, they may only cover one or two, or perhaps you have a high deductible. Epipen made the news when the cash cost reached $600, but even at lower prices it can all add up quite quickly. I haven’t tried to buy any of these CVS versions yet, but I will look into before the next school year starts.

CVS has the following advice for those switching over. Note that an existing prescription for “Epipen” may not work as that is a brand name, so you’ll need a new one written for “epinephrine auto-injector”.

How can a patient switch a prescription from EpiPen to the lowest-cost epinephrine auto-injector?
First, the patient should speak with his or her prescriber about whether the authorized generic for Adrenaclick is a good fit for their specific medical needs. The prescriber can then write a prescription for an “epinephrine auto-injector” to ensure the lowest-cost product is filled. Patients who already have a prescription on file with CVS Pharmacy can ask their pharmacist to check with the prescriber about making the change.

You may also want to print out this $100 off coupon and bring it in.

New Year’s Resolutions: Nudge Yourself Towards Success

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It’s now late January. According to “the internet”, over 30% of people have already failed at their New Year’s Resolution. Well, I say let’s have a do-over since I haven’t even got around to making mine yet. Jonathan Clements has an excellent post called Committed where he outlines some strategies to help improve our chances of success. I’ve re-worked them below according to my own tastes. In my view, all of them involve making failure painful and/or inconvenient (really the same thing, just different levels and frequencies of pain).

  • Tell everyone. Announce your resolution on Facebook, Instagram, or other widespread manner. Somebody (frenemy?) will likely follow-up. You’ll want to avoid the mild shame from lots of people you know sorta well.
  • Tell just one important person. Share your resolution and deadline with a person whose opinion you care about. You’ll want to avoid that acute shame from a close friend or relative.
  • Tell nobody, but bet money on it. You could set up a bet with a friend, or use a website like DietBet. You’ll want to avoid the financial pain from losing money.
  • Put hurdles between you and bad habits. Want to spend less? Use cash for everything. Institute a cooling-off period of 1 week for every $100 of cost. Cut up or freeze your credit cards in ice. Cancel any “bad” subscriptions, and make yourself pay for it manually each month. (Try Trim if you need some help canceling things.) Remove junk food from the house, so you’ll have to go out and buy it. Make it a hassle.
  • Make it automatic. Make “good” subscriptions. Set up (or increase) an automatic paycheck withdrawal for 401(k) and/or IRA retirement accounts. Set up an automatic transfer to your savings account. Sign up for a service like Digit. After the initial setup, the lazy thing is now the good thing.

You might use one, or you might use all of them, depending on your specific goal.

Photo credit: Angus and Phil comic by Annie Taylor-Lebel.

Flexible Spending Account Reminder: Last-Minute FSA Expenses Ideas

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Updated. Here’s my annual reminder to use up your Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts before the end of the year. First, here are some possible exceptions:

  • Some plans allow a grace period until March 15th of the following year as opposed to a December 31st deadline to use your 2016 funds, but it may only apply to claims and not late purchases. Check with your employer.
  • Some plans allow participants to carry over up to $500 in unused FSA funds into next year. Check with your employer.

What are FSA-eligible expenses? Here are the large, well-organized lists:

Quick tip. Since 2011, certain over-the-counter (OTC) items such as cough medicines, pain relievers, acid controllers, and diaper rash ointment now require a prescription for reimbursement. In addition to the written prescription for the OTC medicine, you should obtain a detailed receipt that includes the following:

  • Date of service or purchase
  • Name or description of the item
  • Amount of purchase

Last-minute FSA-eligible items. If you didn’t exhaust your funds with insurance copays or deductibles, here are eligible items that you can still buy over-the-counter without a prescription. Examples included are the best-sellers in each category at Amazon.

Finally, only your FSA administrator can provide you with the exact guidelines for reimbursement according to your plan. I learned this the hard way when our FSA administrator switched one year from in-house to Conexis. Wow, Conexis was a pain in the butt. So many hurdles and rejections without good explanations. I had to submit some claims three times before finally getting approved. If you count the time wasted, I probably lost money by participating in the FSA at all. The other employees in the company must have also complained so much that the very next year, FSA reimbursement was again managed in-house.

Consumer Report Car Brand Reliability Rankings 2016

cr_car2016_coverThe December 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine includes the results from their 2016 Car Reliability Survey with over a half million data points. In this public-viewable article, CR shares the full 2017 reliability rankings by brand and the relative change from 2016. There were some significant moves up and down. Highlights:

  • Most reliable: Lexus and Toyota.
  • Most spots improved: Infiniti and Acura.
  • Biggest ranking drop: Volkswagen, Volvo, and Subaru.

A partial excerpt with the top rankings are below:

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Consumer Reports also shared some commentary and tips:

  • Toyota and Lexus are on top again, which CR credits to their careful, gradual approach to vehicle feature changes to avoid any sudden drops in reliability.
  • Wait a year or two before buying a newly resigned model from most brands. It takes a while to work out the kinks.
  • Speaking of kinks, a common source of issues in new cars are their new infotainment screens and complex transmissions (CVT, 8/9-speed, dual-clutch, etc).
  • Despite providing these brand rankings, Consumer Reports recommends that you shop by vehicle and not just by brand. Some brands like Toyota and Lexus are reliable across the brand, but others like Ford have a wide range of rankings by model. Of course, you’ll need full print or digital access to get those numbers.

If you don’t see your brand listed, it is probably due to a lack of data points.

My thoughts. In terms of trends as compared to last year’s 2015 survey, I was disappointed to see Honda slip a bit again in the reliability rankings. They dropped 4 spots last year and another 2 spots this year. On an absolute basis, Honda now has the same reliability score as BMW, whose cars have more fancy features and a history of average reliability. On the flip side, both Hyundai and Kia moved up another 1-2 spots this year after both moving up 4 spots last year, earning a solid spot together in the Top 8 “More Reliable” brands.

List of Cheap Basic Cell Phone Plans on Every Network – From $1.25 a Month

phones7Updated. Cellular phone bills remain an area where many people can trim their budgets. If you haven’t shopped around lately, there are many new options available. All the major networks sell wholesale minutes to MVNOs (Mobile Network Virtual Operators), which they in turn sell at a significant discount to individuals. I would also observe that smartphone improvements are slowing, such that using your current phone for another year can also save you hundreds per year.

This post is restricted to talk & text only plans for both light and unlimited usage – no data (although some plans include some anyway). After looking at over 100 MVNOs and multiple comparison engines, and these are the cheapest I could find for each of the major carriers – Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile. I organized in this way so that you can simply Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and avoid the hassle of selling your used phone. You can now either go minimalist starting at $15 for an entire year ($1.25 a month), or you can fully replace your landline with an unlimited talk and text plan starting at $15 a month.

mvno_tT-Mobile Network

  • Light Usage – LycaMobile. Their barebones prepaid plan requires a minimum top-up of $10. You must have some sort of activity every 90 days to keep your service (make a phone call, send a text). The rate is a flat 5 cents a minute for talk, and 4 cents per text. If you only used 100 minutes a year, that would be $15 a year for the first year and then $5 a year afterward ($10 minimum recharge).
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Republic Wireless. You can now buy a SIM and bring over your own device on their eligible list (no iPhones) and get unlimited talk and text for $15 a month. They have a somewhat unique service, see my Republic Wireless review for details. Also worthy of mention is Mint, which goes as low as $21 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 2 GB of data per month. However, you’ll have to pay for an entire year upfront to get that price.

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Sprint Network

  • Light Usage – RingPlus. Their plans change constantly, but as of this writing you can get 250 minutes, 250 texts, and 250 MB of data per month with a $10 initial top-up and a $0 monthly fee. In other words, your total cost could be $10 a year. I still don’t understand their business model, so be ready to port out your number in case the fun stops. See my Ringplus review for details.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Tello. Unlimited talk, text, and no data for $18 a month. I will mention that Republic Wireless has $15 a month plan for unlimited talk and text on the Sprint Network, but you can’t bring any used Sprint device over – you must buy a special RW-modified phone in order to use the Sprint Network (see above for their T-Mobile BYOD option).

mvno_aAT&T Network

  • Light Usage – Pix Wireless. Their GSM Blue service is on AT&T, and runs as low at $75 a year which includes 1,875 minutes, 3,750 text, and 938 MB of LTE data for 365 days. Overages are 4¢/Minute, 2¢/Text, and 8¢/ MB 4G LTE. Alternatively, H20 Wireless has a minimum top-up of $10 every 90 days, for a total minimum annual cost of $40 per year. At the flat rate of 5¢/Minute, 5¢/Text, that $40 would buy you 400 minutes and 400 texts over those 360 days.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Airvoice. Unlimited talk, text, and 100 MB of data for $20 a month (technically 30 days).

mvno_vVerizon Network

  • Light Usage – Selectel. $75 a year for a bucket of 2000 minutes and 2000 texts for the entire year (no data included, 3G phones only). The same plan costs $100 a year for 4G phones. Their website is very vague; call them directly at 877-218-5744. You can also try Page Plus Cellular for $80 for 2,000 minutes that last a year, but they only take 3G phones.
  • Unlimited Talk & Text – Boom Mobile. Unlimited talk, text, and 250 MB data for $20 a month. (Both 3G and 4G phones will work, but there is a separate plan for each.)

Let me know in the comments if you find a better deal.