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Cheap Smartphone Plans in Canada

After managing to snag myself a Google Nexus 4 in the second round of offering, I found myself searching for a suitable cell phone plan here in Canada. As an avid Mr Money Mustache reader, I was astounded to see that he was able to get a $10/month plan in the US. Seeing as I’m cheap, I had to find the best cheap smartphone plan I could in Canada. This has proven difficult.

In Canada, there seems to be two main factors when trying to determine what is a suitable cell phone plan:

  1. Your Location
    • If you live in a major metropolitan area in Canada, you have a couple really fantastic options that give you pretty much unlimited everything.
    • If you live outside those metropolitan areas, or leave them on a semi-regular basis, you’re screwed.
  2. Your Usage
    • If you are a reasonably heavy user, there are lots of plans that offer huge blocks of minutes and multiple GB of data (or even unlimited everything) for all roughly the same price. It’s not exactly cheap but if you plan on using the smartphone that much, you’re stuck paying the price.
    • Unfortunately, if you are  a rather light user who only makes the occasional call when you’re late for a meeting or trying to arrange who’s picking up the kids from where ever, you’re screwed.

Now, if you are one of the “lucky” ones, you live (and work and stay) in a major metropolitan area and are a reasonably heavy user. In that case, just go get yourself one of the unlimited plans from Wind Mobile or Mobilicity and stop reading this post since you aren’t going to find anything cheaper. For ~$40/mon (or less depending on the current offering) you’ll get unlimited everything. I’d be all over that and we’d get rid of the home phone if we could get those smartphone plans for those prices where we live.

If you are a heavy user and don’t live in an area covered by Wind Mobile or Mobilicity, well, you’re screwed. Rogers* or Bell* might be your best options, especially if you can bundle your service with existing home TV or internet to get discounts. Telus* is another option. You can keep reading and consider one of the options below but heavy users are going to pay a lot. Sorry!

For those of us who aren’t heavy users and/or who don’t live in major metropolitan areas in Canada, keep reading.

Analysis Criteria

Due to the two main factors, I’m going to create a hypothetical user who we’ll call, uh, Jeff. Yeah, hypothetically.

Jeff needs coverage both in a metropolitan area and in a more rural area. His voice usage is typically less than 5 minutes per week because he is either at work with a desk phone or at home but he does have a very non-Mustachian commute. Due to his need for rural coverage though he does need to make or receive an occasional long distance call, lets say once a week for 1 minute. He averages 10 outgoing texts a week (and receives more than he can count). Since Jeff is typically bathed in the warmth of WiFi at home or in his office (and he hunts for free WiFi everywhere), he doesn’t really need much in the way of data. 100MB or less of data in a month would be more than sufficient.

Now, one feature I, err, hypothetical Jeff, has to have is call display. If the plan doesn’t offer call display, I haven’t even considered it as I won’t pay extra for a basic service like that.

All in, this is a very basic user that seems very typical based on my sample of co-workers and friends. If this isn’t the type of user you are then what follows probably doesn’t apply fully to you.

Cheapest Prepaid Option with Data

For $5-10 you can get a prepaid SIM card from Virgin Mobile and get the $0.35/min and $0.20/text prepaid plan. Another $10/mon for the 100MB/mon data add-on and presto, you have what might be the winning cheap smartphone plan available in Canada. Well, sort of.

Based on Jeff’s usage, this is going to cost him $10 + ($0.35 * 5 + $0.35 (for the 1 minute of long distance) + 5 * $0.20 ) * 4 weeks = $22.40/month. WTF? That’s not cheap!

No, it’s not cheap and if you happen to increase your voice usage or texting for any reason, you can quickly chew up your prepaid credit. And of course, 100MB of data isn’t going to go far if you aren’t careful so be prepared for the $0.15/MB overage fee.

Cheapest Prepaid Option with No Data

If you decide that you don’t need data at all, the cheapest basic cell phone plan I could find with no data was from Petro Canada Mobile. Well, as far as I can tell they don’t have a data option. There is a $10/mon browsing add-on but those typically don’t allow “full data access” on a smartphone.

Anyways, for $15 you get a prepaid SIM and their rate is $0.25/min for voice and $0.10/text. There appears to be a $1.25/mon fee for “911 services” but it’s not clear on the website how that is billed.

Cheapest Postpaid (Monthly) Option with Optional Data

At the moment this appears to be Virgin Mobile with their $20/month plan – 50min/month, unlimited text. Although Koodo Mobile offers a very similar plan.

Now, it’s not actually $20/month as that plan doesn’t include data but it does have the “Pay Per Use” data option so if you don’t use data in a month, there is no cost. It’s $5/mon for up to 25MB and $10/month for up to 100MB of data but if you go over that, the tiered rates aren’t too painful. So lets call it $30/month.

One nice feature with the current Virgin offer is that the 50 min/month is also valid for long distance calls within Canada. Very handy for Jeff’s situation.

As mentioned, Koodo Mobile offers a very similar plan but their tiered data rate sort of sucks in the off chance you “need” to use more than 250MB of data one month. Some of the other carriers also have a similar $20/mon plan but they don’t seem to offer the tiered data which means they become $30/mon plans for 100MB with hefty overage charges.

Finally, Virgin Mobile is currently offering a 10% discount on monthly plans if you bring your own phone. That’s a nice little differentiator which would turn this into a $27/mon plan with <100MB of data. That’s a whole $3/mon less than anywhere else I could find.

It looks like Virgin Mobile’s offering is the (current) cheapest smartphone plan in Canada.

Some Final Notes

I’m currently a Virgin Mobile prepaid customer and have been for a really long time. I’m currently using my Nexus 4 on Virgin Mobile Canada Prepaid but I haven’t enabled the data plan yet. It is possible (I checked before getting the Nexus 4) but they make it sort of difficult to do and I haven’t had enough time to set it up.

This exercise to find a cheap cell phone plan surprised me as I wasn’t expecting Virgin Mobile to be the “cheapest” option, especially considering they are now fully owned by Bell.

$20/month appears to be the cheapest option for 50-75 minutes of voice with unlimited texting and no data. Multiple companies have this but Virgin and Koodo have the tiered data rate whereas the others don’t.

I’d love to hear your feedback and if you have any comments and/or corrections. If you find anything cheaper, please, add it in the comments below.

Title Image Credit: feverblue

* I won’t give any direct link love to Rogers, Bell or Telus. I don’t think any of them offers reasonable pricing for any of their services. Oddly, Virgin is owned by Bell and Koodo is owned by Telus so I’m not sure how they can offer such different cell phone rates.

Picture of the mantle in the main lobby of the Great Escape Lodge, Queensbury, NY

Six Flags Great Escape Lodge Waterpark

In February we went to the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Waterpark in Queensbury, NY. Again. This is the second time we’ve gone to the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge in as many years because it’s the second time we managed to find a major discount code online! We will probably go back again next year if we find another discount code.

As mentioned in the previous post, this time we stayed for two nights instead of only one and the experience was much less hectic. We weren’t in as much of a rush to get to the waterpark to take advantage of the early entry for hotel guests this time.  This allowed us to enjoy the wonderful drive through the Adirondacks. Ironically, for February, there was more snow back home than there was in the mountains!

Once we arrived at Six Flags Great Escape Lodge, we were able to check in early. As February appears to be a bit of a low season and we were checking in on a Sunday, it seems they had time to have our room ready for us. Posted check in time is 4PM but we were into our room just after 2PM.

One thing we tried to catch this time was the 8PM bedtime stories by the fireplace. This is a neat little thing where one of the characters comes along with a companion and the companion reads a couple books for the kids. Well, stress that we tried to catch the bedtime stories.  The first night we missed them completely as we got there at about 8:12PM and the girls caught the last pages of the last book and woosh, off went the character and companion. The second night we made sure we were there early and that worked much better but still, the whole thing doesn’t last very long. There was a decent crowd of people there both nights so coming sort of early makes getting a seat easier.

The waterpark itself was good again this year. We convinced friends of ours to join us this year and our kids were all old enough to do many of the attractions on their own. Lots of fun.

Picture of the indoor water park at the Great Escape Lodge, Queensbury, NY

One big difference this time was the water temperature was much better this year. I don’t think we ever found out why but last year when we were at the waterpark, the water was really cold and made things like the lazy river not enjoyable. This time the lazy river was much better as you could actually stay in the water without shivering.

Spending two nights really made for a much more enjoyable time. The downside was the discount only applied for Sunday-Thursdays when we booked so we stayed Sunday and Monday night. Not a huge problem as this also had the advantage of the waterpark being less crowded most of the time. As mentioned in the previous post, the logistics of checkout time are a little tricky. This time we skipped getting a locker and I just didn’t go swimming on the checkout morning. This is much easier as one parent can manage two older kids without too much difficulty and the second can manage getting the clothes, etc. from your car when you’re done swimming. Of course, we also had an infant this time that one of us had to look after so he and I enjoyed the, uh, scenery.

For a quick winter break only a few hours from Ottawa, ON, we will likely go back to the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge again next year. It’s well worth it to watch for the discount codes from the travel sites as long as you have a flexible schedule because they are rather short notice (like 3-4 weeks in advance for us and we booked the last possible dates at that time).

Picture of a pink Ikea flower shaped light for kids.

DIY Kid Wakeup Clock

Do you have a child that doesn’t quite understand that 5am isn’t an appropriate time to wakeup and come jump on Daddy? I do. Last spring, our 3 year old learned that when the sun came up, Daddy typically was also getting out of bed. That was a highly unfortunate coincidence at the time. As the spring became summer and the sun came up earlier, Daddy was woken up with “Daddy, get up – the sun is up” earlier and earlier. Things actually got worse as the days got shorter as she started waking up before the sun was up (out of habit) but then had no way to differentiate between 7am and 4am.

The quest for a simple clock she would understand started in the fall and was only satisfied about a month ago.

There are a lot of commercial options for children’s sleep clocks or children’s wakeup clocks. The problem with most is that they are really frickin’ expensive. I’m not paying >$50 for a specialty clock that doesn’t even have the actual time on it. The cheapest one I found was still $35 + shipping and was basically a light that turned on at a set time. Well shit, I can do better than that!

On a trip to Ikea, The Boss picked up a simple kids flower light for ~$10.

I then snagged a digital programmable timer for $10 from Canadian Tire.

Image of a programmable timer made by Noma

The brains of the DIY Kids Wakeup Clock

$20 later and we have a light that is programmed to turn on at the same time Daddy’s alarm clock goes off and then turn off again soon after (no need for it to stay on wasting electricity!).

Now when the 3 year old comes and jumps on me at 4am I can at least ask her if the light is on and if it wasn’t she will usually settle back down and go to sleep again. Small improvements are golden!

Oh, and I nearly forgot the best part! My $20 solution supports up to 20 on/off combinations and even supports a different wakeup time on the weekends! That’s worth way more than the $35+shipping option we had found online.

This version DIY Children’s Wakeup Clock cost a bit more than the initial one. I originally took an unused block heater timer to turn a light on and off. While it worked, it didn’t have the option of multiple programs and the light we used wasn’t that exciting from a kid’s point of view.

I think the $20 solution is pretty damn good and the best part is I can re-use both pieces once we get past this silly wakeup time issue.

Goodbye Zip! Hello Zip!

Yesterday I cancelled our Zip.ca account. Why? Because Zip.ca now has competition in town – itself!

We’ve been with Zip.ca for well over a year now on the 1 DVD unlimited plan and it worked out quite nicely. We’d (typically) get a new DVD from our ZipList to watch every weekend. All for the low price of ~$13/month. That’s much better than the ~$6 the local rental place charged for a night. Things went smashingly for a year and then Zip.ca changed their plans…

Due to rising costs (understandable), they increased the monthly charge for the 1 DVD plan so now it was just over $14/month. That’s a reasonable amount considering we were getting 4-5 DVDs a month. Again, much less than the ~$6 the local rental place was charging. BUT, the biggest change that screws up the whole thing for us is that they no longer allow DVDs to “cross in the mail” on the 1 DVD plan. Bummer.

When DVDs can “cross in the mail”, you’d mark the DVD as returned the day you toss it in the mailbox. Usually at the end of that same day (sometimes the next day), Zip.ca would send you a new DVD. This way if I tossed a DVD in the mailbox on Monday morning, a new one would be sent out Monday or Tuesday. That means we’d actually get it on Thursday or Friday (for some reason, mail takes a long time to get into our PO Box at the Post Office in our town, but that’s a rant for another time).

The Zip.ca red envelopes that DVDs are mailed out in

The Zip.ca red mailer envelopes that are used to send DVDs to customers.

Without the ability for DVDs to “cross in the mail”, Zip now won’t send a new DVD until they receive our old one. That means if I drop it in the mail on Monday, they get it Tuesday or Wednesday, send us a new one Wednesday or Thursday and we might get it the next Monday, most likely Tuesday. Well, that just doesn’t work very well for us as we typically want the DVD for the weekend. Bam, now we’re basically down to only getting a DVD every two weeks. That ~$14/month is no longer a good deal if that’s how we use the Zip.ca account.

Well, we had a slight problem (was actually a mistake on my part – Ooops!) in December and I contacted Zip.ca. They were kind enough to help me see what I had done wrong but they also pointed out something we didn’t know – there was now a Zip rental kiosk in one of the local grocery stores. I’m sure you’re saying “so what?” right about now so I’m, going to tell you.

The Zip Kiosk rents DVDs for $1/day, or Blu Ray and new release DVDs for $2/day. DAMN! Not only is that a better deal than the local rental place, it’s a better deal than Zip.ca itself!

On our Zip.ca plan, we can only get DVDs and new release DVDs are nearly impossible to get. With the Zip Kiosk, we can drop in Friday or Saturday and grab a DVD <angelic choir>or even a Blu Ray!</angelic choir> for $2! Then we just take it back the next day. Some would consider this inconvenient but given that we don’t have home mail delivery, we always had to go out to get our Zip DVD anyways and after you watched it, you have to find a mailbox ASAP to toss it in so you could get the next DVD sent out.

Yeah, so Goodbye Zip! Hello Zip!

Yes, we might not be able to get the exact movie we want but that’s no different than Zip.ca right now. If there’s nothing we want to watch, we save ourselves $2. And this way we always get something that The Boss (or the Princesses)  is in the “mood” to watch.

At the moment you can also go to the Zip website and request a free rental code via email. Yeah, it’s only worth up to $2 but it’s a free rental!

Click to go to the Zip Kiosk locator tool

Air Conditioning Hydro Usage

The hot weather started here in Eastern Ontario over the last couple weeks and up until this past weekend, it was usually quite manageable. Unfortunately on Sunday, with the humidity really high at 7am, I caved around 9am and turned on the air conditioning until about 10pm.

Thanks to the Time of Use meter we have and Hydro One’s nifty online electricity usage tool, I’m able to see how much electricity we used to keep ourselves cool(er) for the day.

Graph showing hourly electricity usage for a 24 hour period when the air conditioning is on.
Yeah, that’s a whopping 46.05 kWh used in one day. We are normally around 10-12 kWh/day. Ugh.

Now, the graph above shows the cost per hour to run the AC (and I think the dryer must have been on to cause the spike around noon) but let’s remember that these rates are not the real rates we’re paying per kWh consumed. The real rate for the 2011 Summer Season for Off-Peak is more like 12.00892¢/kWh (based on Urban High Density and before tax).

So, 46.05kWh is going to cost $5.53 (plus tax) and not the $2.72 shown by the graph. Guess we’ll be selecting our cooling days a little more diligently.

The best part of this whole deal is that it was a Sunday and thus the whole day is at the Off-Peak rate. We would have just hidden in the basement all day if it was a week day. :)