Share your plan to save your money

If you feel the Canadian wireless market doesn't treat customers fairly, that's understandable. To get a good experience, you have to pay more than practically any country in the developed market.

But there is one way to save money on your mobile plan, and it doesn't involve switching carriers, or even overhauling what you currently have. It involves utilizing a tool many of the major carriers themselves offer and encourage families and friends to take advantage of. It's called the share plan.

A history of the share plan

Back in 2013, when the Wireless Code of Conduct came into effect across Canada, three-year plans were all but abolished. Replaced with two-year plans—which was the norm in the U.S.—carriers were forced to increased airtime prices to make up for the displacement of 12 months of extra revenue.

Share plans, already in place at Verizon and AT&T in the U.S., were quickly adopted by Rogers, Telus, and Bell. That changed a number of things about the Canadian wireless market:

  • It simplified billing by using a flat monthly rate for a combination of unlimited calls and texts, as well as voicemail and call display
  • It required customers to add a single pool of data to their call and text bundle that would be shared between users on an account
  • It increased the upfront cost of an average bill, since calls, texts, and add-ons were now bundled standard

For example, a typical plan looked like this:

  • $60 for unlimited nationwide calls, texts and add-ons
  • $50 for 4GB of shared data

The total for the sole user on the account: $110 per month.

But providers offering share plans offered considerably higher pools of data at a non-linear scale. $65 would get you 6GB of data; $80 would get you 10GB; $100, 15GB.

Splitting those costs between family members or friends became one of the only ways to lower the average monthly cost per user.

Tiers for fears

While the cost of data has risen slightly since those early days of share plans, the idea is the same today as it was in 2013. It's just a little more complicated.

All three carriers still offer unlimited nationwide calls and texts, but they all now offer a lower tier. For $5 less you get unlimited local calls and nationwide texts. Telus even offers a tier for another $5 less with 300 local minutes and unlimited nationwide texts.

On top of that, all three carriers divide their service plans into handset tiers, amounting to premium, mid-range, and bring-your-own-device (BYOD). Now stay with me here, because it's not actually that complicated:

  • An expensive handset, such as an iPhone or Galaxy, demands a higher base monthly cost for calls and texts, usually between $50 and $65.
  • Mid-range Android products usually demand $5 to $10 less
  • Bringing your own handset also fetches a monthly discount of $5 or $10

Saving by pooling

The real costs savings comes not in bringing your own device—a $10 per month discount over 24 months only retains $240 overall, which is considerably lower than the $400 to $700 subsidy offered at most carriers—but by pooling data with friends and family.

Say you decide to buy a Galaxy S7. In addition to the upfront cost of around $400, you have to pay $65 per month for unlimited nationwide calls and texts. Were you to go with 5GB of data for $50, your monthly cost would be $115.

Were you instead to go with a 15GB data pool, which alone costs $100, split with two other people—each purchasing their own devices at $60 per month (a $5 discount for subsequent devices)—your individual monthly costs lowers to $95 for the same 5GB of data.

A 30GB plan, which is offered at Rogers, split between six people, lowers that monthly cost to $87.50.

Devil in the details

Yes, a shared data plan is not always the right answer: 15GB sounds like a lot, and it is, but there is nothing preventing your brother, say, from using 14GB and leaving you and your mom with 1GB to spare.

There's also the wrangling of fees involved: most carriers don't make it easy to split the cost of a monthly plan more than one way, so as the primary account holder you'll be responsible for collecting that money every month.

That's why shared plans are better for families where a single point of contact can be responsible for handling the administrative task. Parents may also want to limit monthly bandwidth using a number of app- or system-based tools (depending on the platform) so one child can't use use up all the data.

Is it cheaper than the flanker brands?

That's the big question. At Koodo, for example, a 5GB monthly plan costs $90, but that doesn't include any phone subsidy, only a $360 allotment for device financing, which is added to your plan at the end of the month. While alone the Koodo option is cheaper, splitting the costs between three people, as mentioned above, not only provides a modicum of leeway should one person consume more data than the others, but some of the carriers, such as Rogers, include benefits like two years of free Spotify or access to NHL GameCentre.

Worth your time

Share plans appear complicated to figure out and administrate, which is why so few Canadians actually take advantage of them. But in a market where lower costs are hard to come by, they are the best way to save money on a two-year plan, month after month.