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If you live in the suburbs, you need a car. If you have your own business, you need a website, if you own a home, you need an internet connection. Of all the must-haves of the modern world, the biggest is a cell phone. You might be able to use public transportation instead of a car and find intenet connections at coffee shops, libraries or even join your neighbor’s unsecured wireless network. But going without a phone in your pocket. In 2012. No way.
Phone companies know that their service is seen as a necessity, so they can charge as much as they think that they can get away with. Overage fees, unfair contracts, monthly charges for every extra service. Consumers’ answers to this type of treatment: “well, that sucks, but I need this phone, so guess I’ll just put up with it.”
But there are ways to avoid having a cell phone bill be one of your major expenses every month. No matter what, you’ll still have to pay for some services, and you’ll have to pay more if you want more (video streaming, for example). But it is possible to cut your expenses down significantly.
Often, the expensiveness of cell phone usage comes from the contract that you signed with the likes of AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. So the best way to avoid unnecessary expenses: kill your contract. Prepaid cell phone services are growing in the US. These companies offer cell phone service for a monthly fee or for a certain price per minute. Though some offer post-paid contract options, prepaid, no-contract options are also available. Per minute deals (the best of which offer $0.04 or $0.05 per minute) are ok for casual users, but the really great deals are for high limit or unlimited pre-paid plans.
There are a couple of high-usage options from most pre-paid providers. Unlimited plans run between $40 and $60 per month, generally. These give voice, text and data services. The faster the data, the more expensive the monthly plan. Another option is to get a plan that offers between 1,000 and 1,500 minutes of talk, and 1,000 to 1,500 texts (plus a modest amount of dat) for about $30-$35 per month. Pageplus Cellular, Straight Talk (owned by per-minute provider Tracfone), and even major provider T-mobile offer this type of deal, which will suit anyone who uses their phone regularly, but is not on all the time. The amount of data that comes with these types of plans is usually sufficient to check email or send the occasional picture message, but won’t work if you spend the whole day on Facebook. Some providers, like Virgin Mobile, offer reasonably-priced data-focused plans for about $30 per month for people who want to be online but do not talk or text heavily.
Aside from Virgin and the others mentioned above, companies like Boost Mobile, Metro PCS and Platinumtel offer monthly unlimited services in the $40-$60 range.
Who exactly are these Robin Hoods of the cell phone world? They are MVNOs, Mobile Virtual Network Operators. They basically rent network space from major networks like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T Mobile and then provide their services at a discount. MVNOs may not be the perfect fit for everyone, but they do constitute another choice, and there are enough of them out there that it is worth shopping around to find the best fit. At least, you won’t feel like you have to be tied to one of the contract-happy Big Four.
What about other voice related services? I like to use Google Voice to route some of my calls. This allows me to easily check voicemail, send texts from my computer and keep track of call records without having to use valuable minutes up on my phone. It also means that I can jump from prepaid provider to prepaid provider without having to port my number again and again. I merely route the calls through my Google Voice number to whatever phone I am currently using.
So, while no one would ever argue that a cell phone isn’t a complete necessity, there are ways to make all the texting and talking cheaper.