Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pre-paid Cell Phones

I just wanted to share with you a way that we've recently managed to save another $40-$50 per month. Maybe this will help someone else save a little too.
Our contract was up for our cell phones and after investigating all of our options, we found that it would be significantly cheaper for us to go with prepaid cell phones. We could eliminate them entirely, but don't feel comfortable doing that for convenience, health and travel reasons.
If you're not familiar with prepaid cell phones, here's a brief explaination of how they work. You buy the cell phone and a phone card. You call an 800-number with all of the information about the phone and the phone card and the minutes from the phone card are loaded onto your phone. Most major retailers carry both the phones and cards in stock. We got ours from Wal-Mart. The phones are usually pretty inexpensive. You can buy the phone cards in different denominations, and for most companies, the cost per minute decreases with the more minutes that you purchase at one time. (One thing to note is that the phone cards also have an expiration date. For example, the card may be for 300 minutes, but it expires in 60 days.) Before it expires, you have to buy another card and recharge the phone with additional minutes. Some companies roll-over your unused minutes and adds to the recharged minutes, but with other companies you just loose them.
The lowest monthly plan that most traditional cell companies offer in our area starts around $40, or an emergency plan for $15 that gives you about 25 min/ month. With the prepaid company that we chose, the minimum is $12.50-$15.00/month with 125-150 minutes - depending on the quantity of minutes purchased at one time.
I was suprised to find that there are so many different companies that offer prepaid cell phone plans now. I think Wal-Mart has at least 6 different ones to choose from.
We ended up going with NET10. We liked the NET10 option, because there are no monthly/daily fees, all calls (including long distance and roaming) are 10 cents/min, and all unused minutes rollover when you re-charge and add more minutes. The phone was $40 and came with $30 worth of minutes. The prepaid phones work off of the same networks as traditional cell phones and we haven't had any problems with reception. In fact, this phone actually picks up in a few more places than the old one.
Another great thing about the prepaid phone is that it always displays how many minutes you have left. I think of it as budgeting our minutes. This really makes you think twice about using your phone when you're only two minutes from home or when the call can just wait until later. I love the fact that I always know exactly how much I'm spending on the cell phone each month, without waiting for the bill and realizing there were overages or other fees. (This might also be a good idea for teens.)
We were using our free night and weekend minutes on our old cell phones for our long distance, and now are using cheap phone cards (about 3 cents/min.) or PhoneHog (FREE - see their website) on our land line. With all of these changes, our net savings per month has been between $40 and $50, depending on our usage.
Of course the savings would be different for everyone and this probably would not be cost effective if you use your cell phone a lot, but it's just another idea to help cut a little more out of the monthly budget without sacrificing a lot.

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