Does using a pay-as-you-go cell phone really save you money?
As we continue to look for ways to cut our expenses, we got rid of our cell phone plan as soon as we were free from our contract, instead of signing onto a new one. Why? Because when dh lost his job for a season, Verizon wanted to charge us a huge penalty for cancelling. Call us cynical, but even with a new job, we have no guarantees that things won’t get worse in the future, as they’ve done a few times in the last 10 years. What started out as a great deal turned into a noose around our necks when we were faced with a brief period of unemployment.
Living rural, we did still need some kind of mobile phone. After all, with dh’s commute (150 miles daily) and me on the road quite a bit for errands (20 miles to the nearest grocery store), it was a safety issue. We’ve broken down enough times without a cell phone to know that.
Pay as you go phones may be more expensive per minute, but they offer the benefit of freedom. What do I mean? Tight month? Then I don’t buy any minutes for my phone. It’s that simple. Job loss? Phone is turned off when the minutes run out without penalties.
Though the pay as you go phones tend to cost more per minute, we have found that we spend less per month on them, as we only get the minutes we need, and recharge them as needed.
After about six months of using different pay as you go phones, here are 5 tips I’ve learned for saving money when using them.
1. Think about Your Needs
What do you use your cell phone for? How do you use your cell phone most? Most of the time we only use the services we have because they are part of a package someone at the cell phone company sold us on. If you’re trying to save money, think about the things you really need in a cell phone, and look for one whose service plan and phones meet those needs.
For example, no cell phone works reliably where we live for phone calls, but we do use them for texting. So a phone with Texting and a QWERTY keyboard was something I really wanted, and would use regularly. I used to have a Blackberry years ago, and what I liked about it most was not the services, but the keyboard. Little did I know, I could find a cell phone at the Dollar Store (of all places) that had the best of what I loved about the BlackBerry, but for $20 on sale, and very cheap, no-contract service. I can also use it for internet, but it uses up my minutes to do so, which keeps mindless web surfing to a minimum, and the cost helps me to resist the urge of uploading phone photos to my facebook page (yes, my dollar store phone has a facebook app).
Right now, there’s a big obsession with smartphones and all of the amazing things you can do with a cell phone. I can so relate to that, because I am a tech lover myself. But, in hard times, you can do without, or at least do with less.
2. Watch the Dollar Store Advertisements
When I think of the Dollar Store, I usually don’t think “cell phones”. I’m sure you don’t either. When we were first cancelling Verizon, an area Dollar Store had a very basic phone on sale for $5. It was a TracPhone brand. I bought one for DH and one for dd. We later went back to get one for me, but it was not on sale. A different phone, for Virgin Mobile, was.
After a very difficult time with Virgin Mobile, who has perhaps the worst tech support of anyone I’ve ever dealt with (besides Hughesnet), I found a different mobile phone at the same dollar store, with Net10 service. This phone was $20, but it had a QWERTY keyboard and many of the functions of my old Blackberry that I loved so much…and service was only $15 a month without a contract for 200 minutes and texting. I’ve had Net 10 for 2 months now and I love them. No complaints.
3. Watch for In Store Gift Card Promotions
Most of these pay as you go phones require you to purchase gift cards with the minutes on them (my net10 has this option if I’m running low on minutes, though I get better per-minute rate by buying a no-contract plan). Many stores, if you watch closely, will periodically have sales on gift cards, or some kind of special deal. Sometimes a store will print off other useful coupons at the register for purchasing a phone card. I’ve found these cards on sale at a drug store locally. Recently, our Kroger was running a deal where every dollar purchased on a gift card equaled 4 fuel points instead of the usual 1 to one on fuel points. Dh and I did without a few other things that week, and instead spent most of the grocery budget that week on phone cards and gas cards…such that this month, I am getting $1.00 off on each gallon of gas at Kroger, and we’re stocked with phone cards until at least the start of the year. That’s huge!
4. Check for Service Areas
Make sure, before you buy the phone, that there is service in your area, or in the areas where you’ll use them the most. In our case, as my dh has a 150 mile commute, we had to make sure that his phone covered the whole distance to and from work, which not all of them did. For me, it was important that the path to and from grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments was in a good service area. Thankfully I have service up until I get to the edge of our little town.
5. Pay as You Go Phones are Great for Teenagers
Every now and then, I stumble across an article about a parent who opens their cell phone bill only to find their teen ran up thousands of dollars in charges. There is a way to prevent this: TracPhones (or other service). Not as glamorous as an iPhone (though some of them look pretty nice), but when you use up your texting and talk time, it turns off, kinda like feeding coins into an old style pay phone. For the different activities and jobs my oldest kids have, a cell phone is nice for calling for a ride home, or in case of other emergencies. A pay as you go phone, where they have to buy the cards, keeps it in control.