Oh, how I have been waiting for the opportunity to
rant talk about this. An anonymous—but extraordinarily pretty, I can just tell—reader asks:
I love your website—I have learned so many great tips! Also, of course, you are very beautiful and smart. My question is about cell phones and cell phone plans—I rarely use a cell phone (I know I’m one of those strange people!) but I do like to have one for emergencies (I have 3 kids and would not like to be stranded with them and no cell phone!) Is there a plan that you would recommend- should I get a pay as you go plan or a monthly set fee?? I would really need the minimum amount of minutes that are offered! I would appreciate any advice!
Ahhh, cell phones. I love them. I hate them. I love to hate them.
Full disclosure: I have a cell phone, and I use it more than I ever thought I would. Especially as a parent, I have a healthy appreciation of being reachable anywhere, at any time. No matter what I’m doing while the kids are at school, I can be reached if they get sick. No matter where I go when I have a sitter, she can reach me if there’s a problem.
And I can call a girlfriend to gab when I’m stuck in traffic. Or let someone know I’ll be late. Or catch up with my folks while I’m driving somewhere (with my trusty headset, of course; please don’t hold your phone while driving, even if you don’t live in a state where it’s illegal).
So it’s not that I don’t appreciate the cell phone. I think it’s a marvelous, marvelous thing. I do.
What I don’t appreciate is the proliferation (and volume) of the Important People who simply Must Take This Call in a restaurant, or a movie theatre, or while I’m sitting at the doctor’s office waiting for my mammogram. I mean, yes, I’m sure that Rodney really does need the spreadsheet as soon as possible, or that Mother’s oozing leg wound needs to be seen to, but I am just sitting here trying to play Bejeweled on my handheld and I don’t want to hear about it. To the extent that cell phones have rendered privacy and decorum a foreign concept for some people, I dislike cell phones.
I’ll also tell you that I made a decision to go with the cheapest cell phone plan I could find which includes free nights and weekends, and with that, I discontinued long distance service on my home phone. I make all of my long distance calls from my cell (for free), and consider the extra $20/month or whatever as still a savings over what I previously spent to make those calls.
So there you have my biases, to keep in mind or not, as you read on.
Okay. Now. Let’s discuss what you mean by “emergencies.” Do you mean an emergency like a car accident? An emergency like your car breaking down and needing to call AAA? An emergency which necessitates calling ahead for take-out on your way home? Know your emergencies, people!
The first thing you need to know is that any and every cell phone is capable of connecting to 911 dispatch even if you don’t have a cell plan. If your definition of “emergency” means “when someone is bleeding or on fire,” a working cell phone—sans service plan—may be sufficient for you.
Assuming that you’d like a bit more flexibility—like, say, the ability to call AAA or whatnot—you’ll want to start comparing service plans. Once again, rather than reinventing the wheel, I turn to the wise folks at The Dollar Stretcher. Check out their excellent piece on selecting a cell phone plan. Great tips in there, including a pointer to LowerMyBills, which is a fabulous resource for nearly everything, but in this case will allow you to do a point-by-point comparison of cell phone plans.
Now, having said all of that? My guess is that you’ll want one of two options (but I could be wrong, because occasionally the earth falls off its axis and that happens). For a prepaid, low-usage phone, I suspect you’ll end up going with either T-Mobile or Tracfone. Do your research and see which one fits your needs. (Be sure to go through the questions in the Dollar Stretcher article to assess your usage before choosing.)
If, like me, you decide that a plan which includes unlimited nights and weekends will ultimately save you money on long-distance, then you need to head for a more conventional plan. But that’s a different matter entirely. (Also, don’t get me started on how my house is apparently smack-dab between two cell towers. I don’t want to talk about it.)
Hopefully that gives you enough to go on to do some research and decide what will be the best option for you. But if you start gabbing on that phone in the middle of a nice restaurant, you’d better hope you picked a nice small, light model. Because then it won’t hurt so much when I grab it from you and start beating you over the head with it.