Call me, baybee!

By Mir
July 19, 2006

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:

Hi Mir,

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.


  1. The worst are the people who talk on the phone while ordering food at a restaurant. Hello! The servers/cashiers are people, too, not vending machines. It also goes the other way, when fast food workers thrust the food out the window without so much as a, ‘Here ya go!’ Much less a, “Thank you.” Oh, what were we talking about? Cell phones? Oh, yeah; it’s confusing picking a plan.

  2. Just be careful that whatever phone you get actually works where you are. For example, in the New England area that I live T Mobile gets very bad reception so while they may be cheaper if the call you want to make can’t get through you’re still paying money for something that doesn’t work.

  3. Relating to what Stephanie said, I have started to see more and more signs popping up in stores that say something to the effect of “We will be happy to serve you when you are finished with your cell phone call.”

    We ditched long distance and now use our cell phones, also. Verizon keeps sending us little advertisements with our bill telling us how much we could save if we get the Freedoms package, blah blah, unlimited calling, blah blah, but how much phone do they think I need, exactly?

    Also, how annoying is it when you’re in a public bathroom and you hear someone answer their cell phone? Just hang up and pee.

  4. This is very timely! Thank you Mir! We just cancelled our Verizon cells and are relishing the new-found freedom. I haven’t missed my phone yet. I imagine that I will at some point, and I was leaning toward Tracfone. But I’m going to take your advice and do the Dollar Stretcher thing just to make sure. 🙂

  5. I just cancelled my cell phone recently, and my husband was ticked. I was ticked because I spent $47 a month and only used it about 100 minutes a month. I checked into the trac-phone type plans, and it appears that many of the minute cards you buy expire in 3 months or so, and you have to buy so many minutes to keep your account active that it came out to about the same as a normal phone.

    So, I purchased 100 for $17 On-Star minutes in my GMC, and they’re good for a year. It works for me.

  6. i agree with heather, you’ll want to talk to folks in YOUR area to see what provider works the best. personally, i’ve had verizon for seven years now and love it. just reupped another two years and got a FREE pink Motorola Razr (shipping was free too!)–it’s a very pretty phone.

    Mir, i Love, love, LOVE your site! you’re so pretty!

  7. Virgin wireless has been nice to me. My husband has T-Mobile, but we pay a bit more for his prepaid than for mine. Virgin has several different prepaid plans, not just the standards, so take a look at their website. I bought my phone for $20 at RadioShack and it’s worked wonderfully. I barely use $15 worth of minutes over the 3-month period before I have to add more money, and if it’s really just for emergencies I’d recommend it.

    Also, to minimize what I spend on it, I don’t give the number to anybody and everybody. Only those who would need it have it (husband, parents, etc.) so they’re not calling me just to chat.

  8. We have been using Tracfone since it first came out. We have two – you can text, have voice mail, etc… One of our phones is from 1999, and it still works, believe it or not. It’s perfect for us, and yeah, you do have to buy minutes every couple of months, but a 40 minute phone card is only $19 + tax (Walmart is cheapest) for 2-3 months of usage. If you purchase off of their website, sometimes they’ll give you some more free minutes. I actually just bought our second phone from there 3 weeks ago – paid $20 plus shipping and got a free 40 minute card with it.

  9. I have a prepaid Virgin phone and it works very well for me. I had a $29.99/250 minute plan with Cingular a couple years back and was using the phone so little that switching to Virgin has been a huge savings. The Virgin plan is geared toward teenage girls, so I felt exceedingly uncool and old at their website and on their phone for setup. 🙂

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