Monday, June 26, 2006


I've had a cell phone for a few years now, first with Sprint and lately with Cingular.

Some people use their cell phone for most or all of their calls. Some people need to have a cell phone to make and receive a bunch of business calls. Some people only want a cell phone to call 911. But I fall somewhere in the middle - I don't like to make "real" calls with my cell phone; I have home phone service; but I like for Mosch to be able to reach me all the time, and I like to be able to call and check in at various times to make plans, etc.

So, for $45/month, Cingular had me on a plan where I got, I think, a couple hundred daytime minutes, plus unlimited nights and weekends. Of those daytime minutes, I probably used less than 30 per month, and I almost never called on nights or weekends. I would joke ruefully that for only $45 per month, I had a device that would always tell me the time, and it fit right in my pocket! Whee.

I lost that phone last week, and decided to look into prepaid service. Tonight, I got my new TracFone in the mail, and it is set up and working. And it rocks!

For $20, I got a phone (a very basic Nokia phone that turns out to be pleasanter, to me, than my old phone) plus 80 minutes of service over four months. The way the minutes and time works is that you can buy more time and more units (minutes of talk time) and everything rolls over, but for instance, right now my phone has 80 units and will go until 10/24, so if I don't buy more minutes by 10/24, I'll lose my service. But if I buy another card by that time, the extra time and minutes will roll over. I think I can buy a year's worth of service, with as many minutes as I'd need in a year, for around $100, which I'll probably do in October.

Activating the phone took a few minutes, but it was pretty painless. I've heard that TracFone's customer service is terrible, but hopefully I won't need it. Since very few people ever even have my cell number, if the thing breaks in a year I can just buy a new one and start over, if I can't get good support. Big deal!

This makes me really happy. My old cell service was costing me $540/year and I bet this new service will be under $150. I hated wasting money on something so dumb, and now I don't have to.


rvman said...

Oddly, Sally and I are having problems with our prepaid wireless. Sally bought a "simple freedom" prepaid phone and put about $100 on it last August, with a one year expiration, as purely a backup emergency phone. I tried to use it a couple of weeks ago (not for an emergency - I was out of town and trying to call in without long distance pay telephone), and it said "we don't recognize your phone being on that number". I tried a couple of other calls, and when I got home, I called the number they had assigned us when we got the phone. Someone answered. I called Simply Freedom (an, argh, Altel company) and they told us I had been sold to Cingular, and they couldn't find my account. I called Cingular, and they had never heard of me. In the course of vibrating between the two companies, someone at Simply Freedom let slip that they had 'lost' several thousand phones when they had sold most of their non-New England accounts to Cingular a couple of months back. We must have been one of them.

They've both offered to restart the phone with $20, but I'm not interested in that - I want the $100 back. I'm going to try again on SF, and go straight to a manager. (I've found the $100 card we charged the phone from - it should either show as unused or used by us in their system. Hopefully between having the phone programmed with the (not mine anymore) number and the used card, they will have to pay me. Or I file with the FCC or small claims court.

Tam said...

That sounds frustrating. I know that with my phone, if I lose the phone or get a new phone, I can't transfer the minutes or anything. And I've heard the customer service is crap. I think this will keep me only making small commitments of time and money, at least for now.

Tam's momm said...

I would really like to get rid of my phone that ends up costing me just under 50 a month. This is the cheapest service available. I don't have call waiting, caller ID or any of the other stuff. I never get calls and I hate spending 50 a month just to be bothered by telemarketers. I'm on the no call list but still get calls. Do you think it's a good idea to switch to something like what you all are talking about?

Tam said...

I'm not 100% sure, but it might make sense. At the Tracfone site ( you can get a reconditioned Nokia phone (like mine) plus a year of service with 450 minutes (almost 40 a month) for $99, and of course you could add more minutes later if you ran out.

It seems weird to think of not having a home phone and not being able to actually talk a whole lot. At the same time, it's not like you can't buy more minutes as needed, and it's not likely you'd need $600 worth (which would be almost 4 hours of talk time per month).

And you'd have a phone to take everywhere with you. Cell phones are neat in that way, and also in that you can store people's phone numbers in them and all of that.

I guess if it were me, I wouldn't jump in full bore right away, but it might be worth investing $20 the way I did (for which you get a phone, 80 minutes of service, and 4 months - at least, that's how it worked for me) and trying it for a month to see how it works before cancelling your real phone. You'd want to make sure, for instance, that you get good reception in your house.

One thing with Tracfone is that if you lose the phone, you can't transfer any minutes, so you don't want to overinvest if you think you're likely to lose the phone.

Still, you're paying nearly $600 a year for home phone service that doesn't seem like it does much for you. I would do the $20 thing and give it a try. It's pretty easy to set up online once you get the phone in the mail. (You can also buy the phone, card, and minutes at a lot of places. I know they have them at Wal-Mart and they probably have them at Target too.)

Tam said...

Oh, and I also looked into some regular cell phone plans for you, but the cheapest ones are $40/month, which, with taxes and stuff, really won't save you anything over your home phone.

Tam said...

And (last comment I promise) I confirmed that they have Tracfone stuff at Target, so if you wanted to go look at it in person, you can. I don't know whether Target would be cheaper or more expensive than ordering it by mail from the Tracfone website, but it's also handy to know you can buy additional airtime and stuff at Target.