For someone who doesn’t love talking on the phone, I seem to talk and write about phone service quite a bit. My 2011 post about options for home office phone service generated a lively discussion, so now let’s talk about cell phones! And for what it’s worth, I’m still quite happy with my Vonage line, and I think that the sound quality has actually improved since I originally set it up.
If you’re a freelancer, or even just a human on Earth in 2012, chances are you have to have a cell phone. Maybe you only have a cell phone. But I bet that you have one. And in my conversations with many freelancers about their cell phones, here’s what I’ve found out:
- Almost everyone hates their cell phone company. Nearly everyone will tell you that their coverage, sound quality, tech support or customer service are abysmal, or that all of those are abysmal, or that none of those are abysmal but the cost of that non-abysmalness is far too high.
- Almost everyone thinks that their cell phone bill is too high. Many people in the US have an unlimited talk, text and data plan with a smartphone, and I’m guessing that if you have that, you’re paying between $60 and $100 a month for your phone.
- Lots of people feel that they don’t use all of the features that their cell phone plan offers. Unscientifically, it seems to me that most people either talk a lot, text a lot, or browse the Web a lot, but not all three. But if they have an unlimited plan, they’re basically paying for all three whether they use them or not.
I know that for some people, an unlimited plan with a smartphone is the only way to go. If you don’t have a land line and/or you talk on the phone a lot; if you are an interpreter and you are out of the office almost all of the time; if you live in an area where Wi-Fi is scarce but cell service is good, or maybe even if you’re really hungry for work and you don’t ever want to miss an e-mail. Those are all good reasons to sink $1,000+ a year into your cell phone. However, I think that a lot of people spend that money without really casting a critical eye on their need for a full-featured cell phone. For a lot of people, I think that the 90/10 rule could be applied to cell phones; meaning that there could be a phone plan that does 90% of what you want, for 10% of the cost of the full-featured plan. If you don’t really need the full-featured cell phone’s features, you could take a pretty nice vacation for what you’re saving by switching to prepaid.
So here’s my confession: I love Tracfone and the prepaid cell phone service that they sell. This review perfectly sums up what I like about TracFone, and I fully agree with the author’s take on their service (“If you can keep your cell phone minutes down to a bare minimum, or really only use your phone for texting, quick chats, and emergencies, then Tracfone is a great option. It’s essentially taking what has typically been a high-priced subscription model product, and taking it to a frugal, bare bones extreme.”) Like the author, I’ve never had to deal with TracFone’s customer service to activate or add minutes to my phone, even when I accidentally let the service expire while I was out of the country. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dropped call either. Best, I’ve spent about $100 per year on my phone in the eight years I’ve had it. Also, on the odd occasion when I hate TracFone for a few minutes (their coverage in remote locations is not great), I remind myself that I’m paying $9 a month for the privilege of hating them, not $100 a month.
After eight years of using a totally bare-bones Samsung phone that (get ready) only makes phone calls, I did recently upgrade to one of TracFone’s “smarter” models that has a Qwerty keyboard, Wi-Fi and some type of “mobile web,” although I’m still figuring out what that means. I’ll report on that model once I receive it and activate it! If you’re a heavier phone user, TracFone also owns two other companies, Net10 and StraightTalk, which offer unlimited talk, text and data plans for about $45 per month.
Like other frugal lifestyle options, a prepaid cell phone isn’t the right choice for everyone. Neither is living without a clothes dryer, but my family has managed that for 8+ years. I’ve nearly taken the smartphone plunge numerous times. But after realizing that, like the review author I quoted above, I largely use my cell phone to be available in emergencies, quickly check in with clients or friends when I’m out of the house, and to provide an alternate number in case clients really need to reach me, I’ve stuck with TracFone and saved a ton of money.