"Paying attention to all the thousands of ways we spent our money that make a tremendous difference." –Amy Dacyczyn, 1990
Over the past few years, numerous moms have asked my advice about cell phone service for their kids. I tell them we don’t have smart phones (did you see the buzz on prepaid iPhones??). We all have Tracfones–a no-contract, pay-as-you-go service, and we love it. But as I always say, you have to choose a plan that works for your circumstances.
So, why don’t we have smart phones? The whole world seems to have one, and my husband is the only one at his work who does not have one. He’s often made fun of. But when he tells people our family of four pays less than $600 a year for cell phone service (that means “air time”), people are shocked into silence. One family we know pays $2,400 a year for four cell phones (we’ve heard people who pay $300 a month for four phones, not all smart phones). And one smart phone is about $100 a month for all the services–$1,200 a year! Ouch. And people will readily admit they don’t use 90% of the features and functions of their smart phone.
One day we’ll have to succumb because the only cell phone will be a smart phone. But until then, we’ll stick to the cheap service.
But, let’s look at this a bit deeper:
I work from home, so there’s no need for me to have a smart phone. I talk on either my POTS land line or my MagicJackline (which has improved in quality over the years) and check my email from several computers in my home. I need my cell phone to communicate with my kids via text (their preferred way of communicating on the phone). With Tracfone, texting is cheaper than calling. Currently, I have a bit of an antiquated Tracfone that doubles my minutes when I buy any amount. And, I can access the Web with my phone, so there’s no problem checking email out and about if I can’t get Wifi on my iTouch (when I bring it with me). I spend about $120 a year to purchase air time. And I never, ever have service problems. Tracfone customer service both online and on the phone is pretty good and reliable.
My husband works in a studio with all the technology he could ever need, and has an even older Tracfone than I do–he’s due for an upgrade come Father’s Day! He can’t access the Web on his oldie, but he hardly ever uses the phone–mostly for emergencies or to text a few friends and the kids. He spends about $100 a year on air time (also, his old phone does double purchased minutes, but that’ll change to triple minutes once we buy him an updated phone.) By the way, buying the actual Tracfone is extremely affordable, ranging from as low as $7 on sale up to $90 for a high-end touch-screen phone.
Both our kid have better Tracfones than we do! They have the Qwerty keyboards, making texting a breeze. They are air time hogs, but that’s to be expected with middle schoolers. We spend a total of $360 a year (give or take $30 each kid) for their air time.I am in charge of buying air time for everyone. So when they need it, they let me know, and I can buy online or buy a card at a store. I can always find discount online codes to give me more free minutes/air time than I actually purchase.
Right now, I’m not willing to potentially pay $2,400 to $3,000 annually for four cell phones. I don’t know how much a contract would cost for our family. However Tracfone keeps getting cheaper and cheaper. First they added phones that double the minutes. Now they have phones with triple minutes! You can’t beat that for kids who text like crazy. So for their birthdays they will most likely get a new phone that has triple minute capacity. They’ll love it.
But as I tell people who ask me about cell phone service — you have to go with what works for your family. Tracfone works for us.