Friday, January 29, 2010

You Get What You Prepay For

Up until a few days ago, Melanie and I had been Sprint cell phone customers for several years. Initially, we both had cell phones, but after moving to Atlanta, we dropped down to one. We kept to a fairly minimal plan, one that allowed for unlimited nights and weekends as well as unlimited calls to other Sprint customers (all of which is pretty standard nowadays). That allowed us to keep in touch with our families and friends back in Utah (and elsewhere) without worrying much about minutes. After moving to Tallahassee, however, we got set up with Comcast’s Internet and home phone service, the latter of which includes unlimited long distance. This significantly reduced the need for our lone cell phone, and over the past several months, it has become increasingly clear that spending nearly $50 a month for me to have the ability to call Melanie three or four times a week and tell her I’m on my way home from school is rather stupid. Sparingly is the cell phone otherwise used. And so, as happy as we were with Sprint’s service over the years (and we were), we decided to call it quits.

Not feeling completely ready to abandon the notion of having a cell phone, Melanie and I have now become part of the prepaid cell phone service community. For about the price of one month of cell phone service with Sprint, Melanie and I have both received new cell phones, complete with accessory kits that include car chargers, and, between us, well over seven hours of talk time. That may not sound like a lot, but seven hours could easily last us a month or two. And having prepaid cell phone service should prove much cheaper in the long run. I’m estimating that, even when we have to start buying additional minutes, we’ll be spending less than half of what we were spending per month for one phone with Sprint, and yet we’ll both have cell phones. That should be true even despite the fact that you have to pay not only for minutes, but to keep your service active. (Every time you purchase minutes, you also add 90 days to your service period. If you don’t use all your minutes within 90 days, you still have to add minutes to keep your phone active. However, if you use all your minutes within, say, 30 days, then when you buy more minutes, you’ll be extending your original 90-day service period another three months into the future, thereby having five months of service remaining. You follow?) The only thing I’m worried about is the quality of service. So far, it’s been great, but that’s based solely on my making calls in Tallahassee to other people in Tallahassee. I’m not sure how great the coverage will be if we’re ever on a road trip. That could be worrisome. But not worrisome enough to stop us from making the change.

Here are some additional cool things about us making the switch to prepaid service. First, due to what I presume is a glitch involving minutes and time rolling over from inactive accounts, when I activated my phone, I was told my initial service period would end October 31, 2014 (rather than in 30 days, as was promised). In other words, I won’t have to worry much about adding minutes to my phone in order to keep my service going. I can use them at my leisure. (Melanie also received more time than promised, though only 60 days. We both received at least ten times more introductory minutes than promised.) Second, sending or receiving an individual text message deducts only .33 minutes from your account. If I want to tell Melanie something as simple as “I’m on my way home,” I can just send her a text, thereby using one-third of a minute (rather than a full minute for a voice call). In theory, that means I can use as little as one minute per week without dramatically affecting the purpose for which I use a cell phone. And finally, simply getting newer phones is cool. Our Sprint phone was several years old and starting to act up. Our new phones are sleeker, although not quite as user-friendly. For the first time, we have cell phone cameras—which, judging by the quality of pictures they take, is almost worthless. But you never know when you’ll see a UFO and be happy you’ve got some kind of photographic apparatus on your person.

For anyone who’s interested, we got our new cell phones from TracFone, directly from their website. (They are also available from Wal-Mart, and I think I’ve even seen them in Circle K. As I said, there are reasons to feel less than 100% confident in the quality of service we’ll be getting.)


  1. It is all so complicated. I miss the old house phones that simply rang when a friend was calling and you just answered with a smile. Phones weren't objects of commercialism. There were a lot of good things about the old phones of fifty years ago. Phone numbers were easy to memorize and almost never changed. You didin't have to keep charging them and you weren't always having to hunt them down when they rang. I don't really think cel phones are all that wonderful. Some things might be better left unimproved.

  2. WHen I didn't have a phone for a while, it was very freeing. I liked having one "for emergencies." But it's kinda like I got hooked on thinking if I was in an accident, there'd be no one there to help me. Without the phone, I didn't even have that thought. Hmmm...