If you have a teenager, or you are one yourself, then you won't be surprised to hear that teens mostly use their phones to text rather than talk.
For those who pay the bills, this can be an important distinction.
Remember all those stories a few years ago about parents getting enormous unexpected phone bills due their teens' excessive texting?
One story in 2009 reported on a girl whose parents got a more than 400-page bill because she sent and received more than 14,000 texts in a single month.
The key to saving money on a wireless phone plan is to realize that phones are used for three activities that come with different costs; talking, texting and data.
What you want is a plan that provides what you need at the lowest cost, without charging you for things you don't need.
If the phone is used mostly for texting, you don't need to pay for lots of talk time or data.
If the phone is hardly ever used for texting, you could save money with a plan focused on talk.
And if you have a smartphone and use it to watch videos, well, that's going to cost you.
The good news when it comes to text-crazy teens is that most cellphone plans no longer have per-text charges. Some still do, and with those plans, a few cents per text can quickly add up to a big bill.
There also are plenty of plans that cost more than they need to if the primary use of the phone is to text.
There are plans now available for as little as $25 a month that include unlimited texting. They generally come with skimpy limits on data and talk time, but they can be a good low-cost option for those who talk little and text a lot.
For my high schooler, the best deal I found was offered at Radio Shack in partnership with Cricket Wireless. I signed up for a $25 per month plan that includes unlimited texting and 300 minutes of talk time. The base-model phone for that plan, a Huawei Pillar with a full keyboard, cost $40.
After about six months with this plan, I've found that the limited talk time has not been an issue, and the phone has served it's purpose well. I can call my son if I need to, and he can text all he likes.
It's a pay-as-you go phone plan, so there's no way to accidentally run up the charges. If you use up all the talk time, you either stop making calls until the next month kicks in, or you add more money.
The phone is inexpensive enough that I don't worry about it getting broken, and I purchased it using a credit card with a purchase protection feature, so when the first phone did get broken, I got a free replacement courtesy of American Express. There's no contract on the phone or the plan, and no commitment.
A number of companies offer similar concepts.
AT&T's $25 Go plan comes with unlimited texting and 250 minutes of talk time, but carries data charges and a surcharge if you have a smartphone.
Virgin charges $35 for unlimited texting and data, with 300 minutes of talk time.
If you're a person who rarely texts, but you want a phone for occasional calls, there are plans available for even less, such as Virgin's $20 payLo plan with 400 monthly talk minutes (and charges for texting), or pay-as-you go plans from Tracfone costing as little as $100 for a year of service with very limited minutes.
If you want a fancy phone, unlimited data or more talk time, costs start rising.
Many carriers now offer no-contract plans with unlimited talk, text and data for about $50 monthly on what's now known as a “basic device,” pretty much anything that's not a data-hungry smartphone.
Smartphone plans kick the cost up some more, to the $75-$100 range, and often have restrictions on data consumption, data speed or both. Remember, the difference between a $25 monthly plan and a $100 monthly plan is $900 a year.
It can be tempting to simplify the whole cellphone billing issue by having a family plan or shared plan, but compare the costs. If you're paying $40 to add a basic device to a shared plan, and it's mostly used for texting, you could save some money with a no-contract plan.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.
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