Don’t Sign That Contract!

Writers live on a budget. There are times when money is tight and you’re looking for a contract to sign. However, there is one contract you should never sign. That’s right by not signing a contract, you’ll be saving money — on your cell phone.

Over the years I’ve heard author after author claim this one particular piece of technology helps them manage the social networking aspect of being a writer. It’s used for Facebook updates, a blog reader, Twitter, Google+, email, texting, and believe it or not, a phone. But you don’t have to pay $80-$200 a month to get the service you need. And you don’t have to be locked into a restrictive contract. Yes, I’m talking about prepaid cellular service.

Before your imagination runs off with images of the worst customers Wal-Mart has to offer and a constant lack of bars, keep reading. You can purchase prepaid cellular service just about anywhere, including online and signal coverage can be as good as one of the big four cell providers.

A year ago I upgrade to an Android phone and switched to Virgin mobile. Their plan of 300 voice minutes and unlimited data/text fit my usage perfectly. Now I did have to buy the phone, but I waited until it went on sale for $180. The price for this plan, at the time I purchased the phone was $25. That’s right. I pay $25 a month for unlimited data and text. I’ve never gone over the 300 minute voice limit. So let’s compare.

(At the time unlimited voice and data averaged about $80/mo before taxes.)

Prepaid                                                              Standard Contract

Phone:    $180                                                     Free with contract

Service:  $325 (13 months at $25)                  $1,040 (13 months at $80)

Total:     $ 505                                                      $1,040

Savings: $535

I can go out and purchase another $200 phone and still be saving money compared to a standard contract plan. But you’re thinking, That was thirteen months ago, the economy has changed things. No one can get a deal that good these days.

You’re right, things have change. Virgin Mobile has raised this plan from $25 to $35. That means in 13 months you’ll pay $455 instead of $325. I don’t know about you, but that is still significant savings and could easily pay for lodging at the next writers convention. Keep in mind that voice/text/data contract plans are much more expensive these days.

You also may be thinking that the coverage sucks. Virgin rides on the Sprint network and I haven’t had any more coverage problems than my wife has had her ATT contract phone. If we’re out in the sticks, usually one of us will have service.

The Virgin Mobile plans may not be right for you, the company is geared toward the young crowd. Some of the other services out there are T-Mobile, ATT, TracFone, Net10, Straight TalkBoost, and the list goes on. Heck just Google “prepaid cell providers” and your eyes will glaze over before you can compare all the pricing plans. You can also check out Clark Howard, he always has the latest scoop on the cheap cell phones.

Most of the prepaid companies have agreements with Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile, and Verizon to use their networks, so you’ll want to pay attention to the coverage maps for your areas. Be brutally honest on how you use for phone. Some prepaid services will charge you a daily usage fee if you make a call. If you’re on your phone hours a day, this may not be an issue, but if you’re like me you may make one or two short calls a day, if any. The extra fee adds up quickly. Also, do not overestimate your data usage. Cell phones are fairly efficient on data usage. But if you must have unlimited everything, Straight Talk has a plan for $45 a month and Virgin has one for $55.

I’m not saying this is the best way to go and there are some draw backs. You have to buy the phone outright. You lose it, break it, or don’t like it after six months…tough. You’re stuck with it. Also the prepaid service doesn’t get the same data priority as the contract customers. For the most part this has not been an issue for me. However, if you are moving a lot of data, being throttled may cause problems. A huge draw back for some people is the fact you are limited on the phones you can purchase. You cannot go out and buy the latest iPhone off Craigslist and active it the next day. If you want an iPhone, you’re stuck with a contract. If you can use an Android or Blackberry you’ll have a few of options. And don’t just look at the specifications of the phone you’re thinking about. Read customer reviews. These can be found by searching for the phone model and the word reviews.

Smartphones are very much required tech for the modern writer. Are you paying over $1,000 a year when you don’t need to? Look over your last few statements. Pay attention to the voice, data, and text totals. Maybe you could save hundreds, over the course of a year, by dumping the contract and going to prepaid.

Now stop reading blogs and playing Angry Birds on your phone and get back to writing.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Don’t Sign That Contract!

  1. Richard…I suppose that buying a pre-paid cel phone means you’ll have to get a new cel number? Carolyn

    • You should be able to port your number. My current number started out in 2004 as a T-Mobile prepaid phone. I then ported to AT&T under a special rate contract with my employer. After the contract was up I ported it to Virgin. Now I did have run into a snag getting AT&T to port the number to Virgin, leaving me without service for a couple of days. However, being without a phone ain’t so bad sometimes. Just be sure to read the fine print. And if you still have concerns call the company and talk with a custimer service representative. Definately do not start the porting process until all of you concerns have been addressed.

  2. I use the AT&T Go phone. No contract. I have the $1 a day mobile to mobile plan. Which means I pay $1 for every day that I use the phone and I get unlimited calling to any AT&T mobile phone for that $1 a day.

    Almost everyone in my family has AT&T mobile phones so it only cost me $1 to call and talk to everyone in my family for hours at a time if I want. And I pay absolutely nothing for the days I don’t use my phone.

    My average cell phone charges are less than $30 a month and that’s including the calls I make to non AT&T mobile numbers, and text messages.

    I can also purchase online data time for my Go phone. Which by the way, I only paid $9 for refurbished at AT&T online.

    My kids have expensive $100 plus a month plans on their AT&T iPhone plans. Personally I’d rather spend that extra $70 a month on books, or spending time with friends in my writing groups; Rose Rock wRiters, Norman Galaxy of Writers, http://nonprofitpages.com/normangalaxy , OWFI http://www.owfi.org , and Yard Dog Press http://www.yarddogpress.com authors.

  3. We’ve been using Cricket “el cheapo” plan for less than $40/month including taxes. Though it gets the job done, the service is terrible. Reception is poor. The good thing with Cricket is that you can cancel at any time. We just might do that and switch to prepaid after reading your article here! Thanks!

  4. Sandy

    I have to agree with this. Contract phones have been hell for me. I personally have done a lot of research on prepaid phones or no contract phones and I went with Tracfone. For me.. they had what I was looking for when you go to buy for a whole family. They have great family bundles and already I am saving with my whole familyl…. we pay what I used to pay for ONE IPHONE. AND FIVE OF US HAVE PHONES!

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