Adventures in cell phone purchasing

Our two year Sprint contract is up, which means they cut off the 10% discount I’d negotiated. Time flies so quickly!

#2 does not have a cellphone. Unimaginable, I know. She kicks it old school with a landline, which is something I no longer have.

Also, my mom expressed interest in maybe getting a cell for Christmas.

So I looked into cheaper replacements.

One of the first places to look anytime you are trying to decide what to buy is consumer search. Here is what they say about cell phone plans. At the time of this writing, they give high marks to t-mobile for best cellphone plan ($30/month and up) and Verizon ($40 and up) for best quality. I travel, so their top regional cell plan, U.S. cellular is not going to to cut it.

My mother is an occasional user, so either adding her on my existing plan as another user or giving her a pre-paid plan is going to work best. Here’s consumer search on prepaid plans. For her infrequent needs, either t-mobile or tracphone would be the best prepaid options, and what needs to be compared to adding on an additional line to my current service.

Prepaid plans are kind of weird, because you must buy minutes in advance and the minutes expire, some after 30 days, some after 90 for minimum purchases… and the more you buy, the more time you have before they expire. Apparently there are also tricks you can use with some plans in which you buy a card, activate it, then activate the next card right before the first expires, thus doubling your minutes. Something like that. We don’t want my mom to have to game anything.

T-mobile’s $100 for 1000 minutes for 1 year plan looks like a good option for her. We would also have to buy a phone. The cheapest option is $30, but it gets very bad reviews. The first phones with decent reviews are around $50.

If we switched to T-mobile, adding her would be another $5 plus tax (so ~6/month, $60/year).

Adding her to the Sprint plan would be another $10 plus tax (so ~$12/month, $120/year) and they would give us a free phone if we signed up for a 2 year plan… but this would have problems that it would be a gift we would give every year, as prices went up our costs would go up, if she lost the phone we would have to deal with it etc. When I put it like that it seems selfish. But she would also have less autonomy with how to use the phone should she want to.

Decision for her: T-mobile one year pre-paid plan with the Samsung t139 Prepaid phone. We had to order by phone because the online form wouldn’t ship directly to her.

The T-mobile plan would cost $10/month less for us, but the cost of texts would double (so $2/month instead of $1/month) and free night calls start at 9pm instead of 7pm (this would increase the probability of going over minutes).  The plan:  Call up Sprint, talk about the T-mobile plan, and ask for a discount for sticking with them.

However, poking around the internet, I discovered that my employer offers a 23% discount on Sprint plans.  That’s better than the 10% negotiated before, or the $10 I was going to ask for when I was going to call up and tell them I was thinking about switching.  Now Sprint is $6.10 less expensive than T-Mobile.  And I can make all those changes on the internet and get a new phone.  Whew.  That was a lot of effort.  But what else is a person going to do on vacation?

Decision for us:  Sprint with 23% employee discount and two new phones with a two year contract.

18 Responses to “Adventures in cell phone purchasing”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I’m glad you found an employer discount…as I was reading the article, that was what I was going to suggest, but then you were smart enough to figure that out. I would have never known about the employer discount unless a coworker told me about it. Most medium sized companies have some kind of negotiated contract and it almost always is offered to employees too.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    We have 5 cell phones in our house, so we are always looking for deals. I love the ‘buy one phone, get one free’ deals as phones generally don’t seem to last real long. (Or maybe we are just hard on our phones.)

    Does your mom actually text??

  3. Rumpus Says:

    I got a cellphone years after most of my friends had them, and I was very happy to finally have one…now I wish I didn’t have it. I’m paying someone money every month so that I can be “forced” to carry something around with me that losing would be a pain, just so people can contact me when I least want them to (when I’m not at home and am busy in some way). (Not that I really enjoyed having a landline either.) When cellphones get down to the size of my watch and all I need is a subvocal mic (with speech to text) and a hearing bud, maybe then I’ll be happy…I never worry about losing my watch.

    Everytime my contract is up I look at a prepaid plan, but last time I checked I was using my phone a bit too much for it to be worthwhile, though maybe plans (or my usage) have changed.

  4. Grace Says:

    I’m with your mother! Tracfone works fine. Right now, you can purchase a phone for $9.99 that comes with automatic double minutes (doubles any pre paid cards that you add). Tracfones get surprisingly good coverage everywhere–better than Sprint and way better than Cricket. I wind up using about $10 worth of time per month. But I’m not glued to my cell the way my kids are.

  5. SS4BC Says:

    Was going to mention, most schools have some sort of cell phone preferred employer plan. I have a 15% discount with Sprint which is pretty freakin’ sweet. =)

  6. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    It is embarrassing that everybody but us knew about the employee discount. We did figure it out… several years late!

  7. Money Reasons Says:

    Since my son is getting older, we are looking into getting multiple phone on the the same plan option.

    It amazes me that cell phones cost soo much!!! You’d think that the prices would have dropped by now… I wonder if other countries pay as much as we do for cell phones…

  8. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    Anybody ever complains that my blogging about the NY Yankees is boring is gonna get a link to this poste! AHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    jerkier than normal

    Hey! Wait a second! lolz

  10. bogart Says:

    Too late for you (and perhaps not of interest, but may be to others), but I’m very happy with the little-known Consumer Cellular. I was particularly thrilled when I fell and broke my shoulder on vacation — not by the break, believe me — when I learned that mid-month I could bump my $20 250-minute plan to a $40 1000-minute plan and have the change take effect retroactively (covering the billing cycle where I made it, but after my minutes had exceeded 250, as I made a bunch of calls from the hospital from which I did not have internet access). I’m now sitting at $30 for 500 minutes and while I dig struggle a bit for awhile with getting my usage back down to 250 minutes in the end I decided it was better just to relax and pay the extra $10.

    When traveling, I generally get service places my DH does not with his TMobile plan (areas in the US SE).

  11. Tara C. Says:

    I love T-Mobile prepaid. I use my cell phone more than most people with a prepaid use case, but a large portion of my texts are to Canadian numbers. I tried the $15 a month unlimited plan for a couple of months, but it wasn’t worth it for me because the Canadian texts weren’t included, despite costing the same as domestic ones outside of a plan. I have a VOIP home phone and I end up using about $10-20 per month of prepaid cell phone minutes, filling up twice a year. After years of cell phone contracts in Canada, prepaid is sure a lot less hassle and it is quite refreshing.

    My cell phone is a small unlocked one that I bought off Amazon just over 2 years ago now. I figure I’ll use it for another 1-2 years before doing that again.

  12. Funny about Money Says:

    If all you need a cell phone for is to dial 911 in an emergency, you don’t need a service at all. Any cell phone, deactivated or not, will reach 911. This is true in the U.S. and Canada.

    Also, I’ve heard that in some areas you can dial “0” on a cell and charge a call on your credit card. If you needed to call your son to come jump-start your car, a one-time charge would be a heckuva lot cheaper than ponying up a monthly fee.

  13. Carnival of Personal Finance #292 – Most Expensive Homes in The World Edition — My Personal Finance Journey Says:

    […] from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings presents Adventures in Cell Phone Purchasing, and says, “Nicole and Maggie discuss pre-paid phones vs. monthly plans and remind everybody […]

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