Sunday, January 11, 2009

Consolidate Cell Phones Under a Family Plan

As the recession deepens and you start thinking harder on where to economize next, your eye might turn toward those considerable cell phone bills. With everyone in the family now wirelessly connected, the combined monthly costs might have grown to over a hundred dollars a month. Perhaps even several hundred dollars per month. It's so tempting to just to cut back and not renew those contracts when they expire. But, oh, the pain of going cell-less. Isn't there something that can keep everyone connected but slash the phone bills?

There is indeed, but you'll need a little discipline to make it work. It's called sharing. You may already share a car. The kids may share toys or computers. What can save your cell phones is to share the wireless plan.

Notice that I didn't say share the cell phones. The whole idea is to be able to make and receive calls when you are on the go. Unless you are always traveling in pairs or groups, a shared cell phone won't provide that instant communications ability. Somebody will always have the phone and everyone else will be wanting. Don't share phones, share the phone plan.

The trick here is to buy what is known as a family plan. It's one cellular service plan with one bill per month and a bucket of minutes. So far, that sounds like a regular wireless plan. But this is different in that there can be two or more phones on that plan, each with their own phone number. It's not like the old party line where all the neighbors are on the same phone line and can listen to each other's conversations. Each phone has private service and its own number. Just like individual service. What's shared is the monthly minutes, nothing else.

Yes, it's going to take some cooperation to make this work. If you have a blabbermouth in your family who runs out all the minutes every month, they need to be throttled. Or at least forced to take an extra job to pay the bill. But most people don't have that problem. They love their cell phone for the security and convenience it provides. Plus you have the peace of mind of knowing that you'll never miss a call because you're not home to take it. At the end of the month, most people have minutes that simply expire unused.

If that sounds like your situation, moving to a family plan could cut your phone bill dramatically with no inconvenience whatsoever. Let's take a look at some plans. AT&T has the Nation FamilyTalk 550 w/ Rollover that includes 2 lines on a 2 year contract for $59.99 a month. You get 550 minutes per month shared between two phones at a cost of roughly $30 a phone. What's even better is that you can add a 3rd phone to that plan for $9.99 more. At those prices, it makes sense to put one in junior's backpack so he'll never be stranded.

Need more minutes? Get the AT&T Nation FamilyTalk 1400 w/ Rollover for $89.99. That 700 minutes a month each for the two phones on the plan. Plus the beauty of this plan is that it can handle up to 5 phones at just $9.99 additional for each phone added. Notice also that the AT&T rollover minutes carry your unused minutes to the next month so you don't lose them. That can help you get by with a smaller family plan if you don't use every minute every month.

Verizon has similar plans, as do T-Mobile, Sprint, Alltel and Nextel. You pick the carrier you prefer and then select the plan that gives you the most minutes for the budget you are planning.

But wouldn't you save even more if you shared cell phones as well as the plan? Not necessarily. If you buy your cell phone and service online, you can easily get free phones to go with your family plan. Not just bare bones models, either. Right now you can get dozens of models free, including the LG Vu, Samsung Rant, BlackBerry Curve, Motorola RAZR, and Sony Ericsson Walkman. Order a family plan and you can get all your phones free. With free phones, there really isn't much motivation to share a handset. Unless, of course, you need to discipline someone who hogs all the minutes.

Does a family plan sound like the right solution to save you money while preserving your wireless freedom? If so, check out all the wireless plans and special phone deals available right now at Cell Phone Plans Finder.

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