How I Pay Just $3.21 A Month For A Cellphone

FYI: I posted another article for $2.54 per month for prepaid cell phone.

I’m not a heavy cell phone user at all. From Monday to Friday, most of the time, I am too busy to pick up any personal phone calls at work. During weekend, since I spend most of my time together physically with my family, there is not much of need for phone communication either. I guess my lack of need for cell phone is due primarily that

  1. I don’t have a business that I need to be responding to 24/7, or at least during regular work hours at any locations.
  2. Any other calls from friends or non-immediate family, I can always take care at night, or at my leisure time.

So what can a person like me do something about cell phone plans so that I can have and use a cell phone without paying monthly charges of $20 or more? Initially, I signed up a plan of $19.99 for only 60 minutes a month with AT&T wireless. But my usage is kind of sporadic. Sometimes, I go over 60 minutes; at other times, I use less than 5 minutes for the entire month, in which case, I’m paying $4 per minute.

So when I found out about the Free2go plan, I made my switch. Under this pre-paid plan, I can always roll over unused minutes as long as I refill my account before th credit in my account expired. Every minute is 25 cents. I can save up my minutes, or I can use a lot of them if I need to.

AT&T has been bought out by Cingular wireless since. From the Cingular online account now, you can only add $25 for 90 days of expiration, or $10 for 30 days of expiration, or $100 for a year of expiration, which is about $8.33 per month. It’s not too bad, but still more than what I need to use per month. My trick comes in here. I buy those refill phone cards by AT&T at the rotary stands from the grocery store (usually at Ralph store in CA). Because these cards were issued long time ago, they still have AT&T printed on them, and still have $10 refill cards for 90 days expiration. Since there won’t be anymore of these coming out, I keep 4 unused refill cards all the time because the cards will expire in 1 year if not used for refill.

The extra added bonus of buying these refill cards is that I don’t need to pay any sales tax or any telecom-related taxes. I also get 5% off when I use my Citibank dividend credit card. So that’s roughly extra 13% (5%+7.75% sale tax) savings. So I end up paying $10 * 4 cards * (1-5%) / 360 days * 365 days / 12 months = $3.21 per month.

Of course, the downside of using this plan is that these cell phones in this plan are TDMA-based, and have worse signal reception compared to GSM or CDMA-based phones. In fact, if I have very good and reliable cell phone reception at my home, I may have opted just using cell phone, and get rid of the land line phone which at least cost about $18 a month. Using cell phone only has the downside of not being able to access 911 emergency calls when you really need it, but I think it’s worthwhile considering it. After all, land line phone can also get a circuit-busy signal at those disaster time. And it’s not like every one of your neighbors will be as frugal as you.

By the way, last time I checked, Cingular is not making this kind of Free2go plan available anymore. They still have their own prepaid GSM-based plan Pay As You Go but it’s $10 refill per 30 days, or $100 refill per 365 days. For $8.33 a month, it is still not a bad deal. By the way, you can get a great deal on these GSM phones too at HSN. They have camera phones for the prepaid plan for about $100, with $40 + $10 rebate or phone minute credits.

I guess at this point you may think that there is no way to beat $3.21 per month for maintaining a cell phone. One friend of mine who probably has 2 or 3 million networth actually beat me on this. Because he uses his cell phone even less often than I do, he simply lets his prepaid cell phone minutes expire at the end of 90 days. And the next time around when he needs to use his cell phone, he will call up the customer service for immediate refill of $10 using his zero-minute cell phone. This is feasible if you don’t need to receive calls, but just need to make calls. If you let it expire for too long, you will even lose to the right to your original cell phone number. Your cell phone in this case becomes a mobile paid phone.

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