Could a Prepaid Cell Save Your Family Some Cash?

By Linsey B. Knerl      

Yes, cell phones are now pretty much required hardware for the modern family. It isn’t fair to assume, however, that a one-size-fits-all plan is appropriate for every family, and pay-as-you-go plans are becoming increasingly popular with moms and dads looking to control costs. With a variety of phones and plans, they can help to keep things flexible and let you save big money.

The Phones: Prepaid phones have come a long ways since their early days. With many of them identical in model to phones offered at traditional cell carriers, they meet the requirements of both form and function. Kid requirements—like hot pink, ultra-light, equipped with a camera, and ready to download favorite tunes—can be met, and there are many affordable options for a pay-as-you-go-phone. Phones start as low as $14.99 at e-tailer Tracfone.

The Minutes: While not economical as a unit (each minute can cost as much as 30 cents each), depending on how you use your phone, they can save a bundle. Not using a phone this month? You pay nothing. Looking to travel and need to load up on minutes? Buy a bunch at a discount and use a promotional code to get bonus minutes. With no minimum monthly service charges to budget for, what you lose in volume pricing you make up for in control and scalability.

The Service: Since most prepaid phones utilize service from the major carriers, their quality is at least as good. While you can expect to pay more for roaming (usually 2 minutes per one minute of talk time), the calling area is dependable. Customer service may seem a little daunting for those who aren’t used to setting up their own phone, but most companies are usually more than glad to help you along.

The Verdict: If your cell needs are minimal and you’re not afraid to take charge of your calling, prepaid may be for you. It’s a great option for kids who may not yet be ready to handle all the options—and possible overages!—of a regular contract.