Monday, July 13, 2009

Cheap Cell Phone

I’m no fan of cell phones; the idea of never being able to get away from people who get bored and choose to call me is just too scary. But the advantages of having a cell phone in some situations, like when your car breaks down, are undeniable.

I’ve had my cell phone for long enough now that I feel confident I know about all the gotchas that make it more expensive than I first thought. As far as I’m aware, I have the cheapest possible deal for people who rarely use their cell phones.

My phone is from Petro Canada. I pay 25 cents per minute of air time, but this isn’t significant because I rarely use the phone, and I have to put more money into my account periodically or else my old money “expires”. There are charges for text messages too, but I don’t send them, and the only messages I’ve ever received were from Petro Canada. Fortunately, they allowed me to put an end to this by sending the message STOP.

The cheapest option for buying air time (measured per month) is to add $25 every 120 days. Of course, there are sales taxes on top of this (13% for me). Another factor is that the new 120-day period begins on the day you pay, not the day that the last 120-day period ended.

So, assuming that on average I pay two days early, the real cost is $28.25 every 118 days. This works out to about $87 per year. The only other cost was the initial purchase of the phone.

The deal that I actually signed up for initially was significantly better, but they changed it. No doubt there will be more changes in the future, but for now, my cost is $87 per year. If anyone is aware of a better deal for very infrequent users of cell phones, I’d like to hear about it.


  1. I use a plan from Virgin Mobile.

    I never lose my minutes.

    Air time is 25 cents/minute - for first 10 minutes on any given day, then 10 cents.

    Must but more air time every 90 days. That costs $22, including the 10% tax (Chicago). Thus, $88/year same as your plan.

    Don't know if available in Canada.

  2. My wife uses Virgin Mobile (Canada). To compared to Mark Wolfinger's plan: she pays $100 for one year of service, and like Michael Jame's plan, if she doesn't top up before the end of the one-year period, she loses the remainder of her balance.

    Usually the phone is misplaced and/or the batteries are dead, so it's barely ever used. Michael James, your plan is slightly cheaper. I'm intrigued by Jason's suggestion of Speakout Wireless. $25 per year? Even a cheap so-and-so like me might go for that.

  3. Jason: Your 7-eleven plan looks like the best deal for very infrequent users. It might even be worth the trouble of finding a 7-eleven to buy air time.

  4. From my own analysis, Tmobile pay as you go is the best in the US.

    You pay 100 US + tax upfront and you get 1150 minutes. This is equivalent to 8.34 US + tax a month for 95 minutes a month. You usage is very flexible and instead of minutes, you can use it on text messages. In the US, pay as you go does not charge long distance on top of regular minutes. So feel free to call from one state to another.

    I think 7-eleven is the best pay as you go in Canada. You pay 100 dollars upfront and it is 20 cents a minute and 5 cents a text message incoming and outgoing. Here is the catch: they charge you 99 cent a month for 911 fees. The number of regular minutes that you have is slight lower than officially advertised. Here is how you would calculate the effective minutes: (125 - 12*99)/.25 = 452 minutes a year. So it is slightly less than advertised 500 minutes a year.

    Virgin Mobile Canada has a monthly prepaid plan that is pretty good. No contract. You pay 20 dollars a month for 200 minutes and 5 dollar bonus credit called "Paycheck" that you can use other stuff if you pay by credit card. Unlike other companies, you can track the exact number of minutes and text messages used. You use that 5 dollar bonus credit for 100 text messages to Canada and US with unlimited incoming text messages. Another thing is that you combine 5 dollar bonus with addition 5 dollar top up to get 10 dollars in total for 2500 text messages to Canada and US with unlimited incoming text messages, unlimited incoming minutes, or 100 additional minutes. Prepaid monthly plans come with call display, voicemail, and no contracts.

    If you need a regular monthly plan that is more comprehensive, you should get a 2 year or 3 contract with the big names. After a year or a year and half, you can call customer retention department and ask for a retention or loyalty plan, which offers two to three times the value of a regular plan.

  5. I'm also a light user and very happy with my TracFone. What I like best is the international plan. I have a lot of family in Canada and I'm able to create 3 Canadian numbers where my family can call and the calls come directly to my TracFone...both ends are charged local rates. Beats having to go out and buy phone cards when I need to make the calls.

  6. I use a Virgin Mobile account here in Canada. I am a very infrequent user. The problem is, I go to Florida for six months and cannot use the phone during that time. So I have to pay $100 each April and use maybe $10-20 from April to October. Yes the unused amount carries over when I top up, but next April when I have to top up, I will then have nearly $200 in the account! Sure wish Virgin would do a deal with Virgin USA so I can use it there.
    It is amazing mobile companies don't come with a snowbird plan - so many potential clients.