Thursday, November 29, 2007

Obsessing over the Phone Bill

We are a family of 5. We have a land line telephone with the phone cooperative, long distance with an 800 number through a third-party long distance company, four Tracfone cell phones and high-speed Internet through our cable company. The costs have crept up as we got more and more used to all this connectivity. Now that everybody on the planet has a cell phone or two, we have all become accustomed to instant access to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and we are mystified when we cannot reach someone in a moment. "I left a message, she'll call back" just doesn't do it anymore. No, now it's "Why isn't she picking up, already?? Where is she? I want her NOW!" And when I can't instantly get hold of one of my children, I don't like it. Not a bit.

Things came crashing down the other day when one of the Tracfones broke and Barry took a look at our usage. I keep obsessive records on our Tracfone costs because I know at some point there will be a tipping point when we would be better off with a regular cell phone plan, and I want to know the exact moment when that point comes. So when Barry asked for a report on who was using how much Tracfone time and costing what, I was able to pull up the Excel spreadsheet and tell him. Suffice to say that the person with the broken Tracfone had just plain worn it out. That person's usage was more than the rest of the family's combined. And I ain't sayin' who she is. Only she's very tall, and she's brunette, and she's not me.

Miss Tall and Loquacious is going to get her own Tracfone and be responsible for the minutes herself, and the rest of us will just coast on the minutes we have and see how it goes. We shouldn't need to buy any for quite awhile if she is counted out of the equation. But even with her usage counted in, we were running 4 cell phones for about 70 bucks a month averaged over the past 12 (and that includes buying 3 of the 4 phones), with a lot of the usage being text messages, and we couldn't touch that with any of the plans we found through conventional cellular carriers. But it put our total communications bill (counting Internet) over $160 a month! Augh!

I know, I know, somebody out there is going to say, "Lose the land lines, just go cellular." It's not a good choice for us, living where we do, where cell coverage is very patchy. It's not acceptable to me to constantly be dropping calls.

Then, the marketing people at Mediacom, our cable company, shrewdly picked this week to call and offer us telephony through their cable lines. We knew this was coming but had always been hesitant simply because Mediacom tends to have technical problems in our town. But those problems have been less and less as they replaced aged cable and switches, and service has not gone down since the middle of the summer, if I remember correctly.

They offered us local and long distance phone service, keeping our old phone number, for $9.95 a month for the first 6 months, then $29.95 a month thereafter. After we thought about this a bit, we decided to go for it. When I called back today, they had an even better offer: A penny a month for the first 6 months and $29.95 a month thereafter! We don't lose our phone number, we get unlimited calls to people we care about all over the country AND our long distance carrier said we can still keep our 800 number through them even though the bills will be so small that I wouldn't think they would even want to bother with us anymore.

So our land line costs are going from $65-65 a month down to about $15 a month for the first 6 months and then about $45 a month after that. Definitely an improvement.

What's the best deal you can get on phone service? How do you make it work with a budget? Discuss.


Mrs. Mac said...

This is a hot topic in our home since Mr. Mac is retiring in May and I will be under the gun with a fixed budget (until he gets another job ;) ... We have two choices for internet: slow dial up (no way) or satellite (currently about $100 a month until we pay for the equipment (6 months) then about 50-60 bucks a month (some deal, eh) ... house phone (local only about $33 bucks a month (we have lousy cell phone service at home so we have to keep this. We use a 1-800 card for long distance from our land line (except when Laura forgets and then gets a $50 bill for her mistake) Cell phone bill prior to Laura ran about $30 a month for both T & C with 400 shared minutes. When we added Laura, our bill shot up to $99 cuz we needed more minutes ... and a family plan. She often goes over her text messaging and pays dearly for this. So total all that up ... forgot the tv satellite at $50 a month. Now we're at (let's see) about $280 a month ... Now I'm hoping to get Laura on her own plan this summer ... which will drop my cell phone bill and the internet will go down in a few months so we should end up about at about $180. Did you hang in there with my explanation? Me neither ;)

RR said...

We have good cell reception in our neighborhood, so we've been landline-less for a couple of years now. Cell plan is about $70/mo with two phones and 700 shared minutes. Text-messaging not included. Hi-speed internet through the cableco is $40/month. So I guess that's $110 for fair-to-middlin' services.

Hi-speed 'net is nonnegotiable, given LTLCPP's work from home. Perhaps we could trim a few dollars a month on the cell plan, but it's very helpful for she and I to be able to reach each other anytime, given car breakdowns, crazy traffic, and honey-I-forgot-to-buy-milk situations.