why i love my prepaid cell phone

March 6th, 2008

Why I Love My Prepaid Cell Phone

For a very long time, I thought that prepaid cell phone plans were only for people with bad credit. Basically, I believed the “mainstream” cell phone plan hype – that the minutes for a prepaid were horrendously expensive and any self-respecting person with decent credit would get a cell phone plan instead. I focused on the wrong thing – the cost per minute – instead of the actual number that mattered, which was how much I use it.

I admit, I may be the only person on the planet that simply hates talking on a cell phone. When people talk about their cell phone being their only phone and not having a “landline” at home, I cringe. I simply hate talking on my cell phone, and the only reason I have one is in case of an emergency, and for the occasional text. I do like to send and receive texts. :) I have two small children who I transport here, there, and everywhere, and I need the security of a cell phone in case something happens. My spouse was happy to have his, too, when my car broke down a few miles from our house in sub-zero weather.

So, I don’t use my cell phone very often. I generally would get a low-usage monthly plan, which cost, for two phones, anywhere from $50-60 a month, and call it good. But a few years ago, I started researching cheaper alternatives, and realized that for me, a prepaid phone was really a viable alternative. Once I let go of the “cost per minute” factor and started focusing on the “cost per month”, I realized that I was throwing tons of money away on minutes I wasn’t using. At the time I switched to a prepaid phone, I paid $20 every 60 days, per phone, to keep it active. For 2 phones, that was basically $20 a month vs the $60 I was paying for our family plan. I immediately started saving $40/month, or $480/year. What a difference!

Prices have gone down even further since then, and I currently pay $20 every 90 days per phone, or about $14/month for the two phones combined. I personally use Virgin Mobile, but I also used Tracfone in the past and liked it, but when we moved, our reception suffered so we switched. The other nice thing about prepaid is, since there is no commitment, if you don’t like the reception, you can just try a different one when your minutes and time run out. I have successfully gotten a free phone through a promotion both with Tracfone as well as Virgin Mobile, so my startup costs was just the minutes for the phone. And the money you don’t use in the 90 days carries over to the next 90 days once you add time/money to your phone.

I would recommend checking out a prepaid cell phone to anyone who is an infrequent user like me. For frequent talkers, a monthly plan is probably a better deal, but for people who don’t use their phone too often, like me, the prepaid plan makes perfect sense. I did a little research about what is out there right now, and I found a few companies that do the $20 every 90 days plans:

And T-Mobile has a $10 every 90 days card – which I think means they are really the best deal! But, I couldn’t confirm through the website if you only have to add $10 every 90 days or not. It seems since they have a $10/90 days card, that you would only have to add $10, but I need to check that out more thoroughly. I may be changing my plan soon…

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42 Responses to “Why I Love My Prepaid Cell Phone”

  1. Hubby had one but we both hated it. Basically we decided that it was a good deal if you never talked on it and never checked your voicemail. Otherwise it sucked ;) and we might as well pay for a monthly plan for him.

  2. Well that is kind of the point – some people just have a cell phone for the security of having it but don’t use it (me lol). So prepaid works great for me. I only pay $20 every 90 days and I usually have at least $10 left over to carry to the next 90 days from that $20. I think I have close to $50 right now just from carryover.

    If you use your phone a lot it stinks. Although Virgin Mobile is cheaper on a per minute cost than Tracfone was.

  3. Actually with TMobile, you can start with $100 and you get 1000 minutes that don’t expire for a year. And if you add any minutes at the end of that year, they renew for another year (so $10 renews the 1000).

    So if you are willing to go $100 plus a phone ($40) up front, it can save you a ton of money (it is for us).

  4. I think Prepaid is a good idea for your usage habits, but it sucked for me. I mean, I hated to answer it even. Also, it would hurt even if I got rid of mine because then my wife would use more minutes per month calling me on a phone that wasn’t “in-network” unless I went with Verizon’s pre-iad plan (I think that it is covered at least?)

    I had a Tracfone a while back and the minutes were *really* expensive if you did not buy a huge chunk of them. Maybe they have gone down.

  5. There is also a new and upcoming prepaid service. Instead of prepaying by the minute, you prepay for the entire month. No contract and you can select the features you want. I’ve been quite happy with it. I switched from Verizon which charged me $75-100/month to a plan with unlimited minutes, text/pic messaging, and phone insurance for $50/month. It’s called Cricket.

  6. If you pay for the $100 minute card for TM, those minutes automatically don’t expire for a year. I’ve heard (don’t know if true) that once you do the $100 card, you can add any amount card (10, 25, 50) afterwards and then your old minutes, plus also do not expire for a year.

    I don’t know if you ever check out slickdeals.net but there was a whole posting how Target was selling the TM $100 refill card for $68. I think the deal ended though.

  7. With TM, I’m pretty sure for the $100 card, it gives you 1000 minutes, so 10 cents a minute. It is more for the cheaper cards.

  8. I have a prepaid T-Mobile phone. You don’t have to buy $100 of minutes up front. You just buy minutes (10 or 20 bucks, or whatever). Those are good for 90 days. Once you reach the $100 amount, the minutes are good for a year and when you buy more minutes, you get 10% more minutes for your money. I’ve had my phone for about 7 months now and I’m still not up to the $100 level yet.

    I love my T-Mobile phone.

  9. …yup, prepaid has long been the most efficient cellfone option for average people.

    But most folks know little about that great option because the mainstream media & marketing system has ignored it.

    Also, many people with conventional (expensive) cellfone plans vastly over-estimate the monthly cellfone they comfortably ‘need’ per month. Consequently, they buy and (wastefully use) unneeded airtime.

    I constantly observe friends & co-workers using expensive cellfone minutes… when a free landline telephone is readily available for local calls. People form bad habits of chattering on their cellfones, losing awareness of the cost and much cheaper alternatives.

    And, of course, many people fixate on all the bells & whistles in the latest fancy cellfones of conventional plans.

    Virgin Mobile & T-Mobile prepaid are great deals for most people.

  10. I use Virgin Mobile as well, and it has been a huge money saver for my wife and I. We went from paying $40-50 a month for my wife’s phone only (i didn’t have one) to paying about $15 a month for two phones.

    I hardly ever use my phone, but my wife uses it pretty frequently. Even so – we are paying a LOT less using a prepaid phone.

    Great post!

  11. The old TM minutes sale at Target ended a week ago. There a new sale at Target for TM, Tracphone minutes $43 for $50 card.


  12. I think a pre-paid phone works best if you can do your long conversations on your home phone. When I had a home phone, my pre-paid worked great.

    Now that my cell phone is my only phone, a plan works better for those ocassional gab sessions with the girlfriends!

    As a side note, I get a 15% discount on my monthly Sprint bill because of a deal they made with my employer. You might want to look into something like that if you work for a big company!

  13. I need to check out this T-Mobile thing. I think I could be doing better than $80/year (what my phone right now is) if I can renew the $100/year with just a $10 card for a whole ‘nother year. Hmm. Must investigate :)

    I might not have made it clear in the post, but I don’t think prepaid is great for everyone. But if you are like me and only have a cell phone for occasional conversations, I think it works out great. We literally and immediately saved hundreds of dollars a year by switching to prepaid.

    I think prepaid gets a bad rap for a lot of people, they have preconceived notions about it (I certainly did) so i wanted to bring more awareness to it.

  14. Oh yeah, and I am sure everyone will disagree with me, but I would be tempted to make the argument that you don’t NEED a cell phone for emergencies. It can be darn convenient though.

  15. @Brandon – I would agree that we don’t need one as much as you’d think for emergencies.

    But with a 3 year old and a 1 year old and sub-zero degree temperatures, I argue that I need one. If it was me that the car had died on and not my spouse, and I had no cell phone, it would have been very dangerous for me to walk the half mile to the nearest gas station to call someone, with two little kids in tow on a busy highway exit ramp.

    And I don’t trust strangers. Too many awful stories out there. Sad but its my reality.

    Now, if it was just *me* and I didn’t have the kids, I’d be more inclined to agree. I actually only got a cell phone about 5 years ago when i was commuting 45 miles each way to work in case I broke down so i could call the police (exits on the highway were ~15 miles apart).

  16. @Brandon: I don’t disagree with you – don’t think most rational people would – but I do think you’re being a twit. Yes, and we don’t NEED cars either. We don’t NEED indoor plumbing.

    Don’t be that guy.

  17. We gave up our landline and just have cells…one or the other had to go, as having both was just too expensive. No one even called the 19 year old on the landline and I rarely talk on the phone. So she got a T Mobile family plan and added me as a second line. We divide the bill and I give her my half each month and she pays it. So now my phone bill for my cell is about what the landline bill was. I know more and more young adults and families are just going with cells now.

  18. I was reminded of this from a post at My Two Dollars this morning.

    Virgin Mobile is holding $30 of ours hostage. Hubs had a phone with them last year and because we used 2 different debit cards to recharge – they decided we were up to no good and after I put $30 on there, they suspended our account. The only way they’d let us get the money back or use the minutes was if we’d send copies of both of our drivers licenses and debit cards front and back – no way we were doing that. So there it sits. I’d forgotten about it but I’m peeved all over again now.

  19. We love our pre-paid Tracfone! We got sick of spending $80/month on cell phones, but because a lot of people we call use the same carrier (so the calls were free minutes) we still wanted 1 “regular” cell phone. So now we pay $10/mo (NO TAXES!!) for the pre-paid and about $35/mo (plus tax) on the standard cell phone plan (with an employee discount through dh’s work).

  20. [“So now we pay $10/mo (NO TAXES!!) for the pre-paid…”]


    Excellent point — I pay zero taxes on my prepaid refill cards.

    I assume that’s the same for all states ?

    The taxes on standard landline telephones and conventional cell phones are outrageous … 15-20% and more.

  21. I recently blogged that I pay less than $7/month for my TracFone plan. We use around 60 minutes per month, and if you the bonus coupons, it turns out to be a really good deal. Anybody who has a $30 or $40/month plan can probably save money by using a prepaid phone instead.

  22. I hobbled along on a pre-paid phone for about two years.
    It was really cheap, average $5 to $7 a month, because I put strict limits on the usage.
    I did run into lack of service in some cities we traveled to. I also ran out of minutes during an emergency situation and it was not fun to try to remember how to re-load the phone when I was away from home.
    I was really glad to go back to a full-service phone.
    But … limited service for that time frame was better than no service.

  23. I bought my 6 year old daughter a VM prepaid phone and it’s been great. She walks 1.5 blocks from school to daycare so the peace of mind knowing she has a phone and always calls her daycare first so they can watch her walk to them is priceless.

    I have found VM has a thing called Sugar Mama that you can view up to 5 short vide ads per day and you get free minutes. They also do some type of texting thing but I don’t use that option. I put $20 in December and when we just re-charged it she still had $8.00 on there.

    Bonus – summertime when she is playing we can always get in touch with her.

  24. OK. Here’s my story. I went from an iPhone (mega $$$) with a bill than ran between $70 and $80 per month, to a pre-paid phone. I purchased $100 worth of minutes nearly two months ago and still have $86 left. That means I’ve spent $14 for almost two months of service.

    The best part…when I got my pre-paid phone, I changed my phone number and only gave it to my immediate family. I am almost always at work, or at home (both places have land lines). I tell my friends to call me at one of those number. So, my yearly cell phone expense will go from about $900/year to about $85/year. My wife does the same. Now, I just have to get my two kids off the US Cellular plans onto pre-paid. Our total savings will easily be over $2,100/year. People need to wake up and realize that cell phones are NOT a necessity. If they were, the human race wouldn’t have been just fine for soooo many years.
    I have LOVED not talking on my cell phone so much. Now, in my car, I have peace and quiet. Plus no driving distractions, so I’m a safer driver. For me and my wife, pre-paid is clearly a great choice. And, by the way, we have excellent credit and a 6-figure income, so it’s not just for people who can’t qualify for a “phone plan.”

  25. With the cell phone, you don’t even have to go completely ala cart. I have cricket service and love it. There’s no contract, and no credit checks. I pay just $45 a month, and I get unlimited calls, unlimited texting and unlimited mobile web access. I get the benefits of ala-cart pricing becasue I can shut it off any time I like, but I don’t have to count calls or messages. Plus, I bought my phone at http://www.mycricket.com and paid just $29.99 for it.

  26. Kelly Anderson Says:

    July 16th, 2008 at 8:21 am

    I loved your article. My friends/family tease me about having prepaid. I always tell them I don’t care about having the latest and greatest cell phone. I don’t talk and talk and talk and only need maybe a few times a week. And I certainly don’t like commiting myself to a 2 year contract. I had Verizon and they had excellent service but I just got tired of paying a bunch of money every month when I only use my cell phone a few times a week.

    I have had Virgin Mobile for the past 2 years I guess and love it. And they do have several options, pay by the minute and they have monthly plans and can switch when you so desire.

  27. This is a great post! I am going to review our cell phone bills this weekend to see if our minutes warrant a monthly plan. Thanks for doing all the work for us.
    A little secret, we all got along without cell phones for decades. We probably don’t need them now except for that occasional emergency and they are soooo convenient. It’s a trade off.

  28. i tried using a prepaid cellphone but that didn’t work out for me.i tried boost mobile,virgin mobile,at&t & t-mobile.prepaid is good but the only problem is when your having a problem with your service the respesentstives treats you like shit.with prepaid you end up spending more money than an actual bill.

  29. I have a Verizon Plan (have for many years) and dont use my phone much. Does anyone know if you can tranfer your plan cell number to a pre-paid phone?

  30. queenfluff Says:

    May 6th, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    I would love to know the answer to dbmustard’s post as well.

    I am in the middle of Ch. 7 and I rarely use my Verizon phone that I got last year and I am listing it as a creditor so I can have the subscription terminated. I would love to keep the actual phone is it is nice and new but want a pre-paid. I don’t want to go with Verizon and it is a Samsung Verizon phone. Can I still keep my phone and get a different carrier for a pre-paid? Or do I have to buy a special pre-paid phone with the carrier I end up choosing. I don’t want to keep the phone number as it is the wrong area code and out of state and I moved so I want a new number. Thanks!

  31. I just traded in my contract phone for a Tracfone. It works wonders. I did not have enough money to continue paying for my contract plan, so I switched to tracfone. I ‘m a college student, so I even combined my landline with my cell phone line into one. I pay only for the minutes that I use and can even use the phone to text. It’s an essential accessory for anyone who is on a tight budget.

  32. I just moved out and afer Christmas bills, getting my last cell phone provider’s bill nearly killed my budget. Spending nearly $90 a month and under a contract was really starting to bother me – than a friend suggested I give Straight Talk a try. I couldn’t believe that I found the best deal ever at Walmart! My $45 a month prepaid, unlimited plan is wonderful – I have unlimited texts, calls, and internet usafe without a contract. Not to mention being on the Verizon network is amazing – I have the best coverage anywhere I go. The cancellation fees were worth dealing with when I realized I would be saving nearly $50 a month by switching. The great selection of inexpensive phones clinched it for me – I was finally able to get a Smart Phone that didn’t break my budget the way the I-Phone does. Best of all, I was able to transfer my phone number so now my family can keep in touch with me.

    Trust me, Straight Talk was a big surprise for me and I can’t wait to let everyone now.

  33. I went with NET10 prepaid a little over 6 months ago and since then, I have really realized what a lifesaver it is. I was paying more than $130 a month for one phone and line and I had constant reception problems and increasing fees. With NET10, I buy airtime cards and simply refill them as I need them so nothing goes to waste and I pay for only what I need – a much better value of my dollar. The network has its issue, but I don’t mind since NET10 is saving me over $110 a month.


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