Friday, October 17, 2008

Madd Money: In Praise of the TRACFONE

Today, cell phones are ubiquitous. I have made the acquaintance of many people for whom the land line is a quaint memory of their Pastoral childhoods, but was left behind with the changing of the century and millenia. Yes, I'm one of those archaic fuddy-duddies that still has a land line at home.

I'm still of the generation that hasn't entirely bought into the whole "life convergence" thing. While I have to admit the notion of having your camera, your phone, your computer and your MP3 player all on the same device may seem cool, it just strikes me as odd that anyone would willingly tie themselves down to an all-in-one solution rather than have components that can do the best job they may want them to.

See, to me, a cell phone is like an insurance policy. It's an OK form of communication, but it's not my only one, and I really don't use it all *that* often. Thus looking at these goofy contracts (well, goofy to me) that ask for anywhere from $50-100+ per month for two years or so seem insane to me. The idea of signing up for anything for that length of time, and committing that much each month makes little sense to me. What's more, I don't need every cool feature on the planet for a phone. I need something I can dial a number, press a button and talk to someone for the amount of time necessary. Then I hang up and can honestly go *days* between needing to use it again.

Fortunately, there's a device and service out there for people like me. It's called TRACFONE, and I am very much a fan. It's perfect for infrequent cell phone users, of which I most assuredly am. Between my home number and my work number, I really don't need to use my cell phone all that often. It's used for the occassional Scout outing when I need to coordinate something on the road, or for my various snowboard trips when I need to check in at home and tell everyone I made it OK. Otherwise, I can honestly go days without using my cell phone or receiving a call. Thus a model of a monthly charge doesn't make a lot of sense for me. TRACFONE operates on a model where you pay for your service and minutes up front, usually with a credit or debit card (both work fine), and the phone displays the "bank" of minutes you have. Usually I will buy 300 minutes at a time, and I will use the phone until those minutes are used up. Some active months, I may actually burn through those minutes, but in most cases, that bank of 300 minutes will last me three or four months (seriously).

I'll admit there's a bit of a premium for this model (I pay the equivalent of about $0.10 per minute any time I use my phone), but many months that works out to my effective cell phone bill being $3.00 to $6.00 per month. What's also cool about this model is that it's a great one to use for kids if you decide that they warrant a cell phone. My eldest child has a phone, and by design, his phone is also a TRACFONE, for the reasons I've described. Oh, there hasve been rumblings about this arrangement, make no mistake. See, TRACFONES are anything but sexy or cool. Well, that's not entirely true, you can buy some pretty cool phones through TRACFONE, but let's just say that *I* don't buy them. I get the bare bones models, and my son has a relatively bare bones model as well. He's even said he'd be willing to buy his own non TRACFONE phone... until I tell him that he'd also need to bank the two years worth of phone contract and monthly charges to use a phone that's not part of the TRACFONE network. He usually sulks at this realization, but it's helped him realize that there's more to a phone than just having the phone. He may thank me for this some day... but I don't anticipate that happening anytime soon. Right now, he still grumbles that he's the only Lame-O out of all of this friends who has one of these phones (LOL!).

If you are a phone power user, and it's your only existing line to the telephone network (no land line, etc) or you are into the ability to combine your voice mail, email, texting, camera and music into one device used ubiquitously, TRACFONE may not be much of a benefit to you. However, if like me a cell phone is just an occassional insurance policy, give TRACFONE and their approach some consideration. You may find it to be tremendously cost effective :).

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