Pre-Paid, or Pre-Pain?

As my cell phone contract nears its end, I find myself metaphorically drooling over the thought of getting a new phone.  Well, okay, so maybe I’m doing a little bit of real-life drooling, too.  While the Samsung Moment I got from Sprint has been fairly reliable these past two years, it would be nice to get something new, and yes, there is some gadget-lust feeding that desire to upgrade as well.

While my desire to keep up with the virtual Joneses is strong, it is tempered by my desire to be more responsible with my finances.  I recently consolidated all my debts and am working on boosting my savings, which, of course, means cutting back on expenses.  I currently pay just under eighty bucks a month for my cell phone plan.  That isn’t bad, but it would be nice if I could get that number to drop.  I recently learned that I can an employee discount through my job.  Even then, I think I can shave even more off my cell phone bill by going with a pre-paid provider.  Doing so will come with a few caveats, but before I go over them, I should mention that I had pre-paid cell service from T-Mobile way back when because money was tight.  It was pretty good, but it was quite some time before I had a smartphone.  Now on to the issues:

The biggest one has to do with the carriers themselves.  While some of them piggyback off of the big boys (for example, Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network) and some are run by the big boys (Verizon and AT&T each have their own pre-paid services) others have their own networks that are not as robust as the ones the “big boys” have.  This probably won’t be a big deal when I’m at home in San Antonio, but once I go to other cities for conferences or events things just might not work!

Related to this issue are the phones that are offered by pre-paid providers.  They aren’t nearly quite as nice as the new ones the major providers carry.  From what I have seen in my research, some of them are just downright awful, as they are often made by second- and third-tier manufacturers.  Adding to this is the fact that you have to pay the full cost of a pre-paid phone up front.  That is one of the reasons that pre-paid service is less expensive, those carriers don’t subsidize the cost of their phones.  This isn’t quite as big a deal as it sounds, because the phones that I can get for free from the big boys are about as lousy as the one I have now.  If I want something better, I’m going to have to fork out some cash up front either way.

Another reason the ‘lousy phone’ thing may not be an issue is the fact that I just don’t do a whole lot with my smartphone.  For all the “OMG THOUSANDS OF APPS” available on Android, I barely have any apps installed and use less than ten on a regular basis.  Non-smartphones have gotten smarter these days, so I might be able to ditch a smartphone completely and go with a much cheaper non-smartphone plan.  If I can find a messaging phone that does Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, that would be just about perfect.  The obvious downside is that I would probably be very limited to what I could install on that not-so-smartphone.

One final consideration is the porting of my current phone number.  I’ve had the same phone number for a few years now and have gotten pretty attached to it, so I’m a little jittery about moving to a new provider.  I get even jitterier (yes it’s a word, BTW) when I consider that a lower-cost operation may not have all of those nice people answering phones for them in customer service.  I’ve actually received good customer service the few times I’ve had to call Sprint, and shudder at the thought of talking to who knows who from who-knows-where.  That isn’t an “I hate Indian call center” thing, either.  In my AT&T debacle from earlier this year, I was actually glad to get a polite person with an accent instead of all the home-grown jerkasses I had been dealing with up to that point.  Yeah, the ‘USA-based support’ they were so proudly trumpeting was that bad.

While the thought of getting a shiny new phone with a nice big screen, new operating system and fast CPU is a pleasant one, the thought of being caught without enough money in the event of an emergency is enough to make me think over the amount of cash I’m currently shelling out for my phone service.  On the other hand, the service I have been getting has been pretty good, even in the boonies of my hometown and I’m not sure that going with someone different for the sake of saving a few bucks is the best plan in the world.  My bill should be dropping thanks to the employee discount, so I’m wondering if perhaps going pre-paid isn’t worth the trouble when things are working well as it is.

And yeah, those shiny new phones in the Sprint Store are looking pretty nice!

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