If more than $8/month per person, there’s a better way!  This method certainly can present some challenges, but growing used to it can easily save hundreds per year.  We won’t rest until we’ve cut every extraneous cost; every saved dollar brings us a step closer to affording the off-grid transition.

Our wonderful previous provider

I am privileged to say that we used to use CREDO Mobile, the “only progressive phone company.”  They give a portion of profits to worthy causes (just like we do!), and have a very active activism wing – a far cry from traditional phone service providers.  If finances and circumstances permit, we fully intend to return to them at some point.  However, after extensive research, the $87 per month required to maintain their service for both of us became unreasonable.  And we didn’t even have a data plan.  Most people I talk to say they’re paying anywhere from $100 – $200 per month for cell service.

Is your computer ringing?

Now, we use a Voice over IP (VoIP) system for most of our calling needs.  We currently combine the following three services:

  • Google Voice (which is free at least through 2011) for calls to cell phones and landlines, texting, and voicemail
  • Skype (also free) for scheduled/lengthier and international calls
  • Tracfones for calling/texting each other and scheduling meetings, emergency calls, and knowing when people are calling the Google Voice number

In this set up, we each have a Google Voice number (which is our primary number, the one we give out to everyone).  When someone calls it, a service called “call forwarding” kicks in, which will not only ring on the computer, but will also ring our Tracfone.  If it’s an important call, we can answer it right from the Tracfone (no computer required).

Let’s take a moment to explore Tracfones in more detail; a little creativity can save quite a bit.

How to get Tracfones for Cheap

Tracfones are pretty amazing in many ways.  You can call over 60 countries at no extra charge, and don’t have to deal with contracts.  However, they can easily become expensive if you’re not watching your minutes, or buying the right phones or minute bundles.  Let’s take a moment to unpack the most (reasonable) cost efficient method for using a Tracfone.

First, you will want to get your phone for “free” (in other words, buy a phone bundle that includes a 60 minute card for $20; since the card itself costs $20, the phone is yours at no charge), and make sure it has “Double Minutes for Life” (DMFL) or “Triple Minutes for Life” (TMFL – this is quite new; only a few phones have it so far) pre-loaded into it.

This is the best card to buy.

You can run out of minutes on a Tracfone without any repercussions (you can even call 911 with 0 minutes), but you cannot run out of service time.  Doing so could lose you your phone number, and will certainly result in the deactivation of your phone.  Since every minute recharge card grants 90 days of service time, the most efficient way to go is to only buy 60 minute cards at $20 apiece (which, with DMFL, double to 120 minutes).

  • In essence, you’re paying $20 four times a year per phone, or $80 per year.
  • This also breaks down to 40 minutes per month, so you must be frugal in how you use the phone itself (hence, what Google Voice and Skype are for).

Worst case scenario, though, you can just buy more minutes.  It’ll still be a heck of a lot cheaper than the plan you had before.

It is possible to get Tracfones for half this cost, but the strategies required are ridiculously complex (involving buying certain bundles, selling them on Ebay for a markup, and about 10 other steps).  I wouldn’t recommend it due to the sheer amount of effort needed, but hunt around for information if you’re interested.

The rest of the story

I’ll spare your finger and eyes from endless scrolling, and continue this in a future post.  In part two, I’ll unpack:

  • Some of the details of Google Voice (what makes it more efficient, and a bit about how it treats Gmail like a phone)
  • A typical day in using this service (including other gear required to use this strategy comfortably)
  • How this strategy can improve (and, believe me, there’s plenty of room for it to grow), including other VoIP services
  • What we’ll do once we’re off-grid

Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments below!

~Ryan

Check out Part Two! >>

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