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Looking at the AT&T Pay As You Go Plans

Micah and I currently have a basic cell phone plan with AT&T. Now that our cell contract is up, we’re trying to figure out what’s the best choice for us.

We don’t spend much time talking on the phone, a couple days may even go by where we don’t use it at all. But other days we use a series of short phone calls to keep in touch and arrange things like how we’re juggling our one car. And now and then we chat with friends and family. We don’t text.

AT&T Unlimited Talk Plan

Friends of ours recently switched to AT&T’s “Pay as You Go” plan. There are two options, one called “unlimited talk” and the other “$.25/minute). The first, unlimited talk, costs $1 (an access fee) per day the phone is used. Minutes are $0.10 each for out-of-network and free in-network.

Suppose, then, that I were to call Micah. It would cost us $1 each, but we could talk to each other as long as we wanted without paying anything else. I could then call my Dad and talk to him for free (because I’d already paid the $1 and he’s on AT&T).

But if my friend Jessie called, I’d pay $0.10/minute for every minute we talked. If she and I talked for 10 minutes, then the total I’d pay for the day would be $2, $1 for initial activation and $1 for 10 minutes of out-of-network chatting.

AT&T $.25/minute plan

The $0.25/minute plan is good for people who barely use their phones. There’s no $1 access fee, so a 1-minute call only costs $0.25. But there is no in-network benefit. So if I were to call Micah, we’d be charged for every minute instead of just the activation fee.

If you spend 5 minutes talking to someone (in-network), you’ve already cost more than the access fee would and your call will continue to charge by the minute. Out-of-network catches up at 6 minutes of talking per day.

Which plan is better?

AT&T has put together a little chart that shows how the two plans compare to each other.

I think the chart is correct to conclude that if you spend more than 5 minutes a day on your phone, you’re probably better off with the unlimited plan. If you rarely use your phone but maybe make a couple 10-20 minute calls a week…unlimited is still better.

The $0.25/day plan is best only for people who only use their cell phone for specific purposes, like daily 2-minute calls to tell your spouse when you can be expected home from work. Otherwise, even emergency-only phones will most-likely be cheaper with the “unlimited talk” plan, unless your emergencies can be handled in under 5 minutes.

What are we going with?

When it comes to cell plans, the $0.25/day plan isn’t even in the running. The choice now is between the Pay as You Go Unlimited Talk plan and getting another contract-plan. I’m going to spend a little time with our cell phone records and possibly a spreadsheet, running the numbers. I’ll let you know what we decide and why.

The beauty of the unlimited talk plan is that if it doesn’t work out to our financial advantage, then we can just get a contract. We can change whenever we want. Whereas I’m reluctant to take on another 2-year contract without seriously considering alternatives that may save us money and fit our lifestyle better.

I haven’t even touched on the issue of phones, but the ones we have now happen to be compatible with Pay as You Go option, so that wouldn’t cost us anything. Compatible phone are a whole ‘nother money-saving post.

Thanks to my friends M & M who told me about this plan a few months ago and confirmed some of the scenarios for me!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Stacey November 26, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Have you thought about splitting the difference, and each of you getting a different plan?

While we use our pre-paid cell phones for long distance, we make 9 out of 10 calls from home. It might make sense to have one phone for emergencies and calling home, and a second to “share” to call your friends and family.

Just don’t give the $1/day number to anyone! People call me on my cell phone all the time, while I’m sitting in front of my home phone. It drives me crazy.

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