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We Help You Decide: You're On A Budget

When it comes time to cut back on expenses, the hardest part can be figuring out what is really necessary. Over the past decade, cell phones have gone from a luxury to an essential. Faced with a budget crisis in, say, 1998, it might have been possible to temporarily cut out the cell phone. Today, it is the primary communication medium for many Americans. So what can you do to cut your cell phone costs, but still keep service?

Prepaid wireless plans can provide various solutions to cellular budget problems. Whether you're downgrading from an expensive, all-inclusive plan to something more affordable, or you're going for the bare minimum, you can find a deal with one of our featured pay as you go cell phone providers. 

Under $200 per year

Finding cellular service at under $200 per year is not easy. It means restrictions on the amount you can call, and texting is pretty much out the window. Still, there are some decent plans out there. The key is finding the maximum number of minutes for your dollar.

  • Net10, Boost Mobile, and Total Call Mobile all offer 10 cents per minute, so for $200 per year you can get 2,000 minutes.
  • T-Mobile prepaid has Gold Rewards, so if you buy the $100 card you get the 10 cents per minute rate. That works out the same as the above three. Red Pocket Mobile offers a similar plan.
  • Page Plus provides the cheapest rate, 8 cents per minute. This comes on the $50 card, so buying four of those for $200 would get you 2,500 minutes. The cards expire in 120 days, so you'd need to buy at least three for the year's service.

Bonus: For $205 you can purchase the Tracfone one year + double minutes card, plus another 450-minute card. That will give you 1,700 minutes for the year.

$20 per month, $240 per year

Given the rates contract providers offer, $20 per month isn't bad at all. Let's see what it can get you.

  • The $20 per month plan from Consumer Cellular has an 8 cents per minute rate, so you get 250 minutes per month for your $20.
  • PlatinumTel isn't far behind, at 8.8 cents per minute, so 225 minutes per month.
  • Virgin Mobile has a few entries in this article. This one is their $20 monthly plan which includes 200 minutes.
  • If you don't mind paying 20 cents per minute, you can get 100 minutes per month for $20 with Earth Tones.

Night and weekend warriors

Sometimes you can find a better deal if it includes night and weekend minutes, which are typically cheaper than anytime minutes. Here are the deals you can get for heavy off-peak calling.

  • Mojo Mobile specializes in night and weekend calling. For $20 per month you can get 80 anytime minutes and for $30 you can get 140. Both plans include unlimited nights and weekends.
  • PlatinumTel has a $20 per month plan that includes 100 anytime minutes and unlimited night and weekend minutes. That might be the winner in this category, but the next gives it a run for the money.
  • For $30 per month, Virgin Mobile offers 300 anytime minutes plus 1,000 night and weekend minutes. Not as cheap as PlatinumTel, but more comprehensive.
  • If you get creative with kajeet you can get a decent night and weekend deal. It costs $10 per month to add 1,000 night and weekend minutes, plus $10 to cover the 32 cents/day access fee. That means for another $10 you can get 100 anytime minutes. Not quite as good as the other deals here, but still doable.

Texting included

Some people just aren't ready to give up text messaging. I don't blame them. Here are some plans that include monthly text message allotments.

  • Ready Mobile has a $25 refill card that offers calls at 5 cents per minute. That means you get 500 minutes, a good deal. The card also includes 50 text messages per month.
  • The Straight Talk $30 monthly plan includes 1,000 minutes and 1,000 messages. That's should satiate even heavy texters.
  • For unlimited texting, check out kajeet, which for $20 per month offers 150 anytime minutes and unlimited text messaging.

$30 per month, $360 per year

Usually, as you get into higher price points, you'll see lower per-minute rates. Here are four plans that give you more minutes than lower-tier plans.

  • Consumer Cellular offers the best deal here, 500 minutes. That's 6 cents per minute.
  • Virgin Mobile isn't far behind, offering a 7.5 cents per minute rate, or 400 minutes per month.
  • Finally, Jitterbug has a $30 monthly plan that offers 300 minutes. It would only make sense if you really prefer this carrier, as others offer similar rates without the $30 monthly commitment.

High usage

We venture slightly outside of the budget realm to finish with unlimited plans. Sometimes people just need a reasonable price for their heavy usage habits. Here are a few cheap unlimited plans.

  • PlatinumTel, Cricket, and MetroPCS offer $40 unlimited plans that include voice and text. Cricket and Metro also have $45 monthly unlimited plans that include Web.
  • Boost Mobile has its infamous $50 monthly unlimited plan, which covers minutes, messages, and data.
  • Finally, AT&T offers unlimited voice and text for $60 per month. It's more expensive, but has better nationwide coverage than the others listed.