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When Cell Phones Were Just Phones

Remember when your cell phone was capable of making a call, receiving a call, and that’s about it? These days, most of us carry phones saddled with features we probably don’t even know exist. Built-in cameras, GPS, MP3 players, Internet, you name it.

The features add up, and so does your monthly bill. But David Pogue, technology columnist for the New York Times, explains that one of the biggest mistakes people make is not understanding that they aren’t always beholden to their 2-year contracts.

People used to think of prepaid cell phones as scams, or only for drug dealers. Not anymore. Now all the major carriers have similar prepaid programs that let you pick solid, brand name phones to “pay as you go.” Pogue found that TracFone, one of the largest prepaid phone services in the country, will run you about $20 for the device, you won’t have to sign a contract, there’s not even a credit check and you can cancel whenever you want. The price per minute is typically higher on prepaid phones, but if you don’t use your cell consistently it could be the right choice.

There’s also the “dollar a day” plans that are gaining traction, Pogue said. Offered by the major carriers, these let you pay $1 each day you use your phone plus 10 cents per minute used. If you’re someone who’s got a phone just sitting in the drawer that you pull out every now and then, this is the way to go, he said.

Bottom line? If you’re looking for places to cut expenses, your cellular bill is a good place to start. Sure, the iPhone is cool, but it will run you over $2000 over the course of your two-year contract once fees and taxes are taken into account. A prepaid phone will cost about a tenth of the price. Finally, talk truly is cheap.