Cell Phones - Breaking the Bank, or not

By: Christine Peppler

Family cell phone plans often make good sense, allowing family members to share minutes and, in most instances, to call each other without deducting from their allotted talk time. Of course, exceeding the plan limits can be risky, and expensive, with more people pulling from the talking time. Forward thinking parents however, are able to put some limits on chatty teens or those who might otherwise exceed the budget with several of the major US cellular carriers.

Certainly, Kajeet cell phones and services via Sprint PCS allow parents of younger kids to set up time restriction for calling and texting and to designate when and who can call/text. For safety purposes, kids can always call home or 911 even once the limit is reached. Kajeet is convenient as no contract commitment is required and charges are incurred per day. However, it is generally more convenient to keep a single cell phone plan with all family members included.

For those who already have an AT&T cell phone plan adding "Smart Limits" is an option within their existing plan. For $4.99 per month, parents can set limits on the number of text and instant messages and the times of day the phone can be used for messaging, browsing, and making outbound calls. Parents can even define both incoming and outgoing call and texting permissions: who can call or text their kids as well as which people they communicate with through the phone. Caps can also be placed on download purchases. Once any set limits are reached, those services are blocked until the next billing cycle. Parents cannot however limit voice call minutes and all incoming calls are allowed at all times unless specifically blocked.

T-Mobile subscribers can add KidConnect for $19.99/month and get 100 "Whenever Minutes" as well as unlimited calls to 9-1-1 and In Network calling. Kids can trade their allotted minutes for text messages if they wish but once they have reached their limit the service is unavailable until the next month with the exception of 9-1-1 and In Network calls. Parents are able to increase the limit by adding "Refill Whenever Minutes" when they choose.

Sprint gives parents the option of the Sprint PCS Vision Phone (SCP-2400) which provides control over what contacts are in the Phone Book while giving kids an adult type cell phone. Calls, both incoming and outgoing can be limited only to those listed in the phone book. Certainly, this can be a cost saver but acts as more of a security measure.

The unlimited plans rolled out in 2008 by most cellular carriers can certainly limit spending but are advantageous only for those with the highest usage. With most family plans ranging from $59.99 to $149.99 the addition of any parental control mechanisms is still more cost effective for average users than going to the $198 (voice calling only) to $230 (voice and texting) unlimited plans currently being offered.

Cell Phones
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