Cell Phone Plans and Family Planning

By: Christine Peppler

It starts innocently enough with a single cell phone and an individual cellular plan that provides all of our communication needs. But eventually, for the vast majority of us, family enters the picture. Whether it is a spouse with their own separate phone who decides it might be a good idea to consolidate for the sake of economy or a kid that decides they want the independence (or cool factor) that a cell phone brings; sooner or later most of us need to consider a family cell phone plan.

These cellular plans allow families to share the allotted anytime minutes, call each other without using any of those allotted minutes, and to receive a single bill. This is generally less expensive than having multiple accounts by providing cheaper per minute charges and more cost effective communication within the family. Like anything however, family cell phone plans have benefits and drawbacks; features that need to be considered carefully before diving in and committing to a contract.

The first consideration is to look at how the family will use their cell phones. Considerations such as how many lines will be needed, the number of different phones and numbers that will be necessary, how many minutes will be consumed, and when they will be used. If one member of the family will be using an extraordinary amount of weekend minutes, the cell phone plan will need to accommodate these weekend minutes to avoid the higher charge of minutes which exceed the plan. The complexity of considering the number of minutes used and when is much greater when multiple people have to be considered.

A second consideration is to examine what special features the family might need and their potential cost. For instance, many family members may find it useful and more efficient to text message on a regular basis rather than placing voice calls. A quick text message to remind a spouse to pick up a child at school or for a teenager to reassure their parents they are just running a half an hour late is a common example. Thinking through these special needs can assure that the cell phone plan selected will economically provide the services that match the lifestyle of a particular family.

Just as with any cellular plan, it is also important to understand exactly what the plan covers before committing to a contract. Knowing whether or not minutes roll over from month to month and how roaming is charged, particularly within the family is important. With a family cell phone plan it is also critical to know the definition of "family"; does everyone have to live at the same address or can it include those who head off to college?

Family cell phone plans can provide savings of course but they do involve another level of complexity. As with most cellular plans, vigilance is necessary to assure anticipated costs aren't exceeded. Monitoring the use of minutes is amplified however when multiple people are using them; particularly minors who don't pay the bills and are sometimes less fastidious about how long, where, and when they call. In addition, as a family grows, users need to be aware of any activation fees that may be incurred when adding phones to the cellular plan.

Taking time to learn the details of how the family will use their phones, what a given plan offers, and clear communication with kids about how the phone is to be used will go a long way in assuring a cell phone plan works for the entire family.

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