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Cell Phone Family Plans - Aim Low, Switch Later - Step 1: Buy Large, Step 2: Chart, Switch

Researching a Family Cell Phone Plan

month minutes forty dollars

When you begin browsing for a family cell phone plan, you are asked to choose a program that’s right for your family, as represented by text messaging, calling circles, and various flavors of minute. Estimating these figures is harder than counting candy corn in a jar, as it accounts for several people all with different quirks and peak hours of usage.

Inevitably, our plan was not right for us. The first month’s bill is insane because everyone has been playing with their new toys, so we talk to the family about it and reach a compromise and maybe, maybe get a new cell phone plan.

A simple action plan can help you insure against this bit of financial chaos, though. It only has three steps: buy large, chart, and switch.

Step 1: Buy Large

Generally, cell phone companies sell plans on a month by month basis. Most consumers recognize that the ability to switch plans is important, especially as families shift, merge, and multiply. Only special marketing deals that sell years-long contracts nail you into your plan, offering a bit of saving at the expense of flexibility.

If you can, buy large. Get the largest plan they have. Think of it as insurance—for forty dollars, you are saving a hundred. This decision may seem like a waste of money, but it rests on two premises few members of the twenty-first century would disagree with:

One: People like to play with shiny new things.

Two: Phone companies try to make cell phones into fun shiny things.

If you agree with those statements, you should buy large. You are spending forty dollars instead of one hundred and forty. Furthermore, you are buying forty dollars of entertainment. “Go nuts,” you can tell your family. “This month, we’re on the unlimited package.”

Step 2: Chart

Three weeks later, the charm of the new toy will have worn off. They will no longer make phone calls just to play with their new phone, and their thumbs will have settled into a more stable routine of texting.

Now, it’s time to make a chart.

This can be in your head or on paper, but here’s what your chart should look like:

Family Member Number of Texts Daytime Minutes Nighttime Minutes Weekend Minutes
You 33 90 40 20
Jeff 48 130 5 50
Grandpa 0 200 180 90
Ali 94 30 400 200

The trickiest part of compiling this chart is roping your family into doing it. Some families might rebel against such apparent micromanagement, but there are a few tricks which can draw their interest and help spread the work:

1) Have your kid do it as a science experiment.
2) Put the chart up on a whiteboard.
3) Make a Youtube video of the project.
4) Threaten disconnection.
Mileage with these approaches will of course vary.

The first column is simple—find the text tracker on your phone and write that number down at the end of the week. The other columns are a little trickier, as they depend heavily on the way your phone stores information.

The old fashioned way is to glance at a clock before and after a phone call, but if you want to handle this task as efficiently as possible, find your phone’s usage counter. Here’s the trick, though: it might not round to the nearest minute like your actual bill does, and it might not divide minutes in the same way as your plan. If either is the case, then your figures are going to get awfully cloudy.


With the chart filled in, the next step is to pick a new plan. After a month of unlimited usage and a week of casual study, you have enjoyed your new toy and are ready to choose a plan. As with the initial experiment, aim high, but aim realistically.

Aiming high and switching later avoids cell phones’ high overcharge rates. Additionally, thinking of it as a form of entertainment or a fun family project can flavor the process and make it feel like less of a chore.

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