The Born Freelancer finds a cell plan to fit their budget

This series by The Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Please add to the conversation in the comments section.

One of the hardest things to learn about being a freelancer is living within a budget that fluctuates, often difficult to predict one month to the next. About a year ago I wrote about a few of my strategies for living “the freelance life” during these ongoing tough economic times. (It is my opinion things aren’t much better today than they were four years ago when the current depression started. I will predict here and now that we’ve probably got at least another four years to go before we see any real signs of significant improvement in the global economy.) Today I’d like to offer you an update on one of those coping strategies that directly impacts on my freelance work. It won’t be relevant advice for all of you but if it is useful to any of you in similar circumstances to mine then I will feel justified in sharing it.

To recap: It has been some time since I have had a cell phone. I know that this is unthinkable to many of you as you use a cell phone or smart phone as your primary phone and/or data device. However a lot of us still use it simply in conjunction with our main landline. Having negotiated the most stripped-down landline service I could find, I felt that the added cost of a cell phone was still an unnecessary financial burden I could no longer afford. Cell phone costs in Canada appear to me to be among the most exorbitant and service conditions among the most draconian anywhere in the world. And so I got rid of it.

I survived. And so did my freelance work. But since then I have been constantly researching possible options to regain a cell phone connection. I think I finally found the best one for my limited needs.

Caveat: What follows are my opinions only based upon my own online research and so far limited practical experiences. I am now currently a regular prepaying customer of the following service. I have received no compensation nor special consideration of any kind from them for writing this consumer review. Hey, they don’t even know who I am.

“SpeakOut” Cell Phones – A Review

A friend tipped me off to the “SpeakOut” prepaid pay as you go cell phone service last year (thanks, A!). Frankly, I’d never come across it before. They certainly don’t seem to go out of their way to advertise themselves. So who and/or what are they?

“They” are in fact a low cost brand of prepaid cell phone service retailed by the 7-Eleven store chain, of all people. Technically it piggybacks on the back of the Rogers network, so wherever there is Rogers coverage, so too will be SpeakOut coverage.

So what is the attraction of their service for this budget-minded freelancer?

Advantages

* Low cost. A starter no-data cell phone cost me $19 after a discount was applied. (Right now they have a $20 off promotion if you buy a $50 airtime voucher whenever you buy any phone.) It’s a Nokia phone which is a reliable name. I’ve had Nokia phones in the past and been quite satisfied with them.

* No contracts.

* No mysterious “activation fees”.

* No outrageous cancellation fees.

* No need to get any information about me on their files.

* Good coverage throughout Canada.

* I can control my costs easily. It’s 25 cents a minute locally. Long distance fees (outgoing) within North America are 45 cents per minute. I plan to use a lot of texting and it’s 10 cents for outgoing texts anywhere within North America, incoming texts are always free. It’s 35 cents per outgoing text overseas.

* Prepaid “pay as you go” means no horrible surprises come end of the month. It also gives me a useful business mindset – let’s keep any conversation to the basics! And – is this text really necessary?

* I can always upgrade the service at any time by buying monthly cost-cutting bundles.

* I can easily upgrade to another phone to be data compatible and buy into a suitable monthly data package.

* I could’ve just bought one of their SIM cards (plus airtime) and used any old compatible cell phone I already had.

* I can readily buy more airtime vouchers on line or in person at any 7-Eleven store across Canada (except Quebec).

* It includes a voicemail service that I can access for free anytime from my landline. It works even when my cell phone is off (unlike some other carriers).

* Because I am only using it for my freelance work/ business-related purposes, I can write off any expenses on my taxes. (Of course I will keep all my receipts.)

* If I ever decide in future to change service providers, I can always “port” my new number to another carrier. (Conversely, if you are on another carrier right now you can also “port” your number over to a SpeakOut account.)

* Even my cheap little Nokia phone has a built in FM radio. I find it useful for monitoring the Mothercorp for possible work opportunities as I go about my daily routine.

* The airtime vouchers are good for up to a year. This was the feature that really convinced me. I’m not planning on using it for more than basic texting and brief urgent business calls while on the run so it could well lie unused for weeks or even a month at a time. Most prepaid plans are “use it or lose it” and require you to use them up in a matter of weeks. Having the vouchers last up to a year (and they will “roll over” when added to a new voucher for another year) was a huge plus in my mind.

Drawbacks

* Prepaid pay-as-you-go isn’t for everyone.

* This is ideal for me right now for infrequent use, texting and calling. If I ever plan to use it as my primary phone, the costs might become prohibitive. At that point I would reinvestigate other carriers as well as various monthly sign-up plans. (Although SpeakOut does offer monthly savings-bundles for more frequent usage and they might serve my purposes well enough.)

* “Roaming” might easily become a bit costly. As long as I stay within my own area code it’s great for local usage. Elsewhere long distance fees would start adding up fast for outgoing calls. (Although receiving long distance calls is always at the local rate.) On the other hand, if I’m in another city I can still receive and make local calls to my primary area code at local rates so that could be very handy.

* Calls are rounded up to the next minute, so a call lasting one minute and one second will cost two minutes of airtime. I find this appalling but they all do it. (Whatever happened to per second billing on pay as you go phones?)

* Calling and texting work very well so far. I have no personal experience yet on how reliable their data plan is if I ever want to upgrade to it.

* There is a monthly $1.25 fee taken away automatically from your airtime balance to pay for 911 emergency service. Of course if you ever need 911 this would hardly be considered a drawback. (There is no such fee, by comparison, on UK prepaid pay as you go plans.) I set up my account on the very last day of the month and was still apparently dinged for the full monthly fee so I’d suggest setting up your phone as early as possible in any given month.

* Overseas long distance calls (outgoing) seem to me to be cost prohibitive. (But they can call in and you only get charged a local per minute rate.)

* The service only works in Canada, not in the USA or anywhere else in the world.

There’s also a very helpful unofficial users’ forum created by a regular SpeakOut customer that has all sorts of good advice and tips on how to get the most out of the service. It doesn’t shy away from critical comments either.

Oh, one last thing. If you see me walking down the street, texting away and almost running into a pole – you will be kind and shout out a friendly word of warning, won’t you? You see, I feel I’m kind of new at all of this again…

If you have any thoughts on cost saving strategies using your cell phone service please send them along, we’d love to share them with your fellow freelancers struggling on a limited budget. Just use the comments feature below.

Posted on July 4, 2012 at 11:41 am by story board · · Tagged with: , , ,

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