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How to cut a $69 cell phone bill to $3

Editor’s Note: In this piece by Carlos Urreta, guest columnist and techie from Austin, Texas, Urreta reveals loopholes to securing the cheapest cell phone deal a user is likely to construct (with some loopholes) without losing most major services.

I bought my first cellular device roughly 10 years ago. Ever since, I’ve always had the latest and greatest device in my pocket. My parents, and now myself, have shelled out thousands of dollars to make sure I can be reached at any moment, while also having the world at my fingertips in regards to information. Also, the ability to call emergency services or contact family during an emergency, which I think is the greatest ability cell devices have given us, is always available.

I actually think I figured out how to beat the system without losing too many of the services I previously enjoyed. My system works for my lifestyle because if I want to talk to someone, there is minimal urgency. I don’t lead a high-stress life, and phone calls are the least of my worries for the day. Nobody ends up crying because they can’t find me. There is also some peace knowing that I’m not connected to the grid for the first time in 10 years.

Beating the System

Below are step-by-step instructions on how I reduced my cell bill to $2.99 while keeping most of the benefits of a smartphone.

Step 1: Android-powered phone

android_logoThose who know me, know I have been a promoter for the Android operating system (OS) for more than a year before the first Android phone, the G1, came out on T-Mobile USA. I currently have the Nexus One Developer phone with no plans to upgrade in the near future. Here are the things I believe a phone must have to work under my plan:

-The ability to expand memory (a user of my system will need a 16GB micro SD card).

-Users will need a phone that is GSM ready.

Step 2: T-Mobile/AT&T Mobility pay-as-you-go plan

T-Mobile-USAT-Mobile USA or AT&T Mobility both offer really good pre-paid plans in which a user pays by the minutes they use. All a user needs to do is pop in a SIM card to their phone, and activate it with a couple dollars for a few minutes. I suggest a user add around 30 minutes because they shouldn’t need more than that. As I’ll discuss later, these minutes are only for emergencies and this number can be given to people who would need to be reached in an emergency.

Users of my system are able to buy a SIM card from places such as Amazon for $5.

Step 3: Google Voice account/number

Google VoiceAside from Gmail, Google Voice may be Google’s most useful free tool. This will be a user’s main number from now on. Have everyone call on this free number provided by Google. There are many reasons that this is the best option to go. Here are a few:

-It’s a completely free number.

-Users get a free voicemail service, and all voicemails are transcribed to users in emails

-Users get a Gmail-style text messaging service when they visit Google.com/voice

-Google Voice calls multiple phones, if a user sets the service up, and when one phone is picked up, the rest stop ringing.

Step 4: Sign up for a Skype $2.99 a month plan

SkypeSkype is a way to make extremely cheap phone calls to anyone in the U.S. and Canada. The caveat, which I will discuss later, is that these calls can only be made and received when a user is connected to wireless Internet via a coffee shop, home, work, or otherwise.

Make sure to sign up for the plan before step 5, as users will get 50% off Step 5 if they do this step first.

Step 5: Buy a Skype number

This will be a yearly payment of $30, but is absolutely worth it in the long run. After one purchases the Skype package for $2.99, the user needs to log into their Skype “my account” and should see a place to purchase a dedicated Skype number.

Step 6: Forward Google Voice to Skype

Log into Google Voice settings and add another phone. This new phone will be a user’s new Skype number from Step 5.

Step 7: Download the Skype app and Google Voice app

Download the Skype app from the Android Market. Install it and sign in.

Download the Google Voice app from the Android Market. Install it and sign in.

Done. So how does it all work together?

Here are some important notes to understand about the new system:

-Users will only be able to answer phone calls when they are near WiFi, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem if one thinks about a normal day living in a metropolitan area. For me, I am near WiFi for 90% of my day and for the 10% I’m not, I could really do without calling anyone. I am either at work or home for most of my daily routine, where WiFi is readily accessible.

-Users can alternatively be more lenient with the use of their pre-paid minutes. Chances are, if a user is still conservative, they will not be using more than a couple of dollars a month provided they keep chats quick, and users save the longer calls for when near WiFi.

-Users of the system will only be able to send and receive text messages when near WiFi. I found myself near WiFi most of the time. If I’m out and about, I just pre-plan my day so that I don’t rely on people texting me for crucial times and meeting locations -it’s really not as hard as it seems. As a society, we used to do that for years before cell phones and people still met up just fine.

What about directions and information and texts?

Some of the best reasons for having a smartphone are that directions and information are right at one’s fingertips. It can answer questions such as, “What was that one movie with that actor?,” or, “How am I supposed to get to 45th and Lamar?”

Here are two apps that will cover the two most important parts of what I think a smartphone provides.

Travel: CoPilot (offline directions and maps)

CoPilotFor directions, download CoPilot Live USA. It gives users access to download all maps in the USA for $4.99. A person can’t beat that price to have the security of not being lost. The service even gives turn by turn directions, and while it takes a bit of getting used to CoPilot, it serves its purpose.

Knowledge: download the ENTIRE Wikipedia

WikipediaA little known fact is that Wikipedia is available for download, in its entirety. Download WikiDroyd first, and then follow the instructions on how to download the entire 8gb file for Wikipedia. For the most part, it’s my first place to go for quick facts. President of Spain? Check. Favorite musician’s biography? Check.

Text Messages

This is something users will have no more use of, unless they are near WiFi. With Google Voice, users can do most text messages to other phones right from the comfort of their browser. Others may also think that a user is spending a lot of time getting these messages properly formatted on a little thumb keyboard and are unlikely to know that a user is sitting back at their oversized computer monitor and ergo-keyboard pumping out text after text.

For me, I can deal without text messages all day. I’m not a 13 year-old girl anymore, and if saving $65 bucks a month only has me plan a little more, I’m completely fine with that. This may be the deal breaker for some. Sometimes a person should be divorced from their phone, especially when that person is supposed to be driving!

Fin.

This is my current cell phone plan. If you are a potential user of my plan who finds yourself next to WiFi for most of your day and don’t enjoy talking on the phone, which leads to quick calls anyway, this method may work for you. I just think about all of the good I could do with an extra $1,000 a year.

What are your thoughts?

Have I figured out the best solution? Have I beat the system? Or, am I just being a cheapskate and am losing out on the real benefits of being connected to the grid? Let me know in a comment!

Would you like all your dreams to come true? Follow Marc Speir on twitter @truthorcon.

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