Sarah and I each go on a significant trip about twice a year. Usually, one trip is together, another trip involves Sarah visiting her sister on the East Coast, and the other trip usually centers around one of my hobbies.
Those trips are the few times each year where we leave the upper Midwest. Almost all of the rest of the time, you’ll find us in either Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, or Wisconsin.
Yet, we’ve found over the years that it only takes a few calls on those trips to add up to the cost of moving us from a regional calling area to a nationwide calling area.
Three trips a year, with just a few calls on each trip, is all it takes to make a nationwide plan substantially cheaper for us, plus it gives us the freedom to not worry about our minutes while on vacation.
Much like the overage tactic from yesterday, all you really need to do to figure out what is best for you is to pull out old bills. Figure out what the additional cost is per minute for calls outside of your area, estimate how many minutes you’ll use in an average month (or an average year, then divide by twelve), then see if that amount is more or less than the cost of upgrading to a nationwide plan.
If you travel much at all, you’ll quickly find that a nationwide plan is worth your while.
Some readers have suggested whether it is worthwhile to get a separate pay-as-you-go cell phone solely for travel use while retaining a lower-cost regional cell phone plan.
I went on a group trip a few years ago where one of us actually tried this. He picked up a Tracfone solely for the purposes of the trip and ended up spending about $70 total on the phone.
Over the course of a year, that adds up to about $6 per month, which is a reasonable deal. The question really is whether or not that amount adds up to less than the overage minutes or less than an upgrade to a nationwide plan.
To get those numbers, your best bet is to contact your cellular provider and get some real data. Find out how much an upgrade to a nationwide plan actually is, as well as the extra cost for out-of-area phone calls.
Remember, the key is to have the plan that is the least expensive for you over the course of a given year. Depending on your situation, it might involve playing overage minutes, it might involve a separate pay-as-you-go phone, or it might involve a plan upgrade. A few minutes spent running the numbers can end up saving you a significant amount if you travel with your cell phone.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.