Cell phones have become a necessary part of modern life. It’s not hard to see why. It’s been a long time since cell phones were only for calling. Smartphones are nothing short of miniature computers, capable of doing things home computers couldn’t, even just 10 years ago.

The thing is… without a service plan, smartphones lose all connection to the outside world.

Modern Mobile Service

When you pay for cell service, you are typically buying three specific things.

  1. Minutes (How much time you spend on calls)
  2. Messaging (which is counted by the texts you send and receive)
  3. Data (the way your internet usage is measured)

The Big Service Providers

When you go through the major cell service companies like ATT, Verizon, and Sprint, you can either pay a little and get a little or pay a lot and get more than you’ll probably need. Moreover, the big service companies usually offer multiyear contracts in exchange for discounts on the latest phones. It’s great in the short term but leaves you stuck as time goes on.

Each of the major mobile providers has a low-cost variant. They initially seem like a good alternative. However, your choices are to pick a comprehensive plan that ends up being comparable to the company’s regular prices; or a bare-bones plan that will hit you with steep overage fees if use too much.

Fortunately, there are other choices out there that offer a lower cost option, without leaving you short of the service you need.

Pay as You Go

There are relatively new service providers out there who offer no-contract options with the business model allowing you to pay for what you use at the end of the month, instead of trying to guess how much you’ll use beforehand.

Advantages: This is the very definition of “You get what you pay for.” You are in control of what your bill is going to be, because you get to choose how much you use. You can turn data usage off altogether and not worry about it, while still retaining the option to change your mind at any point. There are also ways around paying for the phone and text component. Apps like Messenger and Skype will count as relatively low data usage instead, leaving your bill notably low.

Disadvantages: These providers piggyback off of the bigger service providers networks. That means the priority service goes to the bigger networks and can cause the pay as you go service to suffer. Also, there are usage limitations that you don’t find with a company like Sprint, such as an inability to send files via text.

Government Assistance

If paying for mobile service at all is a convenience you don’t think you can afford, the government offers free cell service to lower-income families.

Advantages: It’s free. They’ll even give you a free phone to use along with the service.

It means that you are never without any sort of communication options, no matter how dire your circumstance become.

Disadvantages: These plans are not offered everywhere in the country, so its availability to you may vary.

This isn’t a way for your family to stay connected, as the program is usually limited to one per household.

The level of usage is extremely limited. The idea of these programs is to make sure lower-income families can maintain contact with the world. That said, these are not “use them as much as you want” plans. Once you reach your usage limits, you’ll have to wait until the next month to get your services back.

At the end of the day, this is welfare and welfare is subject to change based on the whims of elected officials. If they decide the funds that go toward this could be better used elsewhere, you could lose your service with no reticent alternative.