My Latest Telecom Package

My wife and I try to be frugal, and one way to accomplish thrift is by getting the same thing for less. She's a thrift store shopper--Ben has almost nothing that wasn't given, bought on sale, or bought at a thrift store and he looks great--and I'm a telecom thrift shopper. I like the cutting edge, but generally when it cuts a fee elsewhere.

Several months ago, I found that using a Vonage line at my office plus a Cingular plan with rollover minutes and their FastForward service would reduce my cell bill overages. FastForward costs a flat $2.99 per month to forward calls when the phone is placed in a special cradle to any number you determine at no per-minute cost. This offloads minutes from the cell network, and Cingular appreciates the reduced cost.

But I hit some speedbumps. Vonage's service wouldn't work on my office DSL because we're so far from the central office that we have too much noise on the line to achieve the kind of latency on average needed for voice communication. We get 768 Kbps SDSL just fine, and don't see any real interruptions, but voice can't hack it.

Somewhere in this period my wife moved her AT&T Wireless number onto my Cingular account to shave $20 per month off her phone bill. I moved down a notch or so in my calling plan when I got FastForward and saved money there, too.

LogoOur latest combo is even better. I just called Cingular when I discovered that a FamilyTalk 850 plan will cover us both for much less--it's 400 minutes less per month than the plan we're on now, but we've shifted a lot of minutes off the cell phone, or are using it intra-Cingular (mobile to mobile) which is free under our plan. So moving to FamilyTalk 850 cuts about $50 per month off our bill with that change, and Cingular isn't charging us any fees since we're sticking with them. We had to commit for the odd period of 11 months more.

One reason we could make this switch is that I moved my $25 per month unlimited Vonage service home. We'll move Lynn's business line--about $60 per month--using number portability to ring on the Vonage line, so that won't increase costs there and will save us about $55 per month. We'll shift the $20 to $25 in long-distance calls we were making on our landline to Vonage, saving that much per month.


I also discovered how good Skype's SkypeOut long-distance service is. Skype is peer-to-peer voice over IP, but they have a 1.9 euro cents a minute (about 2.5 U.S. cents) long-distance rate within the US and to most of the world I talk to--Australia, Europe, North America. So I can use Skype if I hit the limit on my cell service or need to make calls out of the country.

When we make all these changes, probably by early January, we'll have cut $130 or so off our family and business telecommunications' costs. Which is extraordinary. We'll be getting better service with a number of unlimited options that we were paying on a metered basis for before.

This is the future.