One out of five cell phone users in the U.S. have prepaid phones. Worldwide the percentage is much higher. For the first time, last year saw more sales of prepaid phones than phone contract arrangements.

imageIn the U.S. there are over 54 million users of prepaid phones, an increase of 17 percent over the last year. Regular, contract-type cell phone usage only grew 3 percent over the same period. We wouldn’t think this augurs well for companies that provide cell phone service..

We were curious about what is probably the best-selling prepaid phone in the U.S., the “TracFone.” We bought two of them at our local grocery store for $10 each. One was missing its battery, making it worthless, and we tossed it. (At these prices, what are you going to do, complain to the company and see if they believe you?)

These phones are dirt cheap. You get 10 minutes of calling time when you buy the phone, and for another $20, you can have 60 minutes more for another 90 days, and so on. The phone comes with a calculator, stop watch, voice mail, call waiting, caller ID, etc., and lets you send three text messages for each minute of air time. Except for being cheated by buying one that had no battery, we found everything worked satisfactorily.image

Another cheap way to go is T-Mobile. They have a wide range of phones, starting with a $20 Nokia phone that includes an FM radio. (We figure that’s so you can tune in the news to find out why your phone isn’t connecting.) Some of the T-Mobile prepaid phones even have cameras. Adding talk time, starts at $10 for 30 minutes. An even cheaper service charges you just $1 for unlimited talk only on the days you use the phone. (That would certainly work for us: we started about 12 years ago with an expensive cell phone and ended up making only three calls in four years.) There are great reviews of prepaid phones at and The latter site has codes you can use to get discounts.

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