The journey of a Christian wife, stay-at-home mom, quasi-tree-hugger, and cheapskate to find ways to "CHanGE" her life to be Cheaper, Healthier, Greener, and Easier. Constructive feedback always welcome!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cheaper: Free Texting and Long Distance

Even though I'm hooked to my smartphone, I've never been much for texting, mainly because I'm Cheap and don't want to pay extra to talk to people since I can already call, email, and send messages on Facebook to them for no additional charge. Even AT&T's old plan of 200 messages for $5/month (which I understand is no longer offered) did not appeal to me. I'd be lucky to send and receive 5 texts per month. Even at 20 cents per message, it still didn't add up to add text.

In the past couple of years, though, I've found some easy workarounds so that if the need to text arises, I can do so--for free. It's not quite as convenient as texting, but for the savings, it's pretty nice.

Here's what I've done:

1) Set up a free Google Voice account. It gives you a new phone number in whatever area code you'd like--your own, the one for your hometown, etc. When I set up my account, I could even try to customize part of it. I made it so that the last 4 digits of my Google Voice (GV) number were the same as our home phone number, making it easy to remember. You can make part of it spell out a certain word as long as phone numbers are available. If you live on the outskirts of a metropolitan area like I do, you might want to make your phone number one for that major city instead of your suburb so that other suburbs can call you for free. Once you get that number set up, you can have both voice and text come to it. If you don't want to pay for texts, I would recommend forwarding the texts to your email address so that they come through just like any other email message. The account is extremely customizable--you can set up different voicemail messages depending on who calls you, you can set multiple phones to ring (I have both home and cell ring), you can block phone numbers, etc.

Another neat feature that's not too prominently advertised--it gives you free long distance within the US on your landline. Just call your GV number from your home phone, push *, enter your 4-digit access code, then press 2, then dial the phone number with area code. I used this feature frequently to call Huz in Afghanistan since he was outfitted with a Virginia phone number all the way over there. It was just like calling Virginia--and I got to save my cell-phone minutes.

The only time you'll have to pay is if you call internationally or switch your GV number. Beyond that, all the features are free. Can't beat that!

The next way to get free texting is limited to those people using Apple devices--iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.

2) Use iMessage. As long as you have an Apple device that supports iOS 5.0 or greater, and the person on the other end does as well, you can text each other within the Messages app on your device, and you will not be charged for SMS. Your Apple device will know before sending which kind of message your recipient can get. If the other person has iMessage, the data box will show "iMessage" instead of "Text Message," and your chat bubbles will show up in blue; regular texts will be green, like this:

(Image courtesy of PC Pro)

If you no longer need regular SMS service at this point, you can block both incoming and outgoing SMS via a phone call to your cell company and still have the ability to use iMessage. You'll have to give people your direct cell number instead of a GV number if you want them to be able to iMessage you.

3) If a lot of your friends are on Facebook, as is the case with me, you can just use Facebook Messenger to shoot quick private messages back and forth.

Advantages that regular SMS has over these three contact methods:

1) It works even if data coverage is not available but you're still within their voice coverage area, which is a much wider area.
2) SMS tends to come through faster than GV.
3) Messages don't count against your network data allowance.
4) You don't have to have a smartphone to use them.

iMessage will not work outside of 3G or WiFi, and GV and Facebook will be very slow. So if you're in a rural area without convenient WiFi and you need to text, these may not be great options for you. But if you have the option--take it! You'll save money every month! If nothing else, sign up for Google Voice and use it on your landline to get free long distance if you have trouble staying within your allotted cell-phone minutes.

Here's another article explaining these alternate texting methods as well as some others available that I haven't used.

Happy chatting!

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