Should we go with a pay-as-you-go cellphone from kajeet?
April 22, 2009 5:00 PM   Subscribe

We think it would be a good idea for our teens to have (a) cell phone(s) . We're considering kajeet and a pay-as-you-go plan. Good/bad idea? Details inside.

Here's the situation:
Our kids, like most teens, have lots of social/school-related activities going on, and we need a way to contact them and vice versa to arrange pick-up times, in case of emergencies, the usual stuff.

I have an Iphone (original, not new hotness version), and use AT&T, but only because that's all that's available. AT&T phone service is awful in our area--people can't even hear me when I'm calling from our home. My spouse's Blackberry (Verizon) has great service, but it's a work phone, and they pick up the tab.

We don't feel there would be any savings for us, in our situation, to go with some kind of family plan. I can't see making anyone else go with AT&T, and he can't share his Verizon (which is much better) with us all.

Our oldest hates talking on the phone unless he absolutely has to (prefers gmail), but our youngest is more social and I could see him accidentally racking up overages (something other parents have told us horror stories about). We'd prefer to keep it simple, not have to pay a lot of incremental fees, and just set a reasonable limit on the phone(s).

So, we are considering a pay-as-you-go-plan with Kajeet, which offers budgeting options (so the kids can pay for more time if they want it) and parental controls if we need them. Anyone have any experience, good or bad, with them specifically?

Also, if you have a "pay as you go" plan with your kids with another carrrier, how is that working out for you? Is this the right way to go, in our situation, or are we making a huge mistake?
posted by misha to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total)
Best answer: Pay-as-you-go and make the kid pay for themselves. And please teach them how to use them responsibly--there is a time and place for everything.

Cell phones are the bane of the American educational system. Teachers tell them not to text during class, they do it anyway. I've heard some schools are experimenting with (I don't remember what they're called) systems that block all electronic devices like cell phones during class hours because they are THAT BAD for everyone in that environment.
posted by Ky at 5:12 PM on April 22, 2009

Best answer: pay-as-you go is the way to go. Once they run out of money, the phone calls stop. It might even help them learn to budget both money and time. Also, most low-end PAYG phones (Nokias) have good audio quality but are so boring as to be invisible to teen-age thieves your kids may go to school with.
posted by GuyZero at 5:20 PM on April 22, 2009

My kid isn't old enough for a cell phone (at 6), but my husband and I used the pay-as-you-go service from Virgin Mobile for years. I really liked it - we had good coverage pretty much everywhere (lived in the Denver metro area, but traveled to Texas, Hawaii, eastern US). The rates were reasonable. A downside for a teenager might be having a phone with VIRGIN emblazoned on the front.

My only real frustration with it was that I tended to run out of minutes at inopportune times. But this could be responsibility-building for a teen.

Based on my experience, if my daughter was a teen I would definitely go with a pay-as-you-go plan with her.
posted by jeoc at 5:23 PM on April 22, 2009

@ky some of the more experimental teachers I know use cellphones for educational purposes in class. Especially in districts with few computers it is wonderful to use the small computers (cell phones) that students already have. Many phones are web capable even those that aren't, the options for student interaction with web 2.0 tools and web based surveys is incredible.
posted by dstopps at 5:45 PM on April 22, 2009

if part of the issue is that you want to be able to contact them - then pay-as-you-go works against you. what happens when their phone shuts off, and you want to call them?
posted by Flood at 5:54 PM on April 22, 2009

My wife uses T-mobile's ToGo pay-as-you-go service, and we're fairly happy with it. (I have a work-supplied Verizon phone). In situations where she's low on minutes, I can buy minutes online with a credit card if she is not somewhere she can get a phonecard.
posted by fings at 6:18 PM on April 22, 2009

Pay as you go will teach them how to budget and is the way to go. I've also seen people get MetroPCS unlimited for $43/month if they don't want to get in the "teach the kids a lesson" mode.

If you don't you ARE going to be hit by a 300 / 600 / 1200$ phone bill.
When I got my older Virgin pay as a go phone the aisle was filled with dads and their daughters. The dads were all giving the "responsibility talk" and all had been burned by out of control phone bills.

I believe that 911 service will go through even on a pay as a go phone that has run out of minutes (though you should check on that)
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:25 PM on April 22, 2009

How old are the kids? The Verizon pay-as-you-go works well. And I think they include in-network calls for free, so at least the calls to one parent are included.
posted by barnone at 6:29 PM on April 22, 2009

Best answer: Our kids (15 and 17) both have Tracfones and we're very happy with the arrangement. Our older son bought his own with his summer earnings. Unfortunately, he didn't save enough to get him through the school year, so he's scrounging up $ to buy minutes here and there. Our younger son received his for his birthday this year with a couple hundred minutes and the agreement that any future minute would have to be purchased by him. He immediately started texting with his friends and blew through 200 minutes in a month and a half. After paying $20 of his own money to buy his own minutes, he has since cut way back on his texting (especially not knowing where his next $20 is coming from!) It is causing him to brainstorm about jobs he can do for neighbors, etc. to earn money.

We've found the Tracfone to be very economical. My husband has one also. Some of them come with double minutes FOR LIFE, which is a GREAT deal (it will have a sticker on the outside of the box). We usually purchase 120 minutes, get 120 minutes free and then find an online code for another 30 free minutes.
posted by caroljean63 at 7:19 PM on April 22, 2009

Page Plus Cellular runs off the Verizon network and has reasonable refill options - you don't need to buy a $100 card to get a good rate. On a $25 card you get 9 cents a minute (300 minutes) and on an $80 card you get 6 cents a minute. They also have a Talk n Text plan for $39.95 a month that gives 1500 minutes and 1500 texts. If you have Cricket in your area, that can also be an option, but read the plans closely to make sure you're getting the right services for it. can be an excellent resource for this. Those people know waaaaay too much about cell phones.
posted by azpenguin at 7:27 PM on April 22, 2009

Can't speak to the pay-as-you-go but we have a T-mobile family plan and calls to others on the plan are free. I opted to get unlimited texting because even when my kids were forbidden to send texts their friends would send them and we'd get charged. Simpler to have unlimited texts - and not have the headache. For logistics it's been easier to send a text telling my kids to be someplace at a particular time. We've never hit our limit on talk minutes but the kids send lots of texts fwiw
posted by leslies at 7:34 PM on April 22, 2009

I always vowed that my kids wouldn't have cells phones until they were way older. Well, that was until the day that Sophie's bus showed up ten minutes early and she was taken to a neighbour's house without my knowledge. And I sat at the bus stop for 20 minutes waiting for her to show up. In the rain. Panicking and thinking that my kid was missing. So, I went against my own vow and, I bought my six year old one of those Firefly pay as you go phones. I had nothing but problems with it. It never had service, and it kept eating the minutes even though they were ever actually used. When I did need to reach her, I always got a recording saying it was out of range or out of minutes. So, I think after $200+ worth of phone and minutes, I got about 8 minutes' use - and that was teaching her how to use it in my living room. Any time I called their customer service, I got a run around saying I needed a new SIM card, or they'd put me on hold and not come back. My emails also went unanswered.

I finally gave her one of my old LG phones and added her onto our Sprint "All You Can Eat Plan" (or whatever it's called - the family plan with all the minutes/data that is shareable). I think it cost about $12 to add her on (I was even able to port the Firefly phone number over so she'd have a local area code and prefix). She keeps it in her backpack and I have my number and a few others programmed in. She knows she's not allowed to call anybody, and nobody knows her number but me and her father. I taught her how to turn it on, and how to speed dial me, and she's done it one time so far.

The only problem we've had is with telemarketers calling her number. When I answer and inform Comcast that they're calling a 6yo, they generally balk, but I threatened to contact the Consumerist last time around and the calls stopped.
posted by dancinglamb at 7:37 PM on April 22, 2009

One thing to consider is your definition of "emergency." 911 will always work, but if you don't have free in-network calling to one of your phones (Verizon sounds like it'd be the better one, if AT&T is that iffy), they won't be able to call you if they run out of minutes. And "emergencies" you're thinking of are probably not 911 emergencies so much as "My car broke down" or "I'm at a party and I need a no-questions-asked pickup."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:49 PM on April 22, 2009

bottlebrushtree: "If you don't you ARE going to be hit by a 300 / 600 / 1200$ phone bill."

Not true. My neighbor's 17- and 14-year-olds have never once caused an overage. They don't have unlimited minutes but do have unlimited texting.

AT&T has a feature where you can control how many minutes and texts your kids are alloted each month. This feature is $5/month. You can split the minutes and texts equally or save some in reserve as rewards, or revoke some as punishments.

Pay as you go generally has a high cost per minute and you have to watch the fees. Some have access fees where you pay, say, an additional dollar, or $5, each day you use your phone. Some of them have clauses that if you don't use your phone for so many days, you lose your minutes or have to pay a reactivation fee, and when that happens I think you risk losing your number (not sure). Minutes also expire after a certain amount of time... generally a year, I think.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:52 PM on April 22, 2009

Are there no pay-as-you-go plans in the U.S. that have free incoming calls? That would solve the parent-needs-to-reach-child-but-child-has-spent-all-minutes issue.
posted by polexa at 10:04 PM on April 22, 2009

I've had Virgin Mobile PAYG for years and it's worked out well for me based on my minimalist cell-phone needs. Cost is .25/minute for the first 10 minutes used per day, after that, minutes cost .10 per. Text messages (inbound and out) cost .15/each. There is no access fee. Unused minutes never expire so long as you keep your account active. Keeping an account active means buying at least $20 worth of credits (Virgin calls it "topping up") every 90 days. Top up cards can be purchased at just about every grocery, convenience, or discount department store. (A couple times a year, Target puts the top-up cards on sale: $20 for $15, whee!). Alternatively, you can have the account auto-top up if you're willing to register a credit/debit card or Paypal account on Virgin's website (doing so will drop your top-up minimum to $15/90 days). Even if you fail to keep your account paid up, Virgin will reserve your number for you for 150 days.

You can also purchase some additional plans a la carte: bulk text messages, web access, etc. Note that VirginMobile does not roam; great if you live in a city or along an interstate, not good if you venture off the beaten path. Otherwise, they lease bandwidth from Sprint, as does Kajeet.

Now, as far as having a kid use one of these, VirginMobile does not offer any parental controls like the Kajeet phones do, which means anyone can dial or text your kid's number. Personally, I've noted a moderate uptick in spam texts and telemarketing calls recently which would make me hesitate to give my VM phone to my own middle-schooler who is somewhat um...excessively trusting about this sort of stuff.

One last thing about VM's PAYG: there's no paper trail. You will not get a bill listing all the incoming/outgoing calls/txt made on the phone nor is this information available on VM's website. This may or may not matter to you, but it's something to consider.
posted by jamaro at 11:33 PM on April 22, 2009

From my own personal experience: My son's father felt that it was important to provide our high school son with a cell phone. He added one from his own plan, providing him with a very modern phone with all the bells and whistles: camera, texting, ad nauseum. In less than one month, he was in trouble at school for having it turned on during class and then had it confiscated. Within another month he was removed from school and charged with sexual assault because he "sexted" a graphic picture of himself to a freshman girl. My advice is to get a very basic pay as you go phone without a camera. I would even go so far as to try to get one without texting, especially if your teens are driving or are easily distracted in the classroom.
posted by yankee named dixie at 7:46 AM on April 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers so far!

Emergencies: not in the 911 sense but in the "I need to get picked up now/hours earlier/hours later than we planned" sense.

School: They CANNOT use cell phones in school here when school is in session without risking suspension, so that's an important issue for us (not to mention that as a former teacher I'm personally strongly against this). We would be very strict with this.

We actually have a free phone from kajeet (I won it in a promotion), which is why I'm leaning in that direction, so I'm not worried about the phone model, just the service itself. Right now, kajeet has $29.99 unlimited texting a month with their phone minutes--didn't think the kids would need that, but in light of some of the comments here I'm considering it.
posted by misha at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2009

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