Hello Muthah, Hello Faddah
April 26, 2016 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Does it make sense to put my parents on our wireless plan, and if so what's the best way to do that?

My mother has been getting warning letters from AT&T that she really needs to come down to a store and talk to someone about her circa-1995 Nokia cell phone. I imagine they want to have a museum induction ceremony.

She's irked because she loves her dumb phone, and she knows she's going to lose her $10/month 60-minute no-text plan. But she doesn't want to mess with a prepaid phone. She literally almost never turns it on, but she does keep it charged and she never leaves the house without it.

And my father does not have a phone at all. She sometimes forces hers on him if he's going out for long, but he never asks for it, and then if she also goes out she doesn't have a phone. They are in their 70s, I want both of them with a phone on them at all times. They live in hurricane country and have a VOIP home phone that doesn't work even with their generator once the cable goes out, so I want them both to have phone and SMS capabilities in a power outage for as long as services are available.

I mentioned adding them to our plan (which is already two phones and two tablets) and giving my dad my iPhone 5S, which she said might pique his interest because he's kind of a gadgethead (but cheap), or I figure we can get him whatever's an entry-level smartphone, even if it's Android he'll probably be okay (he has a Chromebook, so that is maybe better?). We can get mom another dumb phone, or I think she'd actually like a smartphone but it's not urgent.

I am assuming that, with as little as they use it, it would be cheaper to add two lines to our account, put dad on our (enormous, barely-used) data plan (they have wifi at home, where he mostly is), and that would still be cheaper, at least if we can keep equipment costs low, than mom having her own freestanding AT&T account with a single line and no data and a new phone. We're not interested in leaving AT&T for this.

Does that seem like a good idea? Should we go with whatever phones we can get cheap from AT&T or buy unlocked/refurbed phones or some other thing I don't know about? Is there a downside I'm not thinking of?
posted by Lyn Never to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We (my parents) have my grandma on our family plan. We got her a dumbphone with a slide out full keyboard (she figured out texting pretty fast) and her unlimited talk/text (with no data, obviously) adds $10 a month to our overall bill (with Verizon). My grandma also has a tablet (a kindle fire) that uses wifi, which is her go-to for facebook, games, and email.

This combo has been great for her. Especially since she lives in Florida where her power goes out constantly--having a cell phone with a VERY LONG battery life is a good thing.
posted by phunniemee at 1:22 PM on April 26, 2016

Yeah, I've added my elderly relatives to my phone plan. I'm on T-mobile, unlimited everything for the 4 of us (me, spouse, mom, aunt) is $100. It works great. My mom sends me a check for her share every three months or so, my aunt likes to pay monthly. I've thought about just footing the bill myself, and maybe eventually I will, but they were both coming from individual plans which they were paying like $75/month for so $25/month feels super-cheap to them (and it is, for smartphones).

The one thing you need to watch out for is that you tell them not to sign up for anything... T-mo slows down your data after 2GB and my mom signed up for extra fast data via some text that T-mo sent to her, not knowing that that would cost money. I need to go set up her wifi, I guess, because I never even come close to getting the data slowdown. Other than that, I've had zero problems with having relatives on the plan. We're on opposite sides of the country, if that makes a difference.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:24 PM on April 26, 2016

I know you said they weren't interested in prepaid, but my parents use their cell phones similarly, and have been pretty happy with the yearly prepaid plan they got after their network (possibly AT&T as well?) stopped supporting their ancient phones.

I believe that the service they use is Red Pocket, which offers a plan on the AT&T network with 1,000 minutes per year (charging texts as 1 minute per text) for $100. So that's more minutes than they are currently getting, for less money, with texting. And they would only have to refill it once a year (or maybe twice if they turned into crazy texters!)
posted by charmcityblues at 1:35 PM on April 26, 2016

I just did this with my mother and they gave her a phone that is Blackberry-like and cost $50. I think it costs us an extra 30-35 per month before discounts for her to text and call (I get one from work.) The only change for her is that MMS do not work, so group texts and pictures will not show up. It may be possible to pay a bit more to add them.

As for your Dad, you could look into deals they have where you can get a free 16GB iPhone if you add a line and pay to upgrade the iPhone on an existing line on AT&T Next. If that doesn't work for you, I'd get the iPhone somewhere else, just make sure it is locked to AT&T or is unlocked.

For both, I would ask that they add the protection to your account so that they can't "donate ten dollars" by texting a certain number. It should be free to add. We have that because a charge showed up on our bill and they said it could have been from a SPAM text. You could also think about adding Roadside Assistance to your bill for like $6 a month. If you do that, make sure they know how to access it. It is either #HELP or *HELP on your phone, so you could set that up as a contact for them.
posted by soelo at 2:51 PM on April 26, 2016

Totally makes sense. An additional line is $15 on my AT&T plan. She could actually have all the phone and text and data she wants. To me, it is a cheap insurance plan to pay $30 a month for your parents to have a lifeline if needed.
posted by AugustWest at 4:06 PM on April 26, 2016

My mom and one of my friends are both on my T-Mo family plan and it's great. They add an extra $13/mo to the bill, never more, and there's no added hassle for anyone.
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:11 PM on April 26, 2016

My parents, back in the '90's, had an AMPS cell phone on a $10/month "emergency calls" plan, for if they might be stuck on the road and need assistance. At some point in the 2000's, AT&T called them and told them they would have to come in "for a new phone," because the AMPS network was being shut down. Then AT&T upsold them on a $35/month cell plan, because the "emergency" plan was no longer offered.

Incensed at this tactic, I had them return the new phone, and noted that we could put them on our family plan for $10/month, AND they'd even be able to make modest use of it. So we did that. They liked it so much they asked for a second phone.

My parents are a little older than yours, so there are some other aspects to this. I've upgraded my mother to an iPhone, which she doesn't exactly like, but now she's able to do things like taking pictures and use Navigon. There are some medical concerns so I like the ability to be able to run Find My iPhone if need be.

I've never regretted adding them to our plan. See if you can find inexpensive, gently used equipment on eBay, especially if there's technological confusion issues that might surface with a smartphone. AT&T no longer carries useful "simple" phones.
posted by jgreco at 4:12 PM on April 26, 2016

Have you looked into Ting? (Memail me for a referral code discount!) They solved my longstanding dilemma of needing to have a cell phone for very sporadic occasions that works excellently and then otherwise not even turning my phone on for months at a time.

These days I pay $12 a month for my always-available excellent phone when I don't turn it on, and I've maxed out at $32 when I was traveling and doing international roaming and lots of data and texting. I got a nicely large-screened refurbished HTC phone from them but your mom might be interested in their "feature phone" options. You can also bring your own device onto the plan, but I'm not sure that her Nokia would be compatible. You can always ask, though! I bet their customer service people would get a kick out of it.
posted by Mizu at 2:14 AM on April 27, 2016

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