Q: I know you've written about telephone plans in the past, but I'm trying hard to save money on my phone bills. Any new advice? - ET Phone Home
A: Dear ET: Yes indeedy, you can find telephone/telecon bargains. As a matter of fact, my hubby enjoys magicJack, whereby he switched from his regular long-distance phone line to this Internet-based "VoIP" service.
This service provides you with a phone number and unlimited calls through a standard phone (cheapies abound) for just $40 the first year and $20 each subsequent year.
The typical family spends $600 yearly on a line and long-distance charges. So switching to magicJack can save - the second year and beyond - close to $600 a year! (As an aside, a Vonage plan performs similarly. For more information, call 1-800-968-8720.)
Be careful, though, to note magicJack's downside. You must have high-speed Internet and the computer must remain on.
Obviously, by your computer staying in this mode, you're risking phone service disruption if a power outage occurs. Call 1-800-897-8700 for more info.
Place long-distance calls when you're not charged for them. Most phone plans, whether through landline or cellular phones, don't charge for long-distance phone calls placed during off-peak hours, such as after 9 p.m. or during the weekends.
Another option is to switch to digital phone service. Many communities have digital phone service available that serves in place of traditional landlines. Digital phone service generally comes with free long-distance in the continental United States, even during peak hours. The downside to a digital phone is that you will lose your phone service whenever your electricity is down.
Obviously, you can save some moolah if you bundle your services. In our area, Comcast, EPB and AT&T are seeking customers, who, for one fee, are willing to "bundle" multiple services, such as cable TV, digital phone and Internet service. Because you are contracting with the company to provide you with several services, the company can discount the cost, which results in a lower phone bill.
If you pay by the minute, limit your phone conversations during peak hours. Even better, ask the other person to call you back or move the conversation to a time in which you will not be charged for the conversation.
And finally, decide if you even need a landline; many folks are moving to a cell phone to stay in touch. If you decide on a plan with many worlds of available minutes and also cancel your landline, you both lower the cost but also eliminate that phone bill altogether.
And if you don't talk on the phone as much as I do (!), switching to a prepaid cell service is a great idea.
In fact, this switch can save you several hundred dollars a year, if you average less than 200 minutes of monthly gabbing.
A word of caution, though: while the average $520 savings sounds wonderful, if you talk more than the allotted time, hefty fees will take a hefty bite out of you-know-what.
Editor's Note: Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.
E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.