The cheapest low usage cell phone.

Want the benefit of having a cell phone? Don't need a lot of minutes? Want to spend as little as possible? Most of the major providers (T-mobile, Sprint, Verizon, AT&T) have pretty high minimum monthly charges. All of them have free phones. Most involve a 2 year contract.

T-mobile Basic Plus = 300 minutes, unlimited weekend = $29.99/month

Verizon = 450 minutes, unlimited night/weekend = $39.99/month

AT&T = 450 minutes, 5000 night/weekend = $39.99/month

Sprint = 450 minutes, unlimited nights and weekends starting @ 7pm = $39.99/month.

What is the total cost of one of these contracts in today's dollars? We'll say that there is no activation fee, you don't pay for the phone, you keep the phone to the end of the 24 month contract, and each plan has $7 worth of taxes included. We'll estimate inflation at 3.4%.

T-mobile: $29.99 + $7 = $36.99/month x 24 months = $857.53
Verizon: $49.99 + $7 = $46.99/month x 24 months = $1,089.36
AT&T: $49.99 + $7 = $46.99/month x 24 months = $1,089.36
Sprint: $49.99 + $7 = $46.99/month x 24 months = $1,089.36

If you use a lot of minutes, the benefit of having unlimited nights and weekends might work out for you. Or maybe you'll want a bigger plan. But if the you only want to use a few minutes a month or just have it for emergencies - $857.53 is a pretty expensive phone to have ($35.73 a month!) So how can you do it cheaper?

The cheapest way I've found is using one of T-mobile's prepaid phone. Here's what you do:

1) Buy the T-mobile-To-Go Nokia 6030 from Walmart. In my area, sales tax is 8.25% - so your total cost of the phone is $29.87 x 1.0825 = $32.33. This phone comes with $10 worth of airtime.

2) Buy a $100 refill card. This will get you "gold status" which means your airtime won't expire for one year. If you buy this online, there won't be sales tax.

You'll have a phone and a total of 1035 minutes for $132.33 = $0.1278 a minute. Not a great deal, but look at the cost per month: $11.0275

Furthermore, from my understanding, at 364 days you can extend out the remaining minutes by buying a refill card. Say a $10 card. Now you have 1070 minutes for $142.33, but thats 44.58 minutes a month for 24 months = $5.93 per month.