Cell phone contracts can be expensive and complicated, yet the general consensus is that you can't live without a cell phone. Whether money is tight and you're looking to cut costs or you just don't want to sign a 2-year contract, there is a cell phone alternative that's right for you.
There are a variety of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) programs that allow you to use your computer and your Internet connection to make phone calls. Skype is a very popular and versatile VoIP program; it combines instant messaging with video chat and VoIP. If you are calling to a cell phone or LAN line, you must add funds to your Skype account in order to make a call. However, if you are calling someone who is also using Skype, the phone call is absolutely free. Many smart phones have Skype applications, allowing you to reach your friends on their phones using your computer. In order to use Skype, your computer must have a built-in or external microphone. Using the video chat feature requires a webcam.
While you can't make a phone call using email, you can send text messages. All major cell phone providers give their customers an email address associated with their phone number (for example firstname.lastname@example.org). Any email you send to that address shows up as a text message on the receiver's phone. Some email providers, such as Yahoo!, have built a text messaging feature into the mail homepage. You can also use an instant messaging program, such as AIM or Pidgin, to send a text message. Open a new message and type +1 and the phone number you are trying to reach. (Please note the +1 only works for numbers within the United States.) Email and instant messaging programs allow the receiver to respond to you.
If you're looking for an alternative to a cell phone contract but still want or need to have a cell phone, prepaid phones are the best alternative. Every major cell phone service provider now has prepaid phones, which essentially work like a calling card. You add funds to your account via telephone or using a phone card purchased at most major retailers (i.e. grocery stores and electronics retailers). There is a per minute and per text message rate. You can track how much of your phone card you've used right from the phone. This is an effective way of monitoring phone use, keeping costs low and avoiding a contract.