Google Voice: The $0 Phone Plan

We spend far, far too much on phone service.  If you're paying $60+/month on a phone plan, this can be an easy place to add a couple percentage points to your savings rate.  

Some of Mr. Money Mustache's most popular articles have been about cheap phone plans (Republic Wireless, Airvoice Wireless).  These budget smartphone carriers are a hot topic in the frugal living blogosphere.  For a variety of reasons, these plans don't really do it for me.

For instance: Republic Wireless will sell you a phone for $100-200 and unlimited calls and texts for $19 a month.  They keep costs down by configuring the phone to route calls and texts over wifi whenever possible.  Services like these usually come with lots of caveats: you can't bring your own phone, the Sprint network is full of gaping holes, multimedia texts aren't an option, and a non-wifi data plan is going to cost you extra.

These services aren't quite as cheap as they look, either; if you assume a phone will last around two years, that brings the cost closer to $30/month.  And with all of the caveats listed above, why not just pay a little extra to get a high-end phone on a top-flight plan...?

The Google Voice Experiment

For the last 18 months, I've been doing an experiment on the extreme low end of the spectrum: having no phone and no phone plan at all, and just using Google Voice on my computers at home and work.

This option certainly won't work for everyone, but it's completely free and quite sufficient for those, like me, who live fairly regimented lives and believe the gadget arms race is a monumental waste of time and money.

Google Voice: What It Does

With Google Voice, you register for a new phone number.  You may use this phone number to send and receive phone calls and text messages from any desktop, laptop, or mobile device.  The service may be accessed at voice.google.com or via a Chrome Extension, Android App, or iOS App.

You may automatically forward all texts and calls from your Google Voice number to one or more phones.

A Google Voice number can successfully text most short codes.

You can port an old number into Google Voice, but it will cancel your existing phone plan and require that you sign up for a new one.

Google Voice: What It Doesn't Do

Google Voice can't send or receive multimedia messages containing photos or videos; if someone else attempts to send you a multimedia text, it will fail silently.

Google Voice is only available in the US, and requires that you verify an existing US phone number to get a Google Voice number

Google Voice: Where To Get It

Head on over to voice.google.com and click 'Get a Voice number' to get started.

Bonus Features

It works in places without cell phone reception.  This is especially useful if you, like me, work deep underground and/or near extremely large electromagnets.

You can block any incoming number with a single click.  This means that you can hand this number out like candy at Halloween, and if anyone abuses it (or you'd just rather not talk to them), it's trivial to correct.

You can set specific voicemail greeting messages for specific numbers of Google contact groups.  When you're not available to pick up the phone, you can greet friends, family, coworkers, love interests, annoying people, enemies, and strangers each in their own special way!

You can set Google Voice to automatically transcribe your voicemail and send the messages to you as texts or emails.

You can record calls (4), switch between calls (*), or begin a conference call with one click from within a current call.

You can create a 'call widget', which can be placed in a website and allows visitors to call you without ever revealing your number.  The call can be configured to go straight to your voicemail.

The international calling rates are very reasonable.

Based on a poll of my grad school peers, I estimate that Google Voice saves me on the order of $600 per year.  This kind of money might be small potatoes to someone out in the working world, but it represents a full 2% increase in my savings rate at my present income.

My cell phone status will likely change in the future, but for now?  I'll take the money, skip the endless futile cell phone comparisons, reviews, and debates, and keep the ol' hedonic treadmill running as slowly as possible.