One of the unfortunate side effects of having a media oligarchy in Canada is that we don’t have a lot of competition when it comes to offering media services at prices that are beneficial to the consumer. If you compare Canadian cell phone plans to USA plans you’ll quickly see why competition is a good thing. This is especially if you come from a rural area in Canada where companies basically have a monopoly. In Manitoba for example, until very recently MTS (Manitoba Telecom Services) was essentially the only option for rural Manitobans. Rogers has since entered the fray, but only because MTS has allowed them to use their towers in exchange for other considerations. The infrastructure is still controlled by a single source (which used to be run by the government). To keep a long story only sort of long, this boils down to making lemons with lemonade when it comes to your student phone plan. I don’t know any students that still have a home phone unless they live at home, so we’ll concentrate on cell plans specifically.
We Are Students Hear Us… Text?
Just about every company across Canada has a cell phone plan that is marketed towards students of some kind. They key thing to watch out for is that they are not all created equal. Some comparison points are the amount of data available and the respective long distance plans. Every student plan I’ve ever seen has unlimited texting so I’ll just assume this. Also, most plans allow free long distance after 8 PM and on weekends, so those should be prerequisites in my books. The first mistake many students make is getting locked into a 3 year contract in order to save $50 on their first phone. I myself recently signed a 2 year deal in order to save $500 or so on an iPhone, and I was even hesitant to do that. A lot can change in three years, and you need to think hard if that little carrot on the stick is worth losing all of your flexibility over. There is a reason those companies are so quick to use the tactic after all. They can’t be losing money on every phone they give away.
Data You Will Actually Have a Use For
The data part of the plan has become a big deal for me in the last eight months or so. Until last Christmas I had never owned a smart phone before. I felt like they were a little gimmicky in an age where I could take my laptop with me wherever I went. Boy was I wrong! I love my smartphone, and I honestly have no idea if it’s better than any other (I read plenty of conflicting reviews before buying it), but it works for great for me. Some people don’t use much data, and if you only use your phone to check your messages and send the odd email, paying extra for unlimited data probably doesn’t make much sense. If you’re like most students I know these days, who like to watch Youtube videos, or upload their own recordings, I would definitely make sure I have the unlimited plan, or at least a very large one since companies take full advantage of crazy data rates after you exceed their limits.
Long Distance = Long Bills
For most students that are away from for the first time, the long distance aspect of their cell phone will be one of the primary concerns when it comes to racking up a huge bill. I would seriously think about when you are likely to call your gf/bf and/or mom and where they live. Do you have several friends that require long distance calling? Are you comfortable using Skype and/or Facetime as opposed to long distance calls? Would one of the “pick 5” plans work better than simply increasing your long distance minutes? Do any of your friends and/or family live internationally? If you can, maybe talk to a few post-secondary students and compare phoning habits so you know exactly what long distance coverage you need, and which you don’t. Again, on a monthly basis, this could save you a lot of money in the long run.
Watch out for add-ons on your cell phone plan. This is where they got me as a young student. It is somewhat ridiculous when a plan that is advertised as $29.99 a month ends up costing $60.00+ a month, but that is what can happen once network fees, connection fees, caller display, voice mail, and a long distance plan are added to your basic package (and then taxes are added on). Decide on what you want ahead of time and then try to negotiate it as part of the overall student package. If you need caller display, don’t just allow them to tack it on at $5.00 a month, tell them that a competitor includes that as part of their student plan or something similar. As usual, it’s the upsells that’ll kill you, especially when you will be paying them on a monthly basis and will be locked into a contract for a number of years.
Everything Is Negotiable
In order to get the student deal most places will simply require you do have a student ID of some kind that you can present. Personally, I’m a big fan of hanging on to this ID as long as possible after you graduate. I rationalize it by saying there must be some fairly mature looking doctors and lawyers out there who have had to go school for a while, or people who took some years off before going back to post-secondary education, so they’ll never know I’m blatantly abusing their system. This little trick can be used for things other than cell phone plans as well. It is also key to remember as always that everything is negotiable. I routinely call my cell phone company touting the fact that I have been a loyal customer for X number of years and that this other company has a great deal on etc… sometimes I have to politely state that I am going to have to leave my company if they are not competitive, I then get forwarded to a manager, and for 20-30 minutes of my time I often save a few hundred bucks over the course of a year. It just goes to show that just because something is advertised for a certain price, that doesn’t mean you have to pay it, despite what most Canadians feel comfortable with.
What is the best student plan you’ve seen on the market? What key features did you find essential to your plan?