Thank goodness times have changed and there are now myriad ways to stay in touch and enough competition to drive prices down. Follow this guide to ensure you're getting the most bang for your buck.
Compare long-distance plans
If you do a lot of long-distance calling, it might make sense to look into what the major phone companies can offer in monthly savings plans, which are customised to suit a wide range of needs. This is the most convenient choice, but probably not the cheapest -- make sure you're actually using what you pay for. For instance, if you call overseas, but only to a couple of particular countries, try to get a plan that targets those regions; if all of your calling is within Canada, there's no need to shell out for a North American plan.
Put pen to paper
We're willing to bet that we all still know someone totally old school. An octogenarian auntie or grandpa: Someone who doesn't have Internet, might not even own a computer. Maybe they even have trouble hearing? We're going to suggest something wild, now -- why not write a letter? And to kick it up a notch, write to your friends who are on Facebook, too. We get so little "real" mail these days that it's a special treat to receive something that isn't a bill.
Long-distance phone cards
While not effortless to use, phone cards can actually be a really good deal, especially if your cell is your primary phone. Many retailers are selling cards in $5, $10 and $20 increments and now there are even websites selling virtual phone cards. Do your research and see what's out there -- even test a few.
If you're the one paying the bill for someone else's -- oh, say the kiddies' -- long-distance calling, then a prepaid card is most definitely the way to go. You won't get the shock of a lifetime when you open your phone bill, and they might just learn to budget.
Page 1 of 2 - keep reading for more ways to stay in touch using the InternetComputer-based voice and video calling
Staying in touch via computer has rocketed in popularity from obscurity -- something for computer geeks only -- to something as basic as having a phone, thanks to free and nearly free options for calling around the world.
Skype, for instance, is the best known of these systems -- all you need is a decent Internet connection, a microphone, an optional video camera and a speaker (generally built in to computers these days) and you can install their software and chat via voice or video for free (if your call is from one Skype user to another) or laughably cheap rates to contact someone's phone (just prepay a lump sum -- say, $20 -- and see how long it lasts).
As an alternative to Skype, Apple also has FaceTime for Mac, iPad and iPhone users. All you need is web access and you can take family members on a tour of your hotel room -- or chat eye-to-eye with the grandkids.
Social networking and chatting
Facebook is undoubtedly the best known and most popular social media site, but there are many more free websites that anyone can join to stay in touch with other members of the site. Google Plus, Twitter, LinkedIn -- some are purely social and some are oriented toward business. But all are free and we can't imagine why anyone would use a social networking service that charges.
As for chatting, it seems a little geeky but it can be an efficient way to have a quick conversation. Both Facebook and Google offer free chat services that are easy to use. (Conversely, if you don't want anyone contacting you via these sites, make sure to set your status to "unavailable.")
The point in all of this? Technology may not have made all aspects of our lives easier, but it has given us cheap and easy ways to stay in touch with loved ones. Do some research and take advantage of free services and see how much cash you save.
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