Phone home, but only if you can decipher your calling plan
August 19, 2004
By Katie ShafferEarlier this week I found myself muddling my way through a myriad of choices delivered by a fast-talking sales person who was trying to “help” me change my cell phone service. When I began the transaction, standing at the counter, I felt fairly intelligent. By the time I signed the papers, my head was swimming with confusion, and I was not feeling quite as smart as I know I really am.My older daughter and I waited about 40 minutes to be helped down at the Verizon store in Reno. That gave us plenty of time to take pictures of each other with the camera phones on display, fool with ringers, check out all the accessories, and generally scout our options according to posters on display. I needed to replace a phone that fell in the river. This is the third cell phone that has either fallen in a lake or the Truckee River in the past couple of years. It’s one of the hazards of mountain living experienced by members of my family in the summertime. We’ve carried insurance on our cell phones in the past, but of course, we didn’t have it on this particular phone. So I decided to replace it, and add another for our 13-year-old who suddenly needs an electronic leash, in my opinion. I’ve noticed that some parents delay getting their kids set up with cell phones. My younger daughter is getting one a full year earlier than her older sister did. As it’s been with many rites of passage for my children, I tend to lower my standards, or as a friend helped me rationalize, I change my standards when the younger one comes along. My older daughter has gotten used to this rather unfair set-up, and for that I apologized to her as we stood around waiting to be helped at the Verizon store. We both knew that she was made to wait until she was in high school to get a cell phone. And there I was intending to get my middle schooler a cell phone that I now feel is needed.Finally we were called to the counter. As the sales clerk launched into her quickly delivered recitation of calling plans, I listened with all my might. “My cell phone bill has more than doubled lately,” I told the woman. I explained that I’ve traveled to the East Coast several times this summer and that I have two more trips planned in the coming months. “Oh, then you probably want the national plan, not the local plan,” she informed me. “For $39.99 a month, plus $20 for each additional line…” That’s about all I heard because she then rattled off a series of qualifications to the plan. Knowing I hadn’t absorbed the entire explanation, I asked her, “So is that cheaper than my current plan?”While she stepped into the back room to fetch our two new phones, I begged my daughter to help me sort through the options. “Did you get all that?” I asked her.I’m convinced that these sales clerks are well trained to make something complicated sound simple as they fly through the details. Since I wasn’t convinced that I was choosing the right plan, the sales clerk handed me a printed sheet which apparently outlined all the choices.”It sounds to me like you’ll like the value plan,” she told me. I scanned the sheet, not seeing the value plan anywhere. My head was foggy, and now my eyes weren’t working either. In the end I scrawled my signature several times, understanding my new plan about as well as I understood the old one, which is not very well. What I do know is that I purchased two new phones, and I’ll get a rebate on one if we send in some paperwork. I told my daughter that the rebate was her job.As we were heading for the exit of the store, a guy waiting to be helped stopped us and asked if we had just gotten two phones for $29.99 or $49.99. I shook my head and told him, “They don’t have deals like that anymore.” He started to ask us another question about what we had just gotten, and I couldn’t answer him because I didn’t fully know myself what I had just agreed to. I shrugged and told him, “Good luck.” My hope is simply that my next bill will be an amount I can count on having to pay every month, with no hidden surprises.Driving home I thought about the guy who stopped us at the door. Maybe he was planted there to remind us that we just got swindled, or maybe he was there to reassure me that there are others who feel just as confused as me.Katie Shaffer is a Truckee resident.