This post is from staff writer Holly Johnson.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my hesitation to hire out our yard work. After working 60 or more hours per week for the past year at our full-time jobs and side jobs, my husband and I had come to a crossroads. Basically, putting in so many hours meant that we were having difficulty finding time to do anything else. For months, nearly every one of our waking hours had been spent rushing through one task or another. Morning routine. Work. Dinner. Bath time. Kids bed time. More work. Our life had become a chaotic mess, and I finally realized that we had to make a change. We were stressed out and tired, and our lives had become woefully out of balance.

Maybe it’s just stubborn pride, but it was difficult to admit that I could no longer do it all. But, at a certain point I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t superwoman. And after some careful consideration and number crunching, we decided that it was time for me to leave my full-time job and focus on my freelance efforts. Despite the fact that we would be taking a significant pay cut, the move made a lot of sense. My handful of part-time jobs had begun to generate more income than my day job did, and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to meet all of my responsibilities. Once the final decision was made, I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off of my shoulders. Not only do I now have the convenience of working from my own home, I also have time to complete domestic tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning. While that may not sound like a big deal, it really is. Getting stuff done during the day means that our evenings are spent enjoying family time instead of rushing from one mundane chore to the next. The difference in our work-life balance is bigger than I ever realized it could be, and I’m thankful that I finally took the plunge.

The downside to being self-employed

Still, walking away from my day job wasn’t all rainbows and roses. Becoming self-employed meant that I lost the perks that come with working for someone else. In addition to having to pay more in taxes due to the fact that I’m now self-employed, I lost my company’s 401K match, my subsidized healthcare plan, and my company paid smart phone. Despite these drawbacks, we had already decided that any sacrifice we had to make would likely be worth it. Therefore, we started looking for ways to cope with my new work situation.

Since I’ve been paying taxes on my side income all along, I’m already familiar with paying estimated quarterly taxes. However, the fact that I’m now 100 percent responsible for my own retirement means that I need to start saving more money. Since my employer matched my 401K contribution up to 4 percent, I’ll have to save at least an additional 4 percent of my income to stay on track. No big deal. Our health insurance situation also had a fairly easy fix. Since my husband is still employed with the company I worked for, he became the primary on our health insurance plan.

Unfortunately, there was no obvious answer for my phone issue. And since my old work plan had unlimited data, talk and text, I had become totally spoiled. Not only did I never have to pay attention to my usage, but I also never paid a penny for my phone or plan. I braced myself for what a new phone and data plan might cost. I knew that some of my friends were paying upwards of $100 per month for their phones and usage, and I really didn’t want to have to try to fit that into my budget. With my new financial situation in mind, I started researching plans and phones in order to see if it was really as bad as I had heard.

Did I really need a smart phone?

The first thing I had to decide was whether or not I really needed a smart phone. I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I did, but I knew that I wanted to have one if I could afford it. Since we don’t have a home phone, my smart phone had become my main way of communicating with the outside world. At any given point, my phone had also been my camera, my alarm clock and my computer. I hoped to find a phone plan that could provide all of the services that I was used to, but at a reasonable cost. I was on a mission. Luckily, I was surprised by the sheer number of discount providers offering reasonable plans. Here are some of the carriers that I considered:

  • Airvoice Wireless- Airvoice offers all of its services a la carte. For as low as $10 per month, anyone can get a plan with 250 minutes of talk and 500 text messages. Unlimited plans with some data are also available for as low as $35 per month. Airvoice allows you to bring your own phone as long as it meets certain requirements, and their plans don’t require a contract.
  • Cricket- For as low as $50 per month, Cricket offers plans with up to 1GB of full-speed data and unlimited talk and text. They also offer a variety of plans with limited talk and text starting at $25 per month.
  • Republic Wireless- Republic wireless offers no-contract plans with unlimited data, talk, and text for as low as $19 per month. They are able to offer low monthly fees due to the fact that their phones mainly use wifi for functionality. When not near wifi, the phones are programmed to automatically use the Sprint network. The only catch is that you aren’t able to bring your own phone, and you have to purchase one from Republic Wireless.
  • Straight Talk Wireless- Straight Talk allows you to bring your own phone and offers plans with unlimited data, talk, and text for as low as $45 per month. They also offer plans without contracts or any long-term commitments.
  • Ting- Ting’s plans and offerings were attractive due to the fact that you only pay for the services you want. For as low as $50 per month, I could get 500 minutes of talk, 4000 text messages, and 1000 megabytes of data. I could bring my own phone to the plan or choose to buy one of their used or new models. Ting also provides credits to your account if you use less than you paid for, and offers free features such as voicemail, picture messaging and call forwarding.

The fact that I had so many options to choose from was a relief, but it was also confusing. Since I had never monitored my usage before, I had no idea how many minutes or texts I used. After deciding that I didn’t want to be restricted, I decided to go with Republic Wireless. The fact that I could get unlimited data, talk, and text for $19 per month proved too appealing to pass up. And since I have never had to keep track of minutes, texts, or data usage in the past, I decided that I didn’t want to start now. I’m happy to report that I’m pleased with my new phone and plan, and it’s back to business as usual.

Did I really need a smart phone? Maybe not, but I still feel like I made the right decision. It’s taken some time, but I’m finally learning that getting rich slowly doesn’t always have to mean going without. Sometimes it’s okay to indulge in life’s conveniences, and I’m learning to live with that. What matters most is that I found a budget-friendly plan that fit my needs without hindering my short-term or long-term goals.

Do you have a smart phone? If so, are you happy with your plan?

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