Frugality

Saving Money Using Google Voice

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I’ve had a Google Voice since 2007.  That was actually in the pre-Google days when it was called Grand Central.  I love a lot of things about Google Voice beyond the frugality of it, but there’s also some annoyances.

My Google Voice Setup

Google Voice provides a single phone number that you can route to various “real” phone numbers behind the scenes.  I currently have it forward to a VoIP device at home as well as my primary cell phone number.  In the past, I would also forward calls to my desk phone at work.  You can also answer phone calls from your laptop or tablet device.

With Google Voice, you give out only your Google Voice number and callers won’t know which device you’re picking up on.  When you call someone using the Google Voice app on your, they’ll see the Google Voice number instead of your mobile number.  Unfortunately, if you call them directly from your phone’s dialer, they’ll see the mobile number instead of your Google Voice, which is annoying.

Here’s a diagram of my Google Voice Setup:

Not only do I have Google Voice setup, but I also helped my wife and two children get setup with Google Voice.  And with an $80 Obihai 202 device  (other option), we have all four of us share the same dumb desk phone at home.  I even set it up so we all get different rings so we can tell immediately who is being called.

Here’s a picture of our family Google Voice setup:

The Frugal Professor has a similar setup.

Benefits of Google Voice

  • It’s free.  Free number, free phone calls.  This could be a downside in the future since Google tends to lose interest in things that don’t make money. Though it does give them some sweet tracking data.  Remember, if something’s free, you’re the product.
  • One number to rule them all. No need for people calling me to be aware that I’m answering them on a VoIP desk phone or my cell phone.
  • I’m not tied to my carrier’s number.  I’ve switched carrier numbers over the years but my contacts have never had to change how they reach me.
  • I can text/call from my computer.  I actually prefer to do most of my texting from my computer with a full keyboard.
  • Call schedules.  I have Google Voice setup to only ring our home phone on the weekends and during the hours of 5pm to 9am.  This means my wife doesn’t have to deal with phone calls directed at me during the hours I’m typically at work.
  • Embarrassing my teenagers with my frugality.

Annoyances of Google Voice

Major annoyances include:

  • It confuses people.  When I call directly from my cell phone instead of through Google Voice, the person I’m calling sees my actual cell phone number and not the Google Voice number.  They may not pick up, or worse, they may start using that number to call me instead of my Google Voice number.  I rarely call people when I’m on the go and without the internet.  This usually happens in situations like picking up someone from the airport where coordination is vital. To mitigate this, you can ask your contact to set up a separate contact with the text “DO NOT CALL ME ON THIS NUMBER”.
  • It won’t work with some one-time-password (OTP) services.  I find that one-time-password setups at banks like Wells Fargo and Chase won’t relay text messages to my Google Voice number. In these cases I either (a) set them up using my real mobile number or (b) have them call me, which always seems to work.  Some OTP services will work, but it’s a crapshoot.
  • Contact cards from iPhone users.  Google Voice won’t open vcards sent from iPhone users.  My work around is to forward my texts to my email account, where I can download and read the vcard on my computer.  I have an email rule that marks the texts normally as read and deletes them after 30 days so I can go into my trash to retrieve the vcard if needed.  This happens infrequently but is super annoying when it does happen.

More minor annoyances, which I seldom run into:

  • You have to have a cell phone number to get a Google Voice number.  When setting up my kids with Google Voice, it meant getting a cheap, pre-paid account.  You can always switch the number away, leaving the Google Voice number intact, but annoying..
  • It can’t be used simultaneously with Google Fi.  This means you won’t be able to text from the same app on the computer or on the phone.
  • Text forwarding means duplicate texts.  I usually have text forwarding turned off unless I’m on the go and I know the other person I’m coordinating with will be sending me texts, in which case I turn it on for that window of time.  But during those windows, both Google Voice will get the text as well as my native texting app, which can be annoying.
  • No 911 service at home.  You can set up another service provider like Anveo if you need 911 service at home.  Google Voice will reject any calls made to 911. I use my direct cell phone number for any 911 calls.
  • Can’t respond in group texts that include emails. Every once in a while I’ll get included in a group text that includes someone with an email address.  It’s usually an iPhone user who does it.  Google Voice simply throws up its hands and refuses to let me respond. While it’s slightly annoying, I’m perfectly happy to use this as an excuse to not participate in the text stream.  #misanthrope

No Data Plan

Paired with Google Voice is a cheap, pay-per-minute, prepaid cell phone plan. Years ago I picked up a t-Mobile plan with a $10/year minimum.  They are now assigned to my two teenagers.  They are considered legacy plans so you can’t get them from t-Mobile any more.  It’s $.10/text or -minute to use the service but the kids use it so infrequently that it only amounts to $10/year at most.

Later, I switched to a $3/month for 30 minutes/texts with additional texts or minutes at $.10.  In  a pinch, I can buy 1gb of data for $10 if I need it.  It’s $36/year each for my wife and I.  I rarely call anyone using the cellphone and never text with it because of my Google Voice.  I’m sure there are cheaper plans, but I’m too lazy to switch.

Without a data plan, I use Google Maps’ offline maps for navigation, downloading maps to my phone for offline use.  Offline maps don’t get real time traffic information (duh!), but it’s more than enough to get me to where I need to go.

Conclusion

Paying $60+/month for cell phone service is crazy money to me.  When we were in Spain for three months we opted to get a 5gb/month plan and it only cost $10/month.  And it was more than enough.  Too bad we can’t get plans like that in the US.

What’s your phone setup? I’d love to hear more in the comments below.

Hasta luego!

2 thoughts on “Saving Money Using Google Voice

  1. Preach!

    I’d forgotten about Grand Central, but I was definitely a customer back then. My gmail query says I joined in July of 2007.

    Good memories. Back in the day I used to use Magic Jack as well. Unless I’m mistaken, the magic jack device had a USB port that plugged into my PC with a phone cord out.

    The technology has improved quite a bit since then!

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