I always hear people say, "I got this great new cell phone and it was only $49!" Or $99, or $149. You fill in the blank. But the cost of the cell phone you get means nothing. The only thing that matter is how much your monthly service plan costs.

CNET.com ran the numbers and found if you get a fancy-dancy smart phone and a bundle with unlimited everything, you effectively pay anywhere from $100 - $120 each month with any of the Big 4 carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon.

So does it matter if your phone is $49…if you commit yourself to $2,400 over the course of 24 months?

On the other hand, you can go with a discount carrier and generally pay about half as much each month.

I've been testing an Android manufactured by Huawei on the Metro PCS network. It sells for $100 with no contract. Monthly service with almost unlimited everything is $50. (When I test something, I buy it. I don't accept any freebies from manufacturers or carriers at all because I want you to know I'm unbought and unbossed.)

Do I like the Metro PCS Huawei as much as my main phone, the EVO 4G from Sprint? No way. That EVO is so amazing it practically makes my breakfast in the morning!

But if I wasn’t spoiled by the EVO, I would love this particular Metro PCS phone. They've got a reliable network that works all over most of the United States. And unlike the EVO, the Huawei actually has good battery life.

My point is before you commit yourself to one of the Big 4 for 24 months, you should consider being a free agent with a non-contract carrier.

Image of Clark Howard About the author: Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a consumer expert whose goal is to help you keep more of the money you make. His national radio show and website show you ways to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off. View More Articles

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