With the economy in the doldrums, this might not be the best time ever to get people to sign up for cell-phone services that cost $100 or more every 30 days or so. It might be the right time to reconsider the idea of not agreeing to an expensive monthly contract in the first place.

You can have a cell phone and pay as you go. There are companies that offer plans that allow light users to pay by the number of talk minutes used any time of the day and also pay for each time you use text messaging or even surf the Web on your phone. These providers could also offer daily plans: maybe $1 per day plus per-minute daytime voice fees and free nights and texting.

But what seem to be the best deals of all are the bargain "pay by the month" plans: One fee covers unlimited everything. There are usually no credit checks involved with these plans.

These days you have a large choice of pre-paid services and service providers to choose from. All offer ways to pay less for popular cellular services. AT&T ( T) calls its the GoPhone, Verizon ( VZ) calls its Prepaid Basic/Core/Plus/Unlimited Talk. T-Mobile ( DT) has a number of prepaid plans, and Sprint ( S) has named its prepaid division Boost.

Actually, Boost is the non-contract service of Sprint's Nextel phone service. That means in addition to pay-as-you-go deals for voice, text and the Web, Boost users also get Nextel "walkie-talkie" services in their plans for $1 per day of use or as part of their unlimited monthly plan.

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