These days, it is becoming easier and cheaper to talk to friends and family around the world using your computer.
Using instant messaging programmes or Voice Over IP (VoIP) technology can save you a fair amount of money on your phones bills.
Instant Messaging (IM)
Instant Messaging is where you have conversations by typing to your friends, using a programme such as MSN Messenger. It is also possible to send photos and other files this way. Instant messaging is generally free, although it usually comes with adverts in the programme, and also, it’s worth looking out for the added extras that companies try to bundle with their IM downloads, such as toolbars for your web browser. Stick to reputable companies to avoid installing anything that will give you nasty surprises in the future.
VoIP technology allows you to hold normal voice-to-voice conversations over the web using your computer. The most popular programme to do this is Skype, although competitors are coming out all the time. You will also require a microphone and speakers/headphones in order to use it. The quality you get is unlikely to be as good as the normal phone line, at least for the moment, but this is unlikely to really matter.
With Skype, calling other Skype users on their PC is free – it is possible to call normal phones, but this is where Skype make their money, so you will need to ensure that your friend/relative also has Skype installed.
Using these two methods, not only can you contact friends and family on the other side of the world for free, but it’s also possible to replace those long text message conversations which might cost you anything between 50p to Â£1 to sort out something as simple as going down the pub. (You know the sort of conversation “What u up 2?” > “Nothin, u?” > “Nowt, fancy goin 2 the pub?” > “Yer cool, what time?”…… already racked up a text bill of 40p between the texters.)
Beware though, instant messaging can quickly become a time-stealer if you leave it running whilst trying to get on with other work on your computer!
This tip forms part of the Money Saving March series of posts.