If you have hi-speed internet and are using any phone service other than a Voice-over Internet Protocol, like Skype, you are throwing money away.

If you are moving to or just visiting a foreign country where hi-speed internet access is available, you really do need a VoIP service and a headset. You can plug into any computer and make calls to anywhere in the world. Or carry your laptop, even better.

If you don’t have a VoIP when traveling outside your country, calls cost 25¢ to $2 per minute. Or more. During our first trip to Costa Rica, December ’05, I had my cell phone. Everyone was amazed that it worked everywhere. HA! We were here for five days and my bill was $800. I only called to check on the boys and listings… That bill was a stunner.

Today, there are surely cheaper worldwide calling plans available. But with Skype, I pay 2¢ to 6¢ a minute for calls anywhere in the world. I have a U.S. phone number ($38/year including voicemail) to give out to my U.S. friends and family still trapped there. Calls to me can be forwarded to my Costa Rica cell phone from my Skype service. So far, no other phone company can beat these prices and services.

Can you use Skype even if you don’t live abroad? WHY NOT?

While I was in KY, I had to set my mom up with a phone line. Because she no longer had a cell phone. Because Cingular screwed me (it was only good for them) and I stopped the service. Mom needs a phone, of course, so I set her up with Skype. Here’s how:

First, I went to Office Max and bought her a headset, like a regular phone headset, with a microphone and earphones, $25 for a good one. Some sets say "Skype certified" on the box, but the truth is, you can use any headset and microphone, one piece or two. When I first started using Skype, I used a $2 mike from Office Max here and a $2 headset from an airline… anything will do. I’m sure the $350 Bose Noise-cancelling headphones would be really nice along with a Shure Karaoke Mike… but nobody needs that.

You can also just use a microphone to talk, then listen to your caller on your computer’s speakers. Great if you live alone – I do this sometimes when the guys are elsewhere. You need to keep the volume down, though, so your caller doesn’t have to listen to her voice feedback thru your mike.

Next, I went to Skype and downloaded the program to Mom’s computer. The program shows up on the main page when you first visit Skype. She installed it, chose a user name and a password, and voilà! She’s ready to call any other Skype user anywhere in the world. For free.

But wait! There’s more. Can she call people who don’t have Skype? SURE, with Skype Credit!

We go to the website and click on Skype Out (all these links are found at the very bottom of every page). We bought her $10 to start which, at 2¢ to 6¢ a minute, will last her a good long time! She’s a member of my Skype Group so her balance is "topped off" every night (they have my credit card on file.) Plus, in January, Skype is starting a $15/year for all calls to the U.S. and Canada. It may be a price increase, but it’s still damned hard to beat!

Now Mom can open up Skype on her desktop, put on her headset and call her non-Skype friends using the Skype dialpad – just tap in the numbers. There’s a contact list to which you can add your Skype and non-Skype friends. If you use Outlook, Skype will automatically integrate with that.

But WAIT! There’s more. Can all her non-Skype friends call her? YOU BET. With Skype-In.

Back at Skype online, choose the Skype-In link at the bottom. You select your desired area code, then choose a number you like. You can click "show me 10 more numbers" all day long till you find the combination you like… We bought Mom a phone number with a KY area code and unlimited voicemail for $38 for the year. Just like me.

So for less than $100, mom has a "landline" and a year’s worth of long distance.

Wait! Can you use a regular phone? OF COURSE.

Actually, you need a special regular phone that has a usb plug at the end instead of the phone jack plug. Plug into one of your computer’s usb ports – it rings like a regular phone, everything. The advantages are that you get to talk on a regular phone and you don’t involve your computers headphone plug, so you can leave your iTunes speakers plugged in. The disadvantage to these phones is that they cost $60-$150.

Mom’s other options for a landline were the local phone company for $45/month plus long distance. Or a cable company phone line for the same money. FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS A MONTH and NO long distance? That is outrageous. Wish I’d thought of it. Fortunately, she has cable internet so doesn’t have to have a landline anyway.

Now Mom and I talk a LOT, practically for free, with me in another country! She is saving a bunch of money with cable hi-speed internet and Skype. She can turn off her computer and hence her phone at dusk when she goes to bed. She’s not bothered by a phone ringing and she gets her voicemail in the morning. I done a good thang fer my mom. Surely, heaven’s gates will open for me. In 2057, when phone calls are free.

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