Skype: The back to school surprise bill stopper

If you've seen "Transformers 2," you're well aware of the trauma that can occur when you're separated from a loved one at college, especially when there are robots or Megan Fox involved.

One of the ways to combat these problems is to use the Internet to stay in touch just like the stars in Transformers did. Unlike robots disguised as everyday objects, the ability to talk online complete with crystal clear video is real. One of the easiest ways to do this, and to conference in friends from all over, is with Skype.

So what is Skype? Skype is a service that lets you make and receive phone calls right from your computer, and with a Webcam you can easily add in videochat. New versions of the software let you share screens and even use your iPhone to make free calls to other Skype users over WiFi.

Getting started with Skype isn't just easy, it's cheap too. Most laptops come with everything you need to use Skype built right in. If you computer doesn't have a Webcam you can get one with a built in microphone for around $30.

From there calling anyone else using Skype is free. If you want to call a standard phone number, like a cell phone, you can pay a small per minute charge or get unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada for $2.95 a month. International plans are also cheap with unlimited use to 30 countries for $12.95.

Even with more teens switching to texting and the benefits of in-network calling, it's easy to go over the allotted minutes on a cell phone plan, especially when it's a student's first year at college. Using Skype's $2.95 unlimited calling plan is a cheap way to keep cell phone usage in check.

Speaking of first-year students, even the thickest skinned students get a little homesick. Being able to videochat with mom and dad or close friend is a great way to ease into new surroundings; keeping any urges to make costly trips back home every weekend from becoming a reality.

For more information on what you need (or don't need) to get ready for school this fall be sure to read a Mom and Son's rules for college shopping.
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