Omg are your serious? Who told you that you can't save contacts on the phone unless you have a data plan?? Only SIM?? Whoever told you that is grossly misinformed or just stupid. Lol! My son has a Pearl and has contacts on his phone without data. The only thing on his SIM are necessary numbers in case he has to switch phones.
You can check email without a bb plan if you use the gmail client or opera. Opera works over wifi. The built in browser and email will only work if you have a bb plan, but messages will still work for sms.