I’ve been selling some stuff on Craigslist lately, and yesterday I got a sob story email from a guy who was telling me how much he needed the stuff because he’d recently had to sell his car in order to “keep a roof over his family.” And at the bottom of the email was one of those tag lines that says “sent from some sort of awesome amazing-pants 4G phone that costs $500”.
My husband gets this all the time with his clients too. People who tell him how they can’t afford their health insurance premiums and are thinking about going uninsured, but the email is sent from an iPhone or a Droid or something like that.
I try to keep rants to a minimum on this blog, and instead focus more on the positive side of frugality. But this needs to be said.
A smart phone is not a need. If it is, your employer will be paying for it. If you’re paying the bill out of your own funds, the phone is a want, not a need. And wants are luxuries – things we can buy if and when we have all the basics covered. That means a solid emergency fund in place and basic living expenses covered without too much of a stretch. If you can’t afford health insurance, you can’t afford a smart phone. If you can’t afford your mortgage or your rent, you can’t afford a smart phone. If you can’t afford to pay for your groceries, you can’t afford a smart phone. Period.
Yes, I know that “everyone” has one. But it’s still a want, not a need.
And I wonder what percentage of people with smart phones are using them just to dick around on Facebook, Twitter, and non-work email? That’s fine of course, as long as paying for the phone is not putting you in the poor house.
My husband and I have one cell phone that we share. It’s not a smart phone. We have a $35/month no-frills cell phone plan (with taxes and fees we pay about $50/month – the actual price is always quite a bit higher than the stated price of the plan). Our phone was free. We’re not particularly thrilled with the phone, and haven’t been for quite a while (it’s a touch-screen model and the touch screen isn’t very responsive). But we don’t qualify for another free phone until August of this year, so we’re waiting until then to replace it.
When we got our current phone, we considered smart phones. We thought it would be nice to use the internet features of the phone over our wi-fi network (and other wi-fi networks when we’re out and about) but still have cell service with just a voice plan rather than a data plan. They told us that we couldn’t do that – if we had a smart phone, we had to have a data plan. That was a deal breaker for us. No way in the world were we going to pay for data service. So we continue to have one regular phone between the two of us. And you know what? Life is great. We have a thriving online business that continues on just fine without a smart phone. We have solid relationships with our friends and family, and our lack of a smart phone doesn’t seem to hinder any of that.
We are not glued to our phone. It sits on the counter and we check it for messages maybe once every day or two. We usually take it with us if we’re going somewhere in the car, but we don’t take it when we walk with our kids and dog over to the local disc golf course for the evening. We don’t have it with us when we’re out in the backyard working in the garden or just hanging out with our kids. Our friends and family know that they can leave a message and that we’ll get back to them within a day. We like it that way. We don’t want to be connected to a phone all the time. That’s just us, but I would say that in general, it’s a good start towards a low-stress life.
So back to the issue of what phone to get. Well, that depends. Is your emergency fund fully stocked? Are you able to hit your savings targets each month and cover all the basic expenses without much trouble? Do you pay off your credit cards in full every month? Do you have leftover money and a smart phone is really, truly the thing that will bring you the most value for that money? If so, then have at it.
If not? No smart phone. I do think that some sort of phone connection is probably a necessity in our society, although I’m sure there are people who do just fine without a phone. But for most of us, a basic phone line is necessary. Consider a voice over internet phone (we use Vonage for our business phone, and it’s a lot less expensive than our personal cell phone. We don’t have a land line). Or just a basic cell phone with a basic plan. If money is really tight, use a prepaid phone and only use it for emergencies. If you already have a smart phone and can’t afford it, you can end your contract and then sell the phone to help pay the contract termination fee. Yes, you might lose some money on the deal. But how many months of not having to pay for data service will it take before you come out ahead? Probably not that many.
Whatever you do, don’t ever email someone your sad story about how broke you are, from your $400 phone that has a $100/month plan charge.