For the last several years I’ve been pretty critical of people I meet that can’t pay their bills but they have the latest smart phone with all the bells and whistles. I’ve resisted the urge to upgrade my phone, partially due to budget constraints and partially just to be different. Thus, I’ve been hanging on to the same “dumb” phone I’ve had since 2007.
But lately I’ve gotten to the point where it would be really nice to be able to check email and view my calendar while I’m away from the computer. So I started investigating my options for upgrading.
The pay as you go cell plan
For the last four years I’ve been using Airfire Mobile, a local pay as you go phone service. They’re cheap – $37 a month for unlimited everything. The only problem is I only get local coverage. When I’m traveling I have to buy some roaming minutes (kind of a pain but I don’t travel all that much). Anywho, when I started using them it was just unlimited minutes but somewhere in the last few years they upgraded their service to include data and text too. This is all well and good, except my phone isn’t set up for web browsing or email. So to take advantage of the data plan I’d have to buy a new(er) phone.
And I was ok with that. I figured if I was paying for a data plan, why not have a phone that can use it? I did the research and was ready to drop $50 on a nice used smart phone that would work with my provider. But that nagging question in the back of my mind was, “Am I happy with the service I have and do I want to commit to using them for the foreseeable future?” The answer was NO. I like the price but there are definitely limitations, especially with the quality of signal I get
Family Cell Plans Save Money (but come with some risks)
Enter my sister. As I was asking her for advice (she’s been into the smart phone thing for years), she brought up a new thought. Why not join her family plan and add a line for $20-ish a month, plus fees? It’s cheaper than what I’m paying now, with better coverage and free roaming. I was a little leery because I’ve seen these relationships go bad with many of my clients. One minute everyone’s happy. The next minute someone decides to switch plans and leave the others hanging. Or they stop paying altogether, stiffing the plan owner.
Still, there were some definite advantages. Here are the options I weighed.
Pros of switching to the family mobile plan:
- Cheaper monthly cost
- Better coverage
- Free (new) smart phone
- Free roaming
- No extra charges or fees for activation (promo deal)
- I can keep the same number
Cons of switching to the family mobile plan:
- 2-year contract (what if I decide I don’t like Sprint?)
- My sister takes on the risk of me not paying my bill (would you trust your brother with a 2-yr contract?)
- Limited minutes shared by plan members (I do most client calls via Skype these days, so no big deal here)
Time to save some money
I ended up joining my sister’s plan. I’ll be saving roughly $10 a month. Actually, if I want to sync my Outlook calendar I think I need to pay for an exchange server at about $10 a month, so I’ll be breaking even. I got a free Samsung Replenish, they waived the activation fee, and we’re off to the races. So all in all, by switching to a smart phone I’m better off than I was before. Now I just need to figure out how to operate the stupid thing. There’s something to be said for keeping up with the technology as it comes out.
So has my opinion about smart phones? Slightly. I now realize you can get some good deals and in some cases you can get better deals by having the smart phone vs. the old phones. But if you’re living paycheck to paycheck I don’t think it’s justified. We have a love affair with our cell phones in America and it’s gotten to the point where we actually believe we can’t live without them.
Cell phones are a convenience, not a necessity.
You can rationalize a hundred different ways to justify owning them but at the root of it, they’re not always a necessity. In my case I was already paying for cell usage so I decided to continue allocating that monthly amount for the convenience of having a cell phone. I could just as easily operate my business from the house phone (like we did in the old days). I choose not to, but I recognize that the cell phone is a choice / luxury and not a necessity.
Having said all that, I’m pretty tickled to have a fancy new phone. Ok, it isn’t exactly top of the line, but it’s a huge upgrade for me and I’m not sure how to use all the functions. Any volunteers to help me set it up and teach me how to use it?