How We Accidentally Saved $5,000 on Cell Phones

How We Accidentally Saved $5,000 on Cell Phones

I’ve been hearing complaints from a lot of people about their cell phones and/or cell phone service. Most recently, it was from the guy fixing my fireplace. Turns out he is spending way more on his phone and phone service than I am, and he isn’t nearly as happy with it.

I’m not sure why it’s not already common knowledge, but more people should know this: cell phones do not need to be expensive.

Even if you need a smartphone for work.

Even if you want nice photos.

Even if you travel internationally all the time.

What are People Spending on Phones?

My research tells me that the average cell phone bill in the U.S. is around $80 per month. For Fancy Phone users, the average may be closer to $125. These numbers do not include the cost of the phones themselves, which can easily be $1,000 or more a pop.

My husband and I somehow missed the memo that we were supposed to spend this much on our phones. We had flip phones for a long time. And then we had very basic smart phones that caused someone at a dinner party to say to me “What are you doing with that phone? Aren’t you a doctor?”

A little over two years ago we got on the bandwagon with Google’s Project Fi. There are other companies that offer competitive prices on phone service – this happens to be the one we like for a variety of reasons. (And no, we are not getting paid to recommend them.)

It’s not just inexpensive. There’s no contract. The coverage is good. The photos are great, and they automatically save to Google Photos. We can travel to over 170 countries with no modifications needed to our plan.

The international flexibility was the big selling point for us. We didn’t even think to check on what we were saving until this year.

What are We Spending on Phones?

The numbers break down like so:

Our smartphones were $150 each, brand new in 2016.

At different times in the last two years, both of those original phones had glitches and were replaced for free by Project Fi. My husband recently smashed his phone with Baby J’s carseat, and they are still giving us some credit toward buying a new one.

Our costs for service (including international service during trips to Mexico, Canada, England, France, Spain, and Morocco) have averaged below $28 per phone per month. That’s under $672 per year for service on both of our phones.

As of this summer, we’ve been with Project Fi for a little over two years, for a grand total (phones and service) of $1,644. You can see the monthly breakdowns over the past six months in our monthly spending reports.

Compare that to the phones the advertisers want us to have, at $1k per phone (assuming we didn’t upgrade for over 2 years) and $100 or so per phone per month for service, for a total of $6,800 over those same two years.

This doesn’t even account for the fact that the vast majority of 12 year-olds have their own phones and our kid does not. (The average age of getting a smartphone is now 10.3, so if we were “average” he would have had his own phone and service for most of the last two years. Even at a cheap $25/mo and assuming his phone was somehow free, we would have been out another $600, bringing the hypothetical cost of cell phone normalcy over the last two years to a whopping $7,400).

But for the sake of argument we’ll stick with that lower number of $6.8k. The difference between what we’ve spent on phones in the past two years and what “normal” cell phone spending would have been – without an annual upgrade for us and without a phone for our middle-schooler – is $5,156.

What to do With an Extra $5k?

$5,156: that’s the equivalent of 6 (six!) well-hacked family trips to Maui, or nearly 5 times what we spent in total on the four awesome trips mentioned in this post.

Or it’s just whatever you want it to be, because it’s five. thousand. dollars.

Even if you are rolling around in so much money that a thousand dollars is mere pocket change to you, and you don’t like my cost comparisons because you hang with the sort of people who are more interested in gigabytes than island adventures, I’m pretty sure we can all find something better to do with $5,000 than spend more time on a screen.

People recording a firework show on phones
Sydney Harbor on New Year’s Eve: over 1 million people (really), most of them viewing the evening through their phone screens. I get the temptation. But it turns out that no one wants to watch your firework videos – no matter how nice the phone was that you used to record them. Put the phone away and enjoy the show. 

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