Rethinking Old Expenses (The Phone-less Experiment)
The Tako family had a rough day on Tuesday. We lost a soldier in our battle against household spending. After six long years of faithful service my cell-phone died on Tuesday morning. It did so with very inconvenient timing. I use my phone as an alarm clock, and that means when the phone died my morning alarm did not go off.
Yeah, I know — first world problem.
It’s one of those things you take for granted until it stops working. Then, your morning goes to hell. We had to rush-around getting everyone to school on-time that day.
After finally getting the kids dropped off, I spent around an hour trying to resurrect the phone. I invoked all the dark technical arts, lit several black candles, and there was definitely some “arcane chanting” around the alter called my workbench.
All attempts at resurrection failed, and I officially declared the phone “dead”. Rest in peace my friend.
I was feeling pretty sad at this point… not only because replacing the phone was going to cost money, but because I had been really happy with my six-year old Samsung Galaxy Note2. Sure, it was scratched, beat-up, the camera didn’t focus properly, and occasionally it would crash, but none of that mattered.
What mattered was that the phone was reliable and durable. And already paid for too! I know it’s strange, but I have a certain love for old things that are exceedingly reliable. I could care less about bigger screens, faster processors, and the gorgeous curves you find on the new models. Those things are nice to look at, but will they last?
Probably about as long as a marriage to a trophy wife! (Which is to say… not long!)
In this case, I didn’t have a choice — My phone was completely dead. My first instinct was to start shopping for a new phone, but it had been SIX YEARS since I last shopped for one. I didn’t know which models were any good after being “off the market” for so long.
So, I asked Twitter for suggestions:
As you might expect, there were LOTS of good suggestions from the Twitter community. Almost bewilderingly so… there are TONS of great models to choose from!
Then I got to thinking — What if this first-world inconvenience is really just an opportunity staring me in the face. What I really should be asking is: “Do I actually need a cell phone?”
Expenses Are A Choice
Recently I saw a study published in the news that stated you must earn $100k/yr in the Seattle area in order to be “broke”. While studies like that are
comedy for money-nerds interesting, I believe people forget that expenses are largely a choice.
My family lives on half that amount, and we’re a family of four with a child in daycare (which is hugely expensive). So it’s certainly possible to live on a lot less than $100k here, and we still live a darn good life. It’s ALSO possible earn $100k/yr and feel broke exactly like the study suggests.
What’s the difference? It comes down to the choices we make. While it might not be “popular” to believe expenses are under our control, I strongly believe this is the case. We can say “yes” or “no” to most expenses. Or, in the case of others they’re at least very controllable.
For example: the Tako family could *choose* to live in a less fancy house. We need shelter, but we certainly don’t need a house that’s as big or as fancy as the one we have right now. The same goes for food, clothing, energy usage, and a whole host of other services that people take for granted.
Yes, including cell-phones!
After my cell-phone died on Tuesday, it really got me wondering — What if I could just go without for awhile? Could I do it? After-all, it’s not like I have tons of people calling me anyway. Would it even matter?
Will I Miss It?
I’ll admit right now that living without a cell phone is an unusual choice. Not one many people would make. That’s why I think it’s important to try — because it is so unusual. The things we take for granted are often the ideas that should be challenged or questioned the most.
Time for a little experimentation!
Before I decided to do this though, I wanted to sit down and understand what the impact might be. Are there good replacements or work-arounds for all the stuff my cell-phone does today? Spreadsheet time!
Here’s what I came up with:
While there are plenty of alternatives, a few are definitely more inconvenient. For example, I can use Google Voice to make and receive phone calls, but I need a PC to do so. This means I can only make calls when there’s a wifi connection. I can take my laptop to the library or a coffee shop and still make or receive calls using free wifi.
It’s kinda-sorta mobile, but not exactly the same thing.
I admit this will be a little inconvenient, but I rarely make or receive phone calls anyway (this is why I have a $10/year cell phone plan). The impact to me should be minimal.
So far, I’ve been without a phone most of the week and I can honestly say I’ve hardly noticed. The only time when I actively *wished* I had a phone was when I was “killing time” waiting for my kids to finish in the restroom. (They take forever in the bathroom!)
Starting The Experiment
Yep, I’m turning this into one of my experiments. A little “cell phone-withdrawal” experiment. I’m going see how addicted I am, and how long I can last without one. Maybe I’ll get “pushed over the edge” by all the inconveniences. Maybe not! I want to last at least a month without caving-in and buying a new phone.
Is this experiment a little ridiculous? Maybe! I certainly have enough money to pay for any phone I could possibly want, but this experiment isn’t about maintaining the status-quo or using dollars to solve problems. It’s about pushing me outside my comfort zone into places I will find inconvenient. On purpose!
I find that a little discomfort can be a wonderful teacher. In my opinion, there’s nothing like going without to make you appreciate having the simple everyday things in life, like cell-phones.
Inconvenience can also be an opportunity for major savings. While I don’t pay all that much for cell phone service to begin with, the cost of a new phone is still a major expense. One I think often gets overlooked in the name of convenience.
Convenience frequently comes at a high-cost. In the case of objects like a cell phone, it’s something we take for granted these days. Remember — A cost taken for granted is a cost not fully optimized!
Wish me luck everybody!
What’s the longest you’ve gone without a phone in recent years? A week? A month? A year?
[Image Credit: Flickr]
35 thoughts on “Rethinking Old Expenses (The Phone-less Experiment)”
“Probably about as long as a marriage to a trophy wife!” – HA!
Yes, discomfort is how we grow, but most people deliberately avoid any discomfort all all cost, to their detriment. What a great experiment, I think I could do it, probably. But there would be some discomfort. Which isn’t a bad thing.
Thanks Dave! I completely agree! A little discomfort can be a very good thing!
It’s a pain to carry your PC around wherever you go (hiking, biking etc.) What will you do if your wife or day care needs to contact you in an emergency? This is why we originally got cell phones.
If I’m out of wifi range, anyone trying to contact me will need to leave a message. It’s not perfect (obviously), but for all the really important stuff (school, daycare) there are alternate numbers if horrible emergencies happen.
With kids I couldn’t do it! I need to be reachable. If I was on my own? No problem! I would be happy to give it up.
Wow, this is sure to make a lot of people squirm just thinking about the idea… I love it! I’m excited to hear how the experiment goes.
I think I would struggle a little with this personally. I don’t mind the lack of phone calls or texts and I use Google Voice myself. In fact, I loved when we’d head to a place like Kelleys Island for a few days where we couldn’t get a signal. But I would hate not being able to take a quick photo, look something up, or even use Google Translate while here in Panama.
Yep, I can see how having Google Translate would be an important tool living in Panama. I bet you use it all the time!
I would love to go without a cell phone, in fact I only started using one 12 years ago, however, almost everything I do now is tied to the cell number for two factor authentication. So it’s definitely getting very difficult, if not impossible to do without it now. I love having a camera and a computer that is tied to the internet all the time in my pocket.
I guess if I really wanted to I could take a few hours and decouple all the services associated with it, but then I’d lose too much convenience afforded by the cellphone like using ApplePay and the Apple Wallet. Hence I am using the cheapest prepaid plan to keep my number active just to keep those services active because I rarely make or receive calls.
Yeah, I haven’t coupled my phone to any of those payment systems so this isn’t a big problem for me.
Interesting experiment. I wonder about two factor authentication, though. The security benefits of that would take precedence for me! There are ways to use some 2FA without a mobile phone, but they are much less convenient.
In my experience, only a second email address is necessary for most two-factor authentication protocols. I have those in spades!
Good experiment, Mr Tako.
What about emergency calls to Mrs Tako or to be able to receive calls from her if there is a very urgent issue and you are not at the computer?
You’d be like one of the characters in a Hollywood disaster movie who has no means of communication and can’t be warned of the impending crisis of the plot.
Seriously though, I would expect you would be fine 99.99% of the time
In those rare extreme emergencies I can walk over to the neighbor’s house or borrow one from an innocent bystander. Everybody has a phone nowadays. If there truly is something that critical I can find a way to make a call.
Mr. Tako –
I am PUMPED for the outcome of this. Hell yes and YOU CAN DO IT. Excited to see the results, GOOD LUCK and I’ll keep the faith!
Again, it’s very funny… take something away and actually see if it was a need vs. a luxury/want/the outside makes it a necessity, etc.. Very excited on the results.
Yep, it’s going to be fun! 🙂
my goodness! your cell dies and with a net worth of >2.5M you’re worried about a decent cell phone which might cost $250-300 (or much less – mine was 125 CAD -about $95 USD )?
ok experiment away and have your fun – but seriously you’re writing a blog about this ?????
Sure, why not? It’s fun! I’m not worried about the cost. As the post said this is about pushing myself outside my comfort zone.
I love the idea of trying this experiment! Kudos!!
I actually cancelled my personal cell phone when my work went to an IPhone which kinda gave me the best of both worlds (a phone and it is free). FYI – Everyone else in my family still has theirs.
I have often told my dear wife and friends that when we FIRE and I have to turn in my work phone that I just might not get a cell phone.
Why? Yes, one reason is because I am frugal. But I think more importantly I find them intrusive and annoying. They seem like a huge distraction to me from the life I am trying to live. I COMPLETELY know that thinking like this makes me an odd duck. I am OK with that…
Can’t wait to see how your experiment lands.
Once a year we travel somewhere with no cell reception for a week. It’s a good mental break if nothing else.
You can do it! I believe in you!
If your wife is not home and your house is on fire or if one of your children is having a medical emergency how would you dial 911 when every second counts? What if the power and internet are your out at your house and you have to call 911 or if the children need to call 911 for you?
Maybe what you need to look at is what you require in a cell phone and calling/data plan. You don’t need a fancy camera and data for checking social media. You need to be able to call for help and to text when you are running late. Everything else is not necessary and you might enjoy not being connected to social media all of the time.
I have had to call 911 and I would not want to be having to run for help when every second counts.
First of all, my kids don’t even know how to dial a phone. An adult would be dialing 911. Most of the time my kids are at school/daycare. At night and on the weekends when the kids are home Mrs. Tako has a phone.
If the sky was falling in this <.001% emergency case as you suggest where the power and internet are out, then cell service would likely be down too. It's a astronomically small risk that I'm willing to take. For all those other 'non end of the world disaster' scenarios I can call and text just fine.
Good experiment … Maybe it’s just me, but some of the comments seem to be really clear on what you need to do. And all you asked was for how much others didn’t use the phone recently 🙂
1 day in my case…I forgot it at home so I wrote to my husband (by using desktop at work) to let the kindergarten know to call him if something is needed for the little one.
Yeah, it just goes to show how addicted people are to their phones. They forget that people got along just fine without being able to make a phone call from anywhere or access the internet at any moment.
Just like smokers or alcoholics, they’ll find ways to justify that addiction.
Good luck! I don’t think I can live without a smartphone anymore. Most of the usage isn’t crucial, but some are. I have 2 factors authentication on some of my accounts. Also, I use Line to communicate with my relatives in Thailand.
The newer smartphones have much better cameras than the previous gens. I take photos and use them on my blog. It’s a business expense.
Yeah… a business expense. Great idea, but I don’t have money coming in from this blog to pay for a phone (certainly not enough for that).
And again, people cite 2 factor authentication as a reason… which is just wrong. 2 factor authentication does not require a phone. Yes, it’s an option, but not required.
FYI: Line works just fine on the PC/Mac too. You don’t need a phone for it.
I like it! I think you’ll ultimately decide on having a phone because they’re so cheap and useful, but a cut to zero / zero based budget is a great way to reset expectations from what the market says is normal.
However, I thought your $10 p.a. plan was grandfathered or something – are you going to lose it and spend a lot more if you end up back with the 21st century?
In any event, good luck!
Yeah, that’s a grandfathered plan — good memory! It’s a prepaid plan, and as long as I a keep a balance on the account it should stay active. Last time I checked it had $150 or so on the account, so I should be OK when I decided to be a phone owner again. 😉
Interesting experiment. You should consider a cheap “dumb phone” for phone calls and texts.
I’d probably default to a ‘dumb phone’ one of those calls only, or pay as you go. My parents and siblings live in different states than I do. I’m not willing to risk missing -that- call, if I’m needed for an emergency.
At the same time texting is pretty useful. My close coworkers and I text about running late, etc.
If you aren’t paying for the line anymore, will you have to pay a higher fee if you do go back to phone usage?
Last time I needed a phone, I bought one out of pocket for less than the monthly payments, and then added it to my service. It had to be active for at least 30 days, so I got the cheapest plan possible. All in, less than $200 for a new Android. I am anti this extra charge on your bill that makes the phone cost $600-800!!! For how often I drop my phone, people should not give me something so small worth that much money!! (I do have an otterbox which keeps saving the day, also got the sale model for a less popular color.)
How did anyone manage to survive prior to 20 years ago? What was once a luxury has now been turned into perceived necessity. Wonder how that happened.
The last time I left my phone somewhere an hour’s drive away, I didn’t feel like going back to get it right away. Those two silent days were amazing.
It’s a good experiment/challenge. More people should try it.
Yeah, I haven’t had one for 40+ years. I’m pretty sure Mr. Tako will be fine.
iPod works just fine with texting app like textfree. I’ve been happily doing this for 1.5 years.
I love this experiment. I purposefully have zero pay app’s(Apple, etc.) to my phone. I like to make more thoughtful buying decisions. I also keep very minimal apps on my phone to keep me from battery from dying too soon in a given day(my model of phone seem to require a new battery because of a glitch but I refuse to give Iphone any more of my cash).
My youngest son is 10 years old and I have learned from the three older kids how distracting phones are. He already knows, he is not getting a phone until at least 16 if not 18. He has learned to ask adults to borrow there phone if needs to call me.
As for emergencies, in my life, only 1 true emergency has required a phone. We used a landline for that particular emergency. When there was an earthquake here in Seattle 18 years ago, the phones did not even work for me to get ahold of my kids at their day care.
I really think we have so much media/advertisements that buy into our fear that many, many purchases are made because of that.
Well said Marisa! Outstanding comment! 🙂