Smart Phones are Going to Cost Me How Much?

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A mutiny is brewing at home, and I don’t know how much longer I can hold it off.

Our cell phone contract expired in August which means we are eligible for a handset upgrade, or able to change carriers without penalty at any time. With scratched screens, odd behaviors, and increased frequency of complete “lockups” our phones are beginning to tell us they are nearing end of life. Chances are we will need to make a move soon, and if that move doesn’t include the iPhone as an option I fear I may come home one day to find the locks changed on the front door. My wife and son both have an iPod touch, and it makes sense to them to have a single device for their phone and music player using an interface they already know and love.

What we’re going to do with our cell phones is a topic that has been raised and discussed many times. I’ve recently performed mystery shopping jobs at each of the major carriers, in the process accumulating phone and plan pricing information from each of them. We all agree that the iPhone5 is too new and too expensive. We’d likely get the iPhone4 (free) or iPhone4S ($100).  Both my wife and my son have indicated they would gladly sell the iPods and use the cash to help offset the price of the coveted iPhone. But it’s not the price of the phone that is making me drag my heels at making the move.

It’s the cost of the plans.

Here’s a breakdown of our current plan, as well as an example plan with 4 smart phones with one of the major carriers:

Current Plan:                       Smart Phone Plan:
Base Plan (2 lines) : $70           6GB Data Plan   : $ 90
Extra Lines (2)     : $20           Line access (4) : $140
Unlimited Texting   : $20
Limited Data Plan   : $10
---------------------------         ----------------------
Total               : $120          Total           : $230


Things were much different when we picked out our current phones two years ago, as smart phones were just beginning their ascent to popularity. We chose phones that we could get for free with our handset upgrade eligibility and did not require a data plan. If my family of four were to now enter into the smart phone era, our monthly cell phone bill would increase about $110 a month.

That’s an extra $2640 over the life of a two year contract.

I used to poke fun at my friends with their smart phones telling them my favorite “app” was the one that lets me press numbers and talk to people. But these devices have become so much more than just a phone. They’re entertainment centers offering access to music, movies and games. They offer GPS, digital camera and video recording capability. With web access, phone numbers and directions can be found and trivia disagreements with friends can be resolved with a simple Google search.

Necessary? No.

Convenient, useful and entertaining? Very.

It’s not a question of whether we can afford it. Vonnie and I have ran the numbers more than once and with the recent increase in our income it fits in our budget. Will moving to smart phones be worth an extra $2640 over the next two years? I stare at the pricing sheets almost every day trying to answer this question, and I’m struggling to find the answer. I don’t want to do it just because so many other people have smart phones. However, if it adds a proportional amount of usefulness, entertainment, and convenience to our lives, then show me where to sign my name.

How much is your smart phone costing you? Is it really worth it?

About Travis

37 Responses to “Smart Phones are Going to Cost Me How Much?”

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  1. Brad Chaffee says:

    $230 for 4 iPhones?? That sounds super cheap to me. Lol

    If I were you and wanted to save money I would just get the iPhone 4. The difference between the 4 and 4s is so small. Basically one has Siri and one doesn’t but there are people who will argue with you about that. Haha!

    We pay about $160 a month for 2 iPhone 4’s with 1400 shared minutes, unlimited data and texting. I’ve tried to change a few times to save money but each time I was very disappointed with coverage. I figure if I’m gonna be spending so much money on a smart phone then the service I get should be good enough to allow me to enjoy it.

    You’ll want to consider service coverage. We currently have Verizon – probably the most expensive of all service providers but the coverage is top notch. We never drop calls and have access to Internet wherever we have coverage which is practically everywhere.

    We’re due for an upgrade now but we’re going to keep our iPhone 4’s and use our ability to upgrade as a form of insurance if our phones break. 🙂

    We love our iPhones!! We’ve tried the Android phones with a no contract service provider and we hated it. The Android phones are such a pain in the ass compared to the iPhone. The iPhones are very user-friendly and you don’t need to buy stupid antivirus protection to keep viruses from ruining your experience. (One of the reasons I hate PC’s! But I still have a stupid PC but as soon as I’m ready to buy another computer and its in the budget I’m getting a Mac.)

    Happy hunting my friend! 🙂

    • Travis says:

      I’m well informed on your love of the iPhone…hahaha. 🙂 The thing that attracts me to the 4s is the larger memory (16GB vs 8GB) and the fact that it has quite an upgrade in processing power. Would I notice a difference in the processing power? Who knows. Would I need the extra memory? I probably wouldn’t….but Vonnie and Tristan would.

      Thanks for your input!

  2. Hey Travis, Great write up on this one. This topic is being discussed everywhere. I just did the same comparison as my plan is up in december. I actually decided to switch to prepaid as I would be able to save about $50 per month, which would offset the cost of my phone in about 7 months. It just didn’t make sense for me to go all in with another contract. Going prepaid would be a little harder with a larger family, but you can still find some deals on the lower iphones at Virgin mobile or even t-mobile. Good luck with the search.

    • Travis says:

      We’re currently with t-mobile, and for the longest time you couldn’t beat their plans (price for # of minutes)…but when we priced out going with them, they are actually the most expensive when going with a contract. I guess I’ve never looked at pre-paid phone plans…I guess I always assumed doing that was more of a “getting a cell phone for very in-frequent use” route. Anything and everything is worth looking into though… they have pre-paid for smart phone usage?

  3. I have 2 iPhones on my plan at about $160 a month. That’s 1400 minutes, unlimited data on my line (I got grandparented in), the smallest data plan for Jayden’s line, and unlimited texting. I probably don’t even have to tell you how much I LOVE my iPhone.

    With the exception of graphic work, my entire business can be run from my phone. Obviously I prefer a computer most of the time, but it’s great to be able to get things done when I’m not able to sit at my desk. Yesterday, for example, I spent about 4 hours sitting around at a hospital while my grandfather had a stent put in. While I was waiting, I was able to check email, approve blog comments (the WordPress app has come a LONG way in the past year or so), send an invoice, check my bank balance, schedule a bill payment, catch up on all the blog subscriptions via RSS…. It’s amazing how much I can do with a device that fits in my pocket.

    If there are iPod touches in the house, you guys already know how amazing the app selection is, but right now you’re tethered to wifi. The iPhones would give you more freedom to get things done – and entertain yourselves, of course – no matter where you are. Maybe I’m enabling but if you can afford it and know that you’ll use them, I say go for it! (And just think, the next time you come to Kentucky, the pics won’t look like they were taken on a cell phone! Assuming we get a waitress who is competent at taking photos.)

    • Travis says:

      Yeah, Vonnie and Tristan are sold on the iPhone due to their experience with the iPod Touch…..which is why NOT getting iPhones is going to be a tough sell. The next time we’re in Kentucky and go for the photo op, we’re definitely asking for a waitress with photography experience…..LOL. ENABLER!!! 🙂

  4. The Barn Cat says:

    I’m on a family plan on Verizon with my mother and sister and I pay about $85/mo for my iPhone 4. My mom is talking about switching from iPhone and Verizon because of the expense, but my sister and I will probably stay. The cost sucks, but having the ability to use my phone for tasks when I’m away from my computer is so lovely. Plus, I hate to be a fanboy here, but I just love my iPhone. We are due for an upgrade in February, but we’re both going to keep our iPhone 4 as long as possible to keep our unlimited plan and avoid the unnecessary cost of new phones.

    • Travis says:

      I’ve never paid for a cell phone (always picked the free phone when eligible for a handset upgrade), and we’ve always kept ours until they’re about worn out (like they are now). So, I certainly identify with you wanting to keep your iPhone4 as long as possible – the other thing about brand new technology is that there’s always bugs and kinks to be worked out. Most likely they’ll come out with an upgrade to the Iphone5 in the near future with lots of fixes, and a boost in power too. Just out of curiosity, when you do upgrade, The Barn Cat, how much would you be willing to shell out to move from your iPhone4 to the next generation?

  5. Good post. I know they can be expensive, but it’s worth the convenience for us. We run our own business and having our phone with us while we’re out and get something we need is a big benefit for us. Plus, we get to write off a certain amount as we’re self-employed.

    • Travis says:

      I can definitely see their usefulness for business purposes, John, but for us it would be purely personal use. Although I guess technically my social media usage does support my part-time freelance writing career…..

  6. Jerry says:

    There are some good deals out there. It does lead to wondering if you really need it though because some of them are pretty pricey. I like it and it’s insurance for me getting all my emails when I’m not at my desk. It leads to a lot fewer frantic calls from my staff.

    • Travis says:

      Sounds like you’re in the boat of using it for work too, Jerry – smart phones certainly sound like a great convenience for that. Do you think that the increased accessibility of people (via email / phone / text and even video chat) has reduced the expected response time when someone tries to get a hold of you? Fewer frantic phone calls are DEFINITELY a good thing! 🙂

  7. Beckey & Jeff says:

    We have 5 phones our our AT&T plan, 750 shared minutes (more than enough since we all text mostly), 3 iPhones, 2 regular cell phones. One of the iPhones still has unlimited data grandfathered in, the other two have the 2GB plans @ $25/each. We also have unlimited, family texting. Our total cell phone bill each month is about $220. We love having our iPhones but also wonder if we should go back to regular cell phones or just stay with the convenience of having everything at our fingertips, anytime we need it.

    • Travis says:

      We’re on the basic cell phones wondering if we should move the other direction, Beckey and Jeff! Do you think you’d miss the convenience if you dropped it? Also, did you know that AT&T now have shared data plans? Doing the analysis of those plans it looks like the more phones you have on the plan, it’s to your advantage to use the shared data plans….just something for you to check out!

  8. Our mobile phone bill is now one of our top 4 expenses. Yikes! It has me considering how to really cut this, but as you said the apps are very handy and have become almost necessary for our personal finances. If you find a better solution, I’m all ears.

    • Travis says:

      I think it’s interesting, Brent that the common theme in the comments (as well as other people I know personally) is that they’re very convenient. Are Cell phones (and really smart phones as we go forward) becoming the next “necessary convenience?” Homes (shelter) are a necessity. While there is certainly discussion about the best way to buy a car is with cash, there are few that argue that people should live without a car. Television or some sort of visual entertainment is the same way. Many bloggers write about getting rid of cable….but replacing it with Hulu or Netflix or some other way to get that visual entertainment cheaper. There are very few that argue in support of getting rid of all visual entertainment. Notice that nobody (yet) has argued that I should suck it up, and drop having cell phones all together and save that much money each month.

      What do you think, Brent?

  9. Robert says:

    I currently have the AT&T Mobile Share for 6GB for 4 x iPhones and I am paying $232/mo. In the future, I’m seriously considering Prepaid from Straight Talk at $45/mo each phone for unlimited talk/text/data.The catch is rather than buy the phone discounted for $199 from a carrier you have to pay the whole $599 for an unlocked phone. Also Prepaid carriers have very limited if any LTE coverage (true 4G data). Straight Talk rides on AT&Ts HSPA+ network so if you choose an iPhone 4Sor 5 it will say 4G, but it’s really like 3.5G. In practice, this is mostly noticeable if you watch a lot of video. Browsing web pages will be faster on LTE than HSPA+ but is the a difference of a few seconds for a big page really all that painful?

    • Travis says:

      I’m coming from a phone that has limited web access and *maybe* used 3G some of the time….so browsing the web at 3.5G would probably be a dream for me. 🙂 Saving $50 a month sure would be nice….but the purchase price of the unlocked phone would be prohibitive for us….especially if we had to buy four of them!

    • Noah says:

      A used AT&T IPhone 4 can be purchased for around $200. The 3G service is fine for most things. Plus it’s way too easy to burn through a data plan on 4G. I know several people who almost consumed 1G in a weekend on their new IPhone 5.

      I use Straight Talk and have been very satisfied. It is essentially AT&T service for 1/2 the price.

      • Travis says:

        Thanks for the suggestion, Noah……it’s interesting thinking of the tradeoff of the phone price vs the price of the plan. Coming up with the money to buy 4 phones outright to use a less expensive carrier is prohibitive. Unless we could make our current phones last long enough to save up…..but then we’re buying used phones and who knows how long they’d last. Hmmm…..something else to think about I guess!

  10. Slackerjo says:

    What do you want to do on your phone? Make calls and text? Surf the web? Can you work/life surfing chores wait a bit til you find yourself in front of a computer. Do you really need a smart phone. Will a $100 dumb phone allow you to do the minimum? Unfortunately cell phones have made us think we are more important than we really are and we must respond to everything NOW!

    Ask yourself, can it wait? For most of us, it can. We really are not that important. Sorry to burst your bubble 🙂

    • Travis says:

      No worries, Slackerjo, I’m very aware that I’m not that important, and yes pretty much everything can indeed wait until I find myself in front of a computer. 🙂

      This is definitely a “want” not a need. The question I’m asking myself is…..does the value or benefit of having this “want” justify it’s expense? If we couldn’t afford it I wouldn’t even be asking the question, so in other words, is this something that is worth spending our disposable income on?

  11. Petunia 100 says:

    I saved a bundle on my cell bill when I switched from AT & T to Ting (“dumb” phones). They have smart phones and data plans, too. I suggest you take a look at their pricing.

    • Travis says:

      Interesting, thanks for the pointer, Petunia, I’ll certainly look into it! Can you comment on what kind of coverage they have?

      • Petunia 100 says:

        TIng uses Sprint’s network. You’ll have to judge if Sprint provides good coverage in your area or not.

        I haven’t had any trouble, and could not be more pleased with the service. Or the fact that my phone bill went down $100 per month. 🙂

        • From what I can tell, I get good coverage in my area with any carrier. So, the question would be when we travel (which isn’t all that often). Although I don’t plan on going backpacking in any remote hills anytime soon. LOL. Thank you so much for the information!

  12. I have Verizon, which — as Brad said — is probably the most expensive carrier, but also the carrier with the best coverage. Honestly, I would switch to a cheaper carrier if it weren’t for the fact that my boyfriend, with whom I share the plan, is often in remote sections of Oklahoma, where Verizon is the only carrier that he can reliably get.

    We’re on the Android system (I love, love, love the Samsung Galaxy S3 phone for Droid; I can’t say enough good things about it.) Including taxes, surcharges, etc., we pay about $230 per month for a smartphone plan with 3 phones, 2000 shared minutes (free nights/weekends and free Verizon-to-Verizon), 500 texts per phone, and unlimited data. That breaks down to about $76 per person x 3 people.

    • Hi Paula – so nice to hear from you! It’s interesting because all of the carriers are actually pretty close together in cost when I priced out iPhone carriers – Sprint was the least expensive. I’ve also heard great things about the Galaxy S3 – but that puppy is HUGE!

      Coverage certainly sounds like it is a factor for you….although it confuses me a little, as each of the carriers I spoke to essentially told me that they all let each other use their networks without any “extra cost” to their customers so they said there really isn’t any coverage issues any more.

      Sounds like that is not true?

  13. I am not much an iPhone fan. I prefer Android over iOS. Nevertheless, bear in mind that you are paying not only for the iPhone itself but also for convenience. And $230 for 4 iPhones is definitely worth it!

    • I have quite a few friends that have Droid based phones too and love them. From what I heard if you like to be able to customize your interface Droid is the way to go – iOS is what it is. I also found it interesting that for all you hear about the iPhone, I saw stats on market share that showed Droid having 75% of the smartphone market compared to iPhone’s 15%. I was shocked to see that big of a gap (with seemingly everyone raving about iPhone). I may have to check out a Droid phone and see what I think.

  14. Kathy says:

    We have 5 phones on AT&T, 4 of the iphones & 1 a Windows phone. I prefer the Windows phone because the interface is so much like a computer. However, apps for Windows phones are extremely limited and I am now questioning my decision. Can’t do much about it for another year, so will deal with it. Even more, though, I am questioning my decision to go with a smart phone & why didn’t I just stay with my old semi-dumb phone & the $10 data plan to access my emails. OR go entirely dumb phone & just make/receive emergency calls, which was the reason why I got a “wireless phone” (as it was called back then) in 1985. OK OK – that particular phone could now be used as a door stop. 

    That said, everyone else loves loves loves their iphones. My husband just got another one after having a dumb phone for 6 months. He was given an iphone from work for a few months and got hooked. And he is not tech savvy at all. (He’s been unemployed for the past 6 months & the agreement was he would get an iphone when he found a job.) The other 3 users are in their early 20s and would have withdrawal if they didn’t have their iphones. They consider it a necessity and couldn’t do without them. Lucky for us, our discounts are grandfathered in, so it is “only” going to cost us less than $250/month for all 5 of us having data plans, unlimited texting, 700 minutes that we hardly ever use because it’s free mobile-to-mobile. Thank goodness the 3 in their 20s pay their share of the bill or else I wouldn’t have all those iphones, I don’t care how “necessary” they are to them.

    I am sure none of this helps you with your decision, because I go back & forth on the subject as well. Good luck!

    • Kathy, you’re the first person I’ve heard say they prefer the Windows phone. 🙂 I checked one out and not sure what I think of the interface…..although from what I’ve heard, it’s much like Windows 8 – so all of us PC users will get to know that interface pretty darned well in the near future.

      Your thoughts certainly do help me make my decision. You (and the other comments) are verifying that I’m not the only one that is having this exact same struggle, but even other budget conscious people find smart phones worth the cost.

      Thank you so much for sharing!

  15. RickF says:

    Also, for those of you with kids, Kajeet offers competitive plans that also allow remote GPS tracking if needed.. Check them out.. Our existing AT&T plan for 3 phones (1 semi-dumb + 2 iphone 3gs’s) runs out next month just before 2013 and we’ll be ditching AT&T and running for the hills.. 🙂

    Ok.. The kids will be on Kajeet and us adults will be somewhere else — perhaps T-Mobile pre-paid or one of the other AT&T MVNO’s (mobile virtual network operators) — see the list of available MVNO’s on Wikipedia..

    • Travis says:

      ooh, GPS tracking on my kids – that would be AWESOME. 🙂 I’ve never heard of MVNO’s – I didn’t realize there were so many choices. I wonder if I’d trust going with something other than a major carrier though…

  16. Ramiro Portillo says:

    Well I quess I am one of the lucky once. My att cell phone was up for renewal but did not renew. Because I am disabled and receiving, SSDI, Section 8 Housing, etc. I have received a free government cell phone at no charge. My minutes per month will be 250. I really do not use my cell phone. I use it to go grocery shopping and to visit my doctors. Just incase something goes wrong that I need to pull over then I will use my phone. If I choose to upgrade my minutes then I will get charge. I never give out my cell phone. This is a luggery for me The least things I can get ride of that are luggery; I will get ride of. I have chosen to downsize by stop buying clothes, shoes, ties, etc. I am a Retired Bank Official. I have 25 suits, my own Tuxedo, 20 pairs of differet shoes and Tennis shoes, 40 ties and 10 bow ties, 40 shirts, sweaters, belts. It would be a sin to buy more. I am concentrating in getting ride of my creditors; so why get more into debt. I don’t even owe credit cards. I have centralized my checking, savings, debt card, car/apt insurance, idprotection, bill pay into one bank. That way I do not have fees and still earn interest. I have been with Wells Fargo as an employee and client since 1981.

  17. I found this article from 2012. Its funny how things changed in 5 years 🙂

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