This is the second installment of a series. The first article can be found here.
Last week I spent a thousand bucks on a phone. I paid full price for it, in cash, no contract. It’s not the phone I originally intended to buy though. I had first picked a little HTC phone that was cheap and had an old version of Android in it, and it was on sale for $180. A modest, frugal smartphone.The HTC was very nice and it was supposed to do the trick, but Android won’t work my calendars the way I need to (like my iPod touch which I use as an organizer), Evernote (which I use for GTD) asked for a new micro SD card, Spotify would just freeze there without launching, and my bluetooth headset had connection problems. The day I bought it I was up till 3 am setting it up, and still no cigar.
So I decided to go crazy and fix this once and for all. And yes I felt guilty and apprehensive about it, but I did it in spite of my stupid feelings because I needed a definitive solution to my communication problem, and I knew I’d find a solution at the end of the bleeding process, or else the solution didn’t exist.
So the next day I broke down and went back to my neighborhood Radio Shack and exchanged the little toy for the $650 iPhone. At the register I bought 2-year Apple Care for another hundo (“$99,” they call it, but come on!) The next day I got a LifeProof case for $80 so that it never gets wet (I know Apple is picky about servicing phones that have been exposed to foggy bathrooms, and we’re in monsoon season here). And $18 for a car charger. That’s $847.
Originally I also picked a plan with 300 minutes of voice and unlimited data for $35/month, but with auto-pay it would go down to $30. A week later I had burned down the minutes, so last night I had to upgrade to a plan with unlimited voice that’s $50/month. That’s $85 in one week.
Add 7% sales tax to everything I listed above.
Yes, I can hear the sound of hairs being raised on the back of your necks when you read how I just spent $997.24 in a phone that will continue to suction $53.50 off my budget every month for the foreseeable future. I can also see the pointed fingers, and hear the cries of “spendthrift!” and “lifestyle inflation!” in front of the jury as the prosecution demands I get burned alive for crimes against frugality.
And yet, I think I made out pretty good with this deal.
See, until last week I was a 20th-century primitive who never had a proper cell phone. I bought a Nokia years ago, but it was a burner I’d recharge only sporadically, for emergencies. I was always counting my 10-cent minutes, and trying not to talk much on it– so it wasn’t a proper phone, like the ones you can just pick up and dial without thinking about the hold time for a customer service representative.
Meanwhile, I’d been using Google Voice and Skype to conduct business. It’s all great and you can talk free of charge from your computer; but if your internet fluctuates (like when you upload big files for a client) your calls falter or fail, and the interpersonal dynamic suffers. Same thing if your computer for some reason (gasp!) crashes.
Before this I used more traditional internet phones, but they all suffered similar connectivity problems, so I figured why pay for a line when I can get the same iffy service for free on the web.
Only problem is now I had to stand in front of the computer to talk, or have a laptop on at all times to carry around while I spoke; so I’d sit down to work with two computers: one to do all the heavy lifting, the other running as a phone. But then the laptop broke, so I had to talk from the workstation, which means I was tethered to it like of those ancient phone booths people used to beat when they were angry with the operator.
So I got a bluetooth headset to pair with the computer. This allowed a measure of mobility, except that the thing would run out of battery in the middle of a call and I had to jack it to the power and sit there yanked by the ear, trying to discuss business. And I couldn’t use the headset while editing video, because the video software can’t relate to it as an audio interface.
So now that I started making money again I decided (deliberately, frugally, consciously), to get me a good deal on a modest phone with a limited no-contract plan.
Except that I already told you the story of the little cell phone that couldn’t.
And it was at 3am when I was still trying to get the thing to work the way I wanted that I said to myself (with an imaginary screaming voice) ENOUGH OF JURY-RIGGED SOLUTIONS AND PINCHING PENNIES AND LOSING SLEEP. I HAVE BIGGER FISH TO FRY AND I AM THROWING MONEY AT THIS AND WILL NEVER SUFFER COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS AGAIN! (That’s an adaptation. In truth, I used a lot of unprintable words.)
In the name of frugality I had already been throwing money at the problem, bit by bit, without ever solving it. Burner phones that I couldn’t freely use. Pricier internet to ensure good bandwidth for free internet calls (how free is that really?) which kept me trapped indoors. Extra laptop always on the side, to make sure I could talk while doing other work (that’s an expensive and clunky phone if you think about it). Bluetooth headsets (and other nonsense) to add yet another point of failure. A non-phone organizer also tethered to wi-fi. A new budget smartphone that wasn’t too smart.
The reason I burned through all three hundred minutes of talk on the first week is that I was busy with business calls– conference calls, calls to distribution, calls to clients, calls to crew, without end, working 14-to-16 hour days. These long days were enabled by the so-called “luxury” phone–the one that sounds clear and does my calendars right and beeps me with reminders at all times and runs my music when I’m stressed and keeps me organized and takes great photographs and *just works*.
And because it just works, and I could focus on other things and not on “making the thing that talks to people work” I got rid of a lot of non-productive busywork, I was able to keep track of my notes and to-dos and appointments anywhere, I was able to talk uninterrupted wherever I went, which meant more productivity, and I was able to make deals that can pay for the phone five times over in the space of just one week–this in addition of the regular work I already had lined up. A week! Basically, 1 day of work = 1 fully loaded phone. And right now I’m writing from the road while working on those contracts.
If I am to lose sleep over money, let it be over making thousands and not trying to save pennies.