The Best Money I Never Spent

I have a confession to make: I use a flip-phone. Not sometimes, as a break from my smartphone, not as a statement of fashion, but every day, as my phone. I’m probably not the typical non-smartphone user: I’m 34 years old, I first got a Facebook account while in college (though I rarely use it) and I have a LinkedIn profile (that I use frequently).

I didn’t set out to be such an outlier; from 2009-2014 I had smartphones (provided by two different employers), and I loved reading the news on my commute, checking sports scores, being able to look up directions on the fly, and playing their games, but in 2014 my employer informed us that they would no longer be providing phones. They had elected to give us all a small raise to cover any additional cost, but from that point on they would require us to load our work email onto our personal phones via a secure app. I have a bit of a contrarian (and maybe also a penny-pinching streak), so when I learned that I could buy a tablet for less than the price of the new phone and with a fraction of the monthly fee, I opted for that instead.

I still have the tablet- on the rare occasions when I truly expect to need connectivity on the road, I bring it. I get the occasional strange looks, but I find a few major advantages to this lifestyle:

  1. When I read articles like this one I don’t need to worry about whether my own critical thinking, and fortitude are up to the task of resisting a perpetual onslaught of micro-targeted advertisements, I simply know that I’m outside of that particular battlefield.
  2. I can easily segregate who has access to me at what times of day. The important people have my number and can reach me readily. My email doesn’t interrupt me- I only check it when I want to.
  3. I have down-time. I often bring a book if I expect to wait, otherwise I take advantage of the break to notice my surroundings, and maybe do a bit of a mindfulness/breathing exercise. It’s also been a reminder that patience (like most virtues) is not simply innate, but is more like a muscle or skill that grows stronger with exercise and atrophies when unused.
  4. I have fewer temptations. I don’t need to be told about deals near me, I don’t need to get hooked on the latest app game (I know my personality’s addictive enough from my Angry Birds experience).
  5. I have never paid for a phone case. I dropped my phone off the Chicago El to the sidewalk below. The battery flew out, I put it back in, and the only lasting damage was that the clock that showed while the phone was closed no longer was legible. It lasted another two years after that. Again, this may be my contrarian streak, but it’s always rubbed me the wrong way that a company could make a handset that they know the consumer will take everywhere and use every day, and yet make it so fragile that you need to purchase a separate piece of equipment (or an insurance plan) for it to have a decent chance of withstanding even a small drop.
  6. I’ve never worried about someone stealing my phone. When I lived in Chicago there were stories of people having their phones snatched from their hands as the doors to the train closed. I never

Here’s how I live with the biggest drawbacks/the most frequent issues people raise:

  1. Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a photographer. My phone has a small, built-in camera that works in a pinch. Otherwise when we’re on vacation we bring a real camera.
  2. I look up directions beforehand. I write them down. If I get stuck in traffic, I get there later or, since I’ve actually seen the map, I re-route myself.
  3. I do miss out on some cultural moments. I’m sure if I were on social media more frequently I would be more aware of memes.
  4. Texting is slow. I still use the keypad button-pressing method. On the plus-side, I can occasionally write a message without looking, because the buttons are real.
  5. When I need a cab, I call one. I pay more and the experience may not be the best, but I have the added satisfaction of knowing that my ride isn’t lining the pockets of someone who deliberately flouted local laws (looking at you, Travis) and that the company isn’t dependent on achieving oligopolistic status and price-gouging in the future in order to be profitable (looking at all y’all tech IPOs).
  6. I pay for things with credit cards. I pay friends back in cash, or check, or in-kind, or via Paypal…
  7. Occasionally someone will try to reach me via email with a time-sensitive opportunity/update and I miss out. This happens far less frequently than you might think (I can think of about three occurrences in the last 5 years). People who might need to reach me usually have my phone number, if I expect to need it I usually have access to a computer, and in dire straits I can call my wife (if we’re not together) and ask her to check my email.

Some friends have told me that you can have your cake and eat it too by getting a smartphone so you get all the benefits of that, but also have the perks I mentioned if you just install the right encryption technologies and keep all of your privacy settings up-to-date and never install anything that you don’t absolutely know that you need and maintain your discipline and add a red-filter so the phone doesn’t mess up your sleep… but that’s the point. I don’t have to worry about all of those things. My phone does it for me, and I’ve saved a few hundred dollars per phone (plus the savings on additional data). It’s even reduced my carbon footprint: I do stream video at home, but not outside of it. If you’re thinking about making the switch, I promise you can do it. And if enough of us do, maybe the identity harvesters and behavior manipulators will lose some of their ability to make us spend money on things we don’t need, to support businesses that don’t create value, and to pit us against our neighbors.

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