Frugal Man — Might Buy a Cell Phone

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Not sure you are aware of this, but the cell phone industry will pass a fairly significant milestone this year and there is a good chance I could be the one tripping the wire.

At some point in 2014, there will be more cell phones in use than there are human beings on our planet.

At some point in 2014, I will be purchasing my first cell phone.

If the two happen simultaneously, that truly will be a monumental event.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) counts this sort of thing and they say it’s definitely happening this year. We started 2014 with 6.8 billion cell phones. There are 7.2 billion people in the world. If the annual growth rate of both humans and cell phones holds steady, the race to 7.3 billion should be over sometime this summer when someone screams: “Can You Hear Me Now?”

That someone easily could be me.

I am 58 years old. I’ve been in the communications industry (newspapers, TV and radio) for most of the last 38 years, been married for 25 (glorious) years and have three (marvelous) sons between the ages of 17 and 23 and never had a cell phone. They all have one. I don’t.

I have treated cell phones the way politicians treat the truth: Use it if it’s convenient, but generally speaking, avoid at all costs.

The fact that I am surrounded by users makes it almost too easy to be a cell phone leper. If I actually need to make a call, chances are the person standing or sitting next to me – whether they’re related or not – has one, and is able and willing to dial it up for me.

I found plenty of proof of that while starting research on my first move into the 21st century:

  • There already are more cell phones than people in the United States. There are 103 cell phones for every 100 Americans. In another month, there might be 104.
  • 99 percent of Americans earning over $50,000 use cell phones. I didn’t know I was a “1 percenter.” That might be a tough club to leave.
  • We are not alone. More than 100 countries in the world have cell phone coverage that exceeds their population. Hong Kong, for example, has 229 cell phones for every 100 people. Saudi Arabia has 187. Russia has 183. What are they all talking about?

OK, so everybody in the world is jumping off the bridge and now, so am I. I’d say “Sorry, Mom,” here, but my 86-year-old Mother has a cell phone and, like everyone else in my business, social and personal circle, has been pestering me to get one for years.

Not surprisingly, the Frugal Man said no because of cost. About seven years ago, I paid $59.99 for three phones in my house that are derisively referred to as landlines. I pay MagicJack about $25 a year to get local and long distance service. Phone rings, I answer, everything’s good.

Shopping for cell phones is not good. I started looking at “models” a few weeks ago and thought I was out shopping for cars, only the cell phone lots are twice as big and 10 times as confusing.

How are you supposed to distinguish a Nexus 5 from an iPhone5 from a Galaxy S5?

And how much do these phones actually cost?

The ad for an Amazon Fire says it sells for $299 – $749. Which is it? The HTC M8 goes for somewhere between $99.99 and $649.99, though apparently you can get a used one for “just” $499.99! Motorola is offering the DROID MAXX for $49.99-$579.99 (2 used available from $369.95) and BlackBerry’s Q10 is either a penny or $549.99, take your pick.

Like anyone else, I’d rather pay a penny, but I’m told that’s a sucker’s choice.

My sons, who relish the opportunity to teach their old man anything, tell me that the difference is with or without a two-year contract, but warned me that if I break that contract, I’ll go to cell phone jail and pay a fine, unless I go to T-mobile, which will pay the fine for me, but only if … Whoa, whoa, whoa!

That’s too much information. I’m just looking for something that qualifies me as a cell phone subscriber. This might take awhile. I’ll let you know if I was the 7.3 billionth one on earth to do so.



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