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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The thing that I am content to live without -- for now: a personal cell phone

When your income is modest, but your goals are large, you find yourself analyzing every expenditure. This is a good thing. Being purposeful with spending that hard-earned income insures that your money is being used according to your values and goals. Intentional spending is empowering. By choosing where our money has gone, our own family has been able to achieve quite a lot on a middle class income.

There are a few things that our family has decided we can be content to live without. Over the next few weeks, I'll give you a glimpse into a few of them.

By looking around the train station, airport, bus stop, grocery store, or mall, you'd think it was a complete impossibility (in our modern life), to live without a cell phone.

I've never had a cell phone. And I'm really okay with that. You'd think I'd feel a few pangs of cell phone-envy whenever I glimpsed a happy texting, chatting, surfing person on their phones. I've never sent or received a text. I often joke with my kids to just send me a text to our landline, when they get to their destination.

All three of my kids have pre-paid phones. And as a worrying mom, I wouldn't have it any other way. But neither my husband nor I have personal phones. We feel okay, not being "connected" 24/7.

I've weighed the pros and cons of having my own phone, and here's what I always come back to:

PROS: if I had my own cell phone

  • I could be reached in case of an emergency anytime, anywhere.
  • I would have a phone for personal travel, both locally and for trips.

CONS: if I had my own cell phone

  • I'm a single-track person. I don't multi-task all that well. When I'm shopping, driving, meeting up with a friend, cooking, or cleaning, I do best if I stick to my task at hand. I really don't want to drop what I'm doing to take a non-emergency call. And I don't do well talking on the phone and continuing with my work. Frankly, I am a bit annoyed when someone else tries to multi-task while talking to me on their cell phone. I have a couple of people who regularly call me while they're driving and running errands. I feel that I don't really have their complete attention for that phone call.
  • When I am out taking care of my business, I prefer to do my work in quiet. Now that my kids are grown, grocery shopping is something of a joy, to be out and quietly making my selections.
  • If I had a cell phone, my kids might rely on me to solve everyday problems, more often. Although I am constantly involved in my kids' lives, I think having me not being totally accessible at all hours of the day, has encouraged them to find solutions to their own situations. This has been a very good thing. Not that I want my kids to struggle or suffer, but this paid off big for two of them, one day, when they got lost in downtown Seattle. They were on foot and went the wrong direction. I wasn't available to help them. So they found their way on their own.
  • The expense. A basic phone with pre-paid plan would be a minimum of $10 per month. This amounts to $120 per year. That money can be used elsewhere, for the time being.

Beyond these pros and cons, this is my biggest point. I am home almost all day, every day. We have voicemail, for those instances when I am not at home. Anyone can call me, at any time of the day, and leave a message. I simply don't NEED a cell phone for the majority of my hours. 

I don't travel to desolate places, or in the wee hours of the night. When I am out taking care of business, I am within a short walk of a nearby phone, and I am visible to passers-by, should I have car trouble or get lost.

Not having a personal cell phone actually keeps us current with car maintenance, which in the end keeps our cars serving us longer. And through the years, I have developed a good sense of direction, as I've had to rely on my own intelligence to find my way.

I don't have a career that keeps me out of reach of a traditional phone, or in need of making business contacts, all day long.

A cell phone for me, would duplicate the services of our land-line, which despite a growing trend of ditching the land-line, we still find it to be more useful than each having our own cell phones (try plugging your computer into the cheapest pre-paid Tracfone, for dial-up).

I do have to admit, there is the occasional time, when I am running errands or returning from my once-per-week job, around the same time that I know my daughters will need a pick-up from the park and ride. I don't know the exact time they will reach the park and ride, so our arrangement is for them call me at the 10 minute point before the destination. Then I can run over to get them. Well, if I am away from the house, I need to go back home to touch base with them, so I know when to pick them up. The worst case, so far, has meant that they needed to wait for 20 minutes, until I could get them. I don't view that as a horrible crime as a parent. Waiting builds patience and appreciation for others' time and schedules.

For the problem of wanting a cell phone while traveling -- my kids have been generous in lending one to their father or me, when one of us is traveling. I email friends and family in advance, regarding the phone number of one of my kids' phones, in case of an emergency.

Will I ever buy a phone for myself? Well, yes, I'm sure that time will come someday, as family finances become looser, or if I land a job that requires a personal phone. But for now, I'm content to live without one.


  1. I am so glad to meet another member of the 'Don't have a cell phone' club! My hubbie, 8y son and I are fine with out the use of a cell phone. Yes I admit there are times when it might come in handy, but for now being without is sure nice and very freeing!

    1. Hi Lisa,
      It is freeing, isn't it? If I'm out for a walk, I am out for a walk, not a phone call. I do see how they are useful for many people, but for me, for now, I can live without one. And I'm glad to have that $120 or more each year, to put towards other uses.

  2. Me too! I can think of one time in the past 8 years when I needed one. And then, I managed. My friends laugh at me, but none of them call me to re-arrange coffee dates, they just arrive on time, as planned the day before.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      Another good point -- by not having a cell phone, you are encouraging your friends to keep their commitments. Good manners are always appreciated by others!

  3. Once again I feel like we are twins separated at birth. I found myself nodding at all your points as I read through this. My husband and I both have the most basic Tracfone we can get--my work commute is 35 miles (in oftentimes dicey weather) and my husband travels semi-frequently for his job, sometimes on a ship, so we have both chosen the most inexpensive phone/plan to meet our needs. I'm like you--I feel like it's an intrusion when people call my cell for anything other than an essential purpose (and I rarely give the number out). I hate it when I'm having a conversation with someone and they "have" to pick up a call--most of the time, it's something non-essential. I also dislike talking with people who are multi-tasking while on their cell. If you didn't want to talk to me, why did you call????

    You are SO on target about making your children more dependent on you. I have seen this firsthand in my own family with a grown niece and nephew--post-college, in their careers, one being married--and watching my sister-in-law pick up calls several times a day from them. I am definitely in favor of keeping up regularly with your parents but, at that stage of your lives, calling several times daily smacks of dependence on your parents, which I don't think is a good thing (I might add that the parents are in their 50s and in good health so the kids aren't checking up on them to make sure they are ok--they are just calling to talk and ask advice). Can you tell I have strong feelings about this???

    Thanks for today's post and am looking forward to your future comments about what you are content to live without. It's all about choice, isn't it?

    1. Hi Kris,
      See, now your's and your husband's situation makes having a basic phone a good choice. It is all about thinking things through and making our own choices. Like I said, if I have a career, someday, which would necessitate my own cell phone, then that would justify that expenditure.

      It's strange all the people who believe that they need to make casual phone calls while driving their car. I am old enough to remember when a phone in someone's car meant that they needed to be reached at all hours, for emergencies, like a doctor, or a high-up gov't official.

  4. I've had a cell phone since i was 19. I could get by without it but it would be so weird not having one. I would ditch the land line any second but my husband is paranoid about cell phones not working in an emergency. I use my phone's google map every other day. I use it as a radio when I'm working in the garden. I can pay bills. I can communicate with my husband to arrange pick up times for the kids. I hardly use the computer at home. It would be hard to go without it.

    1. Hi All things sweet,
      It really is a personal choice, isn't it? You find your cell phone immeasurably useful. And that's good that you've identified how much you can use yours. You know that it's a good choice for yourself.

  5. Woo Hoo! Another vote for the sanity of not being "plugged in" 24/7.

    OK... true confessions here, I do own a cell phone, but it was free. It's an ancient flip-phone with no camera or anything, and I have a pre-paid plan that costs me $40/year. It would cost more if I actually used it, but I don't - I just have the phone for emergencies. I don't even know the number, and I don't leave it on. The smallest increment I can pre-pay is $10, and the minutes expire in 90 days, so I have to pay $10 every three months to keep it active (it's a T-Mobile account.)

    I usually only use it a few times per year... but it has been quite a godsend when I've needed it. CatMan got it for me when I still worked at the music school and regularly drove home alone at night - he wanted me to be able to call for help if I had car trouble. It's also nice to have on the bike path... when CatMan fell and broke his pelvis we were VERY glad to have a way to call for help.

    The other times I've used it is when my land line has gone out - which happens a LOT more frequently than it should in this neighborhood.

    But I'm totally with you on the principle. I really don't want to be available to the world all the time... it would just make me totally crazy. And I can't imagine trying to talk on one of those things regularly... I HATE the way they cut out if both people accidentally say something at the same time... Maybe if CatMan and I didn't spend 2-3 hours on the phone every day I'd feel differently, but since the phone is a big part of our relationship, I want one that lets me have a normal conversation.

    OK... sorry for the long comment, but I'm totally with you on this one!

    1. Hi Cat,
      Keeping a phone for emergencies is definitely bare-bones use. For your use, especially when on long rides, a phone is so essential to your safety. When I rode my bike a lot, my rides took me out on rural roads, long, long walks from any phone, house or barn. Fortunately, I never did have a situation where I needed a phone.

      My step mom makes long drives, alone, from Arizona to California. And I'm very glad she has a phone with her on those drives.

      A personal cell phone can be very beneficial. I'm just glad that I can live without one for now.

  6. Thank you for this refreshing post. I have a cell phone for emergencies - only my parents and siblings have my number. For all other calls, I am all about landlines!

    1. Hi Sarah,
      Now that's a great solution, to only give your cell number out to limited people. I would likely do the same.
      Thanks for your input!


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