This year, I’m making the effort to live without a cell phone. It’s part of my overall effort to save money while simplifying my life. As a backpacker, all my possessions must cram into a normal 30L bag, so I’m very picky about what I keep. My possessions are evaluated by two main criteria: it must be extremely cheap, and it must be undeniably useful . Cell phones didn’t make the cut.
Mobile plans are far more expensive than most people realize. In the past, I was spending $30 per month on a basic voice plan, which translates into $360 per year. The typical smartphone user pays even more. An average 3G data plan can cost around $85 per month, or $2000 over the lifetime of a 2-year contract. To put these figures in perspective, I’m currently only spending $150 per month on groceries. An extra $2000 could pay for a year’s worth of food. Cell phones are not how I want to use my money.
So I don’t own a cell phone or landline telephone anymore. Instead, I’m relying entirely on my laptop to receive phone calls. I signed up with a VOIP provider to get an incoming number (1). This allows others to call my laptop using a regular phone number (no computer required). With my plan, I get unlimited calls to the USA and extremely cheap international calls. In total, I only spend around $70 per year for the entire plan, for a savings of $650 each year compared to my original plan. The set-up was simple and didn’t require any new electronics; all I needed was my existing laptop and WiFi access.
The trade-off is that I lose perpetual, 24/7 mobile connectivity. When my laptop is turned off, I don’t receive calls; they go straight to my voicemail. But in a way, I find beauty in the solitude of living cell-free. Each night, I enjoy the luxury of escaping the world of ringtones, text messages, and telemarketers. No one can bother me now; I return calls only when I feel like it.
Living without a cell phone might seem inconvenient, but in many ways, it’s a more peaceful way to live. Having a mobile device with instant access to unlimited media–phone calls, text messages, music, movies, apps–would be a total drain on my life. I’m already suffering from digital sensory overload; I don’t need a smartphone to bombard me with more useless trivia.
So I’m finished with my cell phone for this year. My wife decided to keep hers, so I borrow her phone on occasion when traveling alone to foreign places. As for the other 95% of the time, I’ve done quite well without a cell. In fact, I’ve only had one minor incident in the last two months. While I was taking the train to visit my in-laws, I accidentally overshot my destination by 20 miles. It took me an hour and two train transfers before I got back to Taichung.
Why didn’t you call me, Hsinya asked,
to let me know you’d be late?
1 Skype is probably the simplest to set-up. Buy a subscription for unlimited phone calls, then get an online number. Skype currently offers 50% off the purchase of an online number with a subscription. Once it’s set-up, you can cancel your phone subscriptions and easily save $1000/yr.
2 I once worried about not being able to make emergency calls. Later, I realized that any unused cell phone without a data plan can still make free emergency (SOS) calls, even if you lack a SIM-card. So you can keep your old cell around for emergencies without paying the phone company.
3 There are definitely cheaper VOIP providers that will support open-source, but you’ll need more technical knowledge to set it up. Since Google Voice doesn’t allow you to receive incoming calls, it can’t completely replace all phones like Skype can.