Confessions of a Flip Phone Owner

by David Munn, CFP

A few months ago I took out my phone to respond to a text.  As I sent the reply, my friend Charles—who was standing beside me--exclaimed, “What is that?”

It’s not the first time I’ve received that or a similar question.  Nearly every new acquaintance I make eventually summons the courage to ask (some sooner than others).  Though in some cases my reputation precedes me and they are instead looking for verification of a rumor they can hardly believe to be true.

Texting on my flip phone

Texting on my flip phone

You see, I use a flip phone.  And it’s not just a flip phone.  It’s a hand-me-down, scratched up, Samsung Seek from 2010.  Its capabilities on my current “plan” include, making and receiving phone calls and texts, basic arithmetic, waking me up in the morning, and informing me that May 14th is a Sunday (though it failed to note it is also Mother’s Day).

Personally, I don’t believe my utilization of a flip phone sans a data plan is all that remarkable.  But based on the responses I’ve received, others seem to believe it is for these reasons:

·         My age – I’m in my early thirties; not born in the thirties.

·         My occupation – I’m in finance; apparently there are some stereotypes for my kind.

·         My finances – I can afford a nice phone, so why not?

I get asked on a regular basis when I’m going to upgrade, as if I have simply gone the last decade without realizing smart phones were a thing.

But that’s the wrong question.  Perhaps it is inevitable that everyone—including me--will own smart phones.  But at this point, I have no plans to change my ways.  Here’s why.

·         I probably spend 80-90% of my waking hours either at home or at my office, both of which provide me easy access to a computer.  The remainder of my time is either driving or doing something where I am actively engaged with people or an activity that requires my attention.

·         My perception is that the majority of activities people engage in on smart phones are time-wasting, as opposed to productive ones. Personally, I don’t need more ways to waste time in my life.  I’m already very proficient at that, especially during football season. There is no time left to read about Trump’s latest tweet.

·         I am not a “people-person”.  If I am engaged in a social activity, there’s a good chance I don’t want to be.  But when I don’t have an escape besides the tip calculator on my “dumb” phone, I’m more likely to actually talk to people, which I have been told is a good thing, especially when those people are my kids (just kidding, I do like my kids).

·         I incorporate opportunity cost into my decision-making far more often than the average person.  Based on data I’ve seen, the $12.75 monthly cost of my phone is about $100 less than the average monthly cost to buy and maintain a smart phone.  Over 30 years, that $100 could instead be used for:

o   Lunch at Chipotle 14 days a month

o   A ticket to every Ohio State home football game (desirability of seat location will vary based on opponent)

o   Feeding 15 children one meal a day for 30 years through Feed My Starving Children

o   An investment that could grow to more than $160,000 (assuming a 9% annualized return), which would mean retirement about three years earlier based on my spending.

Regardless of your financial situation, the money you spend on one thing is money you no longer have for another, whether it be spending, giving or saving.  Personally, I would choose every one of the above options over owning a smart phone, but that’s just me. 

The life of a flip phone owner isn’t for everyone. I confess there are times when I am tempted to splurge on an iPhone 4 and get a sweet data plan from Chit Chat Mobile (my current carrier). 

But just when I am about to cave to smart phone peer pressure, I have an experience like I did last week.  As I took a seat in the dentist office waiting room, I was the only one of five people not looking at a phone.  Those were the only minutes of my day that I just sat and did nothing.  And when my name was called, I was disappointed I didn’t have a few minutes longer to myself. 

Maybe a dumb phone isn’t so dumb after all.