If there’s one thing Americans dislike most, it’s boundaries. Perhaps that might help to explain why the average American home is 1,000 square feet larger than it was in 1973, or why digital streaming services offering unlimited binging material such as Netflix and Hulu are so popular, or, more alarmingly, why we waste roughly $36.9 billion a year on unused cell phone data.
No wonder this country is submerged so deeply in debt.
Having learned the importance of establishing good financial habits and always looking for ways to trim the fat off our monthly bills, my wife and I set out to cut our cable service, cancel our food delivery service, and replace our expensive personal training sessions with $20/month gym memberships. After several weeks of relentlessly shifting our lifestyle (and feeling much better about our growing wallets), there was one critical service we had yet to touch: our cell phone plan.
What Lies Beneath
Until recently, I assumed that everyone paid at least $50 per month to use their precious cell phones. Whenever I casually brought up the topic of pre-paid cell phone plans with friends and colleagues, I was always met with variations of the same remark: “$50? That’s all you pay?”, which roughly translates into “Shut your quibbling piehole and just be grateful you’ve been given such a good deal.”
And so I continued to pay my flat-rate “bargain” fee every month with no intention of making a change. That was, until two months ago…
After seeing their ads plastered all over the city of Chicago, I decided to pay a visit my local friendly Metro PCS provider (not PMS, as I had mistakenly told my wife on several occasions) to learn more about their deal that required the space of a billboard to display, which due to the constraints of your screen I cannot reproduce here. But it went something like this: $50 Period.
According to the clerk, most people were willing to pay extra for the unlimited plan. There were, apparently, other plans starting at $30 that offered just 2GB of data. 2GB? I scoffed silently. Who could exert such restraint? I decided to do some investigative work right there in the store. I wanted to know just how much data I was using. It turned out, not much. To be more exact, during the previous month’s billing period, I had used just a measly 950MB.
That can’t be right, I thought. I pay for unlimited data. I download music. I listen to podcasts.
I asked my wife to look into her cell phone data usage as well. Expecting to hear a similar figure, I thought I had misheard her at first when she told me. How much was she using? A whopping 4.5GB! Digging deeper, we uncovered the primary suspect behind her excessive usage: Facebook.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think social media can be a great tool to connect with others and to gather information on topics that I find appealing. I have a Facebook account. And a Twitter account, for that matter. But there is something insidious about the way we’ve begun to use social media, scrolling through our feeds to fill up the idle moments that punctuate our busy lives. According to Mark Zuckerberg, users spend an average of 50 minutes a day on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.
Perhaps my wife’s addiction is more common than I’d initially thought.
Breaking the Habit
In an effort to take charge of our spending habits, as we had done with other aspects of our life, we decided to look into alternative cell phone plan options.
There was Project Fi, a pre-paid service plan through Google that proved promising. Starting at $20/month for unlimited calls and text messaging with an additional fee of $10 per gigabyte, this was looking like a step in the right direction. The only problem was, our phones weren’t compatible and the options were limited to the Pixel & Pixel XL, Nexus 6P, and Nexus 5X. None of these phones were reasonably priced, in my opinion, so we passed.
So, which plan did we go with?
After some deliberation, we decided that Republic Wireless was the best choice for us and our financial goals. Through their basic plan, they offered unlimited calls and text messaging (an industry standard) plus one—yes, just one—GB of data for roughly $27 and some change after fees and taxes (so if you don’t live in Illinois, there’s a good chance your taxes will be less). To make it even easier to conserve your data, they use an innovative hybrid calling technology that uses WiFi when it’s available and switches over to cellular when it’s not.
The Results of Our Data Conservation Efforts
Switching our service plan was more than just about saving money (although the extra $648 we now have to throw at our student loan debt is a big help), it was about setting self-imposed restrictions, a.k.a. discipline. As with any other decision to further personal growth, our efforts were directed at answering elusive question: when is enough enough? Why is it necessary to eat at a buffet when one plate of food should be sufficient?
In the last two months, my wife’s cell phone usage has plummeted to 600MB in one billing period. To throw in a bit of fun to the challenge, we’ve gamified our data savings to see who uses the least each month. The winner gets a pass on dish-duty for a week. To compete I now find myself connecting my phone to any and all available WiFi hotspots, whether it’s at a coffee shop, at the library, or at the gym. This way, I’ve been able to use all my phone’s features for free.
And in addition to saving money, we’ve both discovered that those idle moments in life can hold more value than scrolling through your social media feed. Now those gaps are filled with meaningful conversations and a greater awareness of what’s going on around us.
All you have to do is look up.