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Only an Eight

James Kerr

WHEN I STOPPED at CVS the other day to pick up a new charging cable for my iPhone, I was reminded just how woefully out of fashion I am.

The young lady behind the counter handed me a box from the rack and watched as I took the cable out to make sure it was the right one. I guessed her to be in her early 20s. She was wearing a pair of those huge loopy earrings that you could jump hoops through out in the parking lot.

When she saw me bring out my phone, she gave a little laugh. “Is that an iPhone 8?” she asked with genuine amazement.

I looked at the phone in my hand, then back at her. “Yup,” I replied.

“Wow,” she said. “It’s been like years since I saw somebody with an iPhone 8. Why haven’t you upgraded?”

By now, I was feeling a little self-conscious. Would she make fun of my reading glasses too? The boring dad haircut that I’d gotten at Hair Cuttery for $25? The clothes that I wear over and over because they’re comfortable and I’m too cheap to buy new ones?

But I steeled myself and told her there was no need to upgrade because my phone worked just fine. I was able to do everything I needed to do on my iPhone 8, and it also takes pretty darn good pictures. Plus, it was paid off, and I wasn’t particularly eager to take on a new monthly payment now that I’m semi-retired and living off my savings.

“I’ll replace it when it breaks,” I said. “I do that with everything.”

It’s true. I like to get my money’s worth from things and tend to hang on to them until they die—phones, cars, old pairs of jeans. It’s a habit I learned from my parsimonious father, who used to hold up the hose at the pump to make sure he got every drop of gas he’d paid for into the tank.

I once drove a 10-year-old Ford Escape until it died. The engine, which had 138,000 miles, had been failing for months. I had the pedal to the floor as I drove it to the local dealership to trade it in.

The girl at CVS took in my use-it-until-it-breaks philosophy with a vacant stare. “I upgrade every couple of years,” she said. “I just got the iPhone 13 Pro.”

With visible excitement, she brought out her phone and held it out proudly for me to look at. I had to admit, it was gorgeous. Even from behind the COVID-safety plexiglass that separated us, the slim piece of aluminum pink technology glittered in the light like a jewel worthy of going around a queen’s neck. My five-year-old black iPhone 8 suddenly felt as elegant as a rock in my hand.

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I found myself wondering how much the latest phone cost, thinking somewhere in the $1,000 range. The upgrade price, of course, would be lower than that, but then you’re locked into a three-year phone plan at the cost of a small monthly mortgage. I was on a basic cut-rate phone plan myself. Forty bucks a month for unlimited talk and text, no contract, no strings attached. Simple, just the way I like it.

“It’s amazing,” the girl said, about the phone. “It even has lidar.”

Lidar, I asked. What was lidar?

She tried to explain it to me—some kind of radar scanning technology that shoots laser beams across the room to create a 3D image—but I wasn’t getting it. “It’s really cool. My friends and I use it to see how tall we are and move objects around the room.”

“Move objects around the room?” I asked.

“Virtually,” she explained. “In games, you know.”

I nodded vacantly. How to explain to her that I’m a hopeless frugalist? “Simplicity” is my rallying cry, taken straight out of the pages of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which I read back in high school and has been my north star ever since.

It was Thoreau who taught me the concept of economy not as a measure of societal output and consumption, but rather as something we practice when we keep our needs simple and live below our means. From Thoreau, I also learned that the value of something is more than just the price we pay for it. It’s the cost of the time we put into earning the money to pay for that item—time that we could use doing something else.

After Thoreau, it was a natural progression to teachers like Warren Buffett and Jack Bogle, who taught me the importance of investing in low-cost index funds, avoiding fees like the plague and letting the market do the work for me, instead of paying up for people who think they can outsmart a random walk down Wall Street.

But I wasn’t sure it would do any good getting into all this with the young lady on the other side of the plexiglass, plus other people were waiting in line. She rang up my charging cable, put it in a bag and I walked away. I was thinking about that iPhone 13 Pro, how beautiful it was, all the things I could do with it. I could measure just how short my girlfriend Rachael is—she is really short. I could move things around the room. Virtually, of course.

But then I thought about the monthly payment and my ancient plain-black phone seemed just fine as it was.

Rock in my hand, I pushed through the glass doors of the consumeristic madhouse and, like Chief Bromden, out into freedom.

James Kerr led global communications, public relations and social media for a number of Fortune 500 technology firms before leaving the corporate world to pursue his passion for writing and storytelling. His book, “The Long Walk Home: How I Lost My Job as a Corporate Remora Fish and Rediscovered My Life’s Purpose,” is forthcoming in early 2022 from Blydyn Square Books. Jim blogs at PeaceableMan.com. Check out his previous articles.

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Thomas Taylor
Thomas Taylor
8 months ago

I had an iPhone 4s until about a year ago when I was told the phone would not work when 5G was rolled out. It worked for calls and texts which is about all I needed it to do. My wife had a little bit newer one but we upgraded to the 11 and it’s nice, but it does way more than I’ll ever use or need.

CJ
CJ
8 months ago

loved this – exactly my philosophy. I don’t replace or upgrade until something breaks or is a safety issue. I like to get my money’s worth out of stuff and keep life simpler, with less shiny things.

A few family members like to roll their eyes and treat me with disdain because I don’t spend as freely as them….yet they think it’s fine to be up to their eyeballs in debt, with zero emergency funds or retirement savings. They also have no shame asking other family members who do save and live simpler for loans they’ll likely never pay back.

Munro Richardson
Munro Richardson
8 months ago

iPhone SE first generation here. Purchased Thanksgiving 2016; replaced battery about four years later. Does everything I need. Will keep it until it no longer works–and then buy another lowest cost iPhone to replace. As Warren Buffett says, “price is what you pay, value is what you get.”

Ginger Williams
Ginger Williams
8 months ago

My iPhone 6 still meets my needs, primarily calls and a traveling hotspot. I prefer my iPad for reading, web surfing, games, video, etc. no one’s ever accused me of being fashionable, though.

Rick Thompson
Rick Thompson
8 months ago

Also a Thoreauvian. Here’s an apt quote: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Joey
Joey
8 months ago

I thought this was going to be a beginning of a meet-cute tale, and that the CVS cashier was flirting! 🙂

Humble Reader
Humble Reader
8 months ago

I am conflicted by being an early-adopter and a long-term-user. As long as a device continues to do want, I keep using it. I have had only three cell phones: a General Electric analog bag phone, a Qualcomm 820 with dual digital and analog bands, and now a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. 
I used the Qualcomm from 1997 to 2018. I acquired spare parts from salvaged phones and replaced the keypad and display multiple times. Before the end I built a battery pack which was attached with industrial Velcro. Glad I never tried to get that assembly past the TSA.

Fred Smyth
Fred Smyth
8 months ago

I am this way, to a certain extent. But then I think, why am saving so much money for my kids? So I just got my new iPhone 13 and sold my XR.

David Sayler
David Sayler
8 months ago

Thoreau molded my thinking also. The cost of something is how much of your life you are willing to give up in exchange for it.

Purple Rain
Purple Rain
8 months ago

I use Ting for my phone plan and pay no more than $15 a month. Great customer service too. My iPhone is older than yours 😉

Bob G
Bob G
8 months ago

If you have Xfinity Internet, they offer a plan as low as $15 per month with 1G of shared data. (Data over WIFI doesn’t count against you.) So, that means I pay $15 per month total for my wife and me for unlimited talk and text and 1G of data. However, you have to buy the phones or bring your own. Check to see how much data you use to see if this would work for you. If you don’t stream videos and are careful about surfing the ‘net, it’ll probably meet your needs. Xfinity uses the Verizon network and my Galaxy S7 still works great.

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
8 months ago
Reply to  Bob G

You can get up to 4 GB of data each for the same $15 price at Mint Mobile.

If one only wanted to use WiFi data exclusively, they could get a free monthly talk/text plan at TextNow.

https://clarkdeals.com/phone-plans/textnow/

Last edited 8 months ago by Nate Allen
R Quinn
R Quinn
8 months ago

I can relate. I’m only up to iPhone 10 and I’m getting the urge to update, but I just got a new iPad Pro. I have relatives stuck in the flip phone world who claim they do all they need and they are right. But I like the latest technology and the new features which I don’t actually “need.” Knowing a teenager envy’s my technology keeps me young 😁 I give my old stuff to a grandchild.

Jo Bo
Jo Bo
8 months ago

“Only an Eight” is a ten in my book. The adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind.

I have resisted getting a cell phone for several decades now. I have enough screens in my life, thanks. It’s still possible to live without a cell phone, though time may be running out as more forms and confirmations require a cell number or texting. Were I a young person just starting out, of course I would have one. But heading into retirement, I see no need to change. Not being tied to a phone is freeing!

Mark Caspary
Mark Caspary
8 months ago

I can sympathize, but $40 for unlimited talk, text and data is too much look at a company called Visible has unlimited talk text and data for $25/ month and you can get the first month for $5 no contract quit any time. I too am a frugal retiree. Thanks for posting.

Tim

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark Caspary

Or if you only use a reasonable amount of data outside of your WiFi, you can get an unlimited talk/text and 4 GB of data (plenty for most people) for $15/month from Mint Mobile.

Or…if you are really frugal you can get an unlimited talk/text and no data outside of WiFi for……free. (Well, technically you have to pay 99 cents for the SIM card, but then it is free.)

https://clarkdeals.com/phone-plans/textnow/

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