But Seriously, Folks, A Tracfone Is The Only Cell Phone Anyone Needs

Boy, we had some fun making fun of that Nokia 2600 the other day, right? But let’s get serious for a moment, because yes, that really is my phone! Although I have technically never bought a cell phone in my life.

Tracfone (1)

Nokia 2600

I have had a tortured relationship with cell phones. I remember being at a local beach in CT with my parents in the late 90s, and I saw a woman answer her cell phone while relaxed in a chair. I’d never seen such a thing before.

“How terrible. Why would you want that?” I asked myself. Wouldn’t you rather just not be reachable for a little while? If you carried that around, anyone could bother you whenever they wanted! So while my high school friends started slowly adopting cell phones, I stayed out of it.

I kept this up all the way through college in the early 2000s as well. Who did I have to call? And who needs to call me so urgently? Nobody. Your dorm room has a free landline phone for a reason. So use it. Who needs a phone to talk? This is what computers and AOL Instant Messenger are for anyway.

I kept this up until 2005 when a flat tire on the highway left me stranded. I didn’t know how to change a tire, so I was stuck. I was about to start walking when a police car stopped and offered to call AAA for me. That felt pretty pathetic. (To add insult to injury, it turned out that my AAA card was expired. My parent’s hadn’t renewed it and didn’t tell me.)

Nokia 5110So at that point I decided maybe I should think about possibly getting a cell phone for emergency purposes. Well, I still didn’t, and the only reason I have a cell phone now is because I was grandfathered in. In 2005, Marge joined her family’s cell phone plan, and needed to get rid of the Tracfone she had been using in college. So instead of throwing it away, I inherited it! It came with minutes and everything. That was the Nokia 5125, which debuted in 1998.

Soon after I took control of that cell phone, though, the technology was so outdated, that it had to be replaced because it wouldn’t work on their system or something. Apparently, this phone was analog. Tracfone replaced it with the Nokia 2600 for free.

The phone I use today is the phone that they gave me for free in 2006, a model that actually debuted in 2004. I proceeded to throw it in the car and use it as an emergency phone. Seriously, for years the only thing I ever used this phone for was to call AAA, or if I was meeting someone and I called them to say “I will be there in five minutes. See you then.” I honestly used it five times a year max. I’ve used it more this year than ever before because I had to make calls during work hours about the rental property and granite blocks we bought.

Tracfone (13)What’s great about this model is the battery life. I have left it in the car for a year without recharging it. I believe that’s because when it’s off, it’s off. It’s not like you all’s smartphones that have weird nonsense going on in the background running down the battery even when it’s turned off.

You also probably won’t be shocked to learn that I only set up voicemail on this phone this year. Yes, until this year, you couldn’t even leave me a message. I just never bothered to figure it out.

“But Norm, I see you typing on a little screen. I knew you had a smartphone!” Not true! What you see is an illusion. That is an iPod Touch 4G that I bought for $70 on eBay and I use strictly on wi-fi. More on that another day.

I would be remiss if I didn’t link to one of my favorite articles in recent memory, Shitphone: A Love Story, by John Herrman in Medium. In it, the author forsakes his iPhone (his fourth) and downgrades to what he calls the Shitphone, a prepaid off-brand smartphone wanna-be. He puts more eloquently than I ever could the beauty and wonder of off-brand electronics.

Basically, the premise is that in a world of constantly evolving technology, the luxury products of today become the middle class products of tomorrow as volume brings down costs and the race for the newest, hottest thing keeps speeding up and pushing yesterday’s tech to the side. You see this a lot in cars, as the highest class amenities eventually work their way down to economy cars after a few years. The iPhones of today are the Shitphones of tomorrow. All you have to do is wait.

How much does it cost?

You’re probably wondering how much this shitphone costs me and how I keep cell phone costs as low as humanly possible. First, let’s take a look at the norm, if you will.

ConsumersCells (1)I remember when the first iPhone came out and I was talking to someone about theirs. They said their monthly bill was “about $100, so you know, not so bad.”  And I had no idea what to think because I had zero basis of comparison, but it definitely sounded expensive. If $100 a month was “not so bad,” what were most people’s phone bills normally like?


Well, Consumer Reports had an article about cell phone plans recently. Forgive me, Consumer Reports, for posting your article, although it is six months old…

ConsumersCells (2)

I opened up to this page in Consumer Reports and barfed.  Seriously, I had to run to the bathroom and barf my guts out once I saw what Consumer Reports had come up with as acceptable cell phone plans for everyone. $160 a month, $140 a month… These are the best plans for the money?? Things have gotten out of hand, people!

Even the Couple On A Budget spends $90 a month! And what is Ridinkulous but a Couple On A Budget? $90 is how much we spend combined on our electric and water each month, and I’d say those things are a little more important than a cell phone. Cell phones didn’t even exist 20 years ago and you people got along fine!!!

Ahem….. So, you’re probably asking, “Norm, how much do you pay for your cell phone every month?”

$5 per month.

That’s $85 a month cheaper than the cheapest plan Consumer Reports charted out for you. That’s not chump change. That’s a thousand bucks a year! Why, given 7% gains, after 20 years, that’d be almost $41,000!

And this Family with College-Age Kids paying $160 a month? Cut that shit out, and you’d save $78,711 over 20 years. Get real, motherfuckers. That cell phone addiction is going to keep your next “college age” kid from even going to college!

Consumer Reports, I love ya, but the least you could’ve done is put Tracfone or Ting or Republic Wireless on the chart alongside Big Telephony under a photo of a conscientious consumer such as myself. Here’s a photo and excerpt you could’ve used:


Norm, 33, emergency user

Norm doesn’t use a cell phone ever, except in case of emergencies, like if the car breaks down, or when he really actually needs to make a call that very second. Therefore, it serves less as a phone, and more as a kind of insurance. Norm doesn’t have time for idle chit-chat.  He can count on one hand the number of calls he’ll make from this cell phone in a year, and can count on two hands texts he’s sent over the past ten years. By abstaining completely from the ever-upgrading mobile phone world, Norm never feels like he needs to get the newest phone. He considers any phone that works “Futureproof.”

$5 per month

Tracfone1So how do I arrive at that price?  Tracfone is a prepaid service, and I buy one year at a time. A one-year contract costs $99.99.  I have rarely seen Tracfone change their prices over ten years.  But here’s my hot tip to bring that down about 33%.

Instead of buying a full year contract, buy just 30 days of service. This is $9.99. Once you go to check out, you should get another option:


At checkout, you can add 365 days of service for $49.99.  After tax and everything, that brings you to $64.95 for a full 13 months of service. Honestly, this only works if you don’t need any more minutes, since this method only gets you 30 minutes for the year. I have enough minutes built up over the years from buying $99 full year contracts and using Tracfone’s sales to get double minutes and things like that. I will never finish the 2,847 minutes I have right now. So all I have to do is pay that $64.95 every 13 months to keep this phone alive, and I’m good.

I’ve upgraded cell phones once in ten years. How often you you upgrade your cell phone?


  1. Cell phone costs are insane. I’ve been very lucky that my company pays for my phone and service. If I paid my own, I’d go with something much cheaper. The problem is that I am now used to having an iPhone, so going backwards might be slightly painful!

    • Norm

      August 17, 2015 at 4:30 pm

      Margie says the same thing. She’s had a work iPhone for a year and says if it ever went away, she might have to pay for her own iPhone. But de-evolving is fun! As humans, we’re really good at building up, and not so good at stripping back, but I bet you’d get used to it!

  2. I think you’re pretty far out on the bell curve with this one, but I do have a friend that just within the last year has considered upgrading the pay-as-you-go dumb phones he and his wife have had for about ten years. They are having a baby soon and wanted to be able to do all the things smart phones can do with that (mostly taking and immediately posting pictures – so far of pregnancy, but soon to come, the onslaught of baby pictures and video). Luckily I had told them how much I liked Ting, so they have bought one used iPhone and upgraded her maybe 6 months ago. My friend is still waiting to see if he wants to upgrade his own candy bar phone after the baby arrives (T-minus one month!) and they readjust to that new life.

    As for Consumer Reports’ omission of cheaper alternatives, hopefully that’s corrected in their next go-around. I recently filled out a survey for them on cell phone plans and reported how ecstatic I am with Ting and how wonderfully low our bill has been for our 2 iPhones compared to what we were paying before.

    • Norm

      August 17, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      To be fair, Consumers did mention the prepaid phone companies as having very satisfied customers, but they didn’t recommend them for any of their sample families.

      I know people that have bought brand new SLR cameras for a baby. Babies do that to people, huh? I still feel behind the times posting any photos to Facebook a day or two later since I use a regular, actual camera, which means I have to plug it in and download the photos first instead of immediately posting them. I feel like people are laughing, “Uh, this was taken YESTERDAY? Why am I seeing this now?”

  3. Yep, we have the same setup. I finally got a prepaid Tracfone for when I went to FinCon and my husband went to Washington. Just so we could reach each other.

    Otherwise, we’re both at home all day. A landline is all we need, especially now that we have $3.85 bills through Ooma.

    I keep one phone active during the year for roadside emergencies or something else very pressing. And my husband uses his iPod Touch for his memory, web surfing on WiFi, etc.

    Clearly, great minds think alike!

  4. Cell phones are certainly not a NEED, and some people absolutely treat them as a need. However, if some people WANT to pay that much for the convenience and the entertainment of a cell phone – AND it’s within their budget. Well….that’s really up to them. I certainly agree the cost of the latest phones, and the plans with all the bells and whistles are crazy….but you can bring down the cost significantly by buying a used phone or even last year’s model and picking a less expensive plan. Just as there are other car choices in between a Jaguar and a Ford Fiesta.

    • Norm

      August 19, 2015 at 10:51 pm

      Not true. No one’s allowed to buy any cell phone that has icons on the screen. Not on my watch.

      But seriously, all phones will probably be smart phones at some point. I’ll probably be forced to upgrade to an iPhone 1 equivalent one day.

  5. Ha! I totally LOVE this statement: “the luxury products of today become the middle class products of tomorrow” It’s SOOOO true! I mean, I live an extremely frugal lifestyle by today’s standards, but I still enjoy luxuries that would have been beyond imagination only a few decades ago.

    Anyhow, I found you over on MMM and thought I’d pop over, and I have to say this article is timely for me as I just ordered my first ever smartphone. I went with Ting, which means that I’ll only pay $6/month unless I actually use any minutes or data… which I really doubt I will. I mostly got it because I’m developing web pages and apps for smartphones, and… well… it’s sorta hard to do that without owning one of the little suckers!

    I am looking forward to having a camera and emergency phone all in one for when I take long bike rides – it will be one less thing to carry, and having the ability to check the weather radar next time I get caught in a severe storm will be nice, as will the GPS service if I ever end up (as I have before) in an emergency situation and not sure exactly where I am…. “well… I’m somewhere along Clear Creek… there’s a big tree to my north… um…”

    Anyhow, glad I found your blog. Looking forward to reading more!

    • Norm

      August 20, 2015 at 6:44 am

      It’s true! Luxury + Time = Affordable. I think there’s very few times when that’s not the case. Good on you for getting a smartphone for $6 a month. That’s a ridiculously good price.

      I definitely appreciate having my iPod Touch for some of those uses. I have it with me more often than my real camera, so I can take a picture if needed. My GPS lives in the car, and it was a wedding gift from 7 years ago. Every once in a while I’ll come across a road that doesn’t exist in it. But my wife got a used GPS for $20 or something made in, I think, 2004? How often do roads change anyway!

      Thanks for the kind words and thanks for stopping by!

  6. I am curious to know how much you spend on phone service together, both landline and cell. Most of my generation only has a cell, so may need something more than a trac-phone. I use ting ($6/line) with my husband and we do a bit of talk and text and spend after taxes $25.58. But that allows me to use google voice for talk and facetime chat/google chat for most chat. We could cut it down even more if our families would use chat instead of text, lol.

    • Norm

      August 21, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      We have an Ooma for a landline. That was a $99 layout initially for the box, I think. That was in 2011. And since then it’s just a $3.83 bill every month for FCC fees and taxes. So total, between Margie’s Tracfone ($8.25 a month assuming a $99 yearly contract) my Tracfone ($5 a month) and the Ooma, that comes out to about $17 a month. Still able to do texting, assuming you don’t run out of units! I never do it because it’s such a huge pain to text on the candy bar phone.

      $25.58 is a pretty good total. It seems that it’s pretty easy to bring down a bill much lower than what Consumer Reports says is acceptable.

  7. I pay more with Metro PCS. I pay $25 a month for unlimited talk and text. I have a phone that does text & voice, but nothing else. You can’t get this deal online. You have to go to their corporate stores, not just outlets that offer their plans.

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