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Commandments of a Cheapskate 5

An expensive lesson in mobile downgrading.
What is the best value for money cellphone I can buy that will suit my budget and meet my needs? Picture: Shutterstock

It is a financial planning exercise I do at the beginning of every year.

I take a hard look at my expenses and ask myself if there are ways to cut back so that my salary increase does not automatically get swallowed by the inevitable rise in medical aid contributions, fuel and food costs and insurance premiums. It is a way of gradually managing my lifestyle downward in an effort to find a few additional bucks to invest or pay towards the big black hole called The Mortgage.

I try to avoid lifestyle inflation, but being a journalist and a Cheapskate present some challenges.

Firstly, a questionable decision to write articles for a living naturally suggests that you don’t understand the concept of having a life, and as far as style is concerned, well, there is not much to manage down when you wear the same pair of jeans every other day.

Secondly, there are no DSTV subscriptions to cancel or unused gym contracts to terminate. (If half an hour of Moneyweb reading doesn’t get your average heart rate above 70% of maximum, I’d like to refer you to the comment section. Or your physician.)

So after carefully examining my spreadsheet, I decided that 2017 would be the year of the mobile phone downgrade. The saving wouldn’t be that significant, but during difficult economic times, a buffalo note or two is not to be scoffed at.

Of course, working through the five stages of grief took some time.

My new phone didn’t have a facial ID feature that couldn’t recognise me and there was also the absence of the adrenalin rush that only comes with the possibility of spontaneous combustion.

I finally accepted my fate when my Cheapskate mentor told me that I could do at least one thing with my new entry-level Android phone that none of the top end smartphone users could: I could drop it without repercussions.

So I took the plunge.

It was a terrible decision. The phone and package I chose turned out to be completely unsuited to my needs.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but apparently you cannot run 105 apps on a phone with only 8GB of internal memory. So with my morning coffee, I now also get a pop-up message: Device storage full. While you can run some apps from external memory, even the 32GB SD card I installed afterwards doesn’t seem to help. I am now officially an app-uninstalling-and-cache-clearing-expert. It is the reason a popular spin class in Johannesburg starts 10 minutes late every Tuesday….

And if you wondered why the CEO of your favourite listed company suddenly aged 10 years, all I can say is that taking a publishable picture on a phone without an optical image stabiliser is harder than you think.

But these are minor issues.

Where the decision really came to bite me was on included value. I previously received 100 minutes of airtime, 100MB of data and 100 SMSes. On the new contract, I get R150 of airtime value. Looking at what I paid for some recent calls, that equates to roughly 80 minutes of airtime. That’s it. Why I didn’t see the need to do this calculation upfront, is beyond me. (To all those friends and relatives who haven’t heard from me in ten years, I really was planning to give you a call this year, but I ran out of airtime….)

So not only am I not saving any money on my cellphone contract at this point because I have to buy additional bundles every month, I am worse off in terms of value received. In Afrikaans we say: Goedkoop koop is duur koop. I believe English people call it being penny wise and pound foolish.

I often wonder why we are so wired to think in terms of money. Getting a raise. Buying something at a discount. Rands. Dollars. Investment returns. Status.

Money is a means to an end. I would argue that for most people life is not about accumulating as much money as they can, but rather about the goals money can finance. A house. Children’s education. A holiday. Retirement. Perhaps the reason we focus so much on money itself, is because the assumption is that more money can buy a bigger house, a better education, an overseas holiday, a comfortable retirement.

And sometimes it can. But the focus should not be the money. Not the two buffalo notes I didn’t manage to save when I signed up for an inappropriate cellphone contract.

It should be on the goal. In my case: What is the best value-for-money cellphone I can buy that will suit my budget and my needs (and that doesn’t offer me so much airtime that I actually have to start phoning friends and relatives)?

I would argue that blindly focusing on money – maximising it or protecting it – puts you at risk of two things. Taking too much risk for your particular circumstances or living so conservatively that you end up having to spend more money because you bought something cheap and inappropriate for your needs.

Crafting an appropriate financial plan and managing finances should start with identifying your particular goals. You are much more likely to make appropriate financial decisions when you have a clear idea about your goals and needs, the risk you are willing to take (and should reasonably be taking) and how the money you earn can get you there.

Ps. If anyone has any comments on the topic, please leave me a voice note. I promise to return your call at the end of 2018 when I should have sufficient airtime again.

Read more here:

A salary-earner’s pursuit of financial health

Rethink your approach to car buying

The big decision: What to do with your fortune

How to flee from financial FOMO



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Hi Inge. I have the utmost respect for a cheapskate. I have been one my whole life. But I am extreme, and wouldn’t recommend it for everybody. I literally do not take holidays. I am not on any medical aid (biggest money making racket ever) and pay for everything cash. I used to drive an old purple, second hand Citi Golf for 12 years, the people at work used to call it the purple turtle, and man, it looked bad, you have no idea. I used to park 2 blocks away when seeing clients. All of this even though I could afford better as an Attorney.

My life changed over night when a friend introduced me to the writer and entepeneur Grant Cardone. His stuff is all over the internet, check it out. Although he advocates that you should save and be financially disciplined, he firmly believes that you can only save so much, and not more. There comes a time when you have to look at increasing your income. Please, please, please read his book the 10X Rule Book. If that doesn’t change your life, nothing will. As a matter of fact, read any of his books. Read Suze Ormond on how to save and read Grant Cardone on how to increase your income.

PS Thank you for the articles and keep up the good work !

In the end, life is about balance. But, when it comes to money you’ll only really know on your dying day whether your balance was right! 🙂

You raise an interesting point.

Is life really about a balancing act ? For me, it’s not. I pursue the matters that are important to me, and to hell with the rest.

It is not important to me to be balanced. I want to be successful first, and if that means leading an unbalanced life, then so be it.

If you are not financially successful, you cannot help yourself, and more importantly, you cannot help your fellow South Africans.

Ultimately, whether we lead a balanced or unbalanced life will come to nought once we die and will simply not matter anymore.

To each his own, have a look at the teachings of Grant Cardone, I believe it will change your life for ever!

LouisvV’s comment sums it up best for me.

What is money really? Do you allow it to rule you? Is it not perhaps an object which allows fools and utterly stupid people to rule you i.e. politicians?

Live and spend it while it has “some” value, life is too short and nothing is guaranteed in this ever changing world.

Money is a piece of paper or a guarantee from a government to allow transfer of economic value from person A to person B.

Governments come and go, nothing is static.

Does money as we know it have any value outside of our planet or the rest of the universe?

Keep thinking ….

Speculator, in answer to your comments, yes, money doesn’t guarantee happiness, but neither does being poor. If I must be unhappy, I’d prefer being unhappy with money in the bank !

Money gives you choices and freedom, and the more you have of it, the more choices you have. Even your health these days depends on having money, failing which you cannot afford quality health care etc.

Be extremely careful of those who tell you “money isn’t everything”, they tend to be people without money, surprise, surprise 🙂

The correct cheapskate move:
Keep your old phone, move over to prepaid, then port to a more affordable cellular provider if you aren’t already. For R150 you could then easily buy a 500MB data bundle for R69 (who doesn’t love data on their phone) and the R81 remaining would given you 2 hours of talk time.

But then when you wipe the proverbial out of your eyes the data has gone……… and you have 19 cents of airtime left without having made a single call.

If your MTN you can get 500MB for R29. Best would be to have a dual sim phone as there are good deals from internet providers for data.

By my calculations, the main cost in a cellphone contract is the capital cost of the cellphone. Herein lies the problem. On the cellphone contract system, you are a forced buyer of a new cellphone every 2 years. Imagine having the same contract system for your car, washing machine and fridge! If you want to save yourself some money, stretching the new purchse to once very 3 or 4 years or even longer will save you a lot of money. The “free upgrade” is a con! Think of it another way: imagine how many cellphones you will buy over a lifetime with a purchase of a new cellphone every 2 years. Take the capital cost of a cellphone and multiply it by the number of purchases in a lifetime. Now do the same exercise with buying a new cellphone every 4 years. By buying a phone, you will be more cognisant of its cost and you may end up looking after it better than the “free upgrade” you receive every 2 years. Want to save some more money? Buy yourself one of the many phones on gumtree etc by deciding exactly what model suits your needs and then buying the same phone from someone willing to part with a new or virtually new phone at a discount to the price of a new phone. Agree to meet at an Apple or other shop and pay the shop a few rands to ensure that the phone is in mint condition. Going on a sytem where you buy airtime and data as you need also makes you more aware of these costs and therefore careful with this spending. The above saving over a lifetime, diverted into an equity fund or ETF, will probably pay for your retirement if you are a teenager or a 20 year old starting out on this journey!

Well, best is to shop around these days; there are quite a few options to consider. Keep you current phone, then downgrade the package to just 100 minutes of airtime and 2GB of data…all for R199 per month (down from the odd R900 per month previously)!

Again a well written article, thanks Inge. I always maintain that items/products/services have a basic cost based on the quality. Thus if you are paying less for a similar item you could be sacrificing on quality. The real “sale” is to find the quality item at a lower price AND as you correctly point out; one that will fit your individual need. It pointless buying that perfect pair of pants that’s one size too small just because it was on sale :-).

Looking forward to “cheapskate 6”

Thanks for the article Inge, I have found that spending a bit more and getting a device with a higher data storage capacity helps my device to be useable for a lot longer.

This is not being a cheap skate – all is, is being a slave to convention. People have been conned into believing that they needs all these bells and whistles on a phone when the single purpose is to make and receive calls. The moment you use your phone to conduct business or remain relevant via the host of social media option you will be hooked for life trying to get the latest gimmicky phone. The reality is that cellphones have overtaken peoples lives and dictate their every waking moment, just imagine how great life would be that the moment you got into your motor car the cell phone connectivity would be automatically cut and you could concentrate on the traffic and not your phone or the queue of callers waiting to talk to you

Hi Grahamcr

I have to disagree, in my view, we as human beings are continuously evolving and so is technology.
In the same way that very car you speak of would’ve been purchased based on looks, power output, space, auto vs manual gearbox, fuel consumption, warranty etc, the functions of cellphones have evolved beyond making/receiving calls to now include social networking, whatsapp, taking pictures, playing music, internet, apps, etc, all of which have become an essential part of the modern day cellphone experience, just look at all the footage taken by cellphones at the Vegas shooting for example.

If life was about being kept as simple and basic as possible you and I would have newspapers in front of us and not be on Moneyweb.

Inge’s mistake was not doing a proper needs analysis, so she ended up getting a phone/package that proved to be a mismatch.
It’s like buying a 2-seater car when you a have a family, you seem to be suggesting for the kids to be left at home instead of the right car being bought.

If blinge is your thing then go for it and maybe when you do retire you can reflect on whether it was a wise choice or not (since I’m 70 I don’t think I will be around to debate this with you so really you’re on your own)

I actually support both views here. I do think that many people spend money on phones that are entirely overspecced for their needs simply because it’s shiny. Having said that, Titanium is also right in that buying a phone is about more than making and receiving calls. I run my own business and am on the road. A lot. My phone IS my business, so whatsapp, email and browser functionality is crucial. I am however a long long way away from NEEDING a top of the line smart phone. Separating wants from needs is the key point here.

Loved the article which hits the spot. I am the “financial guru” for the family having spent 40 years in the banking industry. I think that I come across as the “Grunge” as inevitably my advice is rather to be more conservative as once spent you don’t have a further choice as to how to use those funds. I have always tried to stress that money on it’s own is only part of the picture. What it gives you in terms of options available to you, is so much more important. Sharing the article with the family

there are incredibly good value phones outside of the Apples and Samsung brands that have the same capabilities, in fact better hardware specs – much like buying any consumer brand of product. Also, phones for cash, not from the telecoms company seems to give the best value. That way you break the 24month replacement contract that used to be the norm in the industry…

Hi jblack – please give me examples of such phones. For the last few years I have been a lumia/windows based phone user but unfortunately have to change because of the shrinking availability of apps. Thanks.

regarding your opening comment about questionable choices to choose writing for a living – have you explored writing content towards your own platform and being the owner of your own media/blog? A lot of people are doing very well with finding a global audience in a particular niche topic that gains traction, and the cost of starting/trying and failing is very low. You have the key skill required already which is writing good content…

I agree with Danie van Parow in that you can only be a cheapskate up to a point. So do yourself a favor and when you look at you budget sheet each year break it up into

1. Insurance
2. Expenses
3. Investments

Once your expenses is cut to the bone you need to focus on Investments. It could include (ETF’s, Shares, Property etc.) This should remain your main focus with a long term perspective. Managing 1 &2 will start to matter less (it will become a habit) over the longer term if you get 3 right.

80 minutes for R150? That’s insane! Let me guess, Vodacom? They have a 79c/minute prepaid option, you should have gotten at least 180 minutes. All the other providers have similar pricing. Vodacom is real sneaky though, they hide the 79c plan away and default you to their most expensive prepaid plan. Buggers the lot of them

ok, so here’s a free cheapskate tip to save (prepaid) data on your smartphone.Go to settings, and look for ‘backround data restriction'(on android).This little known setting (predictably not mentioned by the networks) will conserve data to the point of almost reaching its 30 days’ end-date, depending on apps’ use.

End of comments.




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