How To Go Without Cell Phones

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In the wake of the recent WHO news release that cell phones emit enough radiation to cause cancer, this is a perfect time to tell you how I stopped using a cell phone 7 months ago and why I don’t plan to go back.

My cell phone history

First you need to understand that I purchased my first mobile phone contract 10 years ago in 2001.  Since that day I was continually updating to the latest and greatest the industry had to offer and, beginning in 2005, was the guy holstering the “smartphone” complete with access to email, GPS mapping, Internet, RSS, streaming audio, video, and the like.

You get the idea… I was always connected, until that fateful day toward the end of October 2010 when I was downsized.  Naturally, since they would no longer pay for my mobile phone plan I had to transfer ownership of the contract back to myself – because there’s no other option right?  Or is there?

The decision to go without a cell phone

My other option, the option most of us simply overlook, was to let my mobile phone plan expire and go without.  It is possible… I’ve been without a cell phone ever since and don’t plan to go back.  Why?  Because I simply don’t need one and after living both scenarios I prefer going without.  Have you ever thought about going without a cell phone?

Remember that I was a heavy cell phone user before deciding to get rid of mine.  Depending on your work you may be able  to do it too.  Never forget that you can choose your own way.

Alternatives to using a cell/mobile phone

Cell phones can be very handy, and in some circumstances are a need, but not always.  If you challenge yourself you could certainly do without one – you did 10 years ago right?  Each of these alternatives will also allow you freedom from cell phone radiation concerns.

  • Landline – You could cancel your mobile phone and return to a landline.  Many media companies will give you a package deal that includes cable or satellite TV, Internet, and phone service for one discounted monthly price.
  • Skype – You can place free calls to other Skype members using your computer.  If you have a laptop you could do it anywhere you have an Internet connection.  I use Skype when I will be talking to others who have a Skype account.  If you want to call non-Skype numbers you will have to pay a per minute fee (at time of writing they have plans for as low as $01.2 per minute.)
  • Google Voice – Since October of 2010 I have used Google Voice as my exclusive phone service.  The best part?  I can place calls to any number in the continental United States completely free of charge.  International calls are very low cost, but I have yet to make one.  I purchased a Plantronics Voyager Pro bluetooth headset for around $70 (cost of the average monthly cell phone plan) and use it to talk through my laptop.  Yes I need my laptop and an Internet connection, but those are pretty much constants for me anyway so it works great for my situation, and the price is definitely right.
  • MagicJack – A little device that plugs into the USB port of your computer and accepts a regular phone line input allowing you to make calls over your computer with any old phone.  The device and service cost around $40 (plus S/H) to get started.  It is basically a VOIP service like Vonage but it is much cheaper and is portable.  Here’s an excellent MagicJack Review to find out more.
  • Vonage – A VOIP service provider that allows you to make calls over your Internet connection through a regular phone.  It is similar to the MagicJack but costs more (still relatively inexpensive at $25/month) and requires non portable equipment to be installed.

There are many other alternatives, but this list should wet your chops and help get you started to cell phone free living.  Another proud cellphone free friend I know is Jacob from ERE.

Could you go without a cell phone?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.



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1 Steph

My fiance has a work cell phone that he has for on-call situations. Since April we have gone without personal cell phones. We too were seemingly dependent upon them for everything, day in and day out. I use Google Voice and LOVE it. My favorite part of going without?? I have a reason not to respond at the drop of a hat to people, who would otherwise question when I had a cell phone. Love the article!

2 Matt Jabs

Stephanie, you’re after my heart – those are the exact reasons I’m choosing to go without!

3 Claire

I can’t believe how rude that is…to question why you wouldn’t pick up your cell! Geez. I don’t care if it’s a landline or a cell…my phone is there for MY convenience. If it’s not convenient for me to pick up, I don’t and the other person can leave a message.

4 Matt Jabs

Yeah, the expectation to answer the cell phone is one of the main reasons I ditched it.

5 Echo

I went wihout a cell phone for years until about 2007 when my employer requried that I have one (they paid for the device and the monthly charges). If I had to pay for it myself I would scale back to something cheaper.

I think I could go without one, but for peace of mind it’s important that my wife is able to reach me (she has MS and we have a 2 year-old). Also, we don’t have a landline at home, so we save on that expense.

6 Matt Jabs

Yeah, my last several cell phones were also employer sponsored. The family communication systems are build around mobile phones by default these days, just as they used to be build around landlines by default.

7 EnnisP

Hey Matt,
Good write up but…

Without a cell phone how do you receive calls on the go?

That is an important question for us because we have security issues. We live in South Africa and safety is a problem – carjacking, etc. We’ve never had to use the phones – we both have one – for emergencies but would hate to be without it. I would love to give it up but need to have some kind of communication device to fill the gap. Would love to hear any suggestions.

8 Matt Jabs

Well if you need it you need it, no harm there. There is value in mobile phones if the need is there, we’re mostly talking about possible alternatives and the fact that they’re not as necessary as cell phone companies want us to think they are. Know what I mean?

9 Seth

Here in North America, you do not need a service plan to dial the Fire/Police/Ambulance dispatch service (911 here). If you cancel your service, you can still keep the phone in your pocket/car and use it in an emergency.

For us, we had to ask ourselves the hard questions. If I have an emergency, the proper authorities can do a lot more to help me than my wife can. The “in case of emergency” argument that kept us tethered was more for the other person–not actually for the person directly experiencing the emergency. It was about the other person NEEDING immediate notification that their loved one is in trouble… even if they were already being cared for by police, doctors, etc.

My advice… try to do some serious introspection about your motives. Only then can you make an informed decision.

Naturally, the nightmare scenario will come up. You know the one. “My husband got hit by a passing train and is being rushed to the hospital. If only he had a mobile phone… he could have called me from the ambulance and I could have been there to hold his hand as he died.” All I can say is try to keep some perspective. He’ll probably be unconscious anyway (thus unable to call you). Besides, a simple card in the wallet with emergency contact info would work better. Emergency responders aren’t going to go scrolling through your iPhone’s contact list and guessing at who to call. For one thing, they’re legally bound to only notify the next-of-kin.

The human race got along just fine until ~1990′s without mobile phones. Are we so fragile that we can’t survive without them now?

10 Matt Jabs

I haven’t used a mobile phone in 10 months now and prefer it.

11 Thomas

Hey Matt,

I remember when I got my first cell phone. My parents bought it when I got my drivers license so I could check in with them when I was out and so I could call in the event of an emergency. That’s it! Over time, especially after I got my own plan, my usage started going from checking in/emergencies to eventually becoming my one and only phone (mostly because long distance calls are free on a cellphone). Now I wonder how I survived without one. Whenever I leave the house without my phone, I either turn around immediately and go get it, or I end up going through my day feeling like I’m missing something. CRAZY!!!

I’m glad you posted on this topic because it’s got me thinking that my wife and I may need to make some changes… We could probably get away with dropping my line and keeping my wife’s line because we generally travel together as a family and would only need one phone with us in the car; and I have access to email and a landline at work so my wife can still get a hold of me fairly easily and others can too, in the event of an emergency.

With our present carrier, dropping the second line would save us around $12 per month. This may not seem like much at first, but multiply that over 24 months (the length of a typical contract, and you get $288, plus the cost to replace the phone when it inevitably dies (last time it was $100 per phone for us). Also, who’s to say the monthly plans won’t go up in price after the contract expires? We may also be able to further tweak our plan or switch to a different carrier and save even more money.

Decisions, decisions…
-Thomas

12 Matt Jabs

Glad to have inspired Thomas, I say go for it… you can always add the 2nd phone back right? :)

13 JT

I think not being tethered to a phone is great. For awhile, I had a data plan so that I could keep up with email. Boy, was that ever an electronic leash… I tossed it for a year, and now I’m back to it.

I couldn’t give one up. For the cost, I could probably find other, less deserving things to cut. My restaurant and bar budget being one of those things.

14 Matt Jabs

How much do you spend on dining and bar now?

15 Mavis

Great article and you’re right…the electronic leash is a pain. We’re always looking for a better option for us but we live in a rural area and I have small children…it doesn’t mean much for when we are home but when “going to town” I like the idea that I can call for help if I have vehicle problems or other emergency.

Other than that, I would love to ditch it! Maybe I could let others know I’m only using it for emergencies…maybe they won’t expect me to answer it when I’m out. :)

16 Matt Jabs

If they don’t you could just get a new number with a pay-as-you-go plan and let people know this new phone is only for emergencies.

17 Kevin L.

Hi Matt,

Initially I was using my company’s Blackberry until they decide to crack down on personal use. Now I own a smartphone, but I don’t have a home phone.

I do the following to save money on the phone:
1) Get the phone from Amazon, Wirefly, Costco or BJs. My phone was 60% cheaper than what the carrier was selling it for. This was a brand new phone which only came out for a week. I also didn’t have to pay for activation and got a free car charger :)

2) Don’t get a text plan. Total rip-off. I use Google Voice or you can get other text apps for that (only if you get a smartphone)

3) See if your company offers employee discounts for specific carriers.

4) Get on a family plan; even if they’re your friends. I got on my best friend’s family plan. I am a heavy data user, so rarely talk on the phone. Now I am only paying for $30 data + $10 for voice. I give him an extra few bucks to cover the taxes. You can only do this with friends you really trust.

18 Matt Jabs

Thanks for the breakdown Kevin, sounds like a good cost saving option if they can put it in place.

19 Gil

I’ve had a cell phone ever since I had kids (actually the grandparents insisted, especially since we would drive to visit them and the distance was freaking them out)… we haven’t upgraded since… well until this month. I’m getting a smartphone (for my business, I’m self employed). It’s just getting to hard to be tethered to my laptop and/or at home… sometimes I have to do things on the go. Having said that though, I’m not going with a contract or a super expensive phone. Low end Android on Virgin Mobile… $40 for 1200 minutes (will need it for the sales and team calls out and bout) and unlimited (well some throttling expected) data, msg, txts. But if I didn’t need it for work or if I didn’t have kids, I’d likely would have gone without a long time ago.

20 Matt Jabs

Congrats on your business Gil, my wife Betsy has also thought about starting a professional organizing business. Best of luck.

21 Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer

I can’t imagine going without a cell phone, but think Virgin mobile is a good option now for smartphones.

22 Jaz

Going without cellphones isn’t as easy for those who live in rural areas. I can’t Vonage or anything that goes over Internet, as the only choices we have where I live is dial-up or satellite, both too slow to work with the options you mentioned. I have a land line that Verizon doesn’t seem to care for. It dies every time it rains and I’ve been w/o it for a week or longer while Verizon takes its sweet time to come repair the problem (which isn’t even at my place but usually somewhere father up the infrastructure). Verizon is the only choice for land lines here. So for me and many people in my situation, a cell phone is a necessity, not a luxury. I notice that most frugal sites seem to address those who live in cities with a lot of resources and seem to forget the view is different in the country.

23 Matt Jabs

This article lists available options, if they don’t work then keep the cell phone – no harm in that.

24 Marge

My cell phone is my safety net for emergencies, I couldn’t do without my cheap little Tracfone SVC for seniors. I fell off a chair 2.5 months ago and landed on my back and couldn’t move, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d had my phone in my pocket I’d have laid on the floor for hours. The frailer we old folk get the more important it is for us to keep our phones on us .
I’m definitely going to try Google voice thanks for the advice it’s looks like a great money saver.

25 Matt Jabs

I’m glad you’re okay Marge and glad to help w/the GV suggestion.

26 Mark

Matt,

I’ve had a cell phone for years, but I have always set boundaries. While my ailing grandmother was alive, I had it so my family could call me if she fell and ended up in the hospital-an all too common occurrence towards the end of her life. It also came in handy when I was a temp employee; I got an assignment which ultimately led to a permanent placement with a Fortune 500 company.

Having said all that, I only gave my number to people who HAD to call me, such as family or close friends. I also made use of the ‘off’ button; voice mail was there for a reason, so folks could leave me a message and I’d call ‘em back.

After my grandmother died, I found that I was hardly using the phone. Still, it took a couple of years before I switched to a ‘pay as you go’ plan with Verizon Wireless. I pay $107 for the year, because the other, less expensive plans are only good for a month. They throw in $10 worth of free time if you buy for the year. In any case, my phone bill went from $45 a month to about $9 a month.

Because I work long hours, I can’t always call contractors and such during the day; my cell phone allows me to do so during my breaks at work. I can also call the insurance company, make a doctor’s appointment, etc. That said, I can, and often do, leave my phone off for days at a time.

So, why do I keep the phone? It’s come in handy during emergencies-like when my scooter died 20 miles from home a few weeks ago! I was able to call the roadside assistance Rider Ins. provides and get back home ok. I carry the phone in my car or my scooter, depending on which I’m driving/riding that day. I like having the phone for that more than anything. Also, being able to call service providers during breaks at work. That said, I rule my cell phone, not the other way around. For me, it’s just a tool and nothing more.

Mark

But yeah, I can’t see how or why most folks talk on their cell phones 24/7. I could see a doctor, IT admin, or other such professional needing to be reached 24/7; I can’t see why everyone else must be too. While I cannot and will not get rid of my phone, I severely limit its use.

27 Matt Jabs

Great stuff Mark. I’m coming up on my two year anniversary of cell phone free living. I love it and won’t ever go back. I still use Google Voice for free and love it. Betsy has a cell phone, I’ve tried to get her to go without, but it’s her decision and she likes having one.

28 Richard Neva

I am about to go without a cell phone or any faux phones aka laptop applications. I simply do not associate with people anymore anyway so what do I want with a phone? I have had nothing but problems with them and I have a hearing impairment that prohibits me on any phone!

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