The Carr Report: Can you hear me now?

by Damon Carr
For New Pittsburgh Courier

Imagine this. I grew up in an era where cellphones didn’t exist. Everybody in one household shared one phone line. Phones were not wireless. I’ve literally tripped over the cord a time or two trying to answer the phone before the caller hung up. There was no caller ID. We didn’t have to dial the area code for local calls. Long distance calling was expensive. We rarely talked to friends and relatives on the phone who lived in remote locations. If you didn’t have a call waiting, you couldn’t use the phone if someone in the house was waiting on an important call. Average phone bill was under $100 per month. That’s if you didn’t have an incarcerated family member. Those collect calls from loved ones who were in jail caused our phone bill to skyrocket—resulting in our phone being shut off on several occasions. Try calling our number during this time, you’d hear, “the number you’re trying to reach has been disconnected.” Even with collect calls, on the high end the phone bill was $350 per month.

As I transitioned to adulthood, I observed the transition from home-based-only phones, to pagers, to cellphones. I’ve observed families going from one phone for the entire household to everyone within the household having their own phone and their own unique phone number. I remember when 3-way calling was a big deal. Nowadays, we can talk to and see multiple people simultaneously via Apple Facetime, Google Duo, Facebook Messenger, and Zoom. I’ve observed the average cost of monthly phone bills soar from $50 per month to hundreds of dollars per month.

My monthly cell phone bill is insane. I’m current and have never been late. For the record, I expect it to be higher than average. I have three phones that are exclusively mine. Sounds insane, I know. I have one personal phone and I have two other phones for two separate businesses. My wife and two of my children are also on my plan. Then I have car-wifi for two different cars. Lastly, I have a tracking device so that I can know where my teenage sons are at any given time. Since two of the phones and the car-wifi devices are primarily for business use, I can write a large portion of the expenses related to those off on my taxes. So, it didn’t bother me too much about my cell phone bill being insanely high. That was until I had a conversation with my mom. I realized that my cell phone bill was higher than my mama’s rent. I started digging. After a thorough review, I concluded it wasn’t the cost of the phone plan that was driving the insane amount of my monthly bill. Cell phone plans average between $75 to $200 per month. It was the cost of the phone(s) and other devices that was driving the price of my cell phone bill to $550 per month.

Did you know that the payments you make for the phone, tablet, and any other device on your cell phone bill is a DEBT? This one slipped past me. I never viewed it as a debt, UNTIL NOW!

When COVID-19 hit, and schools were forced to go virtual, I went out and bought two Chromebook laptop computers for my sons. I also bought a Microsoft-based laptop for myself. I spent about $1,200 for all three computers. When the Best Buy clerk swiped my debit card for the cost of those computers, I felt that $1,200 leaving my account. My I-phone 11 pro max cost me about $1,100. I didn’t feel that hit to my account. Think about that, I got three laptops for the cost of one I-phone. In fact, the cost of the I-phone 11-pro max was so painless, I bought two.

Here’s where they got you and me! Remember when you use to sign up for a cellphone plan, they’d give you the phone free. We had to commit to 2-years of services. They’ve craftily and slowly moved from giving us the phone for free to charging us for the phone outright. Very few if anybody is dropping $1,100 on a brand new cellphone on the date of purchase. They spread the payments of the phone over 18-36 months depending on which carrier. They don’t talk to us in terms of the overall cost of a cell phone. They talk to us in terms of monthly cell phone payments. Furthermore, if you have decent credit, there’s no down payment or no interest rate on the terms. We’re agreeing to perpetual, never-ending finance terms and don’t even realize it. New cellphones drop yearly. We upgrade our phones, sign up for new financing terms and never ever really own our phone outright. Here’s a quick summary of how the major carriers charge us for cell phones:

AT&T Next UP: Requires AT&T installment plan, payoff phone in 30 months. Trade in or upgrade after paying off 50 percent of your phone. Never miss out on the newest device. Low monthly payment. $0 down. 0 percent interest.

Verizon Device Payment Plan: Easy monthly payments. The cost of your phone device is split into 24 months. Get a new phone whenever you want once your device is paid off. Keep up with the latest technology. The latest device can be yours without waiting for the contract to end.

T-Mobile Jump Plan: Low monthly payments. Phone paid off in 24-36 months. Add Jump option for an additional monthly fee. Gives you the freedom to upgrade anytime after you’ve reached 50 percent of your device cost.

Sprint Flex Lease: With Sprint Flex Lease, Sprint owns the phone. You lease a phone with affordable monthly payments. At the end of the agreement you have three options. Upgrade to a new phone with new payment terms. Own it by paying off the remaining balance in full with monthly payments between six to nine months.

In the end, approximately $225 or HALF of my monthly cellphone bill is payments on devices. Easy fix. I will pay them off, get rid of the debt, and keep my phones until I truly need an upgrade. Unlike before, where I opt for the upgrade because a new phone hit the market. When I do upgrade, I will negotiate a reduced price and pay cash.

Can you hear me now? Good, I encourage you to do the same.

(Damon Carr, Money Coach can be reached @ 412-216-1013 or visit his website @ damonmoneycoach.com.)

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