How Much is Your Smart Phone REALLY Costing You?

by Miranda Marquit · 32 comments

Smart phones are cool. I look at the iPhone, or something running Android, and I often wonder how many awesome things I could do with one. Check my email. Update social media. Even, in some cases, put together a presentation. However, every time I think I might spring for a smart phone, I stop and think about what it would really cost me — especially since I’m rarely in a position that would require me to “need” a smart phone.

Adding Up the Costs of a Smart Phone

The most obvious cost of a smart phone, beyond the initial purchase price, is paying for the extra services. Even if you aren’t roped into a two-year contract, the service costs on a smart phone are often higher than what you would pay for a standard cell phone, since you “need” to get a data plan to take full advantage of your smart phone. It’s a recurring charge that comes once a month.

But there are other costs often associated with owning a smart phone. Some of them might include:

  • Apps: It costs money to buy and play Angry Birds. If you habitually buy apps for your phone, you’ve got a minor money leak right there that could add up to big bucks later.
  • Accessories: Ear phones so you can listen to music on your smart phone. Blu-tooth headset so you can drive hands-free. Cool covers that let you express your personality. Smart phones come with a number of accessory options, and it can be easy to get caught up in them.
  • Easy shopping: Instant shopping access can get pretty pricey pretty fast. When there is nothing to prevent you from shopping anytime, no matter where you are, and completing the transaction instantly, there is little to prevent you from having a serious spending problem.
  • Theft: The FBI reports that more than 80,000 cell phones are stolen every year. Your smart phone can make you a target. This means you will have to get a new cell phone. And, if you keep sensitive personal or financial information in your smart phone, you might have to deal with the costs associated with that theft as well.
  • Wasting your time: Time really is money. Think of what you could be doing with the time that you waste on your smart phone. If you are playing games or updating your Facebook status when you should be working, you could put your job at risk through reduced productivity. But, what about side jobs? You could be earning extra income with a side venture instead of messing around on your smart phone. And, even if you don’t care about the money, you could be putting your relationships at risk through your obsession with your smart phone. Who wants to be second place to a gadget?

It’s true that smart phones can be really useful. And if you monitor their use, and are careful about how you spend your money on (and with) them, they can be tools that keep you connected, and help you get more done. But if you aren’t careful, a smart phone can cost you more than you might think.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • KT says:

    If you’re looking for inexpensive smart phone service I went with Wireless Republic. Invested $150 in the Moto G but after the initial investment I’m paying $10 per month for a smart phone with unlimited talk, text and data when on wifi and unlimited talk, text through the Sprint network. If I wanted to up my bill to $25 per month I could get unlimited talk, text and data both on wifi and cell (3G on Spring) but just haven’t found I needed it. It is somewhat of a start-up company and I did have to go through 2 phones before I got one that worked but Wireless Republic sent me 3 phones (the 3rd was the keeper), paid the return postage on the 2 phones that died after 2-3 weeks, extended my 30 day trial period twice and gave me a $25 credit to boot. They back what they cell and they want their customers to be satisfied.
    Apps I use are free so I’m able to read (Kindle app), watch videos (Netflix app), listed to podcasts (I LOVE Podcast Republic app), and music (off Amazon cloud). My last phone was a flip tracphone that I purchased annual service for the last few years. I still have it as a backup since I have over 2000 minutes left on it but I love my Moto G and everything I can do with it.
    FYI – I’m not affiliated financially or otherwise with them – I’m just a happy customers who wants this company to continue to grow.
    If you want to check them out here is this link:

  • Tom Cat says:

    Just bought my first true smart phone. Had a dumb phone for many years. It’s going back in a few days. I can see it will take too much of my time up. I spend enough time on the computer now. Tried it for a few days, good by and good riddance.

  • Angelica says:

    Overall, I think the discussion of whether a smartphone is worth it depends on each individual and his or her circumstances. You may think $100 is too much to pay per month for a phone, but it is worth it for me.

    I have apps that make money for me. I have talk, text, tweet and Facebook a lot in order to keep up with friends and family (I live 200 miles away from home). I use pandora to stream music on my commute to work, use google maps app for directions and gps, the list goes on and on. If there’s something you enjoy doing, I can more than likely find a way to do it better with my iPhone.

    For someone who doesn’t use all that and just wants basic features, of course it’s not worth it for you. And those of you who mentioned other companies such as straighttalk, etc. – I do know that they are cheaper, but I question the quality of the network and the features available. Yes, AT&T is more expensive than straight talk, but I also don’t want to support Walmart (straight talk is through them), I have never had any problems with my AT&T service and feel somewhat loyal to them and I appreciate the offer to have free or discounted phones when my contract is up. I just bought my iPhone 5 the day it came out for $200 with my upgrade and it would normally be $1000 retail price – no thanks!

    But of course like I said, the best option is what works for you as an individual.

  • mc says:

    I pay 45 a month for unlimited everything on my smart phone
    I us straight talk and the service is great. I cat justify spend a lot o.
    Just a phone. I use it all the time for work, for
    play, fun and just anything

  • Gary says:

    You can get a nice smartphone with unlimited voice, unlimited data, unlimited text for only $19 per month at Republic Wireless.

    Full nationwide coverage. The best deal in the country!

  • Daryl Spykerman says:

    The points made in this article are fair. Apps can cost you a bomb if left uncontrolled & even on the PC I have made online purchases like buying a shirt for SGD $49 & FM2013 for $60. I changed from the iPhone 4 to Samsung Note 3 weeks ago & it cost me nothing. My $98 smartphone was paid for with the $100 voucher given by Starhub (my telco) on a 2 year contract which gives me 4GB of data, 300mins incoming talk time, 500 SMS & caller number display – all for FREE. With apps like WhatsApp, Viber & Skype available for free, I don’t have to pay a cent to chat & send messages.

    My monthly bill was SGD $52 but now with my corporate discount, I pay $40 a month. That’s $1.30 a day!

  • Jean says:

    It is definitely true that a smartphone can run up all sorts of bills over the period of a healthy and full usage of all its abilities and also, like you mentioned, there’s the sheer amount of time that is spent also although I tend to look at that as no different than time spent doing something else for leisure/entertainment also, something we all need after all.


  • Renard says:

    I’m one of those not SO old fogies (47) who still hasn’t broken from the cord on the wall – and quite frankly, I’m fine with it. I live in a low-cost part of the country, my “commute” is 8 minutes on a “bad” day (that means I had to wait longer than I wanted on a sometimes difficult left turn), and my needs are pretty simple. I’d rather put the money into my savings account, investments, or even my “fun money” funds. My wife and two boys all have phones, and I’ve heard all the jokes. As long as they take care of their bills, it’s OK with me. Maybe one day I’ll get a cheap one, but so far I haven’t found one that fits my needs. Therefore, just like Glen Campbell’s Witchita Lineman, I’m “still on the line”!

  • Bonnie says:

    I agree w/ this article if you really are just goig to use your smartphone to play games and text and update Facebook/Twitter. In that case, it would be much cheaper to buy an iPod Touch and forgo the monthly expenses. However, for those of us who run our lives on our phone, the price is worth it. The most used apps on my phone are Toodledo (tasks app that syncs w/ your online acct) & Spend (an envelope budgeting app). They make me much more productive, remind me where I need to be & what I need to be doing when, and Spend reminds me or how much I have left in each budget category so I NEVER go over budget. Each time I buy something, I just enter it into Spend right there at the store. I also use a shopping list app that prevents me from buying random things at the grocery store. It also keeps track of prices, automatically includes tax and takes into account coupons, and keeps a running total of all items in my cart. So, when I go to the register, I know exactly what the total should be and can spot immediately if an item rang up incorrectly or one of my coupons wasn’t applied. I also have my Evernote app, a password-secured important info-keeper app (e.g. For keeping passwords and important medical info, insurance info, frequent flyer info, etc.) that backs up to my computer via wifi. Seriously, the usefulness is never ending. When I’m at a store, I always scan items w/ my barcode scanner app to be sure I can’t get a better price online. I especially always check prices w/ Amazon. An I have te Kindle app, so of I’m ever waiting in a long line somewhere, I can just whip out a book and get some reading in. Sure, many people barely make use of the full functionality of their smart phones. But for those of us who do, it’s invaluable. In fact, I’m typing this comment on my phone.

  • Marbella says:

    As mobile services become increasingly sophisticated contracts are also increasingly complex. When it comes to the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy so the package price is cheaper than buying the phone without a subscription. Crucial include phone price, term, temporary discounts, call rates and various pots of talk time, data traffic and income.

  • Angelica says:

    AJ & KM,

    For some reason when I first read this, it showed both of
    your comments under KM’s name, leaving me confused
    because I thought it was one person who was telling me
    they had two different phones and two different service

    I see now that your messages are separate. I apologize for any confusion.


  • Jana @ Everything Finance says:

    I just bought a smart phone last month. I had resisted and resisted for many of the reasons you’ve listed. But as I’ve used it, I’ve realized how much help it’s been able to provide. I’ve used the Google Maps, email, the PayPal app, and several other practical ones and the camera is crucial to me. My daughter hates cameras but for some reason will allow me to use my phone to take pictures. I’m glad that I have a great camera now.

    The first month’s expense was a shock but it’s worth it to me.

  • Roshawn @ Watson Inc says:

    My smart phone plan also is very cheap $30 per month. It’s the same with or without data, text, etc. The time consideration is a big one for me though.

  • Marbella says:

    You can find good smartphone and you may not need all the apps, it comes to economize on costs.

  • W.Martir says:

    With some good old fashion research you will find the deals out there. Patience and stop following the crowd. You can get a virgin mobile prepaid android phone 300 min and unlimited data and text for $35 a month and it uses sprints network.

    Your welcome frugal friends

  • Financial Money Tips says:

    Smart phones are definitely for great use if used correctly. Obviously games and social media are distractions, but with some apps (and most are free) you are able to trade and make money with smart phones. To me, it is worth the initial investment.

  • Angelica says:

    Oh I see. In the previous comment you posted you said you had unlimited texting and Internet. I also have At&t, but it costs me a little more because I have unlimited Internet and texting.

    • AJ says:


      On November 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm you wrote: Oh I see. In the previous comment you posted you said you had unlimited texting and Internet. I also have At&t, but it costs me a little more because I have unlimited Internet and texting.

      Whom were you addressing in this post? Was it me or someone else? I haven’t posted about my phone service before so I’m confused. Thank you. -AJ

  • AJ says:


    I also pay less than $60 a month for my smartphone. It’s an iPhone 4 through AT&T. I have the smaller dataplan and pay 10 cents per text (I don’t normally text).

  • NYGUY says:

    I evaluate the decision myself, as signifigant others tries to get me on a family plan and upgrade my phone…she already has a BB.

    I hestitate because I already sit at a desk for most of my day with a PC in front of me. I currently pay $50/month so why would I want to double that cost and pay $100/month.

    I like just having a phone for calls and texts and like the extra $50 in my pocket to spend on things I would enjoy much more.

    Maybe, I’m part of the don’t know what I’m missing group…but for now I’m fine with that.

    although I could use a phone upgrade, as my current phone looks like it’s seen better days.

    • KM says:

      It doesn’t have to cost you that much. You and the poster above you mentioned $100/month and that seems a little high to me. I am paying $65/month for unlimited web, unlimited text/picture/video, and 500 minutes (which is more than enough for me). But don’t worry – if you don’t think you will get much use from a smartphone, don’t get one. I don’t really do any work on mine, but I do use it for a lot of organization (to-do lists, shopping lists, reward card barcodes so I don’t have to carry them in my wallet, calendar, etc.).

    • AJ says:

      Events might be gained with out hurting any person and settings are more sharp and precise by doing on the internet vehicle online games. The thrill the trucker encounters when generating kinds of of automobiles, that they can’t do in the real world, is beyond the creativeness.

  • Angelica says:

    Overall I don’t agree with this article.

    Yes, having a smartphone costs more than a regular cell phone, but in my opinion it’s worth it. You can do so much more with a smartphone and I would never go back to a basic phone.

    Yes, some apps cost money, but there are plenty of them that are free. Like anything else, we are free to make choices and spend money wisely.

    The author listed headphones under accessories, my iphone came with headphones and though I bought better ones so I could listen to the (free) radio app, Pandora, I bought them on sale… only $8.99. Also, spending money on things like a cover that protect your phone may cost money in the short term, but is certainly worth it in the long run. I’d rather spend $15 for a cover than retail price to buy another phone when it breaks because I didn’t buy anything to protect it.

    Yes, time is money, but my iphone saves me time, helps me connect with people I care about and helps me get work done on the go.

    I paid for my phone $100, my phone bill is about $100 a month, and I spent $15 on a case and $8.99 for headphones… I have spent $1.99 on a twitter app that I love. In total, I spent $126 to start and then an additional $100 a month.

    I love my iphone…and I do think it’s worth the money. My bill wasn’t much less before I upgraded to the iphone and I can do a lot more with it.

    • Roi Brass says:

      100 a month?
      …and i thought 10 was already too much….

      • Anna Gherardo says:


        Thank god I moved to Europe/Portugal with my boyfriend. Here we pay 12.5€ /month and everything’s for free. Voice, video calls, sms, MMS, data… and still we think it’s becoming too expensive.

        • Jeff says:

          The phone companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

          I love technology, but I just don’t want to carry the internet with me on a tiny screen. I don’t want to tweet about everything to people I don’t know or care about. And I certainly don’t want to give an employer or anyone else my time for free. Unless I like them. And have actually met them.

          I’ve never seen people get more defensive about smartphones and why they need them. They can’t pay their rent or mortgage but they have to have that smart phone because, well, how else can they keep in touch with important things like the Kardashians.

          Unless you are a savant, multi-tasking is a myth. Texting while driving is funny to see; its a shame other drivers get killed or lose limbs because people believe they can actually multi-task.

  • KM says:

    I agree. There is a level of discipline that is required for things like that. But the same can be said for computers. You can easily shop online instead of going to the store, so it’s easy to spend money mindlessly.

    However, I haven’t regretted my smartphone purchase a year ago (a lot later than most people I know) and that might be because I took great care to reduce my costs associated with it. First, I paid for it out of pocket – no financing (read: interest) and no contract that “pays” for it (read: higher monthly charges that add up to 1.5 times the cost of the phone over the 2 years).

    Second, since I don’t talk on my phone much and mobile-to-mobile, weekend, and night minutes are free, I picked the plan that has the least minutes possible (500 is still too much for me), unlimited text (which I don’t need, it came with it), and unlimited web (really useful for smartphones to avoid the nasty data overages or being unable to use your phone after a certain point).

    Third, I don’t buy any apps…ever. There are tons of great free apps out there, but if you really want the good stuff, Amazon Appstore offers a free app every day, so you could check that for something cool. There was recently a $15 office app offered for free. And if games are more your thing, the free daily app program offers a lot of games as well.

    So in general, I don’t spend anything on my phone except the monthly payment, which is relatively low compared to what is available now. And I only use it if I need to on the road – if it can wait until I am on a bigger screen, I usually prefer that. But being able to compare prices while at a store, get directions, or check something online while away from home has been way worth it. You don’t have to be a social media addict or wield hundreds of emails for a smartphone to be useful, and there is a lot you can do with it frugally.

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