Friday, January 1, 2010

Free Can Be Costly

My old cell phone died recently. We had been so happy together. It was a very simple phone, not like today's "smart phones." All I used it for was to make and receive calls and an occasional text message. It was perfect for me, so I took it with me to the phone store so I could show the salesperson what I wanted. Boy, was I living in a dream world.

I'm not going to say the name of the company. Let's just say, it starts with an "A," and ends with a "T & T." Once inside the store, I had to put my name in a book of people waiting. It was like when you arrive at a crowded restaurant – except in the phone store, the dessert is a two-year contract. Finally, they called my name, and a salesperson greeted me. I showed him my old phone, and he held back a laugh. As he stared at it, I knew he was wondering if it ran on steam power. When I told him that I wanted a phone exactly like that one, he just shook his head. He said the model was no longer made. However, he added that I could get a pretty simple phone for free.

He showed me a phone that was selling for $50.00 with a $50.00 rebate. In other words, it was a free phone. It sounded great to me, except the phone didn't look anything like my old phone. For one thing, there were no buttons to push. How was I supposed to call anyone? He explained that it had a "touch screen." When he turned it on, it looked like a small computer screen.

I told him I wasn't used to a touch screen, and he said that it was time for me to join the 21st Century. I don't know why, it seems like most of my best times were spent in the 20th. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be fun to have one of these new devices. Besides, there was always that free price tag.

He walked me back to the cash register. I was confused. I thought the thing was free. He reiterated that it was, but I would probably want some kind of case "to protect my investment." (What investment? It's supposed to be free). He showed me a case that he said was almost indestructible. He also thought it would be a good idea for me to have a cable to connect the phone to my computer so I could back up all my contacts in case I broke the phone. "I thought you said that case was indestructible," I reminded him. "I said it was 'almost indestructible.' But you also could lose the phone, or someone could steal it. If you have everything backed up on your computer, you'll have less to worry about."

"Less to worry about?" I never worried about any of this stuff before I had a cell phone. And I didn't have a case or cable for my old cell. But since I was joining this century, I said, "Okay." Then there was another surprise: the sales tax on the phone. I couldn't understand why I would have to pay tax on something that costs nothing, and he explained that it was the law. In fact, I didn't just have to pay tax on the phone as if it cost me $50.00, I had to pay tax on the phone as if I had paid the regular retail price. So, including accessories and tax, the total for my new phone was $75. That's how much a free phone costs.

When I got home, I struggled with the phone and eventually figured out how to dial and receive calls. I didn't learn how to check the stock market, how to watch an episode of "Yesterday's Stars Who Have Lost A Lot Of Weight," or how to make my ring tone sound like a chicken squawking. Not only was I uninterested in all the fancy features, but I figured that by the time I learned them, I'd need another new phone. With any luck, by then, I'll be able to get a free phone for only a couple of hundred dollars.


  1. When the encyclopedia of great consumer rip-offs is written, the cell phone companies will deserve a very lengthy volume. Thanks, Lloyd, for shining a light on a shady industry!

  2. Lloyd:

    Thanks for the warning. I'm almost afraid to trade in my Model T cell phone for a new one. I'm sure I would be the talk of the store bringing in a phone like the one I have now. It actually has number buttons to push on it and cannot, huh? What a dinosaur.

    And as we all know amd you just proved once again, nothing is free.

  3. The learning curve of your new phone sounds similar to the point and shoot digital camera I purchased over 5 years ago. Although, in all fairness it probably has too many advanced features and options to all fit on manual dials, so I need to remember all these arrow keys to press as I navigate through a maze of digital menus to access them.

    Steven Kalka

  4. Just like you, I had a very old cell phone which I loved, not despite the fact that it was capable of little more than sending and recieving calls but rather because of it. A year ago, it finally stopped working, and like you I had no need for the extra functions of newer phones. I went to ebay and bought the exact same discontinued model I had before, new in the box, for a total of 29 bucks, it works with all my old accessories, swapped out the sim card from the old phone, and am deligted with it. Problem solved. btw, i happen to work for that company that starts with a and ends with t&t, and yes, everyone at work makes fun of my phone. i don't care.


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