Today I’m going to tell you how to buy and operate a phone in the UK.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in respecting individual choice and the wisdom of crowds etc etc.
But it has been brought to the attention of The Escape Artist that most people are doing it wrong when it comes to buying stuff. Buying and using a mobile phone is just another example of this.
This was prompted by a recent discussion I had about mobile phones with a high-earning and (until recently) high-spending go-getter. They’d moved to the USA to take a high powered sales role and had been living at Ground Zero for consumerism, the affluent suburbs within commuting range of New York City.
Having been alerted to this blog (by a thoughtful reader paying it forward) they’d discovered the concept of financial independence. This had prompted a big re-think and they’re now in the process of pulling a Mustachian 180….downshifting to a smaller house back in the UK and living gloriously mortgage-free for the first time….with the prospect of full financial independence now tantalisingly close.
They’d prepared a budget and we were running through the line items with what they planned to spend each month. For phones, they had budgeted £100 per month per head for each family member.
WTAF? Please forgive the 1980s reference, but not even E.T. should be spending that much on their phone bill.
I should admit upfront that, in the past, The Escape Artist has made mistakes at both ends of the phone cost spectrum. For example, I once had a £36 a month contract. And at another time in my life, I was at £0 per month as I tried to do without a mobile phone as a cost saving measure.
The results of this experiment were clear: I realised almost immediately that operating in the modern world requires having a mobile phone that works. Only Buddhist monks or penny-pinching clowns ditch a mobile phone altogether.
We are not about deprivation or missing out around here. So remember the difference between being cheap and being frugal. Mobile phones are a tool which can allow you to make more money, connect with other people and enhance your life.
So mobile phones are (on balance) a good thing. But phone contracts are a bad thing. No discussion of mobile phones would be complete without dealing with those long contracts (eg 3 years) that the phone retailers and networks often push people towards. As a general rule, these are insane.
Flexibility and options are valuable in life. Contracts limit your options. So only a clown ties themselves up in knots like this. Every year, the cost of technology goes down and the kit gets better. In an environment like that, The Escape Artist does not sign up for any 3 year nonsense and neither should you.
So you are gonna want a pay as you go phone. How to choose? Well, you are not gonna want one that is heavily advertised on TV etc. You want to be paying for phone, not for expensive TV or billboard advertising. You do not want The One That All The Kool Kidz have got.
You are gonna want one either marketed as a budget solution or, even better, not heavily marketed at all…but one that turned into a hit via word of mouth. One where other people have recommended it on internet forums etc.
Do you remember The Alignment of Interests? If not, go back and read that. You’re looking for advice from smart people whose interests are (mostly) aligned with yours. And if you haven’t tried putting “what is the best value smart phone in the UK?” into Google, then really, you have to ask yourself: dude, are you even trying?
But, after several years of happy usage, it recently packed up on me. So I was forced into the market for a new smartphone. I got googling and quickly found a few techmag articles about good value smartphones.
[As an aside: The main problem with the Moto G5 is not the lack of functionality. No, the main problem with the Moto G5 is the same as with all smartphones: its the operator. It’s people like you and me who have an unfortunate tendency to find their smartphone more fascinating than real life. That’s because the operator is a chimp who finds the kitten clips and the internet sexytime videos irresistible].
I then did some research on which network to use. Basically, this is easy: you choose an alternative providers that piggybacks off one of the big networks. So, giffgaff (who I ended up going with) uses the o2 network and yet charges way less than o2. There’s a lesson in there somewhere about the size of mark up you are paying by just choosing a major “name” without price comparison.
You can buy your Moto G5 online from Amazon or giffgaff. It cost me £149 for the famcypants more memory version with 16GB and 3 GB RAM. This was less than I could have got it for elsewhere (you benefit from their bulk purchasing power). And this price included next day delivery to my door. Like I said before: why would anyone go to a shop?
For comparison, a new iPhone 8 currently costs about £700.
There are 2 ways to look at this choice. The first way says: OMG, for £149 I just bought more computing power than The Pentagon had to fight World War 3 in the 1990s. I get a super-computer with voice recognition, fingerprint unlock, GPS, camera, email, a zillion apps and access to pretty much all the information ever discovered.
The second way to look at it is to say….yeah but the camera on the iPhone 8 has more pixels….as if anyone sensible would even know or care about the difference. For the avoidance of doubt, this second way is for LOSERS. This is a game you can’t win because there is always some clown with a bigger boat (or fancier phone….or whatever).
You then just have to choose a monthly package. I started off with the giffgaff £10 a month package which gives 3GB of data and unlimited calls (you can use this affiliate link to get started plus £5 free credit).
After a month or two, I realised that I wasn’t using all the data allowance so I dropped down to the £7.50 per month option. With giffgaff you can change your monthly bundle at any time.
So if the £7.50 package doesn’t cover your usage, you can easily go back up to £10 per month. If the £10 a month package isn’t enough, that may be a sign you need to need to watch fewer kitten videos and do something more useful instead.
The technology and the market for phones change quickly. So I’m not sure whether the Moto G5 plus giffgaff is still the best value solution. Hell, I don’t even know if it was the absolute best solution when I got mine a few months ago. No doubt there are other options that are as good (and maybe cheaper…if so, feel free to make suggestions in the comments).
But it doesn’t matter. You see, perfection is not required. What’s important here are the timeless principles of not being a consumer clown and not being ripped off by The Man.