Paying more to get ‘less

Here at the villa of the Night we like cordless phones with a base unit and extra handsets because when you’ve got two daughters and three floors of living space it’s handy to not be tied to the wall when you talk on the phone. It’s also good exercise for me to run around the house trying to locate what pillow or piece of furniture the handset is under when the phone rings. Cordless phones are convenient, loaded with features and let us roam our home.

Around our house they also have about the same life expectancy as a pan of warm brownies.

Over the years we’ve had many, many cordless phone sets. Some were made by big brand name companies, others made by company names that appear to have been written by a dyslexic Korean. Regardless of name, each one seems to last only about 12 to 18 months. This was a great source of annoyance to me for awhile and then I actually started to pay attention to the kid working the cash register at Best Buy when he tried to sell me the “extended product replacement contract.” The standard deal is for that magic $9.99 number you can get whatever you purchased replaced free if it stops working in the next two years. (Note: very few things are fixable anymore, at least where electronics are concerned. It’s usually more cost effective to throw something away and replace it than to repair it).

Yeah, my grandfather (“use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”) would have a fit if he knew this is what things have come to, but that’s progress. For some time now when the kid at the counter goes into his warranty spiel when I’m buying a phone I no longer think to myself, “Blah, blah, blah, whatever and no, thank you.” Now I think “Bwa-ha-ha! You’re mine!” At least the last three cordless phone sets we’ve owned have had this extra protection and the result is that for my original $100 investment and a couple of $9.99 “insurance premiums” I’ve had multiple new phones. So last week when the basement handset started dying regularly halfway through “Hello,” it may have made people calling us think I was swearing but I was really pretty mellow. I gathered up the entire set and headed back to the Return counter at Best Buy.

I did not realize at the time that this happened to be a particularly hardy telephone; it had outlived the replacement agreement by 36 days. While such an achievement might otherwise have caused me to organize a celebratory parade and to buy stock in the maker’s company, I instead felt betrayed. Oh well, I can afford another phone and just chalk this up to being one of those times where life gets the last laugh, except that I also had another phone mission in mind with this particular trip to the Big Blue Box.

My wife and I have had cell phones for the last 8 or 9 years with one of the big wireless network providers. The original contract was cheap, cheap, cheap and we’ve done pretty well by renewing it whenever we needed new phones and the provider had an enticing promotion. The result is that we now pay barely $30 a month for our two lines and a “puny” 300 minutes, which suits our needs fine because I think we’ve exceeded our minutes maybe once in all this time. Our current phones are now more than four years old however, and mine no longer connects properly with the battery charger. We have to charge the battery in my wife’s phone, switch it my phone and put my battery back into her phone to recharge. Not overly inconvenient but, you know, why not look at getting a new phone? Especially one of those new camera phones because, as a blogger, I never know when I might run into a situation with great blog fodder such as, say, a car loaded with Wellstone bumper stickers gets booted right before my eyes.

Equipped with the Best Buy gift certificate I received at Christmas, I wandered over to the cell phone counter where several phones supported by my provider were being advertised with little signs saying, “Free” or “Just $25.99” and similar. I knew I’d have to sign a new 2-year contract, go through the rebate hoo-doo and maybe have to pay a little more for the monthly service but I thought it was worth checking it out. The knowledgeable and helpful young man waiting on me helped me find a couple of phones that would fit my admittedly low-demand cell phone lifestyle and then entered my account into his computer.

“Dude,” he said, “how long have you had that phone?”

It turns out that he can’t sell me any of the phones he had unless I upgraded my contract. Ok, again, not unexpected. Smiling dismissively I said, “Yeah, yeah, so what’s the damage? What’s the cheapest monthly family rate to have the network behind me?”


Have I ever mentioned that I’m Scottish, or even at that, that my wife is the really frugal one in the family?

Of course, for that I’d get an extra 100 minutes a month that I wouldn’t use; at least not as much as I’d use the extra $50 they wanted to charge me. I guess I’m keeping my current cell phone a bit longer as I ponder the lessons of this night’s technological transactions: being cordless doesn’t mean there aren’t strings attached.

2 thoughts on “Paying more to get ‘less

  1. Switch providers…or if you’re concerned about not using those additional 100 minutes, just get both your daughters a phone and it’ll disappear instantaneously.

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