Should We Finally Consider a Smart Phone a Need?

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smart phone

An important part of financial literacy is differentiating a want from a need and learning, especially when you’re living on a tight budget, to prioritize needs above wants. Of course, with the constant onslaught of new technologies, needs and wants can get a little blurred.

I think we can all agree on the basic needs we were taught in grammar school: food, water, and shelter. These three things are integral to survival. Of course, depending on where you live and the culture you were raised in, needs can expand to include other things too.

So, keeping all that in mind, my question is: Should we finally consider a smart phone a need?

Going Without A Smart Phone


I had the unique experience of living for two years without a smart phone. When I moved out of the country to Grenada in 2011, I was so low on funds that I bought the cheapest phone possible. It was on a pre-paid plan, and it could barely text let alone send a picture or check e-mail. I had that phone for a solid two years before I was able to unlock my old iPhone. Even then, the iPhone didn’t come with data but it made texting easier, and I could always surf the web if I had a wifi connection.

Because of that experience, I know my smart phone isn’t necessarily a need but now that I’m living back in the States with a new iPhone and plan, I find it to be an integral tool for my business. I’ve had about a million doctor’s appointments during my twin pregnancy, and I can often cross several items off of my to do list while sitting in the waiting room using my phone.

So yes, it’s not a need. I’m not going to die if I don’t have it. However, having the phone and the time it gives me to work on my business does allow me to make an income to purchase other needs, like pickles. And if you don’t think pickles are a need during pregnancy, we can go our separate ways. 😉 With that being said, I also make sure that I have insurance to cover my iPhone in the event that it were to ever get lost or stolen.

Is Change a Bad Thing?


If smart phones were to become such an integral part of society that they become a need, would that really be such a bad thing?

Already it’s difficult to communicate or text with those who don’t have one. It’s hard to look up directions, price check, find coupons, and capture important moments without one. Sure, there are other ways to do all of those things, but now they all come on one small device which makes life easier.

Maybe it’s the tech nerd in me, but I’m always skeptical when people say they are giving up their phone for Lent or trying to go without it. To me, it’s not an evil piece of equipment unless you are so addicted to it, you jeopardize your relationships or your health.


So, what do you think? Do you consider your smart phone a need? Do you think they’ve ruined our culture or do you think they’ve benefited it? How long do you think you could “survive” without a smart phone?

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Catherine Alford is the go to personal finance expert for parents who want to better their finances and take on a more active financial role in their families. Check out her award winning blog,


  • I used to have an iPhone before, but it was broken because I dropped it and last year I owned a Smartphone and I’m already contented with it. Last December my husband gave me a Samsung S3 as a Christmas gift. And it’s very useful, especially now that I started my small online business, from cropping pictures, putting watermarks, editing text, checking emails and posting to social media.

  • Paula Wethington / Monroe on a Budget says:

    My husband didn’t see the “need” for a cell phone, even though I had one in 1997 both for emergencies and for use on my newspaper job. He did, however, see the usefulness of a computer in a pocket when he worked at a factory all day and had no other means of communication. He bought the first iPhone that went on the market. I bought my first iPhone at a later generation, after the prices dropped.

  • It would be really hard for me to give up my smartphone. However, it bugs me to no end the cost I spend each month so I am seriously considering republic wireless as an alternative. I probably won’t have the best service but I feel its a good compromise especially when I can be saving about $50/month.

  • Now that you bring up the question, I think it would be very very difficult to give up my smart phone. It’s become such a part of my daily life that it would be strange to not have one and I honestly think I would be far less efficient without it. Maybe not an ABSOLUTE need, but it’s definitely up there on the priority list.

  • Michelle says:

    Absolutely a need! Moreso for my job than my personal life but I use it for work activities while I’m on the road and on the weekends I use it for tracking my cycling trips, finding restaurants, blog related things. On occasion, I do like having a “Tech Fast” because when it’s constantly in your hands for work, it gets a bit much. I do however know when to put it down! When out on lunches or dinners with customers or family/friends I keep it in my purse either off or on silent. I think its rude to be using your phone when your family and friends are expecting your undivided attention.
    They have both benefited and destroyed our culture but its because we’ve allowed it. In Toronto, people don’ t even look at each other, they all have their head down in their phones or earphones in and ignoring everyone.
    I”ve made it two weeks without a smarphone and internet, it was fabulous!

  • Smartphones are integrated into our lifestyle nowadays but there are still ways to save money. We have friends who have a smartphone but a very cheap data plan. They mostly use wifi and messenger apps to text and send pictures. They pay about $30/month and I pay $70/month for my full plan. That $40/month makes a big difference and I’m actually considering making the switch too.

  • I have a super cheap smart phone and it’s fine. I think I could do without a smartphone altogether. I could actually do without voice too. All I do is text!

  • Liz says:

    I hardly ever use my smart phone to be productive. Occasionally yes but for the most part it is just another time waster. Definitely not a need for me.

  • I do not consider it a need (and as you know I have my own business) but a highly desired want. 🙂 I could absolutely live without it if I had to, but I don’t want to. I really don’t see how anyone can say it’s a need really when we lived without them for centuries.

  • Lauren says:

    I didn’t have any phone for several years when I lived overseas. I think it bothered other people more than it bothered me, since I was hard to reach! I just got a smart phone last fall, and while I do love it, I know that I could live without it.

  • Great post, Cat, and I totally agree with you about the pickles. 🙂 Although I don’t consider a smart phone a need (easy for me to say, working from home) I did learn firsthand one time how valuable they can be when a friend and I were lost (I was driving) and she quickly whipped up on her smartphone how to get us to our destination. That was the one and only time I though “Man, I need a smartphone”.

  • Dude says:

    I think having a smartphone is not really a need. Any kind of phone is okay if you just want to communicate with other people, but if you want more than that, then maybe you can consider a smartphone as a need.

  • Grayson Bell says:

    I do think it is a need. I use it daily to answer emails, text, call, and stay connected. What I do is take a week each year when we go camping to turn it off. They don’t work where we go, so it is nice to disconnect. I do think they have ruined the way we communicate now. Most people can’t talk to others in person anymore.

  • Derek @ MoneyAhoy says:

    I don’t consider it a need. I have a regular slide phone that can do texting, and I am perfectly fine 🙂 I don’t even think a cell phone is a “need.” People got along just fine without them 15-20 years ago. We as humans can still go without communicating with someone more than 30 minutes and still be alive the next day 🙂

  • Kim says:

    I just got a smartphone last year, so it’s certainly a want because I made it that long without one. It does make life lots easier. I am not a good “sitter” so if I have to wait for an appointment or am waiting to pick up my daughter from whatever she’s doing that day, it’s nice to be able to get a little work done. My Mom got an iPhone last Christmas and she can Facetime with us. I bought her a webcam for her computer, but she never figured out how to use it correctly, so anything that makes her life easier to stay in touch is worth it.

  • I remember when I thought that having a smart phone was ridiculous. I would say, I’ll never use the internet that much. Now, I’m on it all the time reading, researching and texting. I just switched to an MVNO prepaid to make the cost much cheaper so that definitely helps in keeping my iPhone affordable.

  • I think putting anything in the category of need is a pretty dangerous thing.

    That said, are there things that you can spend money on that you don’t “need,” but that add a measurable improvement to your life? There definitely are. And when the cost is less than the amount you pay, then why not?

  • For me it is not a need, but I am tied to a computer all day where I can email. I must say I really like checking my email etc. in the morning rather than booting up my computer before work. Is it a necessity – I still say no. My company is in the process of purchasing an app which our salesmen can access our inventory throughout the day. We will no longer send them a paper copy. If this works a smartphone will be a necessity.

  • There are only a few things that fit into the Need category: shelter, food, clothes and things of that nature. I didn’t get a smart phone until a little over a year ago. All my friends were wondering what the heck was wrong with me…I didn’t need it. Now that I have it…I’ll admit that it would be very difficult to give up. I do love my iPhone…but is it a true Need…probably not. But I think it brings value to my life so it’s worth it to me.

  • For me, it does fall into more of the need category. I use it for work, which allows me to slip away during the day so I can attend school concerts, plays, etc and still be in touch with the office, if needed. If I take out of the office appointments, I can return emails, make calls, see how the stock market is doing in between appointments. And just as importantly – I am always reachable in case something happens with the girls or any member of my family. Where I think smart phones turn into wants is when people feel compelled to buy new phones every year. Certainly it’s their right and if they can afford it and it is a priority them – go for it. But if your old smart phone still works great and your money is better served going towards something else, then a new smart phone is definitely a want.

  • Kathy says:

    For me a smart phone is not a need, nor is it even a want. I really don’t want to be like the people I see sitting at a table in the restaurant, ignoring their dining companion because they are swiping smart phone apps. My cell phone is just a phone. It takes pictures but I’ve never figured out how….I’m not really too tech savvy. My phone sits permanently in the car, turned off. I only use it if traveling to a different town. I think that I’m actually sort of rebelling against the smart phone craze.

  • I definitely don’t need my smartphone but I like it – and I don’t feel guilty because my plan is so cheap! Actually just this past weekend I was in a group of about 10 20-somethings and 3 didn’t have smartphones, so to them it’s definitely not a need for everyone.

  • I was volunteering at a concert with a friend who didn’t have a smart phone. She forgot to bring her ticket to the 2nd day of the festival and they would not let her in. they were like, bring it up on your smart phone! She didn’t have one, so finally I was able to find the volunteer coordinator to get her past security.

    I also use google maps on a nearly daily basis, living in an urban environment. When I get off the subway, I may have no idea where I need to walk to next as I don’t know every street in the giant city of NYC. I also use it while driving too so it’s a great tool that I consider a need at this point in time.

  • cynna says:

    I finally moved to a no contract cell plan and purchased my first smart phone 6 months ago. I have to say …

    I absolutely detest a smart phone. I really wanted a ‘dumb’ phone as I call them, but I felt boxed into having to go with a smart phone and viola my next phone will be a dumb phone if I find one that has the basic features that I need (speaker, good sound, keyboard, batter life).

    For now, my cell phone remains but I use it only rarely – mostly for business calls. I find that having a laptop and an android tablet take care of my other computing and online needs.

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