Is there a way to stick to a budget and keep up with modern technology?

It is nearly impossible to get in touch with my mother-in-law. (Yes, I know there are people DYING to have this sort of problem.) And surprisingly, it’s because of modern technology. Years ago we could just call the house and she, or someone who was home, would pick up.

Because of the advent of cell phones though, it’s instead become a headache of new phones, new phone numbers, swapping lines and more. She currently uses basic cell phones with a set number of minutes on them. She has two of these phones, but I only have the number for one of them. (My husband has four or five numbers for her.) That means at ANY point in time, without knowing, I could be calling the wrong number. Like the other day when I had to pick her up at the airport and kept calling, for 40 minutes, with two kids in the car, trying to figure out where she might be. I called my husband, who eventually got in touch with her, and we were able to pick her up.

A working cell phone is important for times like these, but also as she’s gotten older for us to frequently check in on her. We’ve tried numerous times to get her a new phone, which works for a short time before someone she knows convinces her to “switch it up,” which leads back to our other issues. We’ve had a house phone put in for her with her internet, which she subsequently canceled when she switched providers without telling us.

In an effort to keep in touch with her, (and lessen our exasperation) she has now decided she wants a new phone, and as such we get to navigate the mire of the smartphone landscape and its myriad options.

I spent the last few days researching phones and plans for her to find her the best deal for what she wants, and still, don’t have the best answer. She doesn’t really want to “pay” for a phone, but gone are the days where you got a “free” phone with a two-year contract. Or if they are “free,” they come with caveats such as $30 a month service fee just to have the phone connected. She also wanted to investigate the option where she would buy a phone outright, and then just buy phone cards and data cards and put “minutes” (for lack of whatever they call this nowadays) on her phone. I knew this would lead us back to our current situation.

There were options to put her on our plan or put her on her own plan with a wireless carrier such as MetroPCS or Cricket. I even came across Google Fi, a new wireless plan from Google that was an option.

It can be hard choosing a wireless plan nowadays because replacing a phone, or even buying a new phone, is no longer $200 or less. Today’s phones are miniature computers, and cost as much if not more than some actual laptop and desktop computers.

It baffles me how those on a limited budget can even afford this kind of necessary modern technology. For a new iPhone, and not even the latest generation one, it would cost around $700, or $30 a month for 24 months. This is on top of the monthly plan, which could cost upward of $80 a month for unlimited data. It’s similar for many of the other well-known cell phone brands and other providers out there. I did find some cheaper pricing on various plans and providers, but my concern was that if she needed to contact the company for some reason, it could be difficult and she could wind up going back to her old phone ways.

After days of research online and stopping in the AT&T store, the Sprint store and calling MetroPCS, we chose to put her on our plan with a new iPhone 8. Another plan may have been cheaper, however, there were a few other things we had to consider:

  1. My husband’s phone was no longer working properly, and he needed a new one. The AT&T deal offered him a free phone if we added one to the plan.
  2. The bill would automatically be paid every month by us, so we wouldn’t need to worry about missed bill payments or if there were suspicious charges on her account.
  3. We have control over the account. This means that if she has any issues with her phone or service, she wouldn’t need to worry about trying to handle the problem herself. We could take care of it for her, and it wouldn’t be too difficult.
  4. We wouldn’t have to worry about spotty service. Obviously, this isn’t a guarantee, but having a reputable provider can mean better service in more places.
  5. She needed an iPhone. We toyed around with the idea of a Google phone, but at the end of the day, she wanted to be able to video chat with her grandchildren. Although there are plenty of other apps out there for video chats, (What’s App, Skype, Google Chat, Facebook Messenger, etc.) iPhone makes it easy with FaceTime.
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Meet the Author

Jessica Patel

Jessica Patel


Jessica Patel is an award-winning editor and writer living in Los Angeles. She previously served as deputy editorial director of T Brand Studio at The New York Times and as Senior Editor and Analyst of

Budgeting & Saving, News, Tech

Very Personal Finance

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Article last modified on December 11, 2018 Published by, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: Expensive but Necessary: Buying a Smartphone for my Mother-in-law - AMP.