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How to Be a Frugal iPhone Owner

When you hear that someone bought an iPhone, it sounds expensive. With a new contract, the phone itself is $200. Then you need the mandatory package of minutes and data. Plus text messages. Oh yah, and you’ll want some apps too. While I’m a fan of lifestyle inflation, if you’re not careful it can get out of hand. Since I was on a family plan, the real cost was only $30 versus the alternative.

When I got my iPhone, I sort of knew what I was in for, and I didn’t want to spend $10-$20 per month on apps, which I could easily reach if I took recommendations from friends on fun games and cool apps. But I wanted to be a frugal iPhone owner, if there is such a thing.

I vowed not to pay for apps. I couldn’t justify paying $200 per year on one-time purchases and apps that I would likely use and then forget about. They are the ultimate impulse purchases.

But what is an iPhone without apps? How did I do it?

Take Advantage of Free Apps

First, there are many free apps, so first I took advantage of those. Some apps have ‘lite’ versions, which don’t include all the features, but usually give a good enough taste. For example, TrackerLite lets me track packages. I have no idea what the limitations are, maybe the full version doesn’t have an advertisement at the top, but that’s definitely something I can live with.

Unlock Special Features

Second, I jailbroke my phone. What does that mean? It means that Apple restricts the phone’s use and doesn’t allow certain apps into their App Store. So if an app uses the volume buttons to take pictures, Apple will ban it. By jailbreaking my phone, I got access to many more apps that Apple didn’t like, but that can do wonders for a phone.

It Never Hurts to Ask

When I really wanted a paid app and had no choice, I had no choice but to do something crazy: I asked the creators for a free copy. And most of the time, they listened. My favorite app, IntelliScreen, lets me see my calender, email, and weather without unlocking my phone. The downside is that it cost $10, and I definitely wasn’t prepared to pay that. So I emailed asking for a free copy and I got a response saying,

“I always find it odd that people ask for a free $10 app but have enough money for a $300 phone and a $90/month phone bill. Explain it to me and I will hook you up.”

Alright, well that was pretty simple. I just told him that I was able to sell unneeded accessories and my old phone and was therefore able to get a free iPhone and service for a few months.

His response? “A deal is a deal. License added. Enjoy.”

Since it never hurts to ask, I always give it a shot. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Sell it for Profit

Sometimes, having an iPhone can actually make you money! I was able to sell my iPhone on Craigslist for a $70 profit (after using it for several months!) when I decided to upgrade. A better phone AND I make money? Score!

I definitely spent money on my iPhone, no question about it. But I love that phone and I think I did a good job of controlling costs and keeping the costs reasonable.

Readers, is there such a thing as a frugal iPhone owner? What tips do you have to keep costs low and fight the urge of impulse purchases?



  1. After reading more and more of your posts, I’ve decided that of all the PF blogs I follow, you are the most frugal. If I want something, I’d rather just pay $10 than go to the trouble of contacting the developer.

    That being said, I’ve never even considered apps that aren’t free on my G2.

    • @Kevin McKee, Crap, that’s SO not what I’m going for. Honestly, frugality blogs drive me crazy. I pride myself on being a smart spender, not a cheapo!

      I’m a tech geek, I love my iPhone like a baby. It’s amazing I haven’t spent all my money on fancy tiny sweaters and stuff like people do for their dog.

  2. I am a frugal iPhone owner! I’m rocking the 1st generation model, it was a hand-me-down from my husband when he upgraded. Since it’s older, the data plan costs less. I try to only use free apps, but I’ll buy the .99 ones if they are useful.

    • @Lindy Mint, haha you’re not just a frugal iPhone owner, you’re a frugal cavewoman iPhone owner! You deserve a reward, I didn’t know the 1G models still existed! Well done in being content with something old while most people grab at the newest thing without thinking twice!

    • @retirebyforty, that’s a lot, if that’s how much it cost me, I don’t think I could do it. The family plan brings my price down to $30, which isn’t bad at all. If you can live without it, do it, because once you go iPhone, you won’t be able to go back.

  3. I loved the interaction between you and the app creator! Great response back from you and hats off to the developer for keeping his end of the bargain!

    • @MoneyCone, yup, and after that I tried pushing my luck and asking for another one of his apps. He said no, which I understand, but it never hurts to ask!

  4. Do you worry about jailbreaking wrecking your phone at some point? Like during software updates (if you do them), could apple detect that and disable the phone? I dunno, they seem very controlling over their software and hardware

    • @Darwin’s Money, I’ve done a TON of research and for awhile, I was concerned about the hardware side. But no matter what I do, I can always reset it. When I did it for the first time and had no idea what I was doing, I thought I broke it forever. But a hard reset got me back to point 1.

      They could never really do what you’re proposing because when you upgrade, you have to jailbreak again. So a reset, upgrade, and re-jailbreak makes me confident that they can’t and won’t do anything.

      It sounds kind of weird for newbies but it’s actually quite fantastic and simple and safe. And legal, too!

  5. I’m an iPhone user and an iPhone developer. As a developer, I know how much time and effort it takes to make a good app. Also, I appreciate people buying my apps. In return, I don’t mind spending $1-3 once in a while on a fun game or useful app.

  6. Can you list a breakdown in fees and charges of how you end up with only $30 more in charges? I’m curious because my wife and I are contemplating getting iPhones.

    • @Noah, Well, we were on a family plan. We had unlimited text messages and our minutes were at a rate that worked. Switching to an unlimited iPhone data plan costs $30 per month, which is where I came up with the number.

      What fees and charges? Cost of the phone? Check out the ‘free iphone and service’ link within the post.

  7. I definitely didn’t see my iPhone purchase as a frugal choice and it took me 3 years to buy it (off contact because I travel!). However I am quite frugal and rarely buy apps. I have not jailbroken mine yet, been a bit weary!

    I purchased Carcasson (a game) and it’s been more than worth it! I love free apps such as RunKeeper and use my phone for awesome stuff daily.

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