I don’t own a smartphone. While everyone was waiting in line to get the iPhone 5, I was haughtily proclaiming that I’d never relinquish my now-ancient and obsolete LG EnV3. I’ve always held fast to the conviction that being a Luddite saves me money; I don’t have to pay for a new smartphone, I don’t have to pay for a data plan. Saving money, right?

So I thought… until a recent out-of-town trip exposed why having a smartphone can actually be, well, smart.

Setting the Scene

My husband and I were visiting our nation’s capital for a friend’s wedding. While that meant three glorious nights away from our children (this doesn’t mean I don’t love my kids – I do – but I also love the occasional full-night’s sleep I get when we aren’t under the same roof), it also meant three precarious days away from my computer. Since neither my husband nor I own a smartphone, we didn’t have a way to use the Internet while away from home.

That is, until I noticed that our over-priced hotel had a business center.

Desperate for Email

After two nights away from home, I was desperate to check my email. What if a contractor had sent me a project with an urgent deadline, and I wasn’t able to respond? What if a friend had sent me a funny eCard, which required an urgent reply? So on the morning of the wedding, while my husband slept in a hungover-induced haze, I pulled on my jeans and headed down to the business center to log on.

The concierge at the business center (I told you it was an over-priced hotel; there was a concierge for everything at this place) ran down the details. The first five minutes cost $2.00; every minute thereafter was an additional $0.73.

I sat there calculating how long it would take me to use the Internet in my head. Could I log on to Hotmail, read all the important messages in my account, log out, then log on to my Yahoo account (the first is my business account, the latter my personal) and read those emails all in less than five minutes? I wasn’t sure, but I was willing to gamble on it. I handed over my room key and got to work.

I Paid How Much???

Just over seven minutes later, I logged off the computer, knowing I’d gone over the basic five-minute time limit. As I walked over to the concierge desk, I estimated my total would be around $3.50.

But no! I’d failed to anticipate the sales tax (seriously? sales tax on Internet use? Thanks a lot, Washington, DC!). The concierge rung up my grand total – $3.93 – and asked if I’d like to bill the charges to my room. I nodded.

On my way back to my room, I thought about what had just happened. If I’d owned a smartphone, I’d have not only been able to access my email without paying $3.93 for a few measly minutes of Internet use, but it would have solved other problems as well. For instance, we wouldn’t have gotten lost on our way into the capital city, because the phone’s GPS app would have been able to alert us of the road closure before we got rerouted into Chinatown. We also would have been able to take pictures with our imaginary smartphones, which would have solved the problem caused when I left our stand-alone camera at home.

The frugalista that I am is still disappointed that I spent almost $4 for seven minutes of computer time; after all, I only spend just shy of $22 a month for high-speed Internet service for my entire house. (By comparison, that $22 would have only bought me about 25 minutes of Internet time at the hotel’s business center.) But I also came away with a greater appreciation for what a smartphone can do – and realized that purchasing one may not be out of the question in my immediate future.

Libby Balke
Libby Balke