Most financial books I’ve read include at least one chapter dedicated to the idea of side-stepping Starbucks and instead investing that five dollars a day for retirement. It seems like a reasonable request, but I wonder how many people actually do it.

I remember in my early twenties, fresh out of college, my mom advised me to begin investing now even if it was just $50 a month because with compound interest it would snowball into a large retirement fund. I was making about $10 an hour so $50 seemed like a fortune and like many young men, I ignored my mother’s advice. As it turns out, Einstein, the man who actively contributed to the first split atom said that “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”. I’m not sure those devastated by nuclear warfare would agree, but I think it profound nonetheless.

Yesterday I got a text from my cell provider, (although I don’t think it was a personal text) that told me that I had made an EasyPayment of $173.97. “Sweet Jesus!”, I thought. It may have been “easy” for them but to me it felt like crossing the Sahara with a broken leg and a thimble of water. I immediately logged on to our cell provider’s website to see what it was that cost us so dearly. As it turns out, our bill was a mere $16 higher than it is supposed to be due to someone in the family who went over on their monthly text limit. (It wasn’t Isabelle, and I don’t have that many friends.) This got me thinking about that Starbucks analogy I’ve seen repeated ad nauseam and the serious amount of ching I drop to stay connected through my cell phone.

The computer nerd in me immediately pulled up an excel spreadsheet and ran a few numbers. If Sarah and I were to cancel our phones tomorrow (which we can’t, as I signed a deal with the devil that doesn’t expire for approximately 18 months) and instead invest a year’s worth of that money in something that gave a mild 5 percent return over the next 25 years (that would roughly be the number of years until my fictitious retirement) we would end up with a return of about $7,000.

I actually gasped a sigh of relief. I was worried that I’d find out something I didn’t want to know, but fortunately  $7,000 will barely buy us a used Geo Metro today and in 25 years will likely be the cost of  a movie plus popcorn and drink. But what if…what if we gave up cell phones all together? What if we became Luddites, disconnected from the rest of the world, sacrificed the convenience  of our connectivity and instead continued to invest that cell phone money each and every year? Now we are getting somewhere.

As it turns out, over the next 25 years with the power of compound interest we would have amassed roughly $104,000 by discontinuing our cell service and instead investing that money. (an additional $100,000 if we did it for 35 years) Now, to the wealthy, this may seem like a small chunk of change, but given our history I’d be willing to wager that Sarah and I could live off of that in a small coastal town somewhere in Nicaragua for at least a decade.

So it has me thinking. But mainly just thinking.

Frankly, given my over-dependence on technology and the enjoyment I derive from frequent interactions with friends it is unlikely that we would do away with our cell phones all together. My 20 year old self would have scoffed at the idea of paying that much for a phone (admittedly, my 20 year old self would have been using a pager), but for whatever reason my current self hasn’t been totally devastated by a cost that continues to creep upward. I wonder why that is?

I’ll tell you what though, as long as we are spending this kind of money on our phones I think I’m going to try and use it for actual phone calls.

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