Today is the start of a new series of posts that I’m calling Penny Wise, Pound Foolish. As you know, this blog has always concentrated on ways to budget and save money. The problem is that there are areas where you should spend money and there are areas where you shouldn’t. Figuring out which can be troubling or difficult, so I decided to concentrate on areas where paying for quality can really pay off. Today’s topic: smartphones.

I’m sure that you’ve heard from many financial gurus that you should skip certain higher monthly bills if you’re trying to scale back. Five bucks here or there can save you tons of money over the long run. And it’s true–you can save an awful lot of money in one year by cutting back on recurring expenses. I fully advocate scaling back as much as one possibly can. Do you need that special cable package? Do you even watch Netflix? Why not brew coffee instead of hitting up Starbucks?

The dilemma here is that sometimes you have certain fixed expenses that you cannot circumvent. Unlike cable, your phone is a necessary expense. And like it or not, internet access is too. Believe me, paying as you go is not the way as that can become prohibitively expensive–as a former internet cafe advocate, I spent more in one month on occasional access than I did in three months on cable. Since your cell phone is already a fixed expense, why do you still have a basic cell phone?

Getting a smartphone can be a great move–and I’m being intentionally vague here because brand is irrelevant. Now that every smartphone out there has its own app store, your smartphone goes from being a phone to being a miniature handheld computer. Not only that, but it becomes a multifunctional tool.

Let me list the things I got rid of once I got my own smartphone:

  • Cell phone – this one should be obvious, but it freed up pocket space! My new phone is much slimmer.
  • MP3 player – I sold my old one on for a great price, reducing the cost of my smartphone purchase. ($30)
  • Graphing calculator – I can buy an app for less than $5 that does all the same as my TI-83 that I haven’t used since college anyway. This, too, I sold on ($50)
  • Voice recorder – since this is built in, I dropped this necessary item too. And yeah, I sold it. Between those three items, I recouped the cost of my smartphone. But it doesn’t stop there. ($50)
  • Game player – on long trips, I really wanted to have something I could play games on. Now I have more games than I could possibly play in a lifetime. Sold it, too. ($70)
  • Laptop – seems like a stretch? Hardly. I can compose emails, browse the web, and do 90% of what I do on my computer on my phone. That, and I have always-on internet. Of course I sold my laptop and got a desktop, which is cheaper, has a better warranty, and is much more powerful. ($300 profit from laptop sale/desktop purchase)
  • Scanner – I’ve got a high-quality camera on the back of my phone. I digitized all my medical records, mementoes, and tax documents. ($90)
  • Paper – yep. I’ve been paperless for nearly six months now, and I don’t miss it. I can tag my notes so I can find them later, I can create smart to-do lists that have made me a million times more productive, and I haven’t missed a birthday since I started. And let me tell you, I spent a lot of money on paper. ($100/year savings)

That’s not all. You can even give up internet at home if you’re not a big downloader. I’m unwilling to part with my beloved wifi connection since I prefer to blaze with downloads, but if all you do is browse the web and check your email, tell the cable company to go screw. Data plans offer tethering with many phones, which means you can have internet anywhere, including at home.

Although smartphones appear to be pricey both as an upfront cost and as a continuing expense, they can save you tons of money and simplify your life. You have to be willing to part with some of your current gadgets, but look at all the money I saved! Do you have a smartphone? If so, what kind and how has it changed the way you do things?