Frugal Friday: Cell Phones

A while back reader John R. asked me to do some posts on things that I have/like. Most of what I have I have because it saves me money. So I’m starting this series as a trial run. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve learned a lot in trying to reduce my expenditures as low as possible to pay off my debt, and I know that there are many others out there who are also paying off debt. Hopefully this series can help you cut costs and live better on less.

For the first Frugal Friday, we will look at two options for cell phone service that you may not have considered. As much as I hate the ubiquity of the computer-phone constantly in everyone’s hand, and the general inability of whole swaths of the population to go more than 3 seconds without checking their phones, cell phones are a necessity for many people today. My job requires me to be on-call any time I am not at work, and I know that I am not alone in that requirement. Plus, I try to call my parents every weekend, so like it or not, I need a phone. I tried a number of different options, but even the mainstream pre-paid services cost about $50 a month, which was too rich for my blood. Now I pay just under $12 a month including taxes, and my service is just as good as when I was with the “big name” carriers. Believe it or not, service is available for even less than that a month. Let’s take a peek at two carriers you may not have considered, but that can save you some serious dough.

1) Republic Wireless

This is the service that I have. The unique thing about Republic is that when you are connected to wi-fi, the phone automatically routes your call via wi-fi rather than cell signal. I wasn’t sure how the quality would be, but it turned out to be excellent. If you walk out of wi-fi range, the call seamlessly transfers to cell. I can’t even tell when it happens. For me, the advantage of Republic is that when I am out of the country, I can still make and receive calls on my phone as long as I am connected to wi-fi. I also like the option for unlimited talk and text without paying for mobile data. To me, a phone is for talking on, and if I need to use the internet on it, I can go to a coffeshop or somewhere and connect it to wi-fi. Plans are listed in graphic below, and more info is available on their website.

2) Freedompop Wireless

I have not used Freedompop’s wireless service, but I do use this company for my internet, which is through a combined cellphone reciever/wireless router. The internet service is good, and I have had no complaints with the company. If you’re leery of having some of your calls routed over wi-fi, Freedompop may be right for you. This is a strictly traditional cellphone service, although of course you can still connect to wi-fi in order to not use mobile data if you need to use the internet or an internet-based app like BibleGateway’s audio-Bible app. What I like best about Freedompop is they offer one year of unlimited talk, unlimited texts, and 500mb data/month for just under $7 a month, or a total of $80. That one year of service is less than what you are going to pay for a month of service on any of the “big name” providers.  Also, if you don’t use your phone much at all, you can get 200 minutes, 500 texts, and 500mb data/month completely free (although you still have to buy the phone). Plans are listed in graphic below, and more info is available on their website.

If you need to lower your cell phone bills, check out these two providers. If you know of another provider that should be mentioned here, let me know. I will expand this post as needed. Also, if you would like anything in particular addressed in an upcoming Frugal Friday, let me know and I will see what I can do.

Why I don’t Read the Bible

I don’t read the Bible. Now, I know that right now one of you is thinking to yourself What? Some of this guy’s posts have so many links to Bible verses that every other sentence has a link in it. And he says he doesn’t read the Bible? I get the confusion. I am indeed quite familiar with the Bible. So familiar, in fact, that almost anything someone says to me will remind me of a Scripture passage. For example, after church this past weekend: “Hey, do you want to come with us and go knock on doors and give out literature?” “Sorry, I don’t believe in that.” “Why is that?” “Because Jesus said not to go from house to house.”* But this familiarity does not come from reading the Bible. Let me back up a little. About ten years ago, one of my brothers and I participated for several years on a youth team that competed in rote Bible memorization challenges. Each year a different book of the Bible would be chosen, and we would prepare all year for several rounds of competition. Knowledge had to be exact: if you had a fill-in-the-blank question and you put “reprove” when the answer was “rebuke,” you got it wrong. Here are two questions I still remember from the year we did Revelation:

In Revelation 14:20, how high did the blood rise?

Revelation 21:18-20 List the 12 gemstones of the 12 foundations, in order.

The challenge was not about understanding Scripture, but simply about memorizing it. We quickly learned that the best way to memorize large chunks of text (the year we did Proverbs I could recite chapters 1-20 verbatim, and he could recite from 10 or 11 through 31 verbatim) was to listen to an audio-recording of someone reading it. After hearing a chapter many times, we would start to attempt to recite along with the tape, until we could easily recite the chapter. Then we would add the next chapter, reciting the first with the tape, and then stumbling along with the second. Each additional chapter was added in like manner. What was particularly interesting about all of this is that at the time my sister was not able to read. Nor did she sit down to purposefully memorize the chapters as we did. Yet she knew both of our chapters better than we did, and could probably have won the competition against 4 and 5 man teams completely on her own had she been old enough to compete. She simply heard the tapes being played, and it stuck. This is how I learned the value of listening to Scripture. There is no better way to familiarize yourself with the Bible than to listen to large chunks (for broad context) over and over again (for rote memorization). Because you are doing other things while you listen, your mind associates those things with what you are hearing, so the next time you wash dishes at someone else’s home you are likely to have the passages that you listen to while washing your own dishes come to mind. Faith comes by hearing, but listening to Scripture is not the end-all and be-all. While it will hide the word in your heart, sometimes more is necessary for complete understanding. This is where the next step comes in. This step involves reading, but is far more than merely reading: study. When I am listening to Scripture and I hear something that I do not understand or that I feel I need to look into deeper, I make a note of the book, chapter, and a few words from the verse. Later, I get out my Bible, a pen, some paper, and often my laptop to refer to various translations and to search for related verses, and I dig into it. I’m not really reading–I got the overall context when I was listening–rather, I am parsing, comparing, making notes. As C.S. Lewis would say, I attack it with a pen in my hand and a pipe in my teeth. Then once I have gained understanding, I go back and listen to the larger context of the passage again a few times. If all you’ve ever tried is reading the Bible, I would encourage you to try listening to it instead. (And of course, studying it at well.) BibleGateway has a plethora of audio-Bibles free online, in many versions and even several languages for those of you who are polyglots. They also have a free app for computer-phones that gives you access to the same audio-Bibles wherever you are. Check it out.

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. —Romans 10:17 (KJV)

*Yes, I understand that the immediate context of this verse is lodging. However, the larger context is witnessing. This is part of the instructions given to the 72 when they were sent out. We have no record of Jesus or His disciples going from door to door like snake-oil salesmen. Rather, they preached and taught in public areas and let the people be drawn to them. Jesus draws all men to himself. If Christ is within us, then that drawing power is all we need to attract those He is calling. Hawking salvation like a door-to-door peddler shows either a distrust of Christ’s power to draw, or an acknowledgement that we fail the test of having Christ indwelling in us. 

Changing Retirement Plans

When I graduated college a little over 3 years ago, I had approximately $36,000 in student loans. Since then, paying off those loans has been a major priority of mine. I live very simply, so most months I am able to put at least half of my paycheck towards loan repayment. Barring any emergencies, I ought to finally be debt free by September. That will be a welcome relief.

While I have been putting the majority of the money I do not need to live towards loan repayments, I have also put money aside in investment accounts. Because I hate debt, it is hard for me to put money into these accounts when I have debts to pay, but the fact that I am making a higher return on this money than I am paying on the loans and the fact that I have heard all my life that it is important to start saving as early as possible keeps me setting aside a portion of my income for these investments. Currently, I have approximately $10,000 in these various accounts, which is substantially more than the amount of debt I have left to pay off.

I don’t think that there is anything wrong with savings and investments. However, I have recently realized that my investment strategy is woefully lacking.Lately I’ve been reading through the Gospel of Luke, and I have been captivated by Chapter 16, and especially the parable of the unrighteous steward. Jesus’ words in Verse 9 seemed to be a direct rebuke to me:

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (ESV)

I can put half of my paycheck towards my debts, I can put another 10% into investments, but how much do I spend on eternal investments? I have long had a rule that if anyone approaches me and asks for money, I must give them whatever cash I have on me (rarely more than $20). But I have not aggressively sought out opportunities to invest money in the people around me, as I have sought out ways to invest it in accounts.

I am making a change.

I’ll still invest towards an eventual retirement, but as a large portion of my paycheck is freed up when I repay my loans I will be looking for ways to invest money in the people around me. Not just time, not just things, but money. Many Christians avoid giving money to the poor, thinking that it is better to give food, clothing, or other things than the cold hard cash that can be spent on drugs, booze, and cigarettes. Yet this attitude runs contrary to the very words of Jesus. Speaking to the rich young ruler, Jesus commanded that money, and not things, be given to the poor.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” —Matthew 19:21 (NET)

I’m not going full-out Peter Waldo, at least at this point. Maybe God will call me to that, maybe He won’t. But I am going to stop behaving like the rich fool of Luke 12, putting faith in a store of treasures for a future I may never see. I’m going to invest my unrighteous mammon in friends, that they might receive me into eternal habitations.

That’s a far better retirement plan than the one I have been investing in.

Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? —Luke 16:11 (NASB)

Actions Beat Words

Are you working in the vineyard? Or are you only talking about it?

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” —Matthew 21:28-31 (NASB)

Pipe Smoking and Godly Masculinity

A few weeks back I was out of state for a friend’s wedding. The first evening there, after having a beer with the other groomsmen at a burger joint (I arrived after the kitchen had closed, and was not able to get a burger), I excused myself and went outside. I had just lit my pipe when the groom walked out. “They are all in there talking about how manly you are.” “Why, what did I do?” “They saw the pipe sticking out of your pocket when you left.”

That was the first of many comments and questions my evening ritual engendered over that weekend. I was told in nostalgic voices of fathers, uncles, and grandfathers that had smoked pipes. I was asked about everything from why I pack the pipe the way I do to how long a bowl of tobacco lasts. And, after the weekend was over, I was asked to recommend a pipe and tobacco by one of the other groomsmen.

One of the more interesting such discussions was on how cigarette smoking perfectly encapsulates one aspect of the current culture, and how pipe smoking stands as its opposite. That aspect, of course, is instant gratification–what I often refer to as “microwave culture.” For the cigarette smoker, the nicotine “hit” is imperative–even the few seconds required to roll his own cigarette is too much to ask of him. The pipe smoker, on the other hand, is not concerned with nicotine, but rather with ritual. The process of packing the bowl, the false light, re-tamping, the second light, is just as important as the actual smoke. The cigarette smoker drags long and hard, drawing as much smoke into his lungs as possible in as short a time as possible. A pipe, on the other hand, will punish you if you try to smoke it in such a manner (and of course, you never inhale pipe smoke). If you draw too hard and too often on a pipe, you will get a stinging sensation on your tongue. If that doesn’t remind you to slow down, it will be followed shortly by a foul taste from the tobacco burning too hot. You will have to dump out the bowl and start all over again from the beginning.

I don’t know if it is just because of the relative rarity of seeing a pipe these days, or because of the memories it stirs of grandfathers and the like, but that pipe seems to draw people in and start conversations wherever I am. Just as the pipe sparks the interest of those nearby, so you and I ought to strike their interest (even without our pipes). Godly masculinity has become rare, just as pipe-smoking has. Just as my pipe evokes memories of fathers and grandfathers, so too ought Godly masculinity evoke memories of Godly men of the past. And just as my pipe sparks conversation and curious questionings, so too ought the way you and I live our daily lives. We ought to be at least as good as our pipes at capturing the imagination of those around us, at engendering questions and sparking conversations, at stirring the memories of those who have forgotten what Godly masculinity looks like.

And once we have drawn them to us, we must point them to the One who draws them through us.

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. —John 12:32 (NASB)

Choosing Technologies

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote:

The opposite of manliness isn’t cowardice; it’s technology. ― The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

I think he oversimplified, but there is truth behind the statement. While technology in and of itself is not unmanly, dependence on it certainly can be. So how does a man evaluate the various technologies around him, and decide to what extent to make use of them?

A number of questions must be asked when evaluating a technology. The obvious first two questions are benefit and cost. What benefit will I gain from making use of this technology? How much will it cost me to make use of this technology? However, there are other less obvious questions that are also important: If I adopt this technology, am I in a worse place when/if it fails than I would be if I had never adopted it? Should this technology fail, is it easier or harder to repair myself than my current system? Will the regular use of this technology cause me to lose a skill that would be vital should the technology fail?

Here’s how this looks when I personally evaluate a few technologies:

Technology: GPS navigation for automobiles. Benefit: tells you how to get where you are going so that you can focus on driving; knows the shortest route by mileage, routes without tolls, and quickest route; can help you find the nearest Taco Bell or IHOP. Cost: approximately $100.00, or free as a system app on most computer-phones. Hidden costs: often leads to overconfidence (not having a map) and dependence (not being able to read a map or construct a route from a map). Conclusion: computer-phone app is useful for finding specific business or locations within a city; however, not worth adopting for interstate travel.

Technology: Amazon Kindle. Benefit: allows you purchase books at any time (even when bookstores are closed), with immediate delivery and without paying shipping costs; allows the transport and storage of entire library in a very small space. Cost: $70+, or free as an app on most computer-phones and computers. Hidden costs: no books can be read when device is out of battery, entire library can be lost if device fails or is stolen. Conclusion: worth it for the majority of reading due to ease of transport in travel and small size in limited living quarters; however, a select few of the most important and valuable books ought also to be possessed in physical form.

You may come to different conclusions based on your personal situation: the point is to make an informed decision rather than blindly adopting the newest technologies. Another question I ask myself is if the technology is designed to allow me to do less work, or to help me do more work. For example, a dish-washing machine in a home is designed to allow a person to do less work, while a dish-washing machine at a restaurant is designed to help a person do more work. I avoid as much as possible technology designed to reduce effort, but embrace much technology designed to maximize output. To shirk work is unmanly, but to try to accomplish as much as possible is not.

As you consider what technologies you will and will not adopt or be dependent on, don’t become mesmerized by the the coolness of the latest do-hickeys that can do 1,001 things. Rather, examine actual benefits, hidden costs, and consequences of failure. And don’t forget to have a back-up plan.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. —1 Thess. 4:11 (NET)

Book Review: Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

It’s been quite a while since I’ve finished this book, but I put off writing a review until now. And really, this will not be so much a review as comments predicated by the book. This book is not a light read. While the main gist is intuitive and easy to grasp, some parts of the book are quite technical and dense. Generally speaking though, it was an excellent book.

The concept of antifragility is something that gets stronger through uncertainty, disorder, or abuse. Think, for example, Christianity: the blood of the martyrs was the seed from which more believers sprang up. While the robust withstands insult, the antifragile is improved by it. Although Taleb does not really get into it in the book, I believe that the concept of antifragility is especially suited to discussing masculinity and manliness.

Manliness is the ultimate example of antifragilty. It thrives in chaos and disorder, and atrophies in peace and safety. Even today, the enclaves of manliness that exist are inexricably tied to increased danger and chaos. Thus, increasing antifragility will also increase masculinity. This is a fundamental concept missing in many modern analyses of masculinity–we think that we can preserve manliness somehow while simultaneously eliminating the chaos and danger that it thrives on. People lament “Peter-Pan man-boys,” but cheer the safety and stability that caused them.

Jack Donovan is one of the few who understand this, saying: “Manliness requires the opportunity for risk, and those opportunities are decreasing in our highly controlled, pacified society. Men need chaos to restart the world.” In fact, reading Donovan’s The Way of Men and Taleb’s Antifragile together makes the link between masculinity and antifragility very clear.

Chaos can not be held down forever. The longer it is held down, the more masculinity will decline, and the fewer men will be prepared to meet it when it rises again.