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Quick notes on costs

For a casual cell-phone user, the cost of the service in Britain is a proven expense that is considerably lower than here in the US.

The difference is in the treatment of incoming minutes. In UK, they are free. On a pay-as-you-go scheme, one conceivably can have zero balance on their account, yet use their phone extensively, provided other people initiate calls to their mobile. In America, you would still be spending your minutes, regardless of who calls whom.

So, our expenditure on two pay-as-you-go phones rarely exceeded £30 a month. Fast-forward to today, pay-as-you-go makes little sense when you will be shedding minutes for receiving calls. So we got on a family plan with two lines, minimum number of included minutes (albeit with unlimited texting and unlimited in-network mobile-to-mobile use), and the monthly bill comes to $125 when all fees, surcharges and taxes are factored in. We’ll do our darnedest best to use up as many of the minutes as we can, but the difference in monthly expense is quite noticeable.

I’ve been told by friends that the situation could be in reverse for those whose whole life revolves around cell phones. Yet, OECD just listed the US as the most expensive for light/medium cell phone use among its members and in bottom five for heavy users. Britain is mid-table for non-heavy users, and very close to the top for heavy ones. (I’m almost surprised that my personal observations are so easily corroborated by the official stats…)

On the other end of the spectrum are the fuel costs. Full tank of gas seems to run us under $45 these days. In England, at the best of times, we were looking at roughly £60, at worse ones – £80. Do your own exchange rates calculations, if you will.


  1. MikeB

    Interesting to see the difference. Here in Canada my bill for 2 cells is $95 a month with free evenings and weekends to keep the costs down. My father-in-law in England hates cell phones but keeps one with him regardless. He pruodly claims he’s never spent a penny on it as the phone was a present and he never buys minutes, using it only for incoming calls.

    And petrol tends to match England in that a litre is just over a pound there and just over a dollar here. On the other hand I am earning about the same number in dollars right now as I was earning in pounds in the UK fifteen years ago. Guess it’s hard to compare everything.

  2. Brian Greenberg

    Two thoughts:

    First: T-Mobile tends to be more expensive because of their “rollover” plan. Since you never run out of minutes, you’re paying for the ability to roll them over, but never need to do so.

    Second: Ilya, I’m not sure if you were implying causality, but I’d submit that the causality works the other way around – since cell phones are cheaper in Europe, people use them more. Here, they’re still more expensive (or at least more complicated – home phone/IP Phone is almost always a flat monthly rate these days) that people may shy away from using their cells 24/7.

  3. Ilya

    Brian, I was not aiming to imply any causality, but I agree with your supposition. A few years ago, Europe was light-years ahead of the US in terms of the widespread cell-phone use, and one of the reasons was undoubtedly that the service had been considerably cheaper over there.

  4. Ilya

    Mike, I wish I could produce a scientifically precise cost comparison with clear-cut conclusions, but I doubt it is ever possible across international borders and continents.

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