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Published: Mar 10, 2020 10 min read
Sam Island for Money

One of the most crucial money conversations you can have with yourself is determining the difference between your “wants” and your “needs.”

These decisions vary for everyone, but in general, knowing what’s essential to include in your monthly budget (like bills, groceries, and medical expenses) makes you less likely to live above your means.

Figuring this out can be harder than it sounds. Personally, I consider my monthly gym membership and fiber optic internet to be necessities. A gym membership provides me with a healthy lifestyle and helps keep me sane after a long day of sitting in front of a computer screen. And as a content specialist, fast internet allows me to work from home without having to worry if the number of videos I’m uploading, or documents I’m editing, will slow my workflow.

Then there’s my iPhone X. A $1,000 smartphone might not be the most affordable option for a mobile device, but it is pretty important for my full-time job. The high-quality camera lens has saved me from lugging a professional camera to work events, and the 5.8 inch retina screen allows me to view and approve social media graphics on the fly.

But is it a “need?”

To get to the bottom of this, I decided to do something I haven’t done in a really, really long time. I turned it off for a full 24 hours.

Here’s what I learned.

STEP ONE: Take a cold hard look at yourself (and your screen time)

Before I started this adventure, I wanted to know what my current phone consumption looks like.

According to the screen time analytics on my iPhone, my daily average is five and a half hours. That means I spend 33 hours and 25 minutes on my phone every week — half of which is spent on social networking apps. Yikes.

To be fair, when you work in the social media industry, notifications need to be checked regularly, and you always need to be up to date on what’s going on with your clients. Still, I’m not sure if it’s necessary to do all those things on my iPhone versus, say, a computer.

The only way to find out for sure was to take it away.

STEP TWO: Set some guidelines

Being that it's winter and I have to drive through snow-covered roads, I knew I had to set some ground rules in case of an emergency. They went as follows:

  1. You may bring your phone (turned off) when traveling in a vehicle
  2. You may use your phone in case of emergency
  3. Otherwise, your phone must be turned off and out of reach at all times.

I wanted to pick a day that would allow me to experience what life would truly be like without an iPhone, without having everything go off the rails if I got super busy with work. So I did it on Sunday, a day of the week when I usually do some work, but also get to spend time with my family.

STEP THREE: Track your day

6:30 a.m - If I didn't have a toddler who woke me up each morning, I'd be lost without my phone alarm. Luckily, I woke up bright and early this morning — just like every other day.

I did get out of bed a lot quicker than usual, considering I didn't spend 10 to 15 minutes checking work emails and social media notifications ...

8 a.m. - After I got my daughter (and myself) dressed and ready for the day, we thought it would be a good idea to go grocery shopping. Usually, I write my grocery list in my notes app on my phone, but since I didn't have this luxury today, I wrote it by hand on a scrap piece of paper (talk about first-world problems). Which would have been fine, had I not realized I forgot my list as soon as I walked into the grocery store. Turns out, my memory sucks. And I already missed my phone.

8:45 a.m. - I decided to stop at Starbucks on the way home to grab a latte. Usually, I'd place a mobile order on my phone with my Starbucks app and swing through the drive-thru to pick it up. The extra five minutes it takes to just order when I arrive might not sound like much, but when you’ve got a toddler in the backseat screaming along to Baby Shark, it can feel like an eternity.

9:00 a.m. - After unloading the groceries, it was time to find an activity, and what better than a puzzle? My daughter loves them, and they help occupy both my mind and my hands.

12:00 p.m. - Lunchtime: An hour I usually spend checking social media, emails, and listening to music while splitting some fresh fruit or chicken nuggets with my daughter. All of which I typically do on my phone. Today, we enjoyed a pleasant little conversation and took in the view of a very snowy backyard.

1:15 p.m. - I put my daughter down for her nap and prepared for two hours of uninterrupted “me” time. Normally, I use this opportunity to plop down on the couch and watch videos on my phone, but today was different. I got about an hour of writing done before my husband got home from work — and when he did, we played cards instead of watching Netflix or YouTube like we usually do. Ironically, without my phone, I felt less desire to do anything that involved technology.

3:00 p.m. - After my daughter woke up from her nap, we decided it was time to go outside and enjoy some fresh air. It was pretty snowy, so we didn't last long, but it felt good to get out and do something that would distract me from not having my phone. By this point, I was thinking a lot about the emails I needed to send.

4:30 p.m. - I made dinner, and instead of searching on Pinterest for an idea, I stuck to a classic and cooked up some Kraft Dinner. Man, without my phone, I thought I'd be a lot more creative.

5:30 p.m. - It was time to head out for an evening of soccer games (I play in a competitive women’s league, and on a co-ed team that’s just for fun).

I usually drive home between games, but the roads weren’t great, so I opted to stay and watch some of the other teams play. Without anything to look at between halves, this was the biggest test of my ability to function without an iPhone yet.

10:00 p.m - After my second game finished, I hopped in the car and drove home. I was super excited to get back and make sure my daughter was peacefully asleep. Usually, I'd have a text waiting from my husband confirming she was down to bed. This time I had to assume, and that was a weird feeling.

10:30 p.m. - Finally, bed. Typically, I'd lay around for up to an hour just scrolling through Instagram or Twitter and catching up on anything I'd missed that day. Instead, I opted to read a chapter of a new book before settling in. It took me a lot less time to fall asleep than usual — which was nice.

STEP FOUR: Reflect

I knew it would be difficult to live without my phone, but I didn't realize it would cause me actual anxiety.

As someone with multiple jobs—and bosses—I’ve been successful, partially, because of my ability to communicate consistently, and to know what’s going on in the world in real time. Throughout the day, I was constantly wondering if I had missed any important emails from work, or messages from family of friends.

I can’t ignore the convenience factor either. I struggled to buy groceries without a pre-made list ... imagine if I got lost and needed Google Maps to get home? Or if I was having car troubles, and couldn’t reach my husband?

For all of these reasons, my iPhone is a necessity.

Still, what I learned from this experiment is it's also a source of anxiety, worry and distraction. So from now on, I’m letting myself disconnect from technology more regularly, by shutting down earlier every night and unplugging for a few hours mid-day. Just because it’s a “need,” doesn’t mean it has to be glued to my hip.

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