Updated on 07.15.07

How To Get A Free iPhone

Trent Hamm

I don't want you standing here...I had the opportunity to play with an iPhone last week and it inspired an incredibly high level of technolust inside of me. I wanted one. I needed one. But blindly dropping $600 on an iPhone is just something I can’t quite do, unless, of course, that the $600 comes into my pocket for free.

Thus, I sat down and sketched out a plan. How could I easily get $600 in my pocket by, say, Christmas? I have six months to come up with that $600 in spare cash out of nowhere so that I can spend my holly jolly holiday season staring at my Ric Ocasek wallpaper on my iPhone without it directly costing me a dime. Even better, I don’t want to have to cut down on spending on anything (it’s a great move to do that, of course). Here’s a plan that you can follow that will get the job done (Ric Ocasek wallpaper not included).

Replace all light bulbs with CFLs. I can get top quality CFLs for $2.36 a bulb using this technique, compared to $1.03 for incandescents. Let’s say I use the average light bulb in my home for four hours a day. I counted up light sockets in my apartment – 28. If I replaced every 75 watt bulb with a 26 watt CFL (and 26 watt CFLs are brighter than 75 watt incandescents), it would cost me $66.08. However, these bulbs would run 728 hours (figuring 4 hours a day on average for half a year) and incandescents have a life span of 800 hours, so my actual real bulb cost here would be $37.24 (I’d have to replace the incandescents once). Now, each of the 28 bulbs runs for 728 hours, meaning that I’d be running a bulb for 20,384 hours. Each CFL uses 49 watts less than a normal incandescent bulb meaning my saved energy over half a year is almost exactly 1,000 kilowatt hours. At a dime a kilowatt hour (the national average), the bulbs save me $100 in electric bills, minus the $37.24 in extra bulb costs. Even better: your energy bill will be reduced every month from now on by about $16 or so.
Total free cash from the CFLs: $62.76

Make one very simple meal at home a week instead of eating take out. Find a pile of very simple cheap recipes to make food at home for yourself and use one once a week instead of grabbing take out. Let’s say your average take out bill is $7 and you can make a cheap recipe at home for $3. That’s a $4 savings each week. Do that for twenty six weeks. Even better, if you continue the routine, that’s another $16 a month you didn’t have before.
Total free cash from eating at home: $104

Go on a bulk buying binge. Buy some of your basic toiletries and cleaning materials in bulk: laundry detergent, laundry softener, dishwasher detergent, dish soap, bar soap, hand soap, shampoo and conditioner, toilet paper, paper towels, and toothpaste, for starters. If you calculate out the cost per unit of these items, you can easily save an average of $1 a month on each of these items. Let’s say that in an average month, buying this stuff in bulk and keeping the excess in the closet saves you $10 – that’s another nice little haul by the end of the year. Even better, if you continue the routine, that’s another $10 a month that you didn’t have before.
Total free cash from bulk buying: $60

Air up your car tires. The average American vehicle travels 11,000 miles in a year, according to the Department of Transportation. Thus, in a half year, the average American vehicle travels 6,500 miles. The average automobile gets 22.5 miles to the gallon. The average gallon costs $3. Each PSI that a car tire on an automobile is below the maximum recommended costs the automobile 1/8th of a percent in fuel efficiency. The average car tire in America is 11 PSI below the maximum recommended level. Thus, if the average American stops at the free air pump at the gas station each month and airs up his or her tire to the maximum recommended level, he or she would improve their fuel efficiency by 4.5%. Such an increase would raise the fuel efficiency of the car from 22.5 miles per gallon to 23.51 miles per gallon. Over 6,500 miles (a half a year in an average American car), that’s 12.3 gallons saved. At $3 a gallon, that’s $37 just by utilizing the free air at the gas station once a month. Even better, if you always do this routinely, you’ll save another $6 a month you didn’t have before.
Total free cash from tire airing: $37

Go to a free community event once a week. My wife and I used to do something out on the town about five nights a week, whether it be going out to a movie, going to a concert, hanging out at a coffeeshop, and so on. We figured that a night out cost us each an average of $10 when we averaged all the stuff that we did – coffee costs, movie tickets, etc., etc. In other words, if we instead went out once a week with a community calendar in hand and found something free to do one night a week, like watching the local municipal band concert or catching a dramatic performance in the park or volunteering to work at a Little League game, we saved ourselves each $10 a week. This may be a bit high depending on your activities, but it’s entirely reasonable to think that a free event would save you $5. Grab your community calendar and try out some opportunities you didn’t even know existed by calling up your city hall or tourist center and asking for a community calendar or a list of community events.Even better, if you start getting involved with these activities, you just saved yourself $20 a month.
Total free cash from the community calendar: $130

Take a look at your regular bills and kill any services you don’t use. The Sopranos is over and they cancelled Deadwood and Carnivale, so why do we need HBO any more? I’m paying for 1,000 text messages when I sent 40 last month? Those Netflix rentals are sitting over there getting dusty. Just glance at the bills you send out every month – I’m betting there’s $10 worth of stuff buried on there that you don’t use. Better yet, trimming this fat now saves you $10 a month in perpetuity.
Total free cash from checking your bills: $60

Request a credit card rate reduction. The average American household has $9,000 in credit card debt, and the average credit card interest rate is around 19%. Calling your credit card holders (especially the ones you’ve been most faithful in paying) and requesting a rate reduction with the vague insinuation that you may transfer the balance can often get you a rate reduction – I regularly see ones as much as 6%. Here’s how to do it in more detail. If you have that average credit card debt and just a few 1-800 phone calls can get you a 6% rate reduction, you’re saving $45 a month on your minimum payments, or $270 over six months. Better yet, that $45 a month in rate reduction will save you $45 every single month – and hopefully get that credit card debt paid off faster.
Total free cash from calling your credit card holders: $270

Doing these seven things will put $723.76 in your pocket in just six months. You could have that iPhone by Christmastime. But what about those expensive AT&T iPhone plans? The plan with 900 daytime minutes and unlimited text messages costs $100 a month! Ouch! Thankfully, if you did all of these things, the plan is free, too! If you do the things above, your monthly expenses will be reduced $123 each month and that’s not including the current cell phone plan you have, which you’ll get rid of for your iPhone plan.

What’s the moral here? If you look at your regular behavior and look for ways to trim the fat, you can do amazing things even faster than you think.

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  1. !wanda says:

    Haven’t YOU already done these things?

    Besides, you DON’T need an iPhone. Which of your values does an iPhone align with?

  2. Wesa says:

    Officially, the iPhone does not allow custom wallpapers or ringtones. If it’s something that you really want, you’d be better off waiting for an updated version of the phone.

  3. Kevin says:

    I used to justify purchases by going out and making extra cash in various ways. To me at the time it made them look “free”. Now all that free money is being saved or used to make obscenely large debt payments. Sure a $600 Iphone would be cool, but making a $700 payment in place of a $100 one is far more fulfilling.

  4. js says:

    I can’t even imagine wanting one. I just figure it’s some type of guy thing that will forever remain a mystery to me.

  5. Justin says:

    Guy thing?
    No, it’s an Apple thing.

    They’re a cult unto themselves.

  6. Ryan says:

    How is the money gained by trimming expenses any more free than any other money?

    You’re still giving up alternate consumption possibilities to get the iPhone; there’s nothing “free” about it.

  7. jlw says:

    Regarding the bulk purchasing: I find it saves even more that that because I don’t go to stores like Target as frequently and have fewer opportunites to impulse buy!

  8. Russ says:

    It’s not even a guy thing – I’m a 30-year-old Apple-fan with no debts and a six-figure income, and I feel no desire whatsoever to own one of these over-hyped feature-poor phones.

  9. Jane says:

    This is a ridiculous and dangerous justification process that people who don’t have enough money use to justify unnecessary purchases. I hope no one does this. Anyone who buys a $600 phone – plus the high monthly costs – better be out of debt and have a ton of discretionary income.

  10. Vincent says:

    The iPhone is dead sexy. I’ll admit it.

    But with AT&T? No thanks. I’ll stick with my BlackBerry Pearl and T-Mobile. The Pearl does almost everything the iPhone does (and it actually does more in some instances, like supporting multimedia messaging for example) at half the cost—less, if you sign a deal with one of the mobile resellers.

    No, it doesn’t have the sex appeal or OS X, but it is a pretty sexy phone. In a year or so, the iPhone will have been unlocked, updated, and usable on a reasonable (non-AT&T) service provider.

  11. lorax says:

    Whoa, back to the future, dude!

    Is this “Trent from the past” commenting on the present? Didn’t “Trent from the present” already move out of an apartment into a house, cancel a bunch of services, brown bag every day, and convert to CFLs?

    Back on point: I like the iPhone too. And I’d be willing to pay for it if it were about 1/2 the price, on a more sane cell plan, and didn’t require a two year contract that doesn’t even subsidize the price of the phone!

    Which brings up another option: wait a year for the prices to come down and the bugs to be worked out. A great option for “Trent from the future.”


  12. Tordr says:

    Your heading is all wrong. It should have said “How to save $600”. The second part where you address the individual saving plans is good, but the start of the article is so wrong.
    You say: “I wanted one. I needed one.”. Sorry to bring this up, but is that not the kind of thinking, that gets one into credit card dept in the first place. Go sleep on it. Come back in 6 days and tell me that it is not vital to your existence.
    I do not want to hear what you can do to afford a bloody expensive, locked down, bug ridden, insanely advertised, slow surfing piece of metal. That is easy, just use the credit card and become a slave to the bank.
    Please write a follow up article, where you examine how to say no to yourself, so you do not get the iPhone. That is the important thing.

  13. Kevin says:

    Also CFL’s are out ;) LED is the bulb of the future, granted they currently cost what cfl’s used too ($8+ per bulb) but they use 1/4 of the energy that cfl’s do.

  14. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The point of this post is pretty straightforward – set a goal and plan for it in a financially rational way. I simply don’t buy anything unless I have the cash in hand set aside for that purpose.

  15. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    As for wanting an iPhone, of course I want one. That doesn’t mean that I’ll actually end up buying one. I saved for a Wii for months and went back and forth on it for another couple months before finally making the move and an iPhone is far more expensive than that.

  16. Mitch says:

    Wanda said exactly what I was thinking–there’s very little on the list that we hadn’t already done years ago. Thus, we no longer budget for the additional expense. What’s the next move?

    And, not being a phone person, I find the Nokia Internet Tablets far, far sexier than the iPhone, although the built-in camera is no good.

  17. The iPhone is actually not that great. I’ve been back and forth on it too. I admit it is pretty neat, but you have to pay so much more for some of it’s exclusive features and most of the other features are available on other smartphones. Last week I bought a blackberry pearl instead, after rebate and new contract with tmobile it was $50. It’s a much better phone and smaller than the iphone in my opinion.

    Plus I can sell my old phone for about $80 on ebay. So I get a new phone plus $30. Thats better than free :D

  18. Chris says:

    Hmmm…. iPhone…

    I sit in front of a computer all day long and on some days part of the night. The idea of some of the stuff that these devices can do is pretty neat, but to be honest, I’d rather be doing them on the 15-19″ monitors that I am already sitting in front of. Not to mention the bandwidth comparison.

    I too thought that this post was something written about something else a year or two ago and revamped for the iPhone.

  19. Anne says:

    1) The iPhone is dead sexy. 2) I understand the point of this post. But, it’s all wrong for most readers who need some financial advice. $600 for a phone? That’s not a need for anyone. The writing here is just a bit dangerous.

  20. George says:

    You’re deluding yourself if you think the iPhone is a “$600” phone. It’s a $600 phone with a lengthy service contract that’ll cost you something like $50/month for 2-3 years. This makes it a $2000 gadget that you don’t really need.

    Yes, it’s really really cool. But wait for a few years for the price to drop from “exclusively for people with money to burn” to “priced for everybody”.

  21. Refilwe says:

    This is good advice and I think it’s great that you are consistent with your advice on ways to save money.

    I think there are a couple important things to note or add.

    1. Spending your savings twice is no longer saving! If you’ve already achieved your CFL & Home Cooking savings you can’t both direct that money to your emergency fund or portfolio AND an iPhone + Plan at the same time.

    2. If you don’t need that large a service plan, ask yourself if you really want to intentionally increase your expenses unnecessarily.

    There’s also the “bulls-eye” factor. If you have an iPhone right now you have a big target on your head that says “I have cash and if you steal my iPhone I can just buy another one for you to steal next week”.

  22. Abhijit says:

    You’d have saved for your iPhone alright, but what about service?

    Lets see you crank it up, and go all out – as a logical exercise, how would you plan to save another $1400 (over 5 months) for the service plans?


  23. UncleOxidant says:

    I’d wait for iPhone rev 2.0 – I’m hearing about problems from too many people who have’em. It doesn’t have simple stuff like cut & paste, for example. Plus the whole lock-in with ATT really turns me off.

    Trent: You should really check out these phones from OpenMoko: http://www.openmoko.com/
    They cost 1/2 as much as an iPhone, they’re open (meaning that anyone can develop software for them as opposed to the iPhone which is a closed platform) and there’s no lock-in with any particular vendor. Oh and some of their models include GPS which is a feature the iPhone lacks.

  24. Nez says:

    This blog is getting very very very repetitive and I’m not impressed one bit by any advice that you’ve been dishing out in the recent past (I really liked your blog) and this post was the worst and to me has just shown your “one size fits all” approach to any problem.

  25. guinness416 says:

    People are taking this post a little literally. My takeaway is that whatever little luxury you covet (and it could be anything from a trip to Japan to an iPhone to a nice coat) you can brainstorm ways to save for it.

  26. Travis says:

    I agree with Nez, I used to like reading this blog but some of the suggestions are getting a little tired. It seems that CFLs and adding air to the tires are the solution to many financial quests.

  27. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Guinness416: that was the point of the post. I was merely trying to show that if you have a little luxury you covet, you’re better off thinking about little moves you can make instead of just whipping out the plastic.

  28. Elden says:

    I have relative that used to say “You can have a hamburger or a Cadillac” He did not ever have a Cadillac himself. He was just pointing out a way to save for something expensive rather than eat fast food hamburgers or other money wasting habits. Good post Trent.

  29. esteban says:

    Titlw should be “how to save for an iphone”. Free is not paying for something. Clever way to use the iphone on the blog but a bit misleading…

  30. kim says:

    I think some people miss the point of frugality entirely. It’s not about being the person who never spends anything and lives an austere life. It’s about being a person who carefully selects their indulgences and only partakes in them when they have the cash on hand and when those indulgences do not undermine long term goals. I live in a modest home, drive used cars, and wear thrift shop clothing. I also travel fairly regularly, stay home with my kids, and save 16% of my husband’s income for retirement. I chose my indulgences carefully and sparingly; therefore, I can have them without sacrificing my future. Trent is doing the same. He wanted the wii, thought about it for a fair amount of time, saved for it in a way that did not derail his financial goals, and then bought it (I imagine that he also shopped for a great price). Does he NEED to buy the iphone? No, but I don’t NEED to go on my cruise next year either (but I will). I imagine that he will think about it for a good long time and maybe he’ll buy it if it works with his budget and values. I know he won’t get it on credit or slack on contributing to his children’s college funds to scrape up the cash. He’s not the “old Trent”. The new Trent is just learning to balance his wants with his current lifestyle to create a balance that makes his financial plans work of a lifetime. Isn’t that why we are all reading his blog?

  31. Mitch says:

    What I am objecting to is giving the impression that you can cut the same things over and and over again; for example, you listed a lot of these things before. It’s not World of Warcraft, the stuff does not regenerate, else we would all have an infinite supply of money. It would be far more interesting to know what you would actually cut this time around–or did you end up actually using a different strategy? I am guessing this is similar to the concerns of Wanda, Lorax, Chris, Nez, and Travis.

    You budget for some fun stuff, and after that you have to say no. Whole other rant about trying to live mostly on my income while in grad school….

  32. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Yes, and I bought a Wii about a month ago. So now I no longer am saving for an indulgence. An iPhone might be one – plus, it’s a great example to get the general idea across that you can save up for such an item instead of just dumping it on credit.

  33. Mitch says:

    So when you started saving for the Wii, you found those savings, and turned them into an “indulgence allowance.” This time, you’re looking at an iPhone, and rather than searching your budget for places to cut (for you’ve already made these changes), you can quotient out how long it will take for you to save enough of your “allowance” to buy the phone.

    I actually think that’s a very important point to make: making “fun stuff” part of the system. This would include things like travel and gifts. Knowing too many people for whom the “fun stuff” is one big shell game, for whom saying “no” is well nigh offensive (thus the rant), I would suggest considering writing that article instead were you to go back in time.

  34. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    You got it, Mitch. I just reiterated the savings things I am doing to make up that allowance.

  35. Drew says:

    This post seems more like a way to drive traffic to the website via Google and other search engines (“Free IPhone” is probably going to overtake “Free IPod” soon).

    Though the method of saving money is repetitive to us veteran readers, it is going to be new to the people who click their way here. Hopefully they won’t just close the browser once they realize they can’t just fill out a form with all their personal information hoping to win a free IPhone. If they stick around long enough, they might just learn something.

  36. Breckin says:

    I have a couple of comments to make (as an iPhone owner):

    1) This is absolutely the most useful, pleasant, beautiful phone/computer I’ve ever owned hands down (and I’ve owned them all)

    2) Contrary to a previous post, you CAN customize wallpapers all day long. You can also customize ringtones, but it takes a hack (for now)

    3) Yes, this was an obvious ploy to drive traffic to the site through search engine hits. Who cares? It’s still good advice

    4) I think the people who say things like “Trent, this goes against your whole philosophy” have the “whole philosophy” all wrong. Frugality and financial maturity are not about ignoring wants and eschewing materialistic possessions. This isn’t a “simple living” site and we’re not going to go join a convent. The point is to RESPONSIBLY buy the stuff you want. If you can’t buy ANYTHING without feeling guilty about it or putting it on a credit card, that’s YOUR problem, don’t berate people who can buy toys responsibly.

    That is all :)

  37. Jenners says:

    CFCs: I’ve been wanting to post for awhile how disillusioned I’ve been. I’ve heard claims that they last a year or 2 — what a joke! These things not only cost more, but they burn out just as quickly as incandescent bulbs.

    Also, isn’t it true that they take initially more power to turn on, like a fluorescent strip? So it’s actually cheaper to leave them on in high traffic areas, instead of turning them out whenever we leave the room — so why isn’t the public being educated about this? (or am I wrong?) I truly question how much energy is being saved by turning CFCs on and off as if they were incandescent.

  38. Bill says:


    most are designed to be operated in the bulb up position – inverting them allows heat to rise into the ballast, causing premature ballast failure.

    turn on/off – MythBusters tested the “surge” –

  39. m360 says:

    I’m not sure why the topic of cutting out unnecisary exspenses it so threatening, but it seems that people are more threatened by the idea of “How to get a free iPhone” than discusted by Trent’s strategy. Some of these tips are ‘old news’ but they bear repeating. Every little bit adds up and this is how Trent bought the wii. Now, by continuing to use these methods of cutting costs, he can replenish his frivolous fund while staying on track financially.

    Everyone should be rewarded now and them for being thrifty and frugal. It’s like being on a diet, if you never let yourself eat a cookie or piece of cake then you get discouraged. When continuously making sacrifices, there needs to be an incentive. It’s no different than an athlete winning a trophy.

    Personally, I think the iPhone/iPod is a glorified mp3 player and the name/image is what people are paying for, but to each his own. The point of the article is not about an iPhone in particular. The thing is, nothing is really *free* anymore, even those ads claiming to give everyone a free iPod, computer, etc. However, cutting out unneeded exspenses is almost like free money. If that money is already budgeted into exspenses, and item/service is not horribly missed, it might as well be *free* money.

    When setting goals and making changes in one’s life, it is easier to start with small, acheivable goals. Like trimming the fat off monthly exspenses, instead of getting rid of cable tv altogether, it makes more sense to get rid of HBO. After a few months, see if you can deal with basic cable. Then, if it’s barely used, why not cancel the service completely.

    If you don’t use DSL/cable internet too often, why not opt for a less exspensive dial-up service? Like Trent said, get rid of the texting package, then see if you can go to a cheaper plan? If a cell phone is only used a few min. a month for emergencies, why not get a trac phone (if it will save at least a few bucks)? I constantly find ways to shave a little more off my exspenses and I don’t miss most of them.

    Also, saving over several months for an exspensive item, the prices are bound to go down after all the hype is over. Using this strategy also buys enough time to make sure the item is something that is truly wanted. The ideas listed here are only the beginning.

    It’s about priorities, puting thought into what we spend on, planning, improvising, discipline, taking care of what we already have, and so on. It comes down to the choices we make; being responsible and figuring out what’s more important: having those luxuries today or having that neat little gadget, even if it took some delayed gratification and work. I think we apreciate things more when we have to work for them anyway.

  40. Steve says:

    Unfortunatley, too many people live in a “want it now, pay for it tomorrow and blame everyone else if it goes wrong” culture.

    There are so many things we could cut out/down if we put our minds to it but people would rather spend. Hence why here in the UK we are heading for 100,000 bankruptcies in 2007!

  41. soyuz says:

    Personally, I think the iPhone/iPod is a glorified mp3 player and the name/image is what people are paying for, but to each his own. The point of the article is not about an iPhone in particular. The thing is, nothing is really *free* anymore, even those ads claiming to give everyone a free iPod, computer, etc. However, cutting out unneeded exspenses is almost like free money. If that money is already budgeted into exspenses, and item/service is not horribly missed, it might as well be *free* money.

  42. AJ says:

    I like your post. Although I have done most of the tips already, there are still some good points to consider. Anyway, I have an iPhone and I just want to say that it’s not all that. But if you want it as a reward, then go for it. Nothing wrong with saving for what you want. It’s only wrong if you use the “buy now, pay later” philosophy. Good post.

  43. Alice says:

    For goodness sakes! If you have ANY credit card debt, DO NOT BUY AN IPHONE or ANY other unnecessary purchase! I am astonished that I read this post on a site that is supposed to help people improve their finances. The author is right to suggest all those ways of saving money, but he should be ashamed of himself for then suggesting that the savings be blown on what is for most people basically just a toy. This is ESPECIALLY true in the case he presents where there is a debt that could be paid off instead.

  44. Jake says:


    The point was to show that everyone has money sinks that make no sense, and then because of a limit of cash on hand they develop greater money sinks through interest rates on credit cards and loans.

    I do not own a credit card an will only get one once I graduate from college and get a steady job. The 90% of Americans in steep debt the News Anchors always talk about are in situations like that because they would rather pay 220% the price of something than save cash in smaller areas.

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