Well, it’s that time of year again—that time when millions of people collectively lose their minds over a new shiny gadget. Yes, it’s Apple’s annual release of the new iPhone. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus were recently announced and they will be on sale starting September 25.

So why do I bring this up? Two reasons really. First, hopefully I can offer a dose of reason in case you’ve got iPhone fever and are about to waste your hard-earned crumbs.   This isn’t my first time railing on this subject, so you can check out some of my previous posts all on the topic of iPhones and cellphone service if you are a glutton for punishment:

Secondly, we’ve been saving up for a new phone for Deb for a while and the release of the new phones affected the timing of the upgrade. This past week we finally upgraded Deb from my aging iPhone 3GS to a used iPhone 6 Plus. The prices on previous year phones usually go down the most the few months surrounding the release of the new phone, and it’s possible to score a lightly used device that still has parts of its original one-year warranty intact as well.  We would have gladly settled for something smaller and cheaper, but Deb likes the big screen and we decided the nicer camera with optical image stabilization would be good for all the baby pictures. Yes, sounds like rationalization, I know…but hey, it beats buying a cheaper phone PLUS a separate digital camera. I’ll share more about how we managed to get a like-new iPhone 6 Plus for over $300 off. But first…

iPhone 3GS meet iPhone 6 Plus

iPhone 3GS, meet iPhone 6 Plus. Just a small step up in screen size.

Why Not the iPhone 6s Plus?

We’ve hopped off the treadmill of wanting the latest model of smartphones a while ago. With smartphone technology as mature as it is, it’s simply not necessary for most people to have current gen phones anymore. As mentioned, our iPhone 3GS, which is practically an antique, has been in service all these years and my iPhone 5 is still going strong despite putting on some high mileage. (Seriously, we could barely tell the difference in speed for regular tasks on the iPhone 5 vs. the 6 Plus.) Buying phones on the used market is always going to be cheaper than going for the brand new ones, and we don’t feel like we are depriving ourselves of any essential features in the process either.  This device is firmly in the “luxury” category and not in the “essentials” category, that’s for sure.

But What About the New Payment Plans?

Since all the major US carriers and even Apple itself are now shifting from a carrier subsidy model for phone purchases to installment plans, I think now is a good time to have a word about them. Instead of paying for opaque and overpriced service plans in order to get a $200 phone, or paying a wallet-crushing $650-950 upfront, the companies allow you to pay off your phone in installments. But the big question is: Do they actually save us money?

Let’s take a look at the Apple plan for a 64GB iPhone 6s Plus. If you were to purchase the new phone at full price, you would pay $849, and the added AppleCare+ warranty is an additional $129 for a total of $978.

The installment plan allows you to spread out the payments of the phone over 24 months for $40.75/month and is inclusive of AppleCare+. If you do the math, that’s exactly $978. So at least it doesn’t cost more, but as you already know, Crumb-savers don’t like paying full price for stuff.

But let’s not forget that the real hook Apple is selling to their customers is the ability to upgrade to a new phone every 12 months. Wow, what a deal! (Cough…sarcasm.) Except you have to turn in your phone and reset the clock for another 24-month payment plan at whatever new rate is current at that time. So in other words, they are trying to entice you into a never-ending cycle of monthly payments for your phone. Yeah…imagine paying $40 every month on top of your service plan…FOREVER. Listen, these payment plans are a trap, people! It just feeds the consumerist appetite to always have the latest and greatest, but at the cost of making you pay rent for your phone! Don’t fall for it!

Oh, I also forgot to mention that the Apple Installment Plan (and all of the carrier installment plans, obviously) require you to have an active cellphone service through one of the major carriers—and none of the cheaper prepaid services (such as Cricket) qualify. So you even lose your freedom to choose a cheaper non-AT&T/Verizon/Sprint/T-Mobile carrier. Yuck!

All of the major US cellphone carriers have installment plans now. Some of them have lower monthly obligations than what Apple offers, but all of them have the same fatal flaw—it hooks you into paying full price for your phone at best and making you rent your phone in perpetuity at worse. Crumb-savers beware.

$320 Off Our New Phone

We got our 64GB iPhone 6 Plus for $485 out-the-door. Brand new from Apple (since the price drop following the iPhone 6s Plus release), the same phone costs $806.11 after tax in my state. So we saved about $320 on the phone. (Just for sake of comparison, if I bought this phone brand new last year at the subsidized price with a 2-year contract, this phone would have still cost $463.74 after tax.) The phone itself still has its original warranty until December 2015, and the battery only had 83 recharge cycles on it, still holding 98% battery health. Aside from a minor dent on the back, the phone is just about cosmetically perfect. With a heavy-duty $10 case from Amazon and Deb’s delicate usage habits, we anticipate this phone lasting us a very long time. (And yes, it’s the gold iPhone.  We’re not big on bling, but we chose not to be picky with color and went with the best price and condition.)

Saving with Swappa

So how did we score this deal on our “new-to-us” iPhone 6 Plus? Many of you are aware that I got my parents the iPhone 5s at a massive discount last year from a site called Glyde. You can check out my review of the service in these two posts: So I Just Bought 2 iPhones for ½ Off; Update on Glyde. (Both of their phones are still going strong, in case you are wondering.) This year I discovered another online marketplace that rivals Glyde called Swappa.

Swappa is an eBay-like marketplace specifically tailored for direct peer-to-peer sales of tablets and smartphones. Compared to Glyde, it doesn’t have as much handholding through the purchase process, but you get more flexibility, information, and choice in the purchasing process. For example, you can communicate easily directly with the seller right on the listing page, asking specific questions of the device or even negotiating on the price. Glyde doesn’t allow that. Unlike Glyde, Swappa doesn’t offer any type of guarantee for the buyer or seller. They use PayPal exclusively for transactions, and relies on them to handle the buyer security. So if you don’t get your product, PayPal will guarantee it. It’s a bit more hassle, and a bit less safe. However, getting to read reviews of the seller and communicating with them directly helps mitigates some of that risk. Swappa makes money by charging a flat $10 service fee on every sale, and that $10 is always baked into the list price, so no hidden fees. Here’s a quick pro and con list:

Pros for Swappa:

  • Lots of seller information for reviews and vetting.
  • Ability to deal with seller directly. Conversation is available publicly for other shoppers to see.
  • Ability to negotiate pricing with the seller directly on the site.
  • Photos are required of the specific device being sold.
  • You should be able know exactly what phone you are getting and in what condition before you hit “Buy”.
  • Swappa staff monitors listings and can step in to help resolve issues.
  • Swappa staff also verifies the device ID numbers before listing to ensure phones are legit.
  • Prices are some of the most competitive.
  • Swappa includes statistics for the price trends and average selling price so you can better evaluate whether you are paying a fair price.
  • Site is easy to navigate and checkout is painless (through PayPal).
  • Shipping can be very fast. (Especially when compared to Glyde, but depends on the seller.  We got our phone in 2 days.)

Cons for Swappa:

  • Shopping on Swappa takes quite a bit of effort to cull through all the different listings and evaluating the seller.
  • The return policy is determined by the seller, so it’s not as generous as Glyde as some sellers don’t accept returns (much like eBay).
  • If your phone doesn’t arrive, you need to appeal to PayPal to get your money back. It can be a tedious process rather than dealing directly with Swappa.
  • There’s always the risk that a seller might be a fraud.

In short, Swappa is somewhere in between Glyde and eBay and tries to take best practices from each. It’s more work and is higher risk to get a good deal on Swappa than Glyde, but it’s less work and lower risk than to do the same on eBay. Swappa is a good option for those who are quite savvy and know what to look for and are up for a bit of haggling, but Glyde offers a much easier and streamlined shopping experience. I have found that prices on Swappa and Glyde are fairly competitive, so if you’re in the market for a used iPhone (or iPad or Android phone), it’s worth it to check them both out. If you choose to buy from Glyde, clicking through this affiliate link will help support this blog: Shop at Glyde. Thanks in advance!

Do you have any tips on saving on a new iPhone? Share them with us in the comments below!