What do you do with all of your old cell phones?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| October 11, 2011

Thanks to software licensing and component manufacturers, cell phones now release faster than ever before. The estimated life cycles of phones used to be roughly three years. Some people would sign a two-year contract and actually wait three and four years before upgrading again. Phones now, however, have a shelf life of anywhere from six to nine months.

Unfortunately, these perpetual and incremental updates make it especially hard for customers to stick it out for the two-year agreement they signed when they first got their phone. And wireless providers here in the States keep making the jump to no-contract much harder to make.

Hello, my name is Taylor and I'm addicted to smartphones.

I have a severe case of cell phone ADD. Working in this industry, it's especially hard (for me, at least) to read and write about new and upcoming phone without something new catching your eye. But it started before I ever got this job, and it's only getting worse with time.

I haven't even received my next phone yet (I pre-ordered an iPhone 4S), and I already have plans to get rid of it if the Nexus releases as a Verizon exclusive – I doubt that will happen, but I have plans nonetheless. My hopes are to actually keep the Nexus or iPhone for at least most of 2012. Chances of that actually happening are slim, but I've got to start somewhere. This addiction and constant need to have the latest and greatest phone is catching up to me and my bank account.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right?

I know I'm not alone. A lot of you guys and gals out there do exactly what I do: buy, sell and trade. It starts by buying the very first phone. Months (sometimes even weeks) later, you either sell or trade that phone (plus some cash) for a different, probably newer phone. Doing this, you can keep up with at least most of the current phones without dropping $500 or $600 each time. But it's still a money suck and a pretty futile practice that's becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with. People no longer understand the pricing of no-contract phones. A phone you might buy no-contract for $600 from a carrier might immediately sell for $300 or $400 max on a site like Craigslist or eBay. The weeks and months following a particular device's launch only brings the price down to $300 and below.

I try to never leave my old phones sitting too long. I usually only keep one or two older phones – you never know when you're going to need a backup. If I do hold on to a device for so long that its worth to me exceeds the current running value on Craigslist, I will usually hold on to it until a friend or family member in need of a new phone calls me and asks if I have any phones laying around. (This happens at least a couple times per month.)

Not everyone is as bad or impatient as I am, though, and some do actually ride out the entire length of their contract without switching phones. Two years pass and they make the trek to the carrier store and pick another phone. But what do they do with their old phone? One of two things. Most people who don't know the value of phones will simply take it home and throw it in a desk drawer or old shoe box with the rest of their old phones, never to be used again. When I worked in wireless sales, I had countless people try to leave their old phone with me. I obviously couldn't let them leave it, but I could give them some options.

The first option is trading in an old phone. At Best Buy, they have the Buy Back Program that can earn you some cold hard cash for your old clunker. Okay, I lied. They'll give you a gift card, which you can then use toward your upgrade. Most wireless providers now have some sort of old phone trade-in service similar to this, where they will give you credit that is only good in their store. There are also some third-party online services that will give you cash for old phones, but it's a bit of a gamble to send your phone out and have them give you what they see fit.

And lastly, for those of us who are a little less greedy, there is always the option to donate or recycle your old phone. (Even recycling sometimes offers a cash reward, though.) Depending on your area, working phones that are donated will be given to those in need. For instance, I know of a local organization that donates old cell phones to a battered women's shelter. Other locations and organizations will donate to others in need. That "old phone" desk drawer could make a difference in a lot of lives.

So I'm curious, readers. What do you do with your old phones? Do you use them to trade-up to a newer device mid-contract? Do you trade them in for cash come upgrade time? Do you recycle or donate them for a greater cause? Or do you just let them sit and collect dust? I will admit I have a few very old phones stowed away for keepsakes.