Groceries or Mobile Phone? Plenty of Consumers Spend More on the Latter

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D. Sharon Pruitt Pink Sherbet / Getty Images

Based on all the excitement over Apple’s new iPhone 5, there’s no denying plenty of consumers just can’t get enough of their gadgets. But do some people care more about their mobile phones than they do about food—you know, the stuff we all need to put into our bodies to survive?

In a new survey sponsored by CouponCabin and conducted by Harris Interactive, nearly half of Americans with mobile phones (46%) said their monthly bill comes to $100 or more per month. More than 1 in 10 consumers (13%), meanwhile, drop $200 or more monthly on mobile phone service, according to the survey.

What’s more, 21% said that they spend more monthly on mobile phone bills than they do on groceries, giving the indication that food is less important than iPhones and Androids to more than 1 in 5 consumers. Sounds crazy, and of course it is, but perhaps the numbers are a little misleading. Let’s dissect the data a bit.

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First off, what’s up with people paying over $200 a month for mobile phone usage? The priciest iPhone plans for Verizon and AT&T come to around $150 monthly, though what with fees, insurance, taxes, international plans, and overages that could top $200. Paying for multiple phones could also easily push one over the $200 mark too. But that’s much different than what’s indicated by the survey results—that some users are paying $200 or more monthly for usage of a single smartphone.

Earlier this year, the Associated Press estimated that the average AT&T smartphone customer pays around $80 per month. So who the heck are the people dropping upwards of $200 monthly? What are they doing with these phones? And why are they not using them to call up their wireless providers to complain and ask for a better plan—one that runs considerably less than $2,400 per year? Examining one’s own data usage, and second-guessing the need to be glued to the smartphone and constantly Tweet and provide updates for every moment of one’s life, couldn’t hurt either.

The other eye-popping factoid in the survey, that 21% of mobile phone users pay more for their service plans than they spend monthly for groceries, could partly be explained by a certain segment of the consumer population who either (naively or carelessly) pay through the nose for their smartphone plans, and/or who rarely if ever cook or hit the supermarket. After all, if your mobile phone bill comes to a reasonable $40 per month, but you spend $0 monthly on groceries—perhaps because your parents cover your food tab?—you can honestly say that you personally spend a lot more on your phone than food.

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Overall, the USDA estimates that a family of four pays between $550 and $1,250 per month on food. Let’s hope no families are paying more than that for mobile phone plans.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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