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Does It Make Financial Sense To Upgrade My Phone Every Year?

Resale value makes the difference

With the release of the new iPhone 13 Pro Max, some of us may be tempted to get a new phone. Others may be waiting for the next Samsung Galaxy Ultra (rumoured to be the S31 or S22, depending on whether Samsung learnt to count). The  more financially savvy may be thinking hard about how long they should wait before buying their next phone.

As each new phone comes with marginal upgrades from their previous iteration, usually a better camera, screen, or better processor, it begs the question as to whether it might be worth spending $1,799 for an upgrade if between one phone to the next, you can hardly feel the difference.

While most of us may not need the newest phone every year, we still need to upgrade it every so often. So when does it make the most financial sense to upgrade our phones?

Read Also: iPhone 13 Will Cost From S$1,149. What’s So Special About It, And Is It Worth Splurging For It?

Sim-Only Plans Allow Flexibility In When To Upgrade

With the introduction of sim-only plans, most of us have moved away from the 12- or 24-month upgrade cycle that contract plans tied us to as upgrading early incurs a penalty and upgrading later didn’t allow us to maximise our plans.

With greater flexibility to choose the timeline with sim-only plans, we can stretch out the time between upgrades to 2 to 4 years.

Battery wear typically becomes an issue at the 3- or 4-year mark, and outdated phones may not have the hardware to use some apps. I tried to donate my old Samsung Galaxy S4 to benefit migrant workers, but it wasn’t accepted despite being an otherwise functional phone as it could only use 3G and couldn’t use TraceTogether.

Read Also: What Are The Best SIM-Only Plans In Singapore (2021 Edition)

The Best Time To Upgrade Our Phones

To find out when is the best time to upgrade our phones, we would look at the resale value of the phone and the cost of ownership.


  • We will take the lower end of the resale value, based the range of resale values found.
  • We assume that phones in their 3rd and 4th year and non-flagship phones have no resale value as these phones tend to be harder to sell.
  • We assume that the phone is in good resale condition in order to fetch the best resale value. It would be hard to sell a phone with a cracked screen, scratched body or water damage.
  • We assume that new flagship tier phones will be priced at $1,800 based on the newest iPhone 13 Pro Max price of $1,799 and Samsung S21 Ultra launch price of $1,798.


Apple phones are great for their resale value especially in the first year. Carousell shows a number of listings for the iPhone 12 Pro Max going at $1,200 – $1350. While most of these listings are less than a month old, it has only been less than a month since the launch of iPhone 13 Pro Max so the price may decline further once more people upgrade to iPhone 13 Pro Max and the market gets flooded with used iPhone 12 Pro Max-es.

Assuming that Apple prices its flagship tier around $1800 each year, and assuming that the previous year’s flagship phone can be sold at $1200, upgrading yearly means that you are only spending $600 per year which works out to $50 every month.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is selling for $700 to 900 on Carousell, bringing the monthly cost of upgrading every 2 years to about $46. The third and fourth year we assume that your old phone cannot be sold but given that the cost is split between more years, there are still some savings to be made if you only upgrade after 4 years.

Given this, it does seem that upgrading every year may be affordable for iPhone users, with the cost per month dropping only slightly for the second and third years. However, this is heavily contingent on the resale value which is not guaranteed.

Years of ownership Phone Upgrade Price Resale Value Of Old Phone Cost per year Cost per month
1 1800 1200 600 50
2 1800 700 550 45.83
3 1800 0 600 50
4 1800 0 450 37.5



Samsung does not seem to be able to retain its value quite as well, with last year’s flagship, the S20 Ultra selling at a meagre $600 to 800 on Carousell. The drop-off from the first and second years is less steep – the S10+ is selling between $400 to 600. It is far less worth it to upgrade for the first year, especially compared to Apple, but it is not too bad for the second to fourth years.

Do note that Samsung’s release cycle is different from Apple’s – the next S22 is slated to be released in early 2022. This could affect the resale value as the S20 is already on the market for close to a year.

Ultimately, if upgrading after the second year is necessary to you, Apple definitely has the upper hand. However, for the 3rd and 4th years, Samsung users are not disadvantaged.

Years of ownership Phone Upgrade Price Resale Value Of Old Phone Cost per year Cost per month
1 1800 600 1200 100
2 1800 400 700 58.33
3 1800 0 600 50
4 1800 0 450 37.5


Non-flagship Phones

For this category, I will use the Redmi Note 10 Pro for reference. Xiaomi does have a number of good non-flagship phones which deliver most of the features for something that is less than half the price. Not everyone wishes to buy a flagship phone, and there are significant savings to be had. The Redmi Note 10 Pro has a pretty stellar camera, alongside other features which typically feature in a flagship phone. That said, the Redmi Note 10 Pro does not have some other notable features such as wireless charging or wireless power sharing, and its processor will definitely not be as powerful as the flagship phones. However, unless those features are very important to you, this is most certainly a very fair trade-off.

However, resale value is much poorer as the market for secondhand non-flagship phones is much smaller. However, if the features of a flagship phone are not important to you, and you upgrade on an average of 2-3 years around the time the battery begins to wear, the cost per month can be lesser than $16 depending on whether you manage to sell the phone.

Years of ownership Phone Upgrade Price Resale Value Of Old Phone Cost per year Cost per month
1 $400 $200 $200 $16.67
2 $400 $80 $160 $13.33
3 $400 $0 $200 $16.67
4 $400 $0 $100 $8.33


Upgrade After 2 To 3 Years

While this article is not exhaustive, in general, if you are not tied down by a 2-year plan, upgrading every 2 to 3 years is probably the most reasonable for all phone models. Depending on the actual resale value of the phone, you may choose to upgrade sooner or later than the 2-to-3-year mark. Dragging out your phone upgrade cycle to every 4 years is definitely most cost-effective, and it would be the most financially wise if you can bear the drop in performance.

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