When I put out a call on Twitter and the Rockstar Finance Forums asking what folks want to know about kids and money, I got a tremendous response. Interestingly several were around kids and cell phones – both Slow Dad and The Lady In Black (from the site of the same name) wanted to know about kids and cell phones.
Slow Dad: The other challenging one we’ve had this week was mobile phone options/plans for older kids. Stranger danger/over protective Mum versus dangers of running out of credit, add-on purchases in games etc. In the olden days we were free range kids who just learned to fight or run fast… doesn’t seem to work that way these days.
Lady In Black: At what age do you think you spring for a kids own mobile phone? (My daughter is 9.)
Psst – Want me to help with a kids and money question? Drop me a note at Liz@chiefmomofficer.org.
I found this to be a very interesting question, because my kids don’t have cell phones.
Yep, neither of them.
No, not even my almost-14 year old who is a freshman in high school and goes to school 30 plus minutes away from home on the bus every day. Nor my ten year old finishing up elementary school. So when you ask me about kids and cell phones, you’re going to get an interesting story.
So am I negligent? Cheap? Lazy? No, I’ve actually given this a lot of thought and decided that cell phones don’t make sense for my kids.
I Am Not Normal
If you’ve read my blog for any period of time, you’ll realize that I’m really not just like everyone else. Breadwinner mom of a family of five? Pursuing FI for twenty years, since I was a teenager? Survivor of a medical crisis that almost killed my husband when I was in my early thirties? Cut the cable cord seven years ago? Check, check, check, and check. I’ve definitely got the “live like no one else so you can live like no one else” Dave Ramsey philosophy going on here.
Since I recognize that I’m not normal, I decided to do some research on what is normal nowadays. And sure enough, I found some interesting information on kids and cell phones.
My Kids And Cell Phones Philosophy – Go Against The Grain
As I mentioned, neither of my kids have a cell phone. So this means my 10 year old and 14 year old are both in the minority among their friends. Why don’t I get them a cell phone? Because it’s is a want, not a need, and until they want one enough to work for one they won’t get one. Eventually it will become more of a need, but by then they’ll be able to work for their own phone. And I know if I buy them one, they won’t appreciate it nearly as much as if they work for it and buy it themselves.
In the interest of finding out how my kids feel about going against the grain, I decided to do an interview with them. These are their real, unedited answers after I got them to agree to this interview.
CMO: So how many of your friends have cell phones?
Nick (14): All of them
Nate (10): Well, most of them.
CMO: How does it make you feel to not have a smartphone?
Nick: Um, it’s OK. I mean, sometimes I wish I had it so I could listen to music in class. And it can come in handy if there are no computers around and you had to look up something. But other than that it feels fine.
Nate: I actually don’t really mind it, but sometimes, just sometimes I wish I could get one because I want to be able to play the newer mobile games. And even though I do have a phone they’re old so they can’t process most of the newer games. (CMO comment – each of the kids has an old smartphone of ours for surfing the internet at home, but it has no cell or data service, only WiFi. And his is a iPhone3, which won’t work with most of the new games)
CMO: Do you want one?
Nick: Kind off. Um, because, I mean, it would be nice to be able to call you guys to say “I’m going to be late” or “I’m going to be early”, and not have to borrow other peoples phones. And sometimes in class it’s almost a requirement to have a phone to look things up because sometimes the computer carts are shared, and one day the teacher would have the cart and sometimes they don’t.
Nate: Kinda yes and kinda no, because it would be a huge responsibility and I can’t even take care of my 3DS. And it would be nice because I could play some of the newer games.
CMO: Smartphones can cost a few hundred dollars, and at least $30-$50 per month. Are you willing to work for one – do extra chores around the house or get a job to pay for the phone and the monthly bill?
Nick: Hmm. I’d say no. I mean I’d be willing to do extra chores to get enough money to get a new video game or something. But getting a job or the money for that, it would be really tough because of the cost. So I don’t think so.
Nate: Well, I kinda want to do it because having a job could be fun, but also a big responsibility. Usually you need to be 18 but you can get certain jobs at fast food places when you’re younger.
I proceeded to tell Nate that you could get certain jobs at his age, like walking dogs, taking care of cats, cleaning houses, etc. He then laughed at me and rolled his eyes. This was his was of signaling that he was not remotely interested in cleaning toilets in order to get a smartphone.
The Bottom Line
Honestly it’s a judgement call. Remember, I still have a landline phone, so I’m not always on the cutting edge over here. If your kids are often in a situation where they need a cell phone, and you can afford one without sacrificing other financial goals, then go ahead!
Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’re a “need” just because everyone else has one. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in my late 20’s. If you’re my age or older, you probably spend your teenage years (or more) without a cell phone. Even if your child does need a cell phone, they almost definitely don’t need a smart phone.
Personally, I’ve never found the answer of “everyone has one!” or “everyone does it!” to be a good argument for anything. And if you’re a fan of financial independence, you don’t mind going against the grain either. I treat a smartphone like any other major purchase for the kids.
- If I determined it was a real need, I would pay for the “need” and they would pay for the “want”. So I would chip in enough to cover the basic phone and basic service, and they could cover the rest
- They need to use their own money – save up for the phone, and work enough to pay the monthly bill
- If they wanted one but weren’t responsible enough, based on their age, I wouldn’t let them buy one until they had demonstrated responsibility. At least enough to take good care of it and not lose it. This is why young kids and cell phones bother me-because they certainly haven’t learned to care for it properly.
Don’t sacrifice what you want ultimately for what you want now. If you’re pursuing financial freedom, or saving for your kids college, don’t let their desire for a smart phone keep you from your goal. Working hard toward their goals is a good thing, and gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride. Even if your kid complains that they’re “the only with without a cell phone!”, don’t be afraid to stand your ground.
I Want To Hear From You!
What’s your philosophy on kids and cell phones? Do they already have one? Are smartphones where you draw the line? Do they work for it, or do you pay, or a little of both? Let me know in the comments!
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