Getting smart about phones

(as printed in the Nov. 25 edition of The Great Bend Tribune, Great Bend, KS)

I make a point of not going shopping on black Friday.  I can’t stand shopping to begin with, and I especially can’t stand shopping in a crowd.  My kids are like most kids though, and love to shop.  I guess I used to when I was using someone else’s money.  We all know whose–Mom’s.  I sent the kids to visit their grandfather on black Friday, but I know it’s only a short reprieve.

I like to give gifts, I just don’t like shopping for them.  I want to take some time to really consider the person I’m giving to, and what would really be a gift for them.  Shopping is distracting–too many external messages to bombard, suggesting-nay-guilting you into giving more or differently than you intended.  

One of the most pervasive is the cell phone advertisement.  Somehow, giving a new cell phone has usurped giving a piece of diamond jewelry when it comes to saying how much you care about someone–at least that’s what the cell phone companies want us to think.  
After opening my last cell phone bill, let me just say, I’ll take a diamond pendant any day!

I won’t mention what company I have a contract with by name, but I will say that when I got a load of the bill for the “new and improved” plan that I’ve gotten myself into, I can hear them now pretty clearly, and the sound is “ca-ching”!

Here’s the scenario.  Eight years ago, I gave up my land line telephone and became a cell phone only user.  It seemed like a wise financial move, since most of the time I used my cell phone anyway.  I was happy with the decision for several years.  Then, my oldest turned 12, and needed a cell phone.  No, really.  She needed one.  Okay, I needed her to have one because I wanted the peace of mind that we could contact each other anytime while she was away from me.  A luxury, by the way, that no other parents in the history of the world ever before had.  And it was cheap–that peace only cost me an extra $10 a month (plus fees and taxes).  

Since then, I’ve had text overage surprises that have cost me hundreds of dollars.  Every time a kid sends-or receives- a text, it counts.  It doesn’t take long for a teen to go over 1,000 texts.  Especially when they consist of “K” and “LOL”.  Of course, I upgraded to unlimited texting.  

Somehow, getting a cell phone became a right of passage for 12 year-olds the world over between the time the oldest and the middle child celebrated that birthday.  I got in further by adding yet another cell phone with unlimited texting to the plan.  

Then, mom got a “smartphone.”  Interesting name.  Makes you feel like you’re making a good decision when you buy a smartphone.  But when it means you’re locked into a more expensive plan because you need “data”, who’s really smart?  To top it all off, once I switched plans, the old one vanished.  There was no turning back.   

Mom and dad used to have a saying.  “You kids are nickle and diming us to death!”  
I used to think my gas and electric bill was too much.  Now, it’s cheaper than my cell phone bill. The thing is, I’ve made some improvements to my house, and my utility bills actually went down.  The “improvements” I make to my cell phone contract, however, only increase my costs.

This year, no one is getting a new phone.  I drew the line before my youngest turned 12.  I had to.  After all, the oldest will (hopefully) be heading to college in a few years.  

I’ve been checking out the costs for land lines lately.  They’re not cheap, but compared to my cell phone bill, they’re downright economical.  This year, instead of a new cell phone under the tree, I’ve got a different idea.  I think I may go retro, and introduce them to a whole different world of communication.  It may cost me a little upfront, but I think in the long run, it will bring those future dreams closer within reach.  Can you hear me now?

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