Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cell phone update: ay-ay, or I-I?

Two weeks ago, I bought my boys cell phones and signed them up for a pay-as-you-go plan.

The pay-as-you-go started with lots of "go" and therefore lots of "pay".  There has been a bit of the "Ay-ay-ay!" at the beginning of this experiment.  So what has happened in the meantime?  How have things settled out during the past two weeks?

Well, the boys have indeed stopped purchasing those expensive ringtones that they bought on the first day.  But (at least for a while), they couldn't stop themselves from making out-of-network calls, or even sometimes ordering new games.  Technology is fun, after all.  So, more money got spent that the boys could ill-afford to spend.

After a few days of their mom (me) seeing her boys blow through the minutes on the phones, I decided we needed to have a talk.  By some miracle of inspiration, that's all I said:  "We need to have a talk about the cell phones."  I didn't say why.  I didn't (this truly is a minor miracle) start nagging right away.

The boys came to the table like adults.  They knew the score, they told me.  They'd been using up their minutes way too fast.  I didn't say it; they did.  I was a proud mama.

We discussed possible alternatives.  The boys didn't have much (other than vague promises that they'd try for more self-control).  So when I suggested some ideas, I was surprised -- stunned, even -- to see how happy they were to agree.  This is like the twilight zone:  Super-Mom with her kids, the Ultra-Agreeables.  We should have our own TV show or something.

Instead of my looking over their massive phone use and saying "Ay-ay-ay", we went to two kinds of "I":  Immediacy and Information.

Immediacy:  I suggested that if they spend more than their allotment of money for the day (that is, if they call out of network and incur additional costs), that they lose use of the phone the very next day.   That is, they don't wait 20 or 30 days until they use up their money to quit using the phone, but they take the "no-phone hit" right away.  To my utter, utter surprise, they all loved this suggestion.  Go figure.  And I've had to enforce this rule exactly once so far (with the impulsive J-son); for the other two boys, this rule reigned in all excessive spending immediately.  I am floored.

Information:  I've started giving them once-a-week paper updates with the subtraction done for them.  It's one thing to say, "you won't get more money until October, and you have only $39 left on the phone."  But when I added the line, "This means there will be at least 42 days between now and then that you can not use your phone", something in their demeanor changes.  They've voluntarily started giving up their phones for days at a time right now.  They've considered sharing phones (although I'll believe that when I see it).  

I feel like both of these solutions have implications for grown-ups:  that somehow doing the subtraction (buying X means I'm giving up Y) could help with budgeting.  Or making deals with yourself about spending today leading to money fasts tomorrow would help to curb today's spending.  But I can't make the connection, somehow.  I'm just glad that we seem to be hitting some kind of happy cell-phone equilibrium here in the Miser Mom household.

Perhaps.  We'll find out for sure sometime between now and October 10.

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