Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cell phone lessons

As I write the first draft of this post in the afternoon, my boys are outside mowing the lawn.  Earlier today they cleaned the dining room windows and scrubbed the kitchen floor.  All this, they are doing without direct supervision from me.  By now, they're that good.  I'm so proud (and maybe just a little shocked).   The first lesson of cell-phone ownership the boys got to have is that earning things requires work, and not just grudging, do-I-have-to?  work, but take-pride-in-it kind of work.  The most important lesson learned.   Forgive me for gloating.

J-son washes the dining room windows.
The actual transfer of ownership from cell phone provider to mother to child, however, has had a few more concrete lessons, some for them and some for me.  And here they are.

It's worth it to do a bit of research.
I mentioned yesterday that I had wanted to get a phone with no texting capabilities.  That's darned hard to do, but it's possible to get a phone and block texting on it.  That was good for me to learn . . . especially because it allows me to hold out the hope of texting someday, should things go well.

I did a lot of internet scouting.  I even did an internet chat with a "customer care representative" in which I must have said about 4 times, "I am not buying a phone today".  But I got a lot of questions answered.  And I found a phone that retails at $130 (that price is a total lie) and sells on the internet for $20, but sells in the store for $50.  When I pointed out that lower price eventually in the store, they knocked the store price down to $20.  Since I bought three phones, doing an hour of advance research saved me at least $90.

Getting a cell phone takes time.
My husband made an exploratory trip to the store earlier this summer.  I spent an hour toodling around online earlier last week.  I spent probably an hour in the store getting the cell phones set up.  I don't like stores very much, and cell phone stores are worse (beeping things and videos flashing everywhere and no chairs).  I brought some math to do and sat on the floor in a corner for most of the time that my phones were becoming "activated".  I'll repeat that; I'm glad I brought something to do with me.   I should have brought a sweater, too.
C-son scrubs the floor while talking on the phone.
Not relevant to the discussion, but I think it's funny.

Pay as you go.
We got a "pay as you go" plan for the boys.  This limits the size of the mistakes kids can make, and -- as you'll see below -- it's very very (very) easy to make mistakes with a cell phone.  I'm darned glad I did pay-as-you-go.  I put $60 on each phone initially, since that amount allowed me to waive the $35 activation fee.

The basic plan is the boys pay $1 for the first call of the day; after that all calls to other people in our network are free.  Calls out of network are 10¢/minute.   The idea was to make this money last until November, or require the boys themselves to fund the remaining time.  What I didn't know is that these dollars expire after 3 months.   So that was one of my lessons learned -- to ask about expiration dates.  Not that the money will last to November . . . but I get ahead of myself.

Setting up the phones takes time
.  Time together

I gave the boys their telephones on Sunday, a day we spent about 9 hours in the car.  Great car toys.  No, really.  I was there to answer lots of questions, and then lots more questions; the boys were all in close proximity to each other and could figure out how to enter contacts, dial, take pictures of one another, and play with ring tones.  The trip passed quickly, and the boys came out of the car happy and psyched.

Speaking of ring tones . . . 
So on that one day of the new cell phones, each one of the boys managed to blow $15-$20 of that initial $60.  Wow.  How did that happen?

Small ways: a friend they thought was on our network wasn't.   A very pretty, female friend.  16 or 17 phone calls later, C-son had spent $2 trying to reach her.

Other small ways:  My sales rep had blocked texting and internet, but not sending pictures [insert appropriate curses here].  So, 25¢ a pop here, 25¢ a pop there, and a few more dollars got whittled away.

But ringtones, man, they're seductive.  Expensive.  And all three boys loaded up.  The next morning, I got to explain the ramifications of all the fun they'd had.   And another lesson was learned.

Following up takes more time.
The day after the boys got their phones, I spent yet another hour on the telephone with our provider, setting up online account access so I could monitor the boys' cell accounts.  And boy, are we all glad I did!  Because, all of these charges the boys got whacked with on their first cell phone day came without any warning to us.  (Okay, C-son's calls to his cutie were something both his brothers and I warned him about.  But the rest, big surprise).  We also discovered that the cell company had initially put only $50 of the $60 I'd paid on each account.  The follow-up was probably just as important to saving money as the initial research.  Another good lesson.

Pay as you go, redux.
The pay-as-you-go plan allows the mistake to be contained, I mentioned before.   This wasn't like the time one of my daughters unexpectedly racked up 1000 (I kid you not) minutes in one month, resulting in a family bill in the hundreds and hundreds (repeat) of dollars.  That was awful.  And I know many parents have similar stories.  Limited financial damage here.

And I also got to explain to the boys that they now know why many people get cell phones and hit with unexpected charges.  My boys just spent $20 of their own money (or 20 days with no cell phone use, if they prefer).   Their phones are learning phones.  Phones with training wheels.  Crashes happen at slow speeds.  I gave the kids a kiss, let them put their own bandaids on their boo-boos, and waved as they hopped back on.

And yet, can I say that despite the day 1 and day 2 follow ups, the boys seem NOT to have mastered the lessons of moderation?  Are you surprised?  Three days into this, they're still burning through the money at an alarming (to me) rate; $5 on cutie calls and downloaded games.  The phones will last maybe another week or two like this, and then go dead for three months.  Their heads know the consequences; their metabolisms, not so much.  We'll see how devastating it is to run out of funds and go through withdrawal.  Will this turn unhappy and ugly?  Or will they learn to self-regulate?  Time wil tell . . .


  1. Something to look into, if you haven't already, is to make sure that there isn't a reactivation fee if they do run down all the minutes. I do pay as you go, and I'm pretty sure that's the way the company I use works.

    1. Oh, geez! Thanks for the heads up; we will look into this soon. I also have to figure out how to get rid of the monthly-recurring ringtones. So many bizarre details to keep track of.

      I appreciate the warning! --MM