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Teens and Cell Phones | How to Choose a Cell Phone Plan

By Julie Jaggernath

Countless parents are confronted with the same question each week, namely pleading voices from their teens and tweens, desperately asking for a cell phone of their own. The kids try their hardest to be as convincing as possible, with every possible reason as to why they “need” a phone. While it might be worth giving them credit for their creativity, it’s not worth giving in to an added expense without first weighing the consequences of “to cell or not.”

Explore this Teen Budgeting Series:

  1. 3 Tips to Help Teens Learn Money Management Skills
  2. How Do Part-Time Jobs Teach Teens to Budget?
  3. Use Back to School Shopping as a Financial Literacy Lesson 
  4. How Kids Can Spend Gift Money Wisely
  5. What to Do If Your Teen Wants a Cell Phone - You Are Here
  6. What Teens Should Know Before Buying Their First Car

Before You Start Shopping for a Phone

How to Choose a Cell Phone Plan for Teens

There are countless plans, phones and offers to choose from, and weeding through all the information can be overwhelming. Also know that once you say yes, it’s hard to take the phone back. So, before you start shopping, talk to your teens about your budget and family needs:

  • What can you afford to pay up front and for ongoing monthly charges?
  • What will your teens be able to afford to contribute?
  • What do they “need” the phone for?
  • Who pays when there are charges over and above the regular monthly fees?

Beyond the "Low" Monthly Rate

Teens often don’t understand what a monthly payment means, not only in terms of the ongoing commitment, but also what monthly payments add up to over 12 – 24 months. “Only” $20 a month actually means $240 a year, and a payment is required each month by a certain date. Whether you choose a contract, tab or pay as you go, your budget will need to accommodate an additional monthly payment to use the phone.

Ask Your Teen to Help Shop Around

Once you have figured out how much you are each prepared to spend each month, ask your teens to help you shop around. This is homework they may actually want to do! The plan and phone that’s best will allow them to stay within the plan limits and have most of the features they are looking for. Shop around to get the best deal and avoid unnecessary features that can add up.

Despite what the ads might say, cell phones aren’t really free. A service provider will give you a cell phone provided you sign a contract and commit to monthly payments during your contract – which might be as long as 3 years. If you want the newest phone and greatest features, be prepared to pay more each month.

Don’t Ignore the Fine Print

Read through the contract carefully and understand the number of minutes and/or data included each month, how the time is calculated, free calling periods and text messaging. Any contract will need to be in an adult’s name, affecting their credit rating if payments aren’t made as agreed. Find out what cancellation charges would be if there’s a chance your teen may move away from home, like for school or to take a gap year travelling, before a term is up. Then something without a contract might be better.

Related: Unlocked iPhone - Deal or No Deal?

Seize the Moment

This is a fantastic time to talk to your teens about needs and wants and how to pay for each. After all, there’s no point having a phone they can’t afford to use.

Up Next: What Teens Should Know Before Buying Their First Car