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My teenage son's $1,055 cell phone bill

Am I the only dummy in the room who had no idea kids with cell phones love to text so much?

By Karen Datko Jul 23, 2010 11:24AM

This guest post comes from Len Penzo at Len Penzo dot Com.


We held out for as long as we could. We really did.


Despite an intense and relentless lobbying effort from my son, the Honeybee and I stayed strong and denied his repeated requests for a cell phone.


And, boy, were there a lot of requests.

I can't remember the exact day he first requested his own cell phone, but I am quite certain the first letters he learned in school weren't A-B-C. They were A-T-(T).


When Matthew turned 12 last year, we decided it was finally time to grant his wish. The only condition was that he had to pay us $25 per month to maintain his account. Knowing that he could easily earn $40 per month by simply mowing the lawn and doing chores around the house, Matthew readily agreed -- and so we got him his phone.


Three months and two missed payments later, Matthew's coveted phone was "repossessed" by the First National Bank of Dad for failure to fulfill his end of our contract. I know.

Fast-forward about a year later.


My son finally turned 13 a couple of months ago, so we decided to give him another chance -- even though he still has trouble managing his money. Since it was time for the Honeybee and me to replace our old cell phones anyway, we decided to upgrade our existing plan with T-Mobile and get some new phones in the process.


Matthew was ecstatic; he loved getting his phone back.

As for the Honeybee and me, we were pleased, too. In addition to getting new phones, it was actually nice being able to phone our son again when he was out playing in the nearby hills and it was time for him to come home for dinner.


Anyway, last week the Honeybee went out to the mailbox to get the mail. She told me she knew something wasn't right when she pulled our phone bill out of the mailbox and saw that T-Mobile didn't send it in a smallish envelope as they usually do. It was curiously packaged in one of those oversized 9-by-12-inch envelopes instead.


She grew even more concerned after she felt the monster package and knew it contained more than just a couple of sheets of paper.


Her hope was that our carrier was including more information on the new plan we'd signed up for a month ago.


Unfortunately, what she found was a phone bill that would have been 141 pages if it had been stuffed into their usual smaller-sized envelopes, but T-Mobile decided to save a small forest by copying and condensing all of those pages onto 42 unfolded sheets of regular 8.5-by-11-inch paper. Front and back.


Buried somewhere within all those pages were the ugly details:

  • Monthly recurring charges: $136.99.
  • Taxes and other charges: $17.61.
  • Usage charges: $900.60.
  • Text messages sent: 2,276 (2,052 of them by Matthew, God love him.)
  • Text messages received: 2,131.

For those of you who aren't counting at home, let's see: That’s . . .  14, pi-r-squared, carry the one, ah yes: $1,055.


And 20 cents.

I know what you're thinking: YGTBKM. Unfortunately, I'm not. But surely there had to be a good explanation, right?


Before I go any further, let me say that T-Mobile's customer-service department was phenomenal. They did a great job talking the Honeybee down from a narrow ledge outside our second-floor bedroom, convincing her that jumping from there would result in little more than a broken ankle anyway -- and then quickly assuring her that all the text charges would be removed from our bill.


It turns out that when we signed up for our new plan, T-Mobile had failed to note that our account had unlimited texting. As a result, they had mistakenly billed us for all 4,407 messages.




Still, I'm left with a few questions.

  • The billing period was 30 days. That means my son averaged 68.4 text messages per day. I think I've sent six text messages in my entire life. 
  • On the first day Matthew got his phone he sent roughly 180 messages -- even though I'm sure he couldn't have had the phone that day for more than six hours or so.  OMG. On average, that's a text message every other minute -- for six straight hours. I mean, come on. Really?
  • What information was my son conveying in those 2,052 texts aside from the frequent P911 warnings and occasional predictable admonitions to KPC -- keep parents clueless? On second thought, never mind. I don't think I really want to know.

Am I the only dummy in the room who had no idea kids with cell phones love to text so much? (Don't rub it in. That's a rhetorical question, folks.)

The moral of the story

If and when you finally do decide to give your child his own phone, short of blocking all text messages you would be wise to make sure that you get a plan with unlimited texting. We pay $20 per month for the option and as far as I'm concerned it's worth every penny.




More from Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:

Jul 30, 2011 11:42AM
That's nothing.  My 16 year old daughter sent over 10,000 text msgs a few months ago. And that is with daily limitations that the phone can only be used during non school hours, and gets turned off at 9 during the week.  So from 2-9 weekdays and from the time she got up until around 10pm weekends she sent over 10,000 text msgs.  THANK GOD for unlimited texting!
Jul 30, 2011 8:48AM
Good to know that T Mobile did right by you!! My teenage daughter has over 7000 texts per month (I still don't know how)!! and we too made sure we had ATT Unlimited texting on the plan! Best move we ever made!  
We balked at the decision to get her a phone as well, but she is active in sports, choir and church youth and if she needs to let us know she needs a ride or is stranded, injured, whatever... it helps! (seriously.. when is the last time YOU saw a pay phone??) It's not the right decision for all kids and parents, but it works for us and we don't complain!
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