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The Long Goodbye: Your Kid's Cellphone Bill

Cheering their new grads at college commencements this month, parents will likely give another hurrah: No more tuition! But there's another cost that might well linger on for parents of high school and college grads: the cellphone bill.

Cell phone and dollars
Berkay KOZ

A Wall Street Journal survey last year found that about 40 percent of parents of 18- to 35-year-old children still pay for their cellphone service, and 29 percent continue to do so even after their kids have moved out and pay their own rent.

Our own impromptu survey found two reasons parents keep an adult child on a family plan. The first is the cost. The Wall Street Journal estimated that opening a new account can cost two to four times as much as adding a line to the family account. Cutting the cell cord of an adult child on the family plan saves parents about $50 a month. Some parents who pay the cell service bill automatically on a credit card might not even notice the savings.

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The other reason is more emotional than economic. If adult children are working hard and could use a little financial help, what's the point of demanding they get their own cell service? With an average starting salary of just over $45,000 for 2013 grads, many young adults struggle with rent, commuting, food and other expenses. If parents can afford it, that $50 can seem a small way to help out.

My daughter, still on the family plan, lives three states away, sometimes working 12 or more hours a day to get established in her field. That extra $50 makes a difference in her monthly budget, and it's my way of showing support.

There does come a time (yes, it happens) when an adult child makes a good salary and could be cut loose. My middle child can afford his own plan, but instead of throwing him off mine, we now have an arrangement for him to pay me back annually for the cost of his phone service. I get a nice check, strategically calendared right before the holidays, and he saves some money over a single plan.

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And who knows, someday when he has his own family plan, maybe I'll join his!

Mary W. Quigley's blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.


Photo: photo smart/iStockphoto


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