Money Talks, So Should You

Quarter-Life Chronicle: Are mom and dad still paying your cell phone bill?

Abby Dalton
by Abby Dalton , Dimespring 30

I am a member of an online forum for alumni of my alma mater, which makes for some interesting internet lurking. It’s a place for young women (I attended a women’s college) to rant, inquire and just discuss topics ranging from the inane to the political. It’s also a great place to get a small sampling of current trends among 20-somethings, so I recently posed the question — “How many of you have cell phone bills that are paid by your parents?”

It’s a topic that I’ve seen coming up more and more lately, and one that I hadn’t given much thought to before. I’ve paid my own cell phone bill since I started carrying one around, but I see why parents paying this bill could remain a strange holdover into adulthood.

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My husband, for instance, is still on his parents’ cell phone plan because it makes their bill cheaper. But when we got married, I insisted that he start reimbursing his mother for the cost of his bill — something about being a married adult with an income who still had a bill covered by a parent just didn’t sit well with me. So once a year he sends a check for the (minimal, but nonetheless existent) cost.

There was a joke on the HBO show “Girls” about how you’re not really an adult if your parents pay for your Blackberry. I’ve skimmed some articles in the personal finance world where people discussed very adult things (paying for weddings, having jobs, etc.) and then offhandedly mentioned that their parents pay their phone bill. So, I wondered, how common is this among educated people of my generation?

Surprisingly common, I found. The situation is often similar to my husband’s — the daughter or son is on their parents’ plan, they move away; they don’t think about it, and their parents continue to pay. Some people insisted that their parents’ “wouldn’t take their money” when they tried to reimburse them.

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I realize it’s not really something that should bother me, but something about it does. As a generation that’s labeled as financially illiterate, or “perpetual adolescents,” shouldn’t we be capable of taking our cell phone bill into our own hands, particularly when we’re so attached to these smart phones?

Maybe it’s about getting your parents a gift card to a restaurant they frequent in the same amount as your bill if they refuse your financial reimbursement; maybe it’s about opening your own cell phone plan and literally cutting the cord. But I do wonder what it says about my generation that we’re finding it so hard to take this small step toward financial independence. 

Abby Dalton graduated with a BA in English and history in 2008. She’s worked in publishing and the non-profit sector, first in New York and now in the Boston area. She currently works on program coordination at a major university in the northeast, where her husband is a graduate student. They live with their cat, Norman. Abby is a member of the  Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.