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Do you remember the days when a household had one phone, sometimes on a very long telephone line so that you could move it from room to room? Do you remember when long-distance phone calls were cheaper on the weekend? When I was a college student, I had a prearranged time on the weekend to call my parents because I had to be in my dorm room for them to reach me. Phone calls were a luxury.

Today when I talk with people about needs versus wants, smart cellphones end up in the needs category. It’s not only young people who depend on cellphones; adults of all ages argue that cellphones are essential to stay in touch with family, find jobs and keep jobs.

According to the Pew Research Center’s report, Millennials stand out for their technology use, but older generations also embrace digital life, (Sept. 9, 2019), “More than nine-in-ten Millennials (93% of those who turn ages 23 to 38 this year) own smartphones, compared with 90% of Gen Xers (those ages 39 to 54 this year), 68% of Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 73) and 40% of the Silent Generation (74 to 91).”

Another smart mobile device, the tablet, is used more equally across generations. According to the Pew Research Center report, “55% of Gen Xers, 53% of Millennials and 52% of Boomers say they own tablets. A smaller share of Silents (33%) report owning tablets.”

Now instead of one phone per household, households often have two or more devices. If we consider all the different potential electronic devices for communicating, how many do you have in your household? Don’t forget laptops, smart watches, gaming systems and more!

There’s nothing wrong with having many smart mobile devices; I love my devices. However, it’s likely worth taking time to consider all the related costs and deciding if your money is being well spent. An average household spends about $1,400 a year on phone services such as phone cards and cell plans, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey. You may spend less or more than that. Do you know how much you spend?

To gain control on spending, it’s useful to think about related costs beyond the cellphone plan. For example, how much do you spend to replace old devices? Have you considered cost-saving strategies such as buying last year’s model or do you habitually buy the newest version?

Do you pay for related services such as subscriptions to movie services or apps? Some subscriptions now charge depending on how many screens you can watch at the same time. It’s easy for these expenses to creep up. Take time to review your subscriptions for cost-saving opportunities.

Warranties for the devices also can be expensive. Before buying warranties read the fine print carefully. What does the warranty specifically cover and are there limitations on how you can have the device repaired? Also, consider the cost of likely repairs versus the warranty cost before making a decision about purchasing an extended warranty.

How to handle purchases like these can lead to family debates: how much to spend, what age a child receives a cellphone, how many devices to purchase, etc.

Camaya Wallace Bechard, Illinois Extension Educator, and I debate these topics in our latest podcast. Family Financial Feuds is a podcast created by the Consumer Economics Team at the University of Illinois Extension. Each month we discuss a money topic that could create a financial feud in your household. You can find the podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes and Google Play.

Another local Extension resource is our Money Mentors program. Our next Money Mentor training begins Oct. 1 in Champaign. Are you looking for a volunteer opportunity that helps people move forward in their lives? Are you comfortable managing money? We’d love to have you join our University of Illinois Extension’s Money Mentor volunteer program. Mentor training consists of 30 hours of training beginning in October. Visit or call 217-333-7672 for more information and to register.