small change toward a rich life

Text message insanity, part one

If you have a teen in your house, you’re likely already aware of what I’m about to tell you: this texting thing is way out of control.

We have a fifteen-year-old. Nearly every conversation Jak and I have with her involves a variation of the phrase, “Michaela, put your phone away and listen to me.” She can send five text messages in the time it takes me to utter half a sentence. Of course, you may have noticed that pithiness is not my strong suit, whereas her messages may be only five or six characters long and contain minimal semantic content. But still, the sheer volume is … impressive.

We didn’t buy her a cell phone. Jak and I discussed it, but I’d read a lot of stories about teens and their shockingly high texting bills. My position was that we could gift her a phone but she would first have to be prepared to pay her own phone bill — we weren’t going to add her to ours.

Unfortunately, this decision was trumped by grandparents, who provided Michaela with a cell phone and a line on their own plan. I cringed, but chose not to fight the fait accompli. Sure enough, she blew through her allotted 400 messages and started racking up the extra per-text charges to the tune of $50 per month. After a couple months of this, the grandparents put their foot down: control it or lose the phone.

I thought this would be a good time for Michaela to learn an economic lesson, but this was foiled again when she talked her mother into getting her a new, cooler phone and switching her to her mom’s plan. Mom, being at least one step ahead of the grandparents, signed Michaela up for unlimited text messaging, for which Michaela is supposed to reimburse her each month. I hear the reimbursement isn’t going so well, but at least she’s not racking up several dollars a day on overage.

Which brings us to this news: wireless companies have noticed the teen obsession with texting and are responding by … raising the price. When Michaela was spending about an extra $50 per month last year, that was at .10 per message. Since then Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon have all doubled their rates to .20. Now T-Mobile is quietly informing its customers that as of August 29, they will follow suit. Here’s a table comparing current rates (with T-Mobile’s upcoming increase indicated):

Major U.S. Wireless Carriers: A La Carte Text Message Rates
  National International
  send receive send receive
Sprint 20¢ 20¢ 20¢ 20¢
AT&T 20¢ 20¢ 25¢ 15¢
Verizon 20¢1 20¢1 25¢ 20¢
T-Mobile 15¢ → 20¢2 15¢ → 20¢2 35¢ → ?? 15¢ → 20¢?

1 Includes Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, & Virgin Islands

2 Includes Canada

This doesn’t even cover photo and video messaging, which are invariably more expensive. If you have a teen on your shared plan, there’s really only one option: get a flat-rate unlimited text package. Here are the offerings from the Big Four wireless companies:

  • Sprint: $20/month unlimited
  • AT&T: $20/month unlimited
  • Verizon doesn’t currently offer a true unlimited plan; for $20/month they’ll give you unlimited messages to other Verizon customers, and 5000 for everyone else. (If you can’t imagine anyone texting that much, you should read this article.)
  • T-Mobile: $15/month unlimited. No official word yet on whether this will rise in August to $20 as well, but I would be shocked if it didn’t.

Of course, you could try to enforce a hard limit on text messages with your teen, but be prepared for a pitched battle if you do. If ours is any indication, the suggestion that one stop texting will be received much like the suggestion that one stop breathing.

In part two, I’ll discuss some options for those of us with more reasonable texting habits, along with some scary text message statistics.

(Photos by Sarah R and williamhartz.)


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