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This Week In Your Wallet: April 24, 2012

Is your cell phone bill too high? A few weeks ago, we asked TODAY show viewers to tell us the one thing they’re paying too much money for. The number one response was “cable,” but it was followed closely by “gas,” and, yes, “my cell phone.”

Perhaps this is why a Wall Street Journal article about a $10,000 cell phone bill caught my eye over the weekend. $10,000? How is that even possible?

As the mother of two teenagers, I’m no stranger to the pain of a high or high-than-expected cell phone bill. A recent Federal Communications Commission study shows I’m not alone: 1 in 6 Americans have experienced “bill shock,” something that is defined as a sudden and unexpected rise in a monthly cell phone bill. The FCC says that of the hundreds of bill shock complaints filed in the first half of 2010, 20 percent were for bills higher than $1,000, and one was even for (ready for this?) $68,505.

In many cases of extreme bill shock, it turns out the trifecta of smart phones, the data plans needed to run them and overseas traveling is to blame. We’ve always had to be mindful of roaming charges on minutes when traveling, but now we have to be extra careful, because there is such a thing as “data roaming.” Overseas for a business trip and you want to check the local weather on your phone? That eats up data, and will therefore cost you. See something spectacular and want to immediately upload a picture to the internet so all your friends and family can enjoy? That, too, will cost you. AT&T and Verizon charge up to $20 per megabyte of data used overseas, so you can see how easily it can all add up.

The good news is that there are some ways to prevent getting price-gouged while traveling. Here is what the Journal suggests:

For more tips on saving money on your cell phone bill, I encourage you to tune in to Cash Call tonight at 8pm ET. We’ll be talking savings strategies that you won’t want to miss. I’m also working on a TODAY show segment on this very topic, so if you’re nearing the end of your contract and looking for creative ways to save, shoot me an email at jean@jeanchatzky.com. I’ll try to help you out!

And now, here are the other headlines for the week:


Buying Behavior of Millennials

Millennials — that 16 to 34 age group — are often categorized as financially lazy, but a new study from the Boston Consulting Group reveals that this isn’t necessarily the case.  BCG found that this age group is much more engaged in rating products online (60 percent do this, versus 46 percent of the rest of the population), and much more likely to use a mobile device to read reviews and research products even while shopping in a store (50 percent versus 21 percent). They are also more likely to purchase a product whose proceeds support a cause. All in all, I’d say that these survey results are encouraging, because this is pretty good buying behavior!


In Which Wallets Open a Little Bit More

According to the New York Times, retail sales in March were up, and required debt-service payments (like credit card debt) are down. Some experts say that the strong retail sales in March might be due to the unseasonably warm weather we saw, but others say that increased spending is a result of Americans having paid down some debt. This is mostly good news, but if you’ve paid down debt and are feeling the need to start spending, I want to remind you of Money Rule #22: You can recover from any financial problem by saving more.


Pinning to Save Money

As some of you may know, I recently dipped my toe in the latest social media craze and set up a Pinterest account. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the site, but I’m finding it fun so far — and it seems as if I’m not the only one. A recent Daily Finance article shows that many people are using the site to find Do-It-Yourself tips for home goods and recipes that help them save significant money. The article profiled one woman who used tips on Pinterest to clean her couch herself (rather than paying an expert to do it), a move that saved her $100. This same woman found jewelry-making tips that allowed her to replicate a $400 necklace for just $20. So, if you’re looking for clever budgeting ideas, I encourage you to take a look!

Have a great week!


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