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The one thing your kids don’t know about tech that’s costing you money

04.22.15
cellular data

They may be programming their own music, coding their own games and texting faster than seems humanly possible, but your kids don’t know everything about tech. And what they don’t know can cost you.

So, what’s the costly tech mistake that your kids are probably making? [highlight] It’s using cellular data when they should be using Wi-Fi. [/highlight] If you’re not sure what the difference is, you’re in good company because this is a common mistake among grown-ups, too. Let’s figure this out.

Cellular Data vs. Wi-Fi

Both are ways to access the internet, but using cellular data means accessing the cellular towers run by your cellular provider (you know, the one that you curse when your call gets dropped). You use Wi-Fi when you connect to a “hot spot,” in a cafe or airport or shopping mall or anywhere else where they offer the ability to use free Internet to attract customers.  When you’re at home, you’re usually using the Wi-Fi in your house. When you’re standing on a street corner making a call or checking a map, generally speaking, you’re using cellular. Cellular data transmits to phones and to some smart devices, including iPads. Wi-Fi transmits to all smart devices. So if you’re on a smartphone, you can use either one.

Why Cellular Data is Expensive

If you’ve got an unlimited cellular plan, you’re golden. For the rest of us, we’re charged by our usage per minute, and then the overage fees begin. I don’t have to tell you that those get pretty pricey, pretty fast. So if your kids start downloading music or checking Facebook at a friend’s house, in a restaurant or anywhere else without first signing on to a Wi-Fi network, they’ll be using cellular… and the minutes start ticking. So even a quick League of Legends game can rack up a legendary bill. But if your kids play the same game on the Wi-Fi network, no matter how long they play, it won’t cost you a thing. (Side note: this is especially important if you travel abroad, where cellular data roaming charges can be absurdly expensive. Downloading a song or an image could cost you $100. Streaming a video… you don’t want to know. If you’re traveling abroad, turn off cellular data before you touch down, or install a local SIM card.)

How to save on data fees

Easy fix: be sure everyone in the family logs on to a Wi-Fi network wherever and whenever possible. At a coffee house? Ask for the password. Visiting a friend? Get them to sign you on. Visionaries such as Elon Musk are currently brainstorming satellites that could transmit ultra-cheap global Wi-Fi (and fund a city on Mars, to boot), so Wi-Fi will be everywhere, and high cellular data bills can become a thing of the past. But for now, you’ll need to look for Wi-Fi to be sure you aren’t getting charged. If Wi-Fi isn’t available… tell your kids to keep the games short and the calls brief.  Financial advisors teach parents to talk to their kids about money and bills, to get them acclimated early to how much things cost. I think it’s a great idea to [highlight] go over the monthly cellphone bill your with kids [/highlight] , and point out expensive moments, and have them try it together so they don’t happen again in the future.

In my house

My son did not get a cell phone until middle school, when he started carpooling and going places after school on his own. And it took a good year of reminders and cell phone bill viewings before he really internalized that thought process about what he was doing on his phone (making a call, sending a text, watching a YouTube video, downloading a song) and how we, his parents, were being charged for it. My daughter who is 10, only has an iPod with no cellular capabilities, and until she’s in middle school, that’s all she’ll have. So she only can be online via Wi-Fi, which is teaching her this distinction from an early age.

 Are your kids cellular vs. Wi-Fi savvy? Have you run into these issues? Let me know in the comments!

Author: Carley Knobloch

Carley Knobloch is a digital lifestyle expert and a regular contributor on the Today Show and CNN. She’s also a home automation expert and host for HGTV, where makes home technology easy, approachable and fun. Carley has been featured in Real Simple, Allure, and Bloomberg Businessweek. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband, two kids, springer spaniel, and myriad smartphones.

2 comments on “The one thing your kids don’t know about tech that’s costing you money”

  1. The trick that worked for my teenagers? Making sure they downloaded a free app that tracks Data Usage. When they near their limit we turn data off for games, chats, etc. They pain of being without data part of the month has caused them to be more aware of how much they use and when. It’s been 3 months and they’ve not gone over once! It’s a miracle!
    No seriously. It is.

    1. Stephanie— That is just as much a miracle as any I’ve ever heard! Please share which app you’re using. Love this story!

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