You Don't Become An Adult Until You're Off Your Family's Phone Plan


There are so many different milestones on the path to becoming a young adult: begin a retirement savings plan, leave your parents’ health insurance, get engaged, get married, buy a car or house on your own, rent a car by yourself, and, of course, realize you’re too exhausted by Friday night to hit the bars like you once did.

As 20-somethings, most of us can relate to at least a couple of these achievements. Still, there’s one more that very few are willing to do:

Leave the family cell phone plan.

Let’s get this straight: we voluntarily drop thousands of dollars on engagement rings, weddings, and mortgages, but the idea of paying $80 a month for a smartphone with a data plan?

Out of the question.

Perhaps the family plan is an unspoken bond between child and parent that no one wants to break. A recent poll from Harris Interactive found that two in five parents of 18 to 35-year-old offspring pay for their kids’ cell phone service.

Mom and dad like to have one final way to support us, and, well, we like to be supported.

Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal does a great job exploring the issue in a recent column called: "What’s the Netflix Password Again, Mom"?

Shellenbarger says it’s common for families to share (or parents to pay entirely for) the cost of tech products like smartphones, Netflix, and iTunes.

But is there a point in which 20-somethings should go solo on cell phones?

I argue that yes, there is.

The decision to leave the family plan — or not have your parents pay your own plan — has less to do with age and more with means. If you can afford a cell phone plan of your own, then you should cut ties with the ‘rents.

The family plan is the last vestige of your former life, the one when you depended on your parents for food, shelter and a few bucks to see a movie. In our digital-everything world, it’s the final cord we need to cut.

Otherwise, we end up in conversations like this one:

Of all the fake (and hilarious) videos on The Onion, this one seems most plausible in real life. A 29-year-old shouldn’t chide his mother for missing a cell phone payment, but the conversation probably happens all the time. 

In the WSJ article, a psychology professor calls the family plan a "symbolic bond." Mom and Dad know that once we take ownership of the payments, that’s it. We’re all grown up, and there’s no going back.

We all reach life milestones (i.e. get hitched, buy property) at our own pace, and no one should judge who does what and when.

But if you want to declare to the world right now that you are a young adult, there’s one thing you need to do.

Cut the cord.