Sense & Centsibility Blog

Smartphones: Can They Be Too Smart?

First, I have to get this out of the way: I LOVE my smartphone. There are so many different things I can do with it. I can make lists, play games, check my email, and stay connected with friends and family via social media, texting - and even sometimes through a phone call.

My husband and I pay for 6 gigs of data and have unlimited phone calls and text messages. Since we don’t have a home phone and share the bill, we can definitely justify this expense – as long as there aren’t any other added expenses along the way.


I recently started playing a very popular game. I admit it…I’m slightly addicted and I got my husband addicted, too. It’s basically a puzzle game with many, many levels - some of which can take days to get to the next level because you get stuck and have to start the level over again. You can unlock items that will help you pass levels. In other games, these “boosters” or “power-ups” can be free or you can pay if you don’t want wait to earn more as time goes by.

Being selectively frugal, I have always told myself I’m not going to pay excessive fees for games that are technically free – or even pay for apps when there are literally thousands of free apps out there. Because I thought there may be free “boosters” in this puzzle game, I opened one up and it was $39.99. Say what?! Wow was all I could think, knowing that some people probably pay that. The other ones were less – $0.99 and $1.99. But if I used even just the $0.99 booster for one level twice per week, that would add up to $8 for the month, or $95 per year…for a “free” game.


After I found out there were fees, I obviously never attempted to use a booster again. However, I accidentally hit one of them one day and it opened up. Because I had touched the screen twice, it then went to the payment screen. I was appalled to find out that with a touch of a button, I could pay for the booster by having it charged automatically to my cell phone bill. The reality hit me that the creators of these games are brilliant.


As we all know, there are a lot of supposedly free games/apps out there that want to get you hooked so you’ll pay money – and many people do. If you want to avoid additional charges, here are my suggestions:

  1. Only play free games. That’s an easy one, right? Keep reading…
  2. Be prepared to be frustrated if you can’t easily pass a level.
  3. If you want to keep playing and you’ll get charged if you do, try to be patient and distract yourself with something else until you can play again for free.
  4. For those that are easily tempted (and where you have the option, such as a jukebox app), don’t set up your phone apps to automatically charge your credit card. Making it a little more difficult for yourself will likely save you some money. When you’re sitting at a bar and grill, do you really want to take the time to enter credit card information on your phone? I don’t.
  5. If you have children, monitor closely what games they’re playing and if there are potential charges if they just keep hitting buttons. You don’t want an accidental $40 charge to your cell phone bill.

Remember that little charges here and there can add up quickly and if those fees don’t fit in your budget, they could create undue stress by causing you to miss a payment on something much more important (such as your mortgage).This seems relatively simple, but depending on your mood or the time of the day, you might be tempted to just pay the small fee in a “free” app here and there because you’re bored and it’s “only 99 cents”. Being aware is half the battle; so use the tips above to save you some cash.

Want more tips to save money? Check out 4 Simple Ways to Save Money.

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Author Elaina Johannessen is a Financial Counseling Supervisor with LSS Financial Counseling.