My husband works in the technology industry and I was in the information technology sector prior to becoming a mom, so it is only natural that our family embraces technology. We are definitely early adopters, and if you look around the house, you’ll find a bevy of electronics. From mobile phones to laptops and gaming systems to hi-tech televisions, we’ve got it all.
I think my love of technology is rooted in my childhood. When I was a child, I remember going to the electronics store to buy a VCR for the first time; my first job was even in a video rental store. It wasn’t just the VCR, though. We had a home computer system well before any of my friends did. As far as technology went – that’s about the end of the line. A high-tech household had a television, a VCR, a hi-fi stereo setup and a computer.
Today, there are so many more options and the costs can quickly add up. Paul Reynolds, electronics editor at Consumer Reports, told Yahoo! Finance, “The hardware costs have come way down, but that hardware needs care and feeding, and services. And those add up to a lot, probably more than we pay for the device, over the years that we own it.”
After reading the article, I decided to break it down and see just how much it costs to maintain all of these fun, fancy electronics.
As the Yahoo! Finance article points out, televisions these days cost less than they did a few decades ago but we replace them more frequently. My parents had a heavy old console TV for decades; the longest I’ve owned a single television set is about eight years. Technology changes and consumers, in general, want the latest and greatest.
We aren’t just replacing our TVs more often; consumers also own more televisions. When I was a child, we were a one-TV household for many years and eventually added a second set. I have four TVs in my house right now. There is a large flat-screen TV in our living room, another TV in the media room and both my husband and I have televisions in our offices. We are a four-person household with four TVs. Just typing that makes me feel silly.
So, what’s the cost of our excessive TV setup? About $3,300.
Computers, laptops and tablets
My husband and I both work from home – something that is not possible in our industry without a computer or laptop and Internet connectivity. We have both – desktop-based systems and laptops. The kids also have computers – they use them for schoolwork, learning future job skills (my son learned HTML this summer) and of course for fun (Minecraft anyone?)
In addition to his home computer, my son also has a laptop — in his case, the new Google Chromebook. Students at his school are allowed to use laptops or tablets for note-taking and schoolwork. The Chromebook is great because it is small, lightweight and cloud-based so any work he does at school is available at home, and vice-versa.
Continuing the mobile computing theme, let’s discuss tablets. The tablet market includes the iPad, Google Nexus, Kindle Fire HD and many more mobile products. Tablets run the price gamut – from less than $100 to more than $800, depending on the brand and functionality.
We aren’t a standard household when it comes to computer equipment, so I won’t add up our expenditures but a family can quickly spend over $1,500 on one computer, one laptop and one tablet.
I survived without a cellphone for the first 22 years of my life so why does it feel like I couldn’t survive without one now? My cellphone keeps me in touch with friends and family and keeps my life running smoothly. The calendar on my phone syncs to my iPad and my home computer system, if there is an event in my calendar, I won’t forget about it. If it isn’t there, don’t count on me to remember.
Both of my children have phones, as well. When I upgraded to the iPhone 5 last year, I gave my son my iPhone 4. Shortly thereafter, we purchased an iPhone 4 for my daughter. I know that this is where I will get some flack — why would both of my kids need cellphones, much less smartphones?
In my opinion, cellphones are an integral part of being a tween or teen in today’s inter-connected world. They communicate with their friends via text, share pictures with friends and family while out-of-town on vacation and most importantly, all of their information syncs with my information. I know what is on my son’s calendar and his to-do list. I know what photos and videos they are taking and I know where that phone is at all times (thanks Find iPhone!)
Now that I’m off my ‘my kids need their phones’ soap box, let’s look at the costs. A new iPhone runs $199, my son’s phone was free and my daughter’s was $0.99 with a 2-year subscription. I pay $30/month for data plans on each of their phones and our total cellphone bill is right at $210/month.
I’ve been gaming since the days of Pong. I remember sitting in the living room staring with amazement at that heavy old console TV mentioned above when Pong loaded for the first time. I’m still a gamer today. That one little console launched a nearly $15 billion industry. According to The Entertainment Software Association, (PDF), consumers spent $14.8 billion on video games in 2012. This is down from peak spending of $16.9 billion in 2010.
Prices on video game consoles run the gamut – from a $70 refurbished original Wii to more than $500 for the upcoming PlayStation 4. The costs don’t stop there, though. While today’s video game consoles double as DVD players and Internet entertainment portals, you still have to buy the games. New release games generally run from $50 to $65, more if you purchase a special edition.
The mobile gaming industry can also get pricey. A new handheld Nintendo 3DS runs right around $200 and the PlayStation Vita is even pricier at $250. Again, you have to purchase games for these systems and at $30 a pop, the costs add up.
The use of technology hasn’t just changed, the way that we pay for this technology has also changed. It seems that everything these days is subscription-based. You don’t just buy the television, adjust the antenna and get on with your viewing. Now, you buy the television, call the local cable company and pay them for the privilege of watching shows. It is not unheard of to hear of cable bills topping $200 per month.
Gaming is the same way. That fancy new Xbox you just purchased works on its own but if you want to play Kinect Sports bowling with two people instead of one or three, you need to have a subscription to Xbox Live that costs $60 per year or more, depending on your subscription plan.
One of the comments on the Yahoo! Finance article sums up the subscription situation well, “This article highlights one of the greatest scams in the history of American business. What they're describing is the substitution of leasing instead of outright ownership of anything relating to "content." Kids today grow up accepting the concept of leasing their phone access, data access, entertainment choices are leased monthly.”
Ways to cut costs
The good news is that there are many ways to mitigate the costs, even if you are a tech-centric family.
- Ditch the cable and use a free or low-cost streaming television service like Hulu Plus
- Use prepaid cellphones
- Use the same provider for all of your family’s cellphone subscriptions
- Bundle your Internet, cellphone service and cable with a single provider
- Buy used – used gaming systems, games, TV systems, phones and more will reduce your tech-related expenses
But, as Lillian L. said in her comment on the Yahoo article, “All of the things mentioned in this article are NOT "necessities." Therefore, the extra cost is because a family has chosen to pay for them.”
She’s right, they aren’t necessities but these costs are a modern family’s reality. My parents didn’t have all of these costs when I was a kid; I can only imagine how the technology and entertainment industry will change by the time I have grandchildren.
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