It's only a matter of time when your young child starts begging for a cellphone. While there's no absolute rule as to when a cell phone begins to be age-appropriate, a Pew Research study found that most parents buy their child a phone for the first time around 12 or 13 years old. In fact, 58% of 12-year-olds carry a cellphone today, up from just 18% in 2004.
If you feel the time is right, here are some responsible and affordable options for kids, tweens and teens.
Kids age 6-11
For grade school children, no need for a smart phone. But for basic communication with family or emergencies consider a Pay As You Go plan.
"There's a dollar or two access fee per day and its 25 cents a minute," Michael Gilkas, senior electronics editor at Consumer Reports.
"This is for the grade school kid who isn't using their phone socially yet, but makes a couple calls to Mom once or twice a week. On a pay as you go plan, you'll pay a steep per minute charge -- roughly $1 for the connection and 25 cents per minute after that - but overall this will be far cheaper than a standard plan, it might only cost you $10 per month and that's a lot cheaper than any other type of plan."
Tweens age 10-13
However, for a child that makes more than a few calls a week, consider a prepaid or no-contract plan, offered by all the major carriers, as well as companies that specialize in prepaid plans like Virgin Mobile and Metro PCS. There's also Kajeet, a cellphone company just for kids that offers plans starting at just $5 per month.
"In fact, prepaid plans are great for most people, especially those who make fewer than 400 voice minute calls a month. They can save $20 a month or even more, maybe even cut their phone bill by half," says Gilkas.
Teens age 14-17
Middle schoolers, too, can benefit from a budget phone - like a flip or slider - but at this age, also consider adding unlimited texting - not to be confused with data, since data is really only necessary for smart phones.
Experts say let your kids prove they're responsible with a prepaid, no-contract phone first, then consider trading up. If your tween is begging for latest smart phone, experts say steer clear.
"It may be a bit risky to put a marquee phone in the hands of a middle schooler because they're so expensive to replace," says Gilkas. "You'll find that inexpensive smart phones can do just about anything expensive ones do. Cell carriers are a lot better now about warning you when you're reaching the end of your data allowance, but there's a lot parents can do to check. There's an app on the phone for example that will show you how much time you have or how much data you have left. You can also check on the website by logging into your account."
But by far teens demand the most consideration when choosing a cell phone plan, including minutes, text and data. "It's been shown that teenagers favor apps, data and texting over voice calls. Your best bet is to go with an unlimited prepaid plan," says Gilkas. For example, Virgin Mobile plans start as low as $35 a month for unlimited text, data and no contract.
Another way to save on texting is to download the TextFree app, offering free texting in exchange for watching a few ads.
Now, if what you're looking for is convenience, a family plan - which lets you share data, minutes and messaging - may be the way to go. But which carriers are the most affordable? U.S. Cellular offers one of the lowest-priced family plans-$190 a month for two basic and two smart phones, including 2,000 voice minutes, unlimited messages, and 4GB of data. Credo Mobile offers a similar price and limits and Verizon comes in 3rd pricing that plan at $210. However it's Sprint that tops the list as one of the most expensive - their comparable family plan is $230 a month.
To help keep your usage in check, encourage your family to use any and all available WiFi - which does not count against your data usage and, when you get home, make sure to switch over to your wireless connection. Fix your settings so it connects you automatically, or, apps like EasyWifi will find you hotspots around town.
We want to hear from you: what are some ways you're saving on child's cell plan? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the #FinFit.