What your phone addiction is really costing you


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While easy to dismiss or ridicule, digital addiction is real and rampant. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes a condition called NOMOPHOBIA, an acronym that stands for NO MObile PHone PhoBIA. The NIH describes the phenomenon as “a psychological condition when people fear being cut off from cell phone connectivity.”

While it can be extreme, even digital addiction to garden varieties affects the same parts of the brain as traditional vices like drugs – and it comes with many of the same telltale signs. Phone addicts, for example, usually admit that they spend too much time online and that it’s not good for them. Although they consciously want to make a change, they are subconsciously forced to repeat the same destructive behavior over and over again.

Compulsive checking of social media, news and messages has resulted in a measurable increase in car crashes, depression and anxiety, but what is it really costing you in terms of money, time and productivity wasted?

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Americans are glued to their phones

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans check their smartphones between 50 and 80 times a day, swiping or tapping more than 2,600 times between sunrises. Data from Pew Research shows that young people, in particular, are more likely than not to wake up with their phones in the morning and look at a bright screen as the last thing they do before falling asleep at night.

According to PsychGuides, a resource from the American Addictions Center:

  • 71% of people sleep with or next to their phone
  • More than three times more people wake up thinking about their phone than they wake up thinking about loved ones
  • Nearly half of young adults aged 18-24 have fallen asleep with their phones in their hands
  • Almost 40% never log out of their phone, even on vacation
  • 44% say they can’t imagine spending a day without their phone

Like all addictions, your phone habit is expensive

Reviews.org has calculated how much the average American will spend over a 78-year lifetime on their digital habits. Here is an overview of the results:

  • Mobile plans: $ 50 per month, $ 602 per year, $ 36,445 in a lifetime
  • The Internet: $ 57 per month, $ 687 per year, $ 41,591 in a lifetime
  • Diffusion: $ 39 per month, $ 479 per year, $ 29,030 in a lifetime

An Internet connection is a necessity, not a luxury, for most American families, and streaming media subscriptions generally cost the same no matter how much you watch or listen to.

But mobile data plans – the fuel that makes all device addictions possible – are different. They work on a pay-per-use basis: the more data you use, the more money you spend.

If you could reduce your digital addiction, you could save a lot of money by reducing your data plan. For example, Verizon’s cheapest option is a 5GB prepaid plan starting at $ 25 per month. Hardcore data junkies, on the other hand, could opt for the Get More Unlimited plan at $ 90 for a single line.

So the difference between the cheapest and the most expensive plans is $ 65 per month – or $ 780 per year.

See: 9 bills you should never put on auto-pay

Distracted workers are unproductive workers

The direct costs of obsessive scrolling, checking, posting and reading are easy to calculate by looking at the price of data plans. The indirect costs of device addiction, on the other hand, are more difficult to quantify, but they are just as real.


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Research published in Science Direct in 2017 – 10 years after Apple launched the world’s first smartphone – found a link between device addiction and poor performance at work.

Even though workers don’t spend a lot of time hanging out on their phones, checking their devices frequently makes them “unable to achieve a state of fluency at work.” The researchers described “flow” as “a state in which we are fully absorbed in an activity, forgetting about space and time, yet being very productive.”

A study by recruiting firm Robert Half found that the average worker spends 56 minutes a day on their phone for non-work activities – nearly five hours lost per week.

Read more: 40 money habits that can leave you broke

Influencers and advertisers want you to be where you are – on your phone

As early as 2015, USA Today reported on the link between prolonged phone use and overspending – all the makings of splurging, after all, are there in your hand.

You could find inspiration for a pair of boots on Pinterest, for example. Soon after viewing it, you will be bombarded with advertisements for that exact make and model. A few social media swipes could lead you to an influencer flaunting that same pair of shoes, triggering the desire to follow the Joneses. With in-app purchases, you don’t even have to leave your social network to buy something that would otherwise be window-shopping – and your digital wallet lets you complete the transaction without ever putting your phone down.

It’s not just ads that drive impulse buying. A CNBC report documented the link between excessive mobile use and impulse spending. The report found that social media tends to make people – especially Generation Z’s young people – feel unsuitable for their lives because of the glamorous lifestyles they see portrayed online. Their response is to try to navigate their way into the illusion of having achieved the same lifestyle.

It never works. They found themselves broke, glued to their phones, and headed for the next purchase.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. Award winning writer Andrew was once one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the nation’s largest newspaper union, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business editor for amNewYork, the top-circulating newspaper in Manhattan, and as the editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication central to the Wall Street investor community in New York.


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