Smartphones: As important as deodorant?

thSome people are a bit too e-connected: carrying their smartphones around like fifth limbs, endlessly checking their screens, ignoring their children in favor of cat photos or an updated Facebook status.

The recent Bank of America “Trends in Consumer Mobility Report” indicates just how wired some of us have become. Nine out of 10 respondents said their smartphones are just as important to their daily lives as deodorant and toothbrushes.

I see a distinct difference: If you forget to use the phone your coworkers won’t look trapped when you enter their cubicles.

Just 7 percent of respondents find it annoying when someone checks a phone during mealtime. Personally, I think that unless you’re waiting for the transplant center to call about that kidney, you should back away from the phone now and then. Meals eaten with other people are an excellent place to start.

If they had to give something up to be able to get access to a cellphone, the majority of respondents (45 percent) said “alcohol.” Which, of course, would solve the problem of drunk-dialing.

Chocolate and shopping were the other highest-ranked sacrifices, at 34 percent and 22 percent, respectively.

As for frequency of cellphone checks throughout the day, 35 percent say they check it “constantly.” Even at mealtimes, apparently.

Blue denim theory

The NerdWallet personal finance site has come up with a rather novel cost of living gauge: the Back-to-School Jeans Index

Based on the average cost of boys’ blue denim jeans (brands such as Lee, Levi’s or Wrangler in sizes 8-20), the study gauges “differences in affordability” across the United States. When median income is compared to a region’s denim cost,  the resulting jeans index shows just how fortunate (or screwed) you are.

The cheapest jeans ($11.13) were in Harlingen, Texas, and the most expensive ($39.99) in Providence, Rhode Island. Factoring cost plus income, it’s six times more expensive to buy your kid’s jeans in Providence (where you could afford only 850 pairs) than in Harlingen (2,726 pairs).

Nationwide, the median price is $21.47 while the median household income is $51,371. That translates to 2,393 pairs of jeans. Of course, you’d want to save some money for little things like food, shelter and retirement. And for shirts, shoes and socks, unless you want your kid sent home from school.

How many jobs do you need?

The multiple-jobholding rate in the United States has slowly declined or remained flat since 1996, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average is that 4.9 percent of U.S. residents hold two or more jobs.

I happen to live in one of the states whose rate increased: from 6.1 percent in 2012 to 6.7 percent in 2013. But at least we’re not Vermont, where the numbers went from 8.6 to 8.8, or South Dakota, where numbers dropped but are still high: from 9.5 to 8.9.

Every state in the West North Central Census division (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota) had rates that were noticeably higher than the national average. So did all but one of the states in the Pacific division and all but two states in the New England division.

The BLS didn’t offer explanations. Here’s what I think:

  • Good jobs are hard to find and/or you’re in a line of work that pays out only part of the year (hunting guide, farmer).
  • It costs more to live in colder places than warm ones. Five of the eight states with rates significantly lower than the national average were in the South.

In addition, these figures don’t include under-the-table work. Plenty of people who have more month than money get by with help from moonlighting: yard work, babysitting, housecleaning, and buying and selling items.

I once interviewed a guy who made a pretty penny by claiming dead mowers, snowblowers and the like from alongside Dumpsters or from the “free” section of Craigslist. He fixed them up (usually it was as simple as changing the spark plugs) and then sold them – you guessed it! – on Craigslist.

Did he report the income? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s pretty easy to get away with not reporting the profit from side hustles. An economist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates the “underground economy” was as much as  $2 trillion last year. Some believe that these unreported dollars are what’s keeping the economy afloat in the short term.

A lot of folks wouldn’t be able to make ends meet without those cash influxes, no matter how many jobs they officially hold. The last thing they want to do is pay taxes on their irregular income. When you’re working in minimum-wage or seasonal labor, it can be hard to stay abreast of basic expenses, like heating oil. Or blue jeans.

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  1. Those statistics about smartphones are crazy. When you are looking at your phone during a meal, you are saying to the people you are dining with that whatever you are doing on the phone is more important than visiting with them. My husband makes a living in the technology industry and my kids are all about their devices, but we have a few guidelines. There’s a time and a place for everything, right? I like my phone, too, but people come first.

    • Donna Freedman

      If I had kids at home, the table would be a no-phone zone. End of story. And if a teacher called to tell me s/he had confiscated my child’s phone during class? I’d lock up the phone for at least two weeks. Certain things command (or should command) all of one’s attention.

      • Even with 2 college-age kids at home, the dinner table is still a no-tech, no-TV zone. Some things are non-negotiable.

  2. I agree with you on the phones during meals. That is a big no no in my world. People still need to know how to talk to each other, especially families.

    I shut my phone off when I got to bed. I used an old flip phone for an alarm and it has no access as a phone. I was leaving it on when my mother was dying. I also had permission at work to have it on my desk on vibrate during that time. Where I work, phones are not allowed to be on your desk. They can only be used on breaks and lunch. I have no issues with that, but was happy they made an exception when mom was so sick.

  3. Catseye

    My basic flip phone is for emergencies only. I still prefer talking on my land line but may have to give it up soon to save money.
    I can’t be plugged in to technology the entire time I’m awake, I’d lose my freakin’ mind! Besides that, I enjoy face time with people, why would I constantly want to monitor my phone?

    • Donna Freedman

      Right there with you: My cell is a burn phone from a discount store. It costs $2 a day if I use and nothing if I don’t. (Hint: I can go weeks without using it.)
      Since I work at home I simply don’t need the bells and whistles. When I’m out and about, or on the road, all I need is to be able to be reached.

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