Our financial lives are a lot more complicated today than when I was growing up. With advances in technology have come countless financial products and tools to manage. Technology has also generated a number of new products and services that can cost us a small fortune each month. While each “advance” in technology may not seem overwhelming or unduly expensive, over time these advances can become all consuming. We’re like frogs slowing coming to a boil in a cauldron of water.
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So in a salute to the days when life was simpler, slower, and sublime, here are seven bills and fees my parents never had to pay.
1. Cell phone bill: It may be hard to believe, but yes there was a time when all phones were connected to a chord. There were no minutes to manage, data plans to consider, or texting. And best of all, you could detach from your job by leaving your office. Now your office goes everywhere you do.
2. Cable bill: We didn’t have cable when I was growing up, or a remote control for that matter. (For the younger crowd reading this, you had to stand up, walk over to the TV, and turn a knob to change the channel. Crazy, I know.) There were no NFL packages, premium channels, or HBO. And TV was FREE.
3. Internet bill: Before the Internet, there were of course no bills for high speed this or satellite that. We wrote letters or postcards to friends and family, particularly if calling them would be long distance. We didn’t mess with routers or wireless cards, and Twitter was what happened when distance aunts got together during the holidays.
4. Mutual Fund Fees: There were mutual funds when I was growing up, of course. Historians tell us the first mutual fund, at least by modern standards, dates back to the 1920s. But when I was growing up, my parents didn’t have to manage 401(k) or IRA accounts. They didn’t save for my education in a 529 plan. And a flexible spending account meant we could decide between dinner at McDonald’s or Burger King. Instead, investing meant relying on social security, pensions, and CDs for saving and retirement. Today, not only do we pay substantial fees to invest, we have been forced into managing investments many of us are not really qualified to manage.
5. Home equity line of credit fees: Each year we pay a $75 fee to our bank for the privilege of having an open line of credit secured by our home. The bank charges the fee for one simple reason—because it can. My parents never paid that fee because when I was growing up, nobody had a home equity line of credit. In fact, a second mortgage on a home was sign of extreme financial irresponsibility. Today it has become a mark of a “savvy” consumer.
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6. Credit card fees: One summer in high school two good friends and I spent six weeks at Brown University. We attended a program for high school students who wanted exposure to college level courses. When we arrived in Providence, my friend’s father who flew with us couldn’t rent a car. Why? He didn’t have a credit card! He paid for everything in cash. My parents didn’t have a Visa or a Master Charge (as it was called back then), either. And without credit cards, they never paid annual fees, late payment fees, over the limit fees, or interest charges.
7. ATM Fees: My parents never paid a fee to withdraw money from an ATM. Were they free back then? No, they didn’t exist. I still remember when Automated Teller Machines first came out. Most debit cards were either part of the Plus or Cirrus system, and neither system cooperated with the other. So if your ATM card was part of the Plus system, you could spend an hour in search of an ATM machine that would take your card. But in the simpler days when my parents needed cash, the bank teller handed it to them and stamped their passbook. And the bank manager always gave me a lollipop.
I miss the simpler days.