I overpaid on a shared bill. Here’s what I learned.

Have you looked at your cell phone bill recently? Does it all make sense to you? I can tell you that it’s taken me and my mom multiple attempts (and at least one phone call to the cell phone company) to figure out exactly what it is that we’re paying for. There are all of these extra charges and fees that don’t entirely make sense, and that makes it nearly impossible to figure out exactly how to split the bill. 

When we first joined our family cell phone plan, the deal was my mom would pay the total bill to the phone company, and then my brother and I would pay her our portions. We did a quick once over of the bill to figure out how much we each owed. And even though the bill was hard to understand, we felt comfortable with the portions we each had to pay at that time. 

We did this for years — and we thought it was working. But as time went on, I started to feel like I wasn’t paying enough. It just didn’t make sense to me that I was paying so little when the overall bill was so high. I knew that I should pay a little less than my mom and brother, because my mom had actually purchased my cell phone for me as a gift. But could the fees for the line be so little? Why did I feel like I was cheating her?

Finally, I encouraged my mom to take a look at the bill with me again. We even placed a call to the cell service provided to help us understand what we were seeing. We added up everything that was under my phone number (minus the monthly fee for the physical cell phone), and it turned out that I was actually overpaying my mom by about 15 dollars. And I had been doing that for almost two years! 

I was really surprised by that, but it made sense. For all of the items on the bill that were under my phone number, the monthly payment for the cell phone was the largest chunk. Since my mom bought that for me as a gift, it made sense that the fees for the line and insurance came out to a smaller number. Even though it was an honest mistake, I knew my mom felt badly. I know it wasn’t done on purpose (I mean, it’s not like we didn’t try to understand the bill), but I know how bad I felt when I thought I was underpaying, so I could imagine how she felt when she found out I was paying too much. 

Why am I sharing all of this? Well, to start, sharing money or bills or finances or whatever can be messy. You probably already knew that. But sometimes sharing bills with people outside of your household just makes sense, like it did for my family. If you do decide to go down that road, you may find yourself in some less than ideal situations. And while those situations may seem confusing and frustrating at the time, it’s also a great opportunity to extend grace to one another. We’re all learning, after all! 

For me, extending grace meant not asking my mom to pay me back for all the years that I had been overpaying. To be frank, that felt like a really icky idea, and I was grateful for the energy that she spent each month just calling in the payment (she’s old school like that!). I didn’t want to get hung up on dollars and cents, especially because of the deep relationship that my mother and I have.

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