When it comes to the bills Gen Z and today’s Americans are paying, they look very different from the bills millennials and previous generations had to pay. From stressing over long-distance phone minutes, paying for cable TV and trying to remember to return rental DVDs on time, the previous generations’ layout of finances was a stark contrast to today’s.
The drastic changes in entertainment fees and formats can be attributed to many changes in technology and society’s transition into the digital age. Today, we have access to almost everything with a quick click or search, thus reducing the need for many of the payments people regularly made in the past. Here’s a look at some of the bills Gen Z has never had to worry about.
Landline Phone Bills (and Long-Distance Fees)
In today’s society, it is common for everyone to have their own mobile phone, but before this was the case, landlines were essential within every home.
Post-WWII, in 1945, it was common for five people in a household to share one landline. Throughout the ’80s, AT&T was monopolizing the communication business and nearly every American household was an AT&T customer and rented their phone from the company for $1.50 to $5 per month.
In 1993, the government ended AT&T’s monopoly and allowed people to own their own phones. Dial phones cost around $19.95, which is the equivalent of $50 in today’s money, according to The New York Times.
Most phone companies charged landline and long-distance fees by the time of day and how many minutes the call lasted. In 1997, there were categories of plans that went from $10 per month up to $25 per month. For AT&T users with an under $10 plan, every call cost 15 cents per minute, according to a 1997 publication in Consumeraction. In other words, people with this plan had up to 66 minutes of daytime phone time per month. For those who required more talk time, they could pick plans with a higher monthly limit and could choose a plan with lower prices during the time of day they used the phone the most.
While in the 1910s long-distance phone calls had astronomical prices, prices gradually stooped so low by the late ’90s that the federal communications commission no longer tracked long-distance phone calls.
In 2018, a government survey found that a mere 5% of households relied entirely on a landline, and over half of survey participants relied on cellphones exclusively.
The Data Plans of Today
Today, most mobile phone users don’t have to pick a plan based on the minutes they need. They instead look at the data usage they need. There are an array of plan categories users have to choose from depending on whether they need a minimal data plan, unlimited data, higher internet speed or are looking for a family or 65+ plan.
One of the cheapest plans phone users can take advantage of is Mint’s 10 GB per month plan at $20 per line, which comes with unlimited talk and text. This is a great option for people who need very minimal data usage.
For people who are looking for an unlimited data plan, Visible offers an unlimited plan for $30 per line through Verizon with unlimited talk and text. This opportunity is also great for families, as the price per line decreases as more lines are added to the plan.
The transformation of phone costs has changed drastically over the past century, From a three-minute daytime call from New York to San Francisco costing $20.70 in 1915, which would be over $500 in today’s money, to today, where talk and text are unlimited in nearly every phone plan.
In 1948, cable TV was available to the public, and by 1989, 53 million households had cable. In 1995, cable cost $22.35 per month. In 2015, it was $69.03, according to Cordcutting.
While it makes sense for cable prices to climb to accommodate for rising inflation, cable increases typically rise 5.8% annually — double the average rate of inflation at 2.2% per year.
Today, cable costs between $45 to $130, depending on the cable provider and the number of channels a user is looking for. However, the share of Americans who watch television using cable has plunged downward due to the streaming apps such as Hulu and Netflix. These streaming apps allow the user to pay a flat monthly fee to access hundreds of movies and shows at any time of day. A study done by Statista in February revealed that 39% of adults ages 18 to 34 currently have cable access in their household and 50% of adults 65+ have cable in their household.
While cable used to be a household essential, new apps are providing some serious competition, such as Netflix’s $9.99 basic monthly pan.
Daily Newspaper Delivery
While today, finding a newspaper on your front porch might be a foreign concept, it used to be the norm. In 1990, The New York Times home delivery cost $5 per week. Today, a newspaper subscription may cost between $8 to $30 per month, and upwards of $360 annually depending on the company, according to SLFP.
A TV Guide Subscription
For our Gen Z readers, TV Guide is a magazine that offers subscribers a weekly magazine that lists all of the shows that are airing that week and what channel they will be on. It features trending shows and show insights, and has circulated to over 1.1 million subscribers. It was the most read and talked about magazine in the U.S. in the 1960s with advertisements and promotions on television. The magazine made it to the top three major magazines list in 2003 but has since lost readership and advertisers alongside the downfall of cable television.
TV Guide’s first issue cost 15 cents, and over the years had increased with inflation to today, when an issue costs $4.99. The magazine also offers yearly subscriptions for $15.
Blockbuster Movie Rentals (and Late Fees)
Before apps like Netflix and HBO Max, stores like Blockbuster were the early 2000s equivalent of the streaming site. Teenagers flooded the stores to rent the latest movies and find something interesting to watch. However, unlike the on-demand apps of today, video rental stores required video cassettes and DVDs to be returned and charged late fees for delayed returns.
Blockbuster used to charge $2.99 for one-day rentals of new movies and $1.99 for older films, according to the Los Angeles Times. For a three-day rental, customers had to pay $4.99. They charged $1 per day in late fees for up to $10. With this late-fee rental system, customers could potentially keep a movie for years and only be charged $10 in late fees, according to Home Media Magazine. While this is a bill today’s movie watchers no longer have to worry about, late fees contributed to $250 million to $300 million of Blockbusters’ revenue, according to The Washington Post.
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