Data: In this mobile age, we can hardly live without it.

When WiFi isn’t available, our devices depend on data to keep us connected to our favourite apps, websites, and streaming services. This can result in using heaps of data, especially as apps demand increasingly more and more data. With updates, and new, more versatile features, apps can capitalise on your data plan.

But when the bill comes at the end of the month, you might be in for a shock. Many of us find that we are unintentionally going above and beyond our data allowance, resulting in heavy overage charges. To stick to your budget, something needs to change.

It’s time to take action to curtail your data usage and fatten your wallet.

Doing so is easier than you might think. The solution is to find small ways to reduce your mobile data usage. Together, these can add up to significant savings. With a few tips, you can better stay within your data allowance, and avoid any nasty surprises when it’s time to pay your bill.

General Tips to Lower Mobile Data Use

There are lots of ways to use less data on your mobile device. Whether you’re using an Android or an Apple product, these essential tips will help you save data---and money!

When WiFi is available, make sure you’re taking advantage of it! At home or at the office, or in places where there is public WiFi, your phone can be set to connect automatically to these networks. It will generally connect automatically to networks it “remembers” but if you’re somewhere new, you may have to take a minute to get logged on to the network. This small step can make a big difference to your data usage.

Most websites have created mobile-friendly versions of their site, and upon loading, will automatically detect that you’re accessing from a mobile device. These mobile-friendly versions are sleeker, simpler, and while they often don’t contain the full functionality of a browser version, they usually provide everything you need on the go. When accessing a website, your device must download every single element, including text, photos, and ads. The more that needs to be displayed, the more mobile data is being used. So it’s definitely wise to use a mobile version whenever possible.

Do you love streaming video? Unfortunately, fun sites and apps such as YouTube and Netflix can be data fiends. But you don’t have to stop streaming to save on data usage. Instead, simply plan ahead.

If you use Netflix, you can actually download movies and tv shows directly onto your device. Rather than streaming these videos using data, you can download your content over WiFi and then bring it with you on the go. Later, you can access your shows and movies when you’re away from WiFi, or even when you’re offline completely. Through this method, you’ll also avoid the annoyance of slow buffering or the video/sound mismatch sometimes caused by slow networks.

Avid YouTube fans might want to subscribe to YouTube Red. This delivers the same download feature that Netflix offers, with all the varied, exciting content YouTube provides. Although the YouTube Red subscription is paid, the cost of the subscription could be substantially less than the repeated cost of data overages. It may even be cheaper than upgrading your data plan.

If you still choose to stream videos over your mobile data connection, you can usually opt for a lower quality stream, which will reduce your data impact, but likely won’t have a noticeable effect on video quality as you watch.

Are you receiving notifications for all of your apps? You likely don’t need to be. While weather alerts or messages might be necessary, notifications from recreational apps just might be purging your data. You can disable email and push notifications in your device’s settings for those unnecessary apps.

*It’s also a good idea to turn off these notifications from a productivity standpoint. Being alerted and distracted a dozen or more times each day can mess up your workflow or simply irritate you. A 2016 study showed that people look at their phones an average of 47 times per day. The numbers go up even more for the younger generations. Shutting off notifications could save your data, and your sanity!

Probably one of the biggest culprits of data waste is unused, open apps on your device. Everytime you use an app, it remains open until you specifically close it. For some apps, this might be a problem, but others remain active, especially those which use location services or other features. These will continue to transmit data even in the background, putting a strain on both your data and your device’s battery life.

If apps are bleeding your data dry, you might consider swapping them out for alternate versions. There is a ‘Lite’ version of apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and more. These are streamlined versions that use a minimal amount of data. Lightweight apps for your device? Sounds like a smart idea.

Free apps are a great thing, but many of them include ads. When you upgrade to premium or paid versions of your favourite apps, these ads disappear. This can be another small step towards reducing your overall data heft.

You can also find external solutions for your data usage problems. The Onavo Extend app, available for both iPhone and Android devices, will compress your data. Elements such as text and images can be compressed, thereby reducing strain on your data plan. In fact, this app is said to be capable of expanding your current data plan’s longevity by up to 5X as much. The app is free, and also has some extra settings to help you take your data even further.

Figure Out Where Your Data is Going

The first step to decreasing your mobile data usage is to figure out exactly where all that data is being used. You can use your device to find out what apps are dominating your data usage, and then take steps to remedy the problem.

On iPhone:

  1. Open your Settings app

  2. Click on Mobile

  3. Scroll down to see all of your apps.

Listed underneath each app is the amount of data it has used during the current period. This will show you just which apps are accounting for most of your data usage. You might be surprised at some of the numbers. For the user concerned about data overages, it might be a wise move to toggle data off for data-greedy Instagram (using the button to the right of the app).

When attempting to use Instagram without WiFi, the user will be notified that mobile data is off. This can help deter app usage, and help change user habits, but it’s also easy to switch data back on if need be.

For Android:

  1. Go to Settings.

  2. Click on Wireless & Networks.

  3. Select Data Usage.

  4. Scroll down to view your apps.

Like on iPhone, you can see the actual data usage for each of your apps on Android. If you want to restrict background data for a specific app, click on the app name and toggle ‘Restrict App Background Data’ to OFF. That app will now only use data when it is being actively used.

How to Minimise Data Usage for iPhone

Now that you have a general idea of what apps and programs are responsible for draining the bulk of your data, you can start finding ways to reduce your usage. Turning off mobile data or background data, as in the steps above, is a great first step. Here are some other options for reducing iPhone data usage.

You can entirely shut off your mobile data on iPhone, and it is possible you should, particularly if you’re nearing your data plan limit. Doing so is very easy. Simply head to the Settings, click mobile, and then toggle your mobile data to OFF. This will ensure your device can ONLY get online using a WiFi connection. You can turn mobile data on and off whenever you want, but if you’re concerned with decreasing your data usage, it’s better to keep it off whenever possible.

As we saw above, you can turn off mobile data for individual apps, but some are definitely more resource-heavy than others. Those are the ones you should focus on, if you’d like to reduce data usage without turning off your entire data connection.

Turning off mobile data for iCloud is one good solution. This uses a lot of data when syncing. To turn this off, open your Settings, navigate to the mobile section, swipe to the bottom of the list and find the iCloud Drive option. Toggle this OFF.

Just above the toggle for iCloud Drive, you’ll see a toggle for WiFi assist. This feature is used to automatically connect you to mobile data when you are using a slow WiFi network. This can be a bad setting to have if you have limited data, as you will likely not notice how often you’re being switched over. With this toggled OFF, you can be more in charge of your data usage.

If you’re on the road, you may need map navigation. This can suck up a great deal of data. On iOS, you can use your Apple Maps. If you bring up your route or directions when on WiFi, this will remain cached in the app. Even when your mobile data is shut off, you can still use the map successfully. Keep the app open to ensure you don’t lose your navigation information.

Do you receive a lot of emails? These can be taxing on your data. Go into your Settings and over to Mail. From there you can turn off the Load Remote Images feature to reduce data consumption

On social media, video is extremely popular. As you’re browsing Facebook or Twitter, however, you might not want to watch every single video that shows up in your feed. After all, these will take up precious mobile data. To avoid this issue, you need you be sure that the Autoplay setting is off. Otherwise, videos will automatically begin playing, and taking up your data in the process.

You can shut of autoplay in Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. In Facebook: Click the More tab, select Settings, then navigate to Account Settings -> Videos and Photos -> Video Settings -> Auto-play. Here, choose either On Wi-Fi Connections Only or Never Auto-plays Videos. In Twitter: When on your Profile, tap the Gear icon, select Settings -> Data -> Video Autoplay and then either choose Never play videos automatically or Use Wi-Fi only. And on Instagram: From your profile view, tap the Gear icon at the top, click Mobile Data Use and then toggle the Use Less Data option.

Found a fascinating news article while browsing the web? You don’t need to drain your data to read it. You can save articles or blog posts for later to be read offline. In Safari, simply click the up-pointing arrow at the bottom of the screen, and then choose ‘Add to Reading List’ from the options that appear. Load up your reading list while on WiFi, then spend some time later perusing what you’ve saved….without using data!

How to Reduce Data Usage for Android

Are you an Android user? There are several ways to limit your data usage.

On Android, you can set limits on your own mobile data usage. From Settings, navigate to Data Usage -> Billing Cycle -> Data limit and billing cycle. On that screen, you are able to set a maximum amount of data you plan to use for that month. If you want to be really strict, you can use the“Set mobile data limit” option to set your device to automatically disconnect from the network once a specific data limit is reached.

Want to dramatically cut down on data usage? You can turn off all background data for your apps on Android. This is a speedier solution than shutting background data off individually. However, you can ‘whitelist’ those apps you want to exclude from this.

Go into Settings and navigate to Data Usage. Click ‘Data Saver’ and toggle it ON. Background data will now be disabled for all apps. You can click ‘Unrestricted Data Access’ to add specific apps to the whitelist. Toggle ON each app you’d like to have unrestricted data. You may want to include things such as email, allowing your chosen email app to fetch data (and new messages) regularly.

App updates are notorious for data overconsumption. Instead of allowing apps to update over a data connection, you can ensure that they will ONLY update when you’re connected to WiFi. Go into the Play Store. Open the menu, head to settings, and make sure “Auto-update apps” is set to “Auto-update over WiFi only.”

Your Chrome browser can also be configured to minimise data usage. With this on, data is compressed, which means less data used and faster loading pages, too. To confirm that Data Saver is on for Chrome, open the Chrome browser and navigate to Settings > Data Saver. Turn the toggle ON.

Travelling somewhere new? You don’t need to use your data to get the map information you need. Using Google Maps, you can download a set map in advance (over WiFi of course) and then use it when you’re offline. This is especially helpful if you’re travelling outside of Australia and want to avoid those dreaded international roaming charges. Here’s how to get your maps: Open the app, click the Menu, and tap on Offline Areas. You can click Home to download maps near your house, or create a new map by clicking Custom Area.

Get the Right Plan for You

There are certainly many ways to reduce your data usage and get the most from your plan. It’s worth noting that the right plan can also make a difference. If you’re consistently going over your data limits and have tried reducing it using the above tips, it may be time to upgrade your plan.  

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