Unlimited data plans for smartphones are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Even if you’ve managed to hang on to your unlimited data plan, it’s likely not truly unlimited.
Hidden in the fine print of most carrier plans are caps on data usage, speeds or other caveats you should be aware of. Unlimited data plans are no exception to this — despite the namesake.
A common usage cap for unlimited data plans, for example, is mobile hotspotting, for which carriers love to charge that little bit extra. You’ll also find soft caps on data usage each month where the carrier will just slow down your speeds after you pass a certain threshold — a sneaky practice known as “throttling.”
On paper, these data caps can seem like a real bummer. But there are things that you, as a socially connected and tech-savvy person with a smartphone and a limited data plan, can do to stay below your limited data plan cap.
CONNECT TO WI-FI
Being connected to Wi-Fi, as opposed to using your service provider’s cellular network to access the internet, does not eat up your data plan. If the places you frequent most have open connections, use them.
MIND THE STREAMING
Web browsing, podcasts, online gaming and streaming are the worst culprits when it comes to burning through your monthly data allotment. A 5-minute YouTube video easily sucks up 5 to10 megabytes. A single 22-minute TV episode on Netflix blows through at least 100MB. Movies — even more. Don’t do it. Wait to watch those cat videos until you have a Wi-Fi connection.
The music you listen to when you’re not on Wi-Fi can make a huge difference in how much data you’re using. Instead of listening to music while connected to your data plan, save music to your phone and listen locally by downloading albums. You’ll enjoy better quality without ripping through tons of data.
BE SOCIAL, BUT JUDICIOUSLY
If you’ve become a habitual social network checker, stop and think: Am I on Wi-Fi or my data plan? What seems like a fairly lightweight activity, such as running through Facebook or Twitter, can actually consume 5 to 10MB of data each time you check — especially if you’re clicking on links and photos. Wait until you are on Wi-Fi to get super social.
DISABLE WI-FI ASSIST
A feature on the iPhone 5 and newer tells your phone to automatically seek a data network if you are connected to a weak WI-FI signal. That means that — even if you’ve dutifully been waiting to connect to Wi-Fi before FaceTiming with the grandkids — if your iPhone concludes that you have a weak Wi-Fi signal, it will throw you off and onto your hungry cellular data plan.
Here’s how to disable Wi-Fi Assist: Go to “Settings,” then click on “Cellular.” Scroll all the way to the bottom — past all of your apps — and you’ll find “Wi-Fi Assist.” Turn it to the off position.
READ, SNAP, SEND LATER
When you’re on your cellular data plan and you come across a link that you don’t have to read that second, bookmark it or favorite it for later. You’ll save a few MBs. Same goes for snapping that photo, if at all possible. Uploading photos and videos to social sites (or even email) in real time while not connected to Wi-Fi can use up tens of MBs! Acquire this new habit: Snap now, upload later.
Monthly data limits are every smartphone user’s enemy. A small download at the wrong time may send your bill skyrocketing. Your smartphone has built-in tools that allow you to track your data usage, although free reports from your carrier will give you a more accurate picture.
To track on your iPhone, go to “Settings” then “Cellular” and look for “Cellular Data Usage.” On your Android smartphone, go to “Settings” and tap “Data Usage.” To change the cycle date to match the start date of your monthly plan, check the “Set Mobile Data Limit” box (or “Limit Mobile Data” on some phones) if you want your phone to block you from using any mobile data after you exceed your limit.
If you follow most of these tips, chances are good that you can cut your monthly data use in half. Just be aware that this will cripple the full potential of your smartphone while you are not connected to a Wi-Fi network. But given the high cost of going over on data usage — and the potential for rates to increase any day now — that sounds like a great idea to me.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, ”Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”