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Fast and easy ways to cut back on cellular data usage

POSTED: September 7, 2017 9:11 a.m.
Amy Iverson/

Girl with cell phone and laptop. Many families share data and are paying huge overage fees. Simple tips to help cut back.

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With cell phone plans as they are these days, most of us have multiple phones picking away at our allotted data for the month.

On my 15 GB plan, I have me, two teenagers and a grandma all sharing the pie. It never fails that each month, one person — who shall remain nameless — uses the bulk of our data, leaving the rest of us to eke out our mobile lives for the rest of the billing period.

My reaction in the past has been to turn off the data on any phone when that user goes over their allowed amount. There are several problems with this method. First, depending on the plan and carrier, it leaves it up to the responsible party to check usage periodically. Not a big deal, but still a pain. My carrier does alert me, but only when we have reached 75 percent of our usage, which is almost too late (especially if it’s early in the billing period).

Secondly, if a phone’s cellular data is turned off, it makes it very difficult to track that phone. So if you’re accustomed to using something like Find My Friends to keep an eye on where your kids are, you can kiss that goodbye. The other problem is that text messaging gets sketchy when a phone has no cellular. There’s no guarantee the person will receive texts in a timely manner.

So what to do?

The first move should be to figure out what function on the phone is using most of the data. I’ll tell you right off the bat that if someone is using cellular data to watch Netflix or YouTube, it will quickly suck your data well dry. Each hour of viewing will use about 1 GB of data. Ouch.

For iOS: Open Settings and tap Cellular. As you scroll down, right underneath the name of each app, it shows how much data it has used in a given time period.

If you want to track this during a billing cycle, set a reminder on your phone to reset the tally to 0 on a certain day. Scroll down to the very bottom of the screen and tap Reset Statistics.

You can turn off cellular for each individual app here, especially if you can wait to check it until you hook up with Wi-Fi.

For Android: Open Settings and tap Data usage, then Cellular Data usage. From here you can see which apps are using the most data and can turn off Background data, or Disable DataUsage all together.

Something unique to Android phones is that you can use the table to set alerts for data usage. There’s even an option for your phone to shut cellular data off when you reach a certain usage limit.

Other options to cut down on data usage:

Use Wi-Fi when possible: Just be careful not to log in to any apps or websites with sensitive data while on any public wi-fi. Make sure your device is set to automatically log in to secure connections at places you regularly visit (home, work, etc).

Stop getting so many notifications: Do you really need to know immediately when someone has liked your Facebook post? I don’t think so. Turn off any unnecessary alerts, push notifications and automatic app updates, which all use a good chunk of data.

Close apps: Many apps send and receive data - especially location services - if they are running in the background of your device. Shut off those apps to cut down on data usage and also to save your battery.

Turn off Wi-Fi Assist on iOS: Wi-Fi Assist switches a weak Wi-Fi signal to cellular data. Anyone keeping an eye on data usage should turn this (seemingly helpful) feature off. Go to Settings, then Cellular and find the Wi-Fi Assist toggle at the very bottom.

Stop autoplay everywhere: If you are on cellular and must check social media, at least turn off the autoplay feature for videos. On Facebook, open the app and tap the triple line button in lower right corner. Go to Settings. select Account Settings and then tap Videos & Photos. Tap autoplay & choose either ‘on wi-fi connections only’ or ‘never autoplay videos’. For Twitter, open the app and go to Settings on your profile page. Tap Data usage and then Video Autoplay and then choose either Wi-Fi only or Never.

Instagram is a bit different in that it preloades videos to ensure autoplay. Open Instagram, go to your profile page & open Settings. Tap Cellular Data Use and turn on the toggle switch for Use Less Data. Your videos will still autoplay, but Instagram will stop preloading video when you are on a cellular connection. The videos may take a titch longer to load, but most people say they don’t notice a big difference.

These quick steps will save your data usage and may even save you from having an argument with those teenagers - who shall remain nameless - who think the data is all theirs for the taking.
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