How to use less than 100MB of mobile data each month

I recently switched carriers from Verizon to Google’s Project Fi. Google only charges you for the data you use, so it is in your best interest to use as little as possible. I used to use 3GB or 4GB of data each month. Now I use less than 100MB of data every month. You read that right. I reduced my data usage by 40x. Read on to learn how to do it and still use your phone every time you need it.

  1. 1Turn off cellular data when you don’t need it– Some apps use cellular data when Wi-Fi is available. Almost all apps use data in the background when you are not using them. I found that I had apps that I never used that wasted large amounts of data. Over an entire month, this really adds up and eats into your monthly data plan. Even with cellular data off, you’ll still be able to make calls and send or receive texts over the cellular network.
  2. Monitor your data usage and uninstall problem apps– It’s essential that you go to Settings and review your cellular data usage. Be aware which apps use the most amount of mobile data. Social media, news and weather apps are notorious for syncing often – even if you rarely use them. If you uninstall Facebook, Snapchat and popular news and weather apps, you’ll be surprised how much data and battery life you save. You can still access Facebook using your mobile browser whenever you want to. News and weather sites can be accessed via browser as well. You can even bookmark them so they appear on your home screen like an app. Try to only use apps like Instagram and web browsers over Wi-Fi, because they use lots of data.
  1. Restrict background data usage– It’s highly recommended that you go to Settings > Data usage and view the app background data for your apps. I’ve enabled ‘Restrict app background data’ on all apps and haven’t had any problems. When you do this, a warning will appear, but you can ignore it. I’ve been doing this for almost a year without any problems whatsoever. I was surprised to find that apps I never use consumed a lot of background data. There is a global setting to restrict background data, but I recommend you do this on a per app basis, so you can enable any apps that have a problem in the future.

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  1. Only update apps on Wi-Fi – Make sure you go to Settings in the Play Store app and go to ‘Auto-update apps’ and set it to ‘Do no auto-update apps’ or to ‘Auto-update apps over Wi-Fi only.’ This will save you large amounts of data.
  1. Avoid streaming over mobile – Streaming audio or video uses much more data than text. Download your favorite songs and playlists so you can listen to them offline. Avoid streaming video from sites like YouTube or Netflix over mobile because this can consume extremely large amounts of data. Consider switching to a carrier like T-Mobile with their binge-onplan, which lets you stream endless amounts of music or video without eating into your data plan.
  1. Never use maps with cellular enabled – Google Maps consumes huge amounts of data when you use it for driving directions. Most people don’t know that you can use turn-by-turn driving directions without using any mobile data if you load your directions while you are connected to Wi-Fi. If it ever says “Lost data connection” turn on cellular data for a few seconds and it will fix the problem. Then turn it back off. You can do this with the quick settings menu, so it doesn’t distract you from driving. Better yet, do this when you are waiting for a stop light to change. You can also cache maps before you leave or select a region on a map and have it work offline, but I find that to be unnecessary.
  1. Use Wi-Fi whenever it’s available– Almost everyone has Wi-Fi access at home and work so the only time you should turn on mobile data is when you are on-the-go and out of range of Wi-Fi. Free public hotspots are common and there are apps that will help you find them. Most broadband providers provide access to free Wi-Fi hotspots as well. Another tip is to go to your favorite sites before you leave home in the morning. I sync my email, news app, Twitter and RSS feed apps before I leave the house. This saves me over 100MB a day.

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  1. Change your sync settings – You might want to try disabling ‘Auto-sync data’ by going to Settings > Accounts > Google and touching the 3 dots in the upper right. When you are connected to Wi-Fi, you can manually sync all of your Google accounts at any time by going to Settings > Accounts > Google and touching the 3 dots in the upper right and selecting ‘Sync now.’ You can also reduce data consumption by adjusting your Inbox to check for mail less often. I have mine set to ‘Never’ and I still receive notifications when new mail comes in. This change is made in the mail app and not on the Settings pages.
  1. Know your daily data budget – If you want to consume less than 1GB of data a month, you need to keep your average data usage under 33MB a day. If you consume 60MB in a single day, don’t worry. It won’t be a problem as long as consume less than 32MB on a few other days. I try to use an average of 3.33MB a day, so I stay under 100MB. It’s not hard to do because I often go days without using any mobile data. If you suspect an app is using too much data, download software like App Tune-up Kitand use it to select the app you want to test. It will run for one minute and measure the amount of mobile data used by the app. [Disclosure: I was on the team that created this app.] Most popular games use large amounts of mobile data. You should only play these apps when you are connected to Wi-Fi.
  1. Avoid apps with ads – Apps with ads consume more mobile data than apps without ads. If the apps you use have ad-free versions available, purchase them. Spending a few bucks will save you money in the long run.

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  1. Use other people’s data – If you have a friend or family member with unlimited data, ask if you can tether and share their data. If you’re phone doesn’t support this feature free of charge, there are apps in Google Play like FoxFi that do this very well. Make sure they work with your phone and carrier before buying them. They generally have a trail version.

Using mobile data consumes over twice as much power as Wi-Fi data, so following the above steps won’t just save money, you’ll also extend your battery life. I ended up reducing my monthly phone bill from over $70 to about $23 a month. That’s a savings of around 60%.  Check to see if your carrier offers discounts if you change your plan to one that uses less data. If they don’t consider switching to a carrier who does. The savings add up quickly. In five years, I’ll save $2400.

You don’t have to follow all of the above steps to save data. Even if you only try a few of these suggestions, you could cut your mobile data usage in half. The more steps you follow, the more you’ll save.

– Rick

Copyright 2016 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. All of the comments in this blog are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

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