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How to cut your mobile data usage

06 June 2022

Smartphones use data without us even realising. We round up the top ten ways to cut down your data usage and stay on top of your monthly data allowance.

Senior woman using gps on smartphone
Close down apps to save your mobile data allowance

It's no secret that exceeding your monthly data allowance can be expensive, and unless you're paying for an unlimited data package your monthly bill at risk of excess charges.

These days, smartphones use data without us even realising. So we've listed the top ten ways to remain data savvy on your monthly mobile bill.

1. Close apps when you’re no longer using them

This may be the most important step to take in order to save your data consumption, and it's also one of the easiest. Leaving applications open allows your phone to consume data for no reason. 

iOS will only allow an application to carry on using data for ten minutes after it’s closed, you can only imagine how long they can continue to use your data when left open in the background!

Closing apps down is also likely to speed up your phone as it puts less pressure on your device's memory.

If, however, you have certain apps that you access throughout the day you might not benefit from shutting them down as reopening them each time will also use up resource.

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2. Disable geo-location services

Any app that uses your location – think weather apps, Google maps, social media and messaging apps – will constantly search for your whereabouts in order to keep its content relevant and up to date. 

Disable anything unnecessarily searching for your location in the background to avoid excessive charges. This will be in the app settings menu of your phone, labelled either App Privacy or App Info depending on your operating system. You should also be able to see your data usage for each app to get an idea of the applications guzzling your data.

3. Disable auto-play on social media videos

Those hilarious videos on your Facebook news feed are not quite so funny when you look at the data they consume. If your Facebook app is automatically playing videos or gifs before you even open them, this may be one of the causes of your data problem. 

However, this is an easy fix. Head to app settings (the cog in the right hand corner of Facebook) and go to the media section. Here you can select whether you want autoplay on all the time, on when you're connected to WiFi or off all the time. Make sure you select either off all the time or WiFi only to conserve data. Amend settings in other social apps you use in a similar way.

4. Use settings to set limits on your data usage

Android users are able to set limits and receive alerts when they’re dangerously close to going over. This is a pretty smart feature that is already on the phone so get clued up on how to use it! 

As an extra precaution, switch off your 3G so that if your WiFi signal drops out, it doesn’t automatically use your data.   

5. Cut down on streaming 

Whether it’s YouTube, Spotify or Netflix – try to avoid streaming anything outside of a secure WiFi connection. 

It’s unclear how much data that streaming can use at any one time, but according to various network providers it can be anything between 120-350mb/per hour.

If you can't help but watch a few Facebook videos while you're on the train there's an option to have lower quality videos that use 40% less data. Turn this option on in the media settings section of the app.

Most media apps such as Netflix and Disney+ allow you to download files, so if you do want to watch your favourite show when out and about plan in advance and download it on your home WiFi network.

6. Battery usage = data usage 

Noticed your battery going down more than usual? Take note of what you’re using your phone for as battery usage is closely associated to data usage. Put simply, if your battery is being drained significantly, you’re probably using a lot of data too. You can see which apps are using up the most battery in the settings section.

Find out how to make your phone battery last longer.

7. Download what you need in advance

A lot of apps allow you to download large files in advance, so if you're planning a trip away and want to be able to watch your favourite show on BBC iPlayer, Netflix or similar you can download what you want while connected to your home WiFi network and save your data.

You can even download map data from Google Maps. Search the place you're going, then expand the white box that appears at the bottom. Go to the menu (the three dots in the right hand side) and select 'download offline map'. When you get to your destination the map data will already be stored on your phone. Directions will also work offline, although you will need to go online to access any public transport information or traffic disruption news. If you have Google Maps set to 'WiFi only' in the settings it will only use your stored offline maps.

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8. Disable unwanted push notifications

Do you really need mobile games asking you to come back and play every day, or Facebook telling you when a random friend posts a picture? Cut out the push notifications you don’t need and reap the benefits in your data allowance. 

Head into your settings and make sure you have switched off all the notifications you don’t need or want.

9. Make use of free WiFi hotspots

Free WiFi is available in many places nowadays. From public transport, shops and cafes to department stores and public WiFi hotspots provided by broadband companies, look out for free WiFi when you’re out and about.

Read our tips for staying secure on a public WiFi hotspot.

10. Download a data manager app

If you’re still unsure where all of your data is going, download a data manager app and organise your usage that way. There are plenty of free applications available that will tell you where and when your data is being used. Check with your mobile provider to see if they offer their own app for tracking data usage. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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