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How To Manage Your Data Usage

Remember when you used to worry about how many minutes you had used on your cell phone? Well, those days are over. Instead, we have something else to worry about: data usage. With most wireless carriers switching to unlimited voice and text plans, the big variable in our monthly cell phone bills is now how much data we have used.

The problem with data is that unlike voice minutes or texting we often don’t realize how much we are using, or even when we are using it. Most recent smartphones are able to switch seamlessly between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so a task like downloading a movie or uploading a video to Facebook might take a big bite out of our monthly data allowance or use no data at all.

Luckily there are some actions we can take that will help us manage our data consumption and make sure we don’t get hit with those expensive data overages. Here are a few suggestions:

Set up data alerts

Before you do anything else, make sure you have a mechanism for knowing exactly how much data you have consumed at any given time. The easiest way to do this is to set up data alerts with your carrier. These alerts, which can come as a text, an e-mail or both, will usually notify you when you have reached 50 percent, 75 percent or 90 percent of your monthly data allowance. While these alerts won’t prevent you from using more data, they will give you the opportunity to scale back on data consumption before there are financial consequences.

Download a data monitoring app

However, knowing how much data you have used is only half the battle. You also need to know how you are using it. Is most of your data allowance being used up by e-mail and web surfing? How about watching movies or TV shows? Or is there some data-hungry app running in the background that you don’t know about.

Many newer phones have data monitoring apps built-in and they will give you an exact analysis of your data usage right down to the last KB. If your phone doesn’t have a built-in app, then there are lots of free downloadable apps like My Data Manager and Onavo Count.

Switch to Wi-Fi

Switching to a Wi-Fi network whenever one is available is the biggest thing we can do to reduce our data usage. Although most smartphone users are fairly diligent about switching to Wi-Fi before downloading a full-length movie or watching a favorite TV show, you can also save a huge amount of data by switching to Wi-Fi for everyday tasks like checking e-mail or watching a YouTube video.

Again, many newer smartphones will help out by asking you whether you want to switch from your cellular service when a recognizable Wi-Fi network comes within range. It costs nothing to say yes and your phone will automatically switch back to cellular service when the Wi-Fi network is no longer available.

Some data-hungry apps like Dropbox can be adjusted so they only update when Wi-Fi is available. Again, use a data monitoring app to understand which apps are consuming the most data and modify your use accordingly.

Turn off ads

Believe it or not but those annoying animated ads that are dancing around at the bottom of your favorite app are also costing you data. If it’s a game that doesn’t Interact with the Cloud, then you can always turn off mobile data or switch to airplane mode before firing up the app. If it’s a productivity or information-based app, then you might want to consider switching to the paid version to eliminate the ads altogether.

Pre-load data

Certain navigation and entertainment apps are now allowing you to save data for use offline. Google Music, Spotify and Google Maps are prime examples of apps that can store data for later use. Of course, there is a limit to how much data can be stored on a smartphone or tablet but many mobile devices now come with expansion slots for additional memory.

Avoid costly overages

If you are finding it impossible to cut back on data, then you can always add some more to your monthly allowance. Just make sure you do it before the end of the billing cycle, so it’s billed as an increased allowance rather than an expensive overage charge. Most plans will allow you to increase your allowance one month and bring it down the next, so take advantage of this flexibility and match your allowance to your actual usage.

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