Saving money on cell phones: How much data do you actually use?
(Photo: Unsplash, Priscilla du Preez)

I’m the first person to admit that I’m stingy when it comes to spending money on cell phones.  We got super-spoiled living overseas, where you could get unlimited everything for about $25 US.  When we moved back to the States, I was determined to find the least expensive ways to equip our family of six with smart phones.  And I think we do a pretty good job.  Until we took advantage of a sweet Virgin Mobile deal for the kids, we were paying about $150 per month for six smart phones and a decent amount of data usage.  But a key factor in keeping those bills down is that we don’t have a ton of data on our plans.

Almost everyone I know pays a lot more for their cell phone service, and almost everyone I know has unlimited data.  Now, I know I’m super-stingy with data, but I do use it for work purposes, and I almost never exceed .5GB per month.  Yes, there is a decimal before that 5.  My husband uses maps a lot as he calculates the fastest way to get home in this hot-DC-traffic-mess, and he almost never exceeds one GB per month.  We’d be foolish to pay for unlimited data, because we just don’t need it.

So, I started wondering:  If unlimited data is correlated to ridiculous cell phone bills, do people really need unlimited data?  I have plenty of friends (and four children) who tell me that unlimited data is essential, but I’m just not buying it.  So I started to look around.

Like I said, I use about a half a GB per month.  My husband uses less than 1 most months, unless he’s streaming a football game while we’re camping, or something weird like that.  But we don’t stream stuff unless we’re on WiFi (or camping and there’s a football game.)  Depending on what source you use for the data, the average US consumer uses less than 5 GB per month, and that includes people like my kids who use data like mad because they know they are on unlimited plans.

If you’re trying to find somewhere to cut costs, your cell phone bill might be a good place to start.  Check your usage stats, available on your phone and probably also on your carrier’s website, and see how much data you are using right now.  Then think how much you could cut that back with a few strategic changes in usage, such as optimizing your apps, only allowing updates when you’re on WiFi, etc.  Look into whether a lower data plan could save you money.  It has worked for us – it might work for you.

By Kate Horrell,

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