In recent years, unlimited plans have replaced limited data plans as the gold standard for cell phone plans; however, a large percentage of people on unlimited plans don’t actually need all that data. In fact, customers on an unlimited plan consume an average of just 6GB per month—that really isn’t very much data, and it certainly doesn’t justify signing up for an unlimited plan. Unless you’re doing some serious streaming, gaming, and browsing, chances are you’re probably spending too much money on your phone plan.

In this article:

How Much Data Do I Need?

In order to figure out how much data you need, you will first have to evaluate which activities you most commonly use your phone for, as well as estimate how long you spend on each activity. If you frequently stream music or videos when you aren’t connected to WiFi, you’re going to need more data than someone who primarily uses their data to check email or browse the internet. Check out the table below to get a better idea as to how much data various activities use.

Data Use Per Hour

Activity Data Used Per Hour
Netflix 1GB – 7GB
YouTube 100MB – 7GB
Spotify 43MB – 144MB
Pandora 14MB – 86MB
Music Streaming and Podcasts 50MB – 70MB
Facebook 85MB
Instagram 720MB
Snapchat 160MB

There is such a wide range with Netflix and YouTube because of the different quality settings on these apps. If you’re trying to limit your data use, you’ll want to wait to connect to WiFi before watching your favorite videos—and if you absolutely cannot wait, then you’ll want to use Netflix’s standard video setting or YouTube’s lower playback quality.

You can always check your phone bill or your phone settings to learn exactly how much data you’re consuming each month. If you’re paying for an unlimited plan but your average data consumption is around 5GB to 10GB, then it’s probably in your best interest to switch to a limited data plan and save money (you could even use that money to save up for a new iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or Google Pixel).

How Far Does a Limited Data Plan Go?

Since so many consumers have grown accustomed to having unlimited data, 5GB or 10GB may not sound very impressive—but you’d be surprised how far these data allowances can actually take you.

Activity 5GB 10GB
Web browsing 250 hours 500 hours
Facebook 58.5 hours 117 hours
Instagram 7 hours 14 hours
Gaming 15 hours 30 hours
Video streaming (SD) 5 hours 10 hours
Video streaming (HD) 1-2 hours 2-4 hours

5GB Data Plans

Now that you’ve seen the light, it’s time to start saving upwards of $70 on your monthly phone bill. From major carriers like Verizon to smaller ones like Mint Mobile, there are plenty of affordable 5GB plans on the market.

10GB Data Plans

If 5GB isn’t enough data for you, you can always shop for a 10GB plan. Starting as low as $25/month, a 10GB plan will save you money yet allow you to do plenty of streaming and browsing each month.

How Do I Limit My Data Usage?

Limiting your data use is relatively easy. We’ve compiled a list of tips on making your data stretch further.

Adjust Your Phone Settings

You’d be surprised how much data you can save per month simply by changing your settings. Even when you aren’t using your phone, many apps are still working in the background, draining your data.

iOS Settings

Stop WiFi Assist from using data when WiFi signal is weak:

  • Choose “Settings”
  • Select “Cellular”
  • Scroll down and turn off “WiFi Assist”

Prevent background apps from using data:

  • Select “Settings”
  • Scroll to the bottom and choose an app
  • Shut off “Background App Refresh”

Android Settings

Restrict a certain app’s data usage:

  • Pick “Network & Internet”
  • Select “Data Usage”
  • Find the app you want to restrict
  • Set the limit in the “Foreground,” limiting the app’s data consumption while using it and the “Background,” limiting data use when you’re not using it.

Turn off Auto-Sync:

  • Select “Settings”
  • Choose “Accounts”
  • Shut off “Sync”

Force stop unused apps:

  • Tap “Settings”
  • Click “Apps” or “Application Manager”
  • Choose “All Apps”
  • Select “Disable” on the apps you’re not using (you can reset them any time)
  • Select “Force Stop” to prevent apps from running in the background

Even when you aren’t using your phone, many apps are still working in the background, draining your data.

Connect to WiFi

Switching to a limited data plan may take a bit of a mentality shift, but you’ll soon find that WiFi is your new best friend. And if remembering to connect to public WiFi doesn’t come naturally to you, you can always turn off cellular data for all of your apps—when you unlock your phone to find that none of your apps will load, you’ll remember to hunt for WiFi (you can always turn cellular data back on if WiFi isn’t available).

There are some downsides to public WiFi, such as weak signals and vulnerability to hackers. We can’t really help you with the weak signal, but we can help you keep your information safe. Here’s how:

  • Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for your smartphone. Your subscription will likely come with several licenses, so you can put one on your laptop too. A VPN adds layers of security to your device and gives you an anonymous IP address. A VPN makes connecting to public WiFi a whole lot safer.
  • Make sure to turn off Airdrop.
  • Download a trusted WiFi finder app, such as WiFi Finder + Map or WiFi Map.

A limited data plan doesn’t have to mean missing out on your favorite shows and movies. For instance, Netflix allows subscribers to download movies and episodes of TV shows ahead of time (hint: while connected to WiFi) so they can watch them later without data or a WiFi connection. Moreover, many video and music streaming apps enable you to lower the quality settings in order to consume less data.