The last time you saw an advertisement for a phone plan, it probably mentioned unlimited data. That’s because nowadays unlimited data tends to be the market standard for phone plans. But thanks to WiFi being so readily available at home, work, school, and elsewhere, the average American only uses around 6GB of data per month. So why do so many people sign up for unlimited plans?

Unless you’re able to take advantage of some major plan discounts via a family plan or a military plan, you might be better off ditching your unlimited data and going with a limited data plan instead. Most carriers still offer a limited data plan at a fraction of the cost of an unlimited data plan. Major carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, all offer affordable limited data plans, alongside MVNOs, such as Cricket Wireless, Metro by T-Mobile, and Mint Mobile.

In this guide:

Saving Money with Limited Data Plans

If you have WiFi at home, work, or school, and you don’t really use that much data while you’re out, it might be time to look into saving money by switching to a limited data plan. Popular unlimited plans cost anywhere from $60/month to $90/month, while limited data plans start as low as $10/month (hello, Tello!). Depending on which plan you choose, you could save anywhere from $50/month to $80/month, which equates to between $600/year and $960/year.

If you’re worried that you might run out of data on a limited data plan, have no fear—most limited data plans still include unlimited data at 3G speeds, which works just fine for simple web browsing and email. Most carriers also offer additional monthly high-speed data packs that you can add to your monthly plan if you need more high-speed data—while this certainly isn’t economical to take advantage of all the time, it is helpful for those months in which you need a data boost. You can also continue reading on to learn some tips on how to reduce your data consumption, as well as find the right amount of data for your needs.

Shared Data Plans

If your family is looking to save money by switching to a limited data plan, another affordable option might be a shared data plan. Rather than each individual person in your family having their own phone line, you’ll all share one plan that includes a certain amount of data per month. This could be a good option for a family where the data usage varies between members.

How Much Data Do Different Online Activities Use?

The word “data” is thrown around a lot in today’s era, between data for your phone, data for your home, or even data storage. On your phone, data just means you’re accessing your phone’s internet connection to do various activities, such as watch a video, browse web pages, use social media, play online games, video chat, or use map directions. You won’t be using the data on your phone to make calls or texts, unless you’re using a third-party app to message or call, like WhatsApp, Google Voice, or Facebook Messenger.

You might be wondering how much data all of these different activities use, especially if you plan on switching to a limited data plan. Check out the table below to see how much data common internet tasks use.

Activity Data Used Per Hour
Netflix 1GB – 7GB
YouTube 100MB – 7GB
Music or Podcast Streaming 50MB – 70MB
Social Media 85MB – 160MB
Online Gaming 3MB – 300MB
Video Chatting 195MB – 2.4GB
Map Directions 2MB – 5MB
Browsing the Internet 10MB – 25 MB

Switching from an unlimited to a limited data plan can save you anywhere from $600/year to $960/year.

How Much Data Do You Need?

The easiest way to determine how much data you need is to find out what your monthly data consumption is. You can do this by either pulling up your previous phone bills, or by locating the data usage section in your phone’s settings. Once you’ve found your average monthly data usage amount, you can use this as a guideline when choosing your limited data plan. If you find yourself using less data than you thought after switching to a limited data plan, you can always reduce your data allowance and save even more money.

If you’re still unsure of how much data you need, you can check out our general recommendations based on the most commonly used activities on your phone—assuming you mainly use data on your phone while commuting during the workweek, or while you’re out and about.

Most Commonly Used Activities Amount of Data Needed Monthly
Map directions, browsing the internet 2GB
Music streaming, social media, map directions, browsing the internet 5GB – 10GB
Video chatting, browsing the internet 5GB – 10GB
Netflix or YouTube, browsing the internet 10GB – 15GB
Online gaming, browsing the internet 10GB – 15GB

How to Use Less Data

If you’re looking to maximize your savings on a limited data plan and limit your data usage, you can take advantage of these data-saving tips in order to reduce your monthly data consumption.

Use WiFi

One of the easiest ways to reduce your data usage is to use WiFi whenever possible. If you have WiFi at home, school, or work, make sure you’re connected to it at all times when in those locations. You can also connect to WiFi in public areas or in some cafes and restaurants, although you may be required to make a purchase in that specific store in order to access their WiFi. Make sure to use caution when using public WiFi, as you could be vulnerable to hackers. Don’t sign into anything important, such as online banking.

Go Offline

There are a lot of apps that are either designed entirely for offline usage or allow you to download content in advance to avoid using data when you’re not using WiFi. If you mostly use map directions, watch videos, listen to music, or play games, you can either look in your favorite apps for an option to download content, or you can download an additional app that has offline functionality in your phone’s app store.

Call and Text in Place of Messaging Apps

If you normally use social media or messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, to talk to your friends and family, try either texting or calling them instead when you’re not using WiFi. These apps use data, whereas texting and calling do not.

Check Your Settings

Did you know that most apps will continue to run or update themselves in the background even when you’re not using your phone? You can go into your phone settings in order to turn off any automatic updates that may occur. You can also find all the apps in your settings to see which ones use the most data and press ‘force stop’ to reduce any data that those apps are using in the background.

Data Saver Options

Most apps that require a lot of data, such as Netflix or YouTube, do offer easy ways to reduce your data consumption. For either of those apps, go into the settings and look for a setting that limits mobile data usage. You can also reduce your data usage while streaming video by setting the video definition of the video you’re watching to 480p or lower. Some phones may even have a data saver option in phone settings that you can take advantage of to reduce your data usage even more.

Best Limited Data Plans

Now that you know how much data different activities use and you’ve learned ways to reduce your data consumption, you’re probably ready to switch to a limited data plan in order to save anywhere from $50 to $80 per month. Check out some of the options below for some cheap limited data plans.

Mostly surf the web when you’re using data on your phone?

Do you use a wide variety of apps?

Do you use your data to watch videos or play games?