Everyone loves having a reliable mobile service, but very few of us love seeing excess charges on our bills. It’s fine to budget for the expected, but when you’re constantly racking up excess charges on your phone bill, especially for data usage, sometimes that budget can go flying right out the window, taking the hard-earned contents of your wallet with it.
How bad is the problem of excess data charges? Our research at finder.com.au suggests that in 2016, Australians spent a whopping $146 million on excess data charges. That’s a lot of money being spent in situations where a little prudent usage or careful checking could have saved you money rather than you wasting it. With our appetites for data-heavy services such as video messaging, Netflix streaming and online gaming only intensifying, it’s likely that this figure could rise if Australians don’t get wise and save their mobile data for when it’s really needed.
So how do you best manage your mobile usage to avoid excess charges? In a truly nuclear sense, you could always disable data usage on your smartphone entirely, but that’s a radical step that would limit the usage of your existing plan in frankly unacceptable ways. The thing is, you don’t have to be radical. Just follow these simple tips to get your mobile data usage under control.
1) Work out which apps are gobbling up your data.
Did you know that your phone tracks your mobile data usage by app? For iPhone users, head to Settings>Mobile Data to see which apps are the biggest culprits when it comes to data usage. Android users will find the same information in their Settings app, typically under Mobile Networks and then Data Usage, although this varies a little depending on your handset and Android version. If you find any apps that you don’t use any more eating up your data, uninstall them! For apps that you still want to use, keep an eye on any data spikes and consider limiting their background data usage so that they’re only eating up data when you’re using them.
2) Go offline for apps when you can.
Many Australians are big Netflix fans and it’s not hard to see why. The problem is that data usage on Netflix can easily chew up all of your data. Instead of streaming live while you’re out and about (where you may hit buffering issues anyway if you go into a tunnel or hit a very busy mobile cell tower), consider using Netflix’s offline viewing option to preload episodes of your favourite Netflix Original series before you head out. Competitors Stan and Amazon Prime Video both offer this feature for a wide range of TV shows and movies too.
3) Use public Wi-Fi (but use it smartly).
Loads of shopping centres, cafes and other public attractions now offer free public Wi-Fi to entice patrons through the door. Why not use their free services rather than your paid data? The one caveat here is that you shouldn’t perform any private tasks, such as online banking or sending photos, on such networks because you can never know who else might be snooping on your mobile traffic. The use of a VPN, or at least websites that use HTTPS, is a must if you want to browse privately.
4) Make sure you’re on the right plan!
If you’re always hitting your data limit before the end of the month, instead of paying the extra charges every time, have a look at some higher-tier plans. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront each month, but if you’re always blowing past the cheaper limit and paying loads in excess charges, upgrading your plan could actually work out cheaper in the long run. It’s also worth checking for features that let you simply drop data usage for your plan in your current billing cycle, as well as paying attention to usage alerts when they come through.
Alex Kidman is the Tech & Telco editor at finder.com.au.