How much mobile data do you really need?

You’re probably paying for far more data than you actually use. Here’s how to work out the right allowance for your phone.



  •  How to check how much data you use
  •  How to reduce how much data you need
  • Reduce how much you pay for your mobile data

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It’s now more common than not for mobile deals to come with unlimited text messages and even unlimited minutes as standard, which I think is great. If these are standard it means the difference in tariff prices is often down to the size of your data allowance. So the more you pay, the more data you’ll have every month.

And I’ve seen some ridiculous deals recently offering huge amounts of data for quite low prices. Unlimited data for £20 a month seems good, doesn’t it? And it is. If you need unlimited data.

But I’m going to say that you don’t need unlimited data. Or 40GB. Even 12GB is more than most of you should be using. So even with these cut-price contract special offers, it’s likely your bill will still be bigger than it needs to be.

Instead you’ll probably be far better off with a lower allowance at an even lower price. The key is to work out how much data you need.

How to check how much data you use

If your network has an app or online account, there’s a good chance you can check your usage through it. You should see your history over the last few months, as well as the running total for the current month. If you don’t have this in our account, you can call up your network and ask them to share this data with you.

I’m with Three and the app shows I usually use just under 2GB each month, and my usage only edges closer to 3GB on occasion. I very, very rarely head towards 4GB, and never more than this.

From this data I know I don’t need more than 4GB – and that’s likely enough for the average user. It’s possible to find SIM-only deals at this level for under a tenner every month – which is probably a lot less than you’re paying now.

So, first of all, check your current usage and compare that to what you’re paying for. Just doing this could significantly cut your bill. The next step is to look at how you actually use the data in your allowance. 

How to reduce how much data you need

Me being me, I’m careful with my data usage. By using some simple tricks I avoid unnecessarily racking up the megabytes. You won’t be able to copy me 100%, but following these principles will mean you avoid wasting data. And the less data you waste, the lower monthly allowance you actually need.  

Download music and movies rather than stream

Movies and TV are two of the biggest drains on your data allowance. Streaming a two-hour movie in SD could use close to 2GB. If it’s in HD it’s double. So don’t stream video.

Instead you should download it when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. The videos are then ready for you to watch offline. You can do this with iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime and NOW TV and the other catch up services too. 

Though music files are a lot smaller you should download your Spotify playlists and podcasts too. It takes no time at all.

Turn off mobile data

Once you’ve done this you need to turn off the ability for some apps to use mobile data. I do this for anything that could eat up a lot of data, so not just video and music apps. Doing this means they’ll only work when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. It’s easy to quickly flick this option back on if you do need to use the app via mobile data.

While you’re at it, you can go through all the settings on your phone to reduce background data use by apps. Pick and choose. You don’t need your email folder to constantly check for new messages, though you probably do want to get What’s App messages when they are sent.

Use Wi-Fi as much as you can

You should always be connected to Wi-Fi at home, and ideally at work too. This will reduce a huge amount of your data use.

Be careful though about using certain apps if the Wi-Fi isn’t secure. If you’re not sure, quickly flick back to mobile data to log-in to things like mobile banking or when paying for something. But most of the time if you’re just browsing the web this makes a big difference.

Watch out for auto-play videos

Even by following the above steps it’s possible to get caught out. Some webpages and apps will autoplay videos, often adverts. If you’re worried about your data allowance and this happens just close the tab on your browser. 

With social networks it’s worth checking the settings so videos only autoplay on Wi-Fi. You can still choose to watch those videos, but at least you’re in control.

Use data exempt apps

Some SIM deals will let you use certain apps without impacting your data usage. For example, Three has Go Binge with unlimited streaming of Netflix, Apple Music, Deezer and others; Sky Mobile includes unlimited Sky Go streaming; and EE offers six months of Apple Music and Amazon Video.

Carry unused data over

A couple of networks let you carry unused data over each month, rather than lose it. Sky, ID and Virgin are among those which allow data rollover, while Smarty will refund £1.25 to your bill for every 1GB you don’t use.

Reduce how much you pay for your mobile data

Once you know how much you actually need, it’s time to change what you pay. This might be as simple as moving down a level with your existing network. Or you could shop around to see what some of the smaller networks are offering – it’ll likely be cheaper.

But you can also use this information to haggle for a better deal. Some networks are desperate to keep you and will offer big discounts. I threatened to quit Three last month and in response they offered me 20GB for £15 a month.

I knew I didn’t need that much data, and I also didn’t want to pay that much money. So I stood firm. In the end I accepted an offer of 8GB for £10 – that’s £2 less than I’d previously been paying for just 4GB.

Even though that’s way more than I need, the price is at a level I’m happy to pay. And it also means I’ve got a little more wiggle room on data every month.

Read more about cutting the cost of your mobile phone

How to get the best price on your mobile phone contract and save

14 apps to save you money on your holiday

How to sell your old phone and make some money

3 thoughts on “How much mobile data do you really need?

  1. I recently joined Sky Mobile getting unlimited calls and texts plus 2GB data for £4.50 instead of £6 a month because I had phoned them and said I could get £10 cashback by going through a cashback site. So they reduced it to get me to sign up straight away. Suited me instead of waiting for months to get the cashback. A few weeks later they were offering the same deal for £3 a month but with IGB data which I was told was sufficient for SatNav. use for a month. I am not a big user of the phone and Sky allow rollover of data for up to 3 years so effectively you can increase your data allowance each month using Sky’s plan so that its there if you need more as the months pass by.

    1. That’s great Ray. Yes, always worth mentioning the discounts elsewhere. I did this for my Mum on Monday!

  2. SMARTY currently offer a sim only deal – unlimited mins and texts and 1gb of data for £6.25/month no contract. Each additional gb costs 1.25 but the great thing is, if you pay for 2gb say and only use 1gb you get the £1.25 back the following month.


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