7 Ways Your iPhone Burns Data to Keep You Chained to Expensive Phone Plans

Hello, Dear Reader! You may have read my story of how I saved $15,000 by switching from a large cell phone carrier to a prepaid carrier (Mint Mobile).

In this post, I’m going to share with you how I overcame one of my big concerns – leaving an “unlimited” data plan for one that has a monthly fixed amount of data. For me, that’s 8GB of LTE data a month now.

It seems the Big Carriers have partnered with Apple to get you used to paying BIG each month for unlimited data. It may feel like you can’t get away from an unlimited plan. With a little analysis, you can.

What you’ll need on this journey

On your iPhone (if you mentally translate all this to Android for me, you can still play along), go to Settings, then Cellular. Then, if you have an older iPhone like I do, wait. It’s loading. Keep waiting.

Eventually, all your cellular usage will load, and show you exactly how much data each app or service consumes over a given time period, like so:

My data usage about mid-way through the monthly cycle

As you can see, I’ve already taken a scalpel to certain apps’ privileges on cellular data. Which brings us to the first thing that Apple and App Makers and Big Cellular carriers do to keep us chained to incredibly expensive phone plans:

1. Your iPhone hides the amount of data you use while on cellular towers

Now, you might say your phone doesn’t hide it. There’s a screen shot, right up there, two presses into your phone’s menu (Settings, then Cellular).

Yet, most people never see this screen. Most people never think critically about this screen. Most people never wait for this screen to load. They go on thinking they need all the connectivity to each of the 140+ apps on their phone at all times.

You are now empowered with information that can save you over $1,000 a year. Review your data list! Make some choices about what you will and won’t allow to run over your cellular data.

Be in control.

2. Your iPhone has “Wi-Fi Assist” turned on

And it is turned on by default, and Apple admits it. Wi-Fi assist is a feature where, when you go to the bathroom on the far side of your house, you use cellular data in addition to Wi-Fi data (at least in my house). This augmented “help” to a lighter-than-desired Wi-Fi connection is supposed to give you a better user experience.

The truth is, it may be eating up a big portion of your cellular data. If you want to be sure that the Wi-Fi connection is exclusively in use when you expect it to be, you’ll have to hunt this feature down and turn it off. It’s not obvious where to find it.

You might think with a name like “Wi-Fi Assist”, you could find it under the “Wi-Fi” menu in settings. Nope!

How about searching for “Wi-Fi Assist”? NOPE.

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Apple doesn’t even bother showing it in the search results.

Wi-Fi Assist? Never heard of it.

No, you actually have to go to Settings > Cellular again, wait for it to load, and scroll allllll the way down to the bottom to find this thing and finally turn it off, like so:

3. Your iPhone notifications make you think you really need to check LinkedIn, right now

We all know we are addicted to our phones. Every app wants to notify us of something.

There’s a new Nike run available. Someone liked your post on Instagram. You have a new connection on LinkedIn. You have one hundred seventeen new work emails.

The reality is, if you are out and about somewhere on cellular data, you do not need to check certain apps. They are burning data anyway, though. They are updating in the background, whether they alert you or not. Turn off their access if you really don’t want to use them on cellular.

My big “aha” on this one was LinkedIn. As you can see in the screenshot, just checking LinkedIn every time it thought I needed to (when it gave me a notification I found interesting) burns a lot of data.

Let’s be honest, no one needs to be on LinkedIn that much on cellular data unless they are a recruiter at a job fair.

In just a few days, LinkedIn burned 272 MB, and ABC News burned 148 MB in one day! Off, off, off – y’all done got your privileges revoked!

4. Your iPhone has an amazing screen, so you probably want to stream 4 gigs of Netflix at Kohl’s

Let’s be honest, if you have an unlimited data plan, and stream a lot of video, a fixed rate data plan and you aren’t going to get along without some changes.

If you watch Netflix, Amazon Prime video, Movies Anywhere, or many other streaming apps, you can download shows in advance to the storage on your phone. This is great when you are rolling through a shopping trip at Kohl’s and your one year old really, really wants to watch Peppa Pig.

Else, you stream Nick Jr. over cellular data and burn 2GB of data in about 40 minutes. Oink.

5. Your iPhone doesn’t have enough storage, so you “Optimize iPhone Storage” in the Photos settings

This was a learning experience for me. I’ve had a 64GB iPhone 6s Plus for several years. It’s a great phone, and with a free battery replacement from Apple, still has a year or more of great life in it.

The storage is a little too small, however, to keep full resolution copies of my photos. I store my photos in iCloud and pay a modest fee for a family storage plan. By “optimizing”my iPhone storage, I free up phone storage space.

Optimizing the iPhone storage for your photos can be a great space saver, but a data plan killer

As described above, when you have this selected, you keep the small images on your phone, and the high-res photos go in the cloud. However, what also happens is that when you take a photo, all that uploading of the high resolution photo happens on cellular data if you aren’t in Wi-Fi range.

Also, just flipping through your photos means that you are also downloading the high-res versions as you browse. If you try and take 10 selfies in a row to send to someone, it uploads 10-40 MB of data to iCloud right away.

Turn this off, and let the photo-syncing happen over Wi-Fi.

6. Your iPhone Maps app doesn’t download local maps, and you didn’t tell Google Maps to do it yet

Depending on how often you use Apple Maps or Google Maps, downloading map data each time you fire up the app is a big data drain. The maps for your city could be between 20-50MB each time they need to load.

While I don’t see a way to fix this on Apple Maps…also, really – Apple Maps? Come on.

There is a way to download your local maps to your iPhone using Google Maps. These refresh every so often, but only while on Wi-Fi, like so:

7. Your Podcasts download whenever they feel like it

I listen to a ton of podcast and audio books in my car. (That reminds me – What would happen if you stopped listening to music in your car?)

Podcasts, by default, are updated over cellular. If you have several favorite podcasts updating every day, you could be burning through several hundreds MBs per day.

Turn cellular data for Podcasts off. Let them update when you hit Wi-Fi.

What about you?

Did I miss any data-saving tips? Just using the tips above, I successfully took my 12-15GB data usage a month and got it down to less than 6GB. I didn’t feel like I missed anything from my phone while I was on cellular data.

I think it’s important to remember that not only is our addiction to unlimited cellular data costing us an extra $1,000 a year, but it also keeps us addicted do our phones.

By being mindful about what data is getting used on your phone, you could save a ton of money, use your time away from home more purposefully, and spend more time being present.

I hope you found this post valuable!

Since you’ve read this far, you are probably interested in reading about How I saved $15,000 on my cell phone bill.

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