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Avoid unexpected bills: how to keep track of your mobile data

Quick and easy ways to help make sure you never exceed your allowance

Your smartphone is a window to the world: videos, music, social media and the internet are all readily available from the slate in your pocket and data is how you access it.

With so many things requiring a data connection, you would assume that your phone is hungry for it, devouring your precious megabytes every time the screen lights up, but not everything your phone does requires buckets of data and it’s easy to check how much you’re using.

Keeping on top of your data can stop you getting a panic-inducing bill, but it can also highlight how you could be using more of it every month.

Whether you’re an iPhone or Android user, here’s how you can keep track of your data.

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How to check your data on Android

There’s no shortage of Android phones from different manufacturers, but the method for checking your data usage is similar regardless of which brand name is stamped on the handset. Some of the extra features you can access from the data menu many differ depending what version of Android you’re running.

  1. Go to the Settings app on your phone and scroll down until you see a menu called Data usage or Data.
  2. In the Data menu it will show you how much data you’ve used since a certain date. You should make sure the start date or billing cycle for your contract is correct so it refreshes at the right time.
  3. If there is a suitable option, make sure your billing cycle is set to monthly and you can then see how much data you’re using each month.
  4. You can also set a data warning, so if you’re getting close to your cap your phone will alert you and, in some cases, switch your data off until you override it.
  5. You may see a Data Saver option in the menu too. Activating it will stop some apps from using your data while you aren’t using them. You can also choose which apps have unrestricted access, so you’ll still get emails and notifications when you’re using other apps or your phone is asleep.
  6. Selecting Mobile data usage within the menu will show you how much of your data each installed app is using. You may be surprised at how hungry, or not, some apps are.

How to check your data on iPhone

The data menu in iOS isn’t as robust as the one on Android, but you can still see how much data you’ve used.

  1. Go to the Settings app and select Mobile Data.
  2. This menu will show you data you’ve used in the current period, which will be from when you first started using the phone.
  3. It will also show how much data you’ve used while roaming, which is useful when you’re abroad.
  4. You can also see how much time you’ve spent on the phone since you got your phone.
  5. At the bottom of the menu is a list of all the apps installed on the phone and you can select the ones you don’t want to use data. Underneath each app it will also say how many megabytes of data it has used so far this cycle.
  6. If you want to monitor your data month by month then you’ll need to remember to reset. Select Reset Statistics at the bottom of the page to set your data back to zero.

Can apps give you more information on your data?

If you’d like to dig a little deeper into your data usage there are several apps that fit the bill.

My Data Manager – Data Usage. Free on iOS and Android

This app monitors data, wi-fi and roaming usage as well as your calls and texts across multiple devices. Perhaps it’s most useful feature, particularly if you have YouTube obsessed kids, is the family plan system, which lets you keep tabs on everyone’s data usage, not just your own.

My Data Manager also keeps a record of how much data you used in past months, so when you’re due an upgrade you know exactly how much data you need.

GlassWire – Data Usage Privacy. Free on Android with an iOS version in the works

GlassWire is similar to My Data Manager, but with one useful extra. Sometimes mobile phone providers like to sweeten the deal on a contract by offering free data for certain services, such as Netflix or Spotify. This can be a good offer if you’re a music or movie junkie since these apps can use hefty amounts of data.

GlassWire lets you make certain apps exempt for data tracking, so you won’t get an alert saying you’ve almost exhausted your data, only to find out that half of it was used on Netflix, which you’re getting free data for in your contract.

DataEye – Save Mobile Data. Free on iOS and Android

As well as giving you all the tools to track your usage, DataEye gives you extra control over what’s running in the background to not only save you data, but battery life, too.

It also highlights useful apps that don’t use any data at all and partners with some mobile providers to bring you offers on reduced cost data and even free data add-ons in some cases.

Are you worried about how much data you’re using, or have you been hit by a huge bill? Do you leave data turned off, or only use wi-fi to avoid the risk? Join the conversation and tell us about your own experiences

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