If you’re spending most of your time at home these days, you might be able to save a lot of money on your monthly phone bill by swapping to a usage-based plan.
Unlike most modern unlimited data plans that charge a flat fee for unlimited data usage each billing period or hyper-restrictive budget plans that only allow calling or texting, usage-based plans charge users only for the data they actually use each month.
Google Fi, for example, charges $10 per gig of mobile data used (or $1 per megabyte if you’re under a gig). There’s no limit to how much data you can use, but your bill does eventually reach a limit, so you won’t be charged an astronomical amount during months you happen to use more data than normal. The billing caps are roughly equivalent to what other unlimited plans cost—between $50 and $80 depending on the company and features you select—so you aren’t going to spend too much more even in the months you go way over.
The catch here is that you have to be consistently under a certain threshold to actually save money, which is easier said than done. The average smartphone uses roughly 31.4GB each month, according to recent figures. If you’re plowing through tons of mobile data, you’ll probably be spending as much—and potentially more—on a usage plan than you would if you just had an unlimited one. However, just like with other data plans, wifi data is not included in your monthly usage. You could use 20GB of data on your home wifi network and not incur a single charge.
The wifi data-exemption is exactly why usage-based plans are so appealing for those working from home right now. In fact, a recent article on Android Central shows how existing Google Fi users could see a large drop in their monthly bill thanks to all that extra time connected to wifi. As long as your home internet plan isn’t overly restrictive, you could save quite a bit of money each month—especially if you limit mobile data and restrict certain background applications through your device’s settings.
The best way to know if a usage-based plan is right for you is to check how much mobile data you’re going through on average. You can usually find this on your monthly phone bill, your account summary on your cell carrier’s website and/or in your device’s settings. Most usage-based carriers feature helpful bill calculators that estimate how much money you’ll spend on their plan based on your average data use.
Google Fi, Ting and US Mobile have the most well-known usage-based plans on offer. Here are their billing models based on a single-line plan. (Important note: Double check that these carriers support your specific smartphone and local area before signing up!)
- Starts at $20 per month, plus $10 per GB of data used (calculated down to the cent), so using 1GB of mobile data would equal a bill of about $30. Any data over 6GB is not charged, meaning you’ll pay a maximum of $80 if you use over 6GB of data (before taxes and government fees). That said, if you’re consistently going over, Google Fi’s $70 unlimited plan might be a better fit.
- Starts at $6 per month, plus all usage fees. Ting charges piecemeal for everything, including data, text and call time. The limits scale differently based on each of the features. You can estimate your monthly bill on Ting’s website, but in general, you’ll probably save even if you spend a lot of time texting and calling. For example, if you used 1000 minutes of call time, 2000 texts and 1GB of mobile data, you’d only be billed for about $48.
- Scales based on all usage. Much like Ting, US Mobile charges calls, texts and data usage separately, and each one has its own maximum charges (but not usage limits). But even if you’re charged the maximum for calls ($8) and texts ($6), during a month where you only use 1.5GB of data you would be charged just $24 before taxes and fees.
You should be able to save plenty of money each month, even if you happen to use some extra mobile data, as long as you’re doing the majority of your downloading and streaming while on wifi. It would take several gigs to reach some cost as an unlimited plan. However, if you’re looking to really clamp down and make the most of your usage-based plan, here are some ways to reduce your mobile data use:
- Keep your phone connected to your wifi when at home and trusted networks and free hotspots when out on the town.
- Try to pre-download any podcasts, videos, music and other content while on wifi to reduce content streaming over mobile data, which is what normally eats up the most megabytes.
- Limit your mobile data use as much as possible when not on wifi. Features like power saver mode and airplane mode will come in handy, as will disabling mobile data or even just turning your phone off while not on wifi if you don’t need it.
- Close apps running the background if you’re on mobile data, especially social media apps, web browsers, navigation apps and streaming apps.
- Set up data usage limits and warning to keep you from accidentally racking up excess charges.