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3 ways to save big on your smartphone data plan

Struggling to stay within your smartphone's data plan? Here's three small ways to save big.
/ Source: TODAY

Struggling to stay within your smartphone’s data plan? You’re not alone. T. Mobile’s CEO John Legere estimated last year that carriers collect $1 billion in overage fees each year (the company recently abolished these charges, and is urging AT&T, Verizon and Sprint to do the same — so far, no dice).

Luckily, there are ways to maintain your regular data usage and an affordable smartphone bill. To start, as part of an agreement with the FTC, wireless providers must send you an alert if you’re edging close to a voice, data, text or international roaming overage. But while that can save you money, it doesn’t totally solve the issue — and it may leave you with no data access for the remainder of your billing cycle.

A better solution is threefold:

  1. Connect to WiFi whenever you can, which doesn’t ding your wireless plan data usage at all.
  2. Set data limits with your carriers (here’s information on that for Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint).
  3. And download one of the following data management apps. These run in the background of your phone to either compress your data or track usage so you know exactly where you stand:
  • Onavo Extend. Free for both iPhone and Android, Onavo uses a few tricks to conserve data. It doesn’t load images until you scroll to them, or caches them so they don’t have to reload every time you visit a website. It may lower image quality based on your settings. And it compresses data by filtering it through its own servers.
  • Opera Mini. If mobile browsing is your problem, this free web browser may be your solution. It works on nearly any phone, and the developer claims it will save over 90% of your data by optimizing pictures, videos and text when you browse online.
  • Dataman. Available only for iPhone, this app costs $1.99 and will track your data usage in real time. But the real secret sauce is in its prediction capabilities, which forecast whether you’ll stay within your plan’s allotment. That way you can cut back your usage, or get a bigger plan before you get charged for overages. It also offers custom alerts to warn you when you edge close.
  • My Data Manager. This app tracks your data usage -- including on shared plans -- and gives you a careful accounting of which apps are the biggest data drains. It also shows historical usage, so you can use past data consumption to decide if you’re in the correct wireless plan. It’s free for both Android and iPhone.