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5 ways to use less data on your smartphone (No. 4 will make a huge difference)

It’s easy to go over your data limit when you’re streaming shows on Netflix or downloading songs, videos and other media files. After all, we pay good money for wireless internet access, so we want to use these features to the fullest potential. But if you never think about how to use less data on your smartphone, overage charges will slap you in the face.

Pick the wrong data plan and your money will run away like a screeching cat scrambling out of a bathtub. If you’re wondering whether you should switch to an unlimited or capped data plan, we’ve got just the tip for you. Tap or click here to see if you should be paying for an unlimited data plan.

Let’s say you already have the perfect plan for your needs. There are still some clever ways to bring the cost down without sacrificing convenience. Here are five ways to drastically reduce your data usage and keep costs down.

1. Stop the social media madness

When you’re uploading that hilarious photo or amazing video to your favorite social media app, remember that you’re using data. An 8-megapixel photo on your smartphone can approach 5 megabytes, and some smartphones have more than 8 megapixels.

If you upload just 100 photos a month — which is common if you travel a lot or just like to share pictures of your kids — that’s half a gigabyte of your data gone. It gets worse when you upload lots of videos.

Even a short video can be dozens of megabytes. One clip could top 100 megabytes. Start uploading those and your data plan is will quickly disappear.

It isn’t just uploading, though. When you look at photos and videos on social media, your phone is actually downloading them. Luckily, viewing videos doesn’t take up as much data as uploading. That’s because social media sites compress the videos you upload.

One of the best ways to use less data on your smartphone is by turning off autoplay

Every video you watch takes up massive amounts of data. That’s one of the reasons people were annoyed when Facebook debuted auto-playing videos. Even if you stop a video after a few seconds, it still took a chomp out of your data limit you could have used for something else.

Luckily, it’s easy to turn off auto-playing videos. In Android, open the Facebook app and go to Settings. Change “Videos Auto-play” to “Off.” You can also set it to “Wi-Fi only,” so they only auto-play when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, but I prefer to control when videos start.

For iOS, go to Settings > Facebook > Settings. Under “Video,” tap Auto-play. You can choose “Off” or set it to “Wi-Fi only.”

Here’s a general rule: Browsing social media is fine over cellular data. But if you want to start looking through photo albums and videos, wait until you’re home on a Wi-Fi connection. (That’s especially true when you want to start uploading videos.)

2. Stop the non-social media mayhem

A lot of people buy the cheapest version of their smartphone, which means it usually has 16GB of storage. Once you factor in the operating system, apps and photos, that’s not a whole lot of room left for a large music library or full-length movies.

Instead of trying to cram everything in, many people just use a streaming music site, such as Pandora or Spotify, or a streaming video service, such as Netflix, YouTube or Hulu, for entertainment. This is good for saving space … but it comes with a price.

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At high quality, streaming music uses up just over 2MB of data a minute. At that rate, you would burn through a 2GB data plan in 40 hours. So, if you listen to songs while you’re at work, your data plan will last you for one week.

When it comes to movies things are much worse. A Netflix movie uses 1GB an hour for standard quality and 3GB an hour for HD. So, your 2GB data plan will let you watch most of a single movie at standard quality. Even a 10GB data plan would only get you three movies a month, assuming you do nothing else with your phone.

In short, if you’re going to be watching any more than a short YouTube clip here or there, hop onto a nearby Wi-Fi connection.

3. Stop the chatting (This is one of the best ways to use less data on your smartphone)

We’re not talking about text messaging or chatting. Texts use practically no data. In fact, you could text the entire works of Shakespeare and only use up 5MB of data.

No, the real danger is picture messaging and video chatting. If you’ve been keeping up so far, you know that pictures are worth several times more than a thousand words of data use. So, trading pictures back and forth with friends is going to eat into your data plan, especially since most carriers are now using data for this rather than the older texting system.

Video chatting through FaceTime or Skype is even worse. It isn’t quite as bad as streaming a movie from Netflix, but you can still put a dent in your data. An HD Skype call can burn around 11MB a minute, meaning you could use up a 2GB data plan in just three hours.

Again, if you’re going to be messaging your life in pictures or chatting using video, save it for when you have a Wi-Fi connection.

RELATED: The best unlimited wireless plan for those 55 and up (with Netflix included!)

4. Stop apps from misbehaving

Even if you’re really careful about what apps you run and what media you stream and download, your data might still be going fast. That’s because some apps will use your data to download information throughout the day without asking. Another way to use less data on your smartphone is by preemptively stopping them from sneaking around in the background.

In Apple, go to Settings > Cellular. You’ll see a list of apps and how much data they’ve used. A quick swipe of the slider will tell an app not to use data. It will only be active when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. This might be a good idea for something like the App Store to make sure it isn’t updating apps in the background.

For Android, go to Settings > Data Usage and choose the Mobile tab. You’ll see how much data you’ve used for the selected time period and what apps are using most of it. If there’s an app hogging data that shouldn’t be, tap on it and swipe down to the bottom of the page. Then tap “Restrict background data” to stop that app from grabbing data when you aren’t on Wi-Fi.

5. Start using Wi-Fi

I’m sure you’ve noticed a pattern in each one of these suggestions, and that is to use Wi-Fi instead of your data plan whenever possible. For basic internet browsing and sending text emails, using your data is fine, but anything involving pictures, music and videos is better through Wi-Fi.

Using Wi-Fi, I can usually keep my data use to below 1GB a month without much hassle. And you can find it for free or at a low cost just about anywhere you go. Just load up your phone with an app like WiFiMapper and you’re set.

Here are even more ways to use less data on your smartphone

How to avoid hitting your internet data cap

Easy change to use up less smartphone data every month

Pro Tip: Use this Google feature to drastically cut data usage

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