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7 ways to cut your data and airtime bill

Use these tips to make sure you’re getting the best value for your data spend - and slashing your monthly costs.

1 November 2019
5 minute read

man on cellphone

Data costs have fallen. That’s the good news! But not all the way, your monthly mobile and internet bill can still take up a chunk of your budget. We found tips to help you save on your data expenses.

1. Select the network with the cheapest data bundles for your usage patternsMobile airtime and data contracts work on data bundles where you get a set amount of data such as 1GB for the month for a set charge (in-bundle). When you use more data than is in your bundle you pay a different rate (out-of-bundle), which is usually higher than your in-bundle rate.

So, the best way to get the cheapest price is to work out how much data you use each month and find the cheapest contract for that amount of data.

Compare the cost of 1GB of data (on contract)

  • Vodacom: R109
  • Cell C: R75
  • MTN: R149
  • Telkom: R99
  • Rain: R50

If you use more or less than a 1GB compare costs for the amount of data you typically use. Be sure to check coverage of the network – it isn’t much use buying the cheapest data if you don’t have network coverage in your area.

There is a bit of a war on for customers so providers are always offering special deals on data. Many of these are for larger data bundles such as 20GB, and the deals are good if you use this amount of data. Some providers also offer discounted rates or extra data for off peak usage, which you can use to download series or movies or other large data item.

2. Set a data alert and find out about out-of-bundle rates and roll-over ratesSet a data-alert on your phone so you know when you are close to using all your data for the month. You can then decide if you want to top up - which is usually charged at prepaid rates that are more expensive than in-bundle rates - or start using out-of-bundle rates or switch off.

Service providers are also required to contact you when you are running out of data on your bundle so you can accept or reject an out-of-bundle rate. Find out what these rates are so you don’t get caught unawares by a high bill at the end of the month.

And while you can roll-over data not used in the previous month, this may also be at a higher rate or up to certain limits only such as 500MB for one month only.

3. Use free wifi – carefullyIt’s more unusual to find an area without wifi than it is to find one with wifi. Shopping centres, restaurants, coffee shops and outdoor venues nearly all offer wifi to their customers. So make use of it, taking note of any usage limits. BUT be very careful if you use wifi for confidential matters such as banking. Always use a VPN network or wait to do your personal banking until you are on a secure network you trust. Criminals are always on the lookout for personal details they can use to scam you – don’t give them access to your personal information by sharing it when you are using a wifi network.

Connect with wifi: On your settings button on your phone you will have a wifi switch – turn it on to pick up any networks as you move around.

4. Stop your apps from eating your data Apps are wonderful – don’t let them become wonderfully expensive! Regularly check how much data they use which you can do by checking data usage details via settings. Then check the settings in these apps (open the app to do this) and see where you can reduce the data they use such as turning off notifications. And switch off auto-updates so you control where and when you update and what data you use.

If you are not using an app, turn it off or uninstall it.

You can also turn off autoplaying and autodownloading of videos on Facebook and Instagram to save your data.

And download to watch later, don’t live stream!

Your provider may offer special social media site deals such as free data (up to a limit) on Whatsapp so ask them what additional services they offer.

5. Turn off your mobile data You can simply turn off your mobile data unless you need to use it. Of course, you can just turn it on again, but the extra step makes you pause and consider whether you really need to scroll down your Facebook feed at a red traffic light.

Bear in mind that apps like WhatsApp won’t work with data off, so make sure your closest friends and family know how to get hold of you if they need to.

6. Don’t forget about airtimeWhile data makes up most of South Africans’ cell phone bills, it’s worth paying attention to the costs of airtime as well. If you are on a contract, make sure that your contract matches your usage. Get a package with the right number of minutes to support your average use. Your service provider should be able to help you work this out.

If you are on pay-as-you-go, minimise your call time as much as possible. Remember that calling friends on the same network as you costs less, so if you have multiple phones, always make a call from the most cost-effective one – and call landlines from your landline, if you have one.

And if you are in a wifi zone, use Skype or WhatsApp Call to keep your costs down.

7. Ask your service provider and mobile device manufacturer for tipSaving on data costs is a universal theme, so your service provider and phone manufacturer should have some good tips and ideas on how you can keep costs down.

Keep control of your costsData is essential in our day-to-day lives. But it doesn’t need to break your budget. Check your usage, check the data Ts and Cs and find out about special deals from your service provider. That way you control your data costs and won’t get bills that surprise you at the end of the month.


Original article published on: 25th July 2017
Updated on: 1st November 2019

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