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How to cut costs on data plans

There have been a number of must-have trends throughout history. While in years past the hottest commodity was the in-demand toy or gaming system, today people cannot seem to get enough of their technological gadgets, most notably smartphones and tablets.

Evolving phones and handheld computers have revolutionized how people communicate. By the end of 2011, market research from Nielsen indicated that 50 percent of mobile phone users in the United States relied on smartphones over standard feature phones. Due to the numerous abilities of a smartphone, including the ability to browse the Web, send e-mails and texts, as well as play streaming video and games, smartphone users must sign up for a data plan to make everything possible. People may be unknowingly spending more than they have to for these plans.

Consumer Reports says that the average cell phone user spends $600 per year on basic mobile services. When texting and other smartphone features are added in, the cost balloons to $1,800 per year. There are ways to cut these costs considerably if you simply pay attention to details.

* Don't bundle up just yet. Regular voice service has lately become a cheap commodity. In an effort to make more money, phone companies are pushing higher-end smartphones that require data packages. Take inventory of the features you plan to use and see how the service plans for those features add up. Instead of spending $100 for an all-inclusive plan, you may be able to buy it in piecemeal and save some money.

* Take inventory of how much you use. When browsing the Internet or exploring different apps, it can be difficult to keep track of just how many minutes, texts and megabytes you are using. But knowing what you use will help you determine the range in which you fall with regard to service. If you find you only send out $7 worth of text messages, do not pay for an unlimited text package that costs $15. Services like can analyze your cellphone usage and make recommendations to cut costs.

* Reduce megabyte guzzlers. Certain features require more bandwidth than others and can take more time to download and more megabyte data usage. Applications like YouTube work better when viewed on a computer hooked up to a traditional modem. According to the Onavo, which measures how data is being used, a YouTube app for a phone accounts for 40 percent of data consumption. App downloads for Angry Birds or Words With Friends represent 13 percent of data usage. All of this congestion results in dropped signals, slow e-mails and delayed Web browsing. In turn, phone service companies have to invest in different and more expensive broadband networks to improve service. Those improvements cost money and are passed down to the consumer via expensive data plans.

* Select the cheapest plans. You can compare plans to see which get the best ratings through Consumer Reports. The organization found that AT&T's unlimited Web add-on is the cheapest, at $15. Be sure you do your research in advance. You may incur hefty early-termination fees if you decide to switch your plans or companies before the contract is up.

* Unlimited is not always better. Again, figuring out how much data you use can help you scale down bills. You may be able to sign up for a limited data plan that's far less costly than the popular unlimited plan if you don't use that many megabytes per month.

* Check for discounts. Certain employees, law-enforcement officials or members of the military may qualify for a plan discount, depending on what the phone company offers. Inquire to see if there are any discounts based on where you work or your membership affiliations. Also, ask your employer if they subsidize mobile phone plans. If you are a business owner, the costs of a mobile phone may be tax-deductible.

Mobile phones have become must-have commodities. Costs for the services associated with the phone can quickly add up, but there are several ways that users can reduce spending on phone data plans.