I Turned Off My Data for a Week & Lived to Tell About It

November 2012 marked a big change in my life .  During that month,  I lost my “dumb phone” on a flight to St. Louis (still haven’t figured out how I managed to do that) and upgraded to my first smartphone.  For the longest time, I fought off the smartphone craze, saying things like “I don’t need it,” “I can live just fine without having the internet at my fingertips,” and “I don’t want to be one of those people addicted to their phones.”  Well, after I left the airport and realized I didn’t have my phone in my pocket, that change I had been fighting for so long was forced upon me.   Fast forward to summer 2016 and I was forced back into the “dark ages” for a week….I had to turn my data off!  The good news here is that I am still alive to tell you all about it and I learned a lot about our addiction to data during these “troubling” times.   I wanted to share this experience with you all, but please note the references to “struggling” or “tough times” or any other dramatic phrase have a major sarcastic undertone to it!


Why did I have to turn my data off?

My family is on the Verizon (Ticker: VZ) share plan.  I’m sure most of you know, but up to 10 lines can share a certain data limit with up to 10 lines on it and the cost of the data is split among the phone lines.   My family plan has six members on it and we share 10 GB of data.  Typically this hasn’t been a problem; however, for this month, both of my sisters and my wife each took separate trips.  What do you do on your trips?  Burn through data as you try to navigate a new area and figure out your surroundings.  No, this wasn’t a Pokemon Go inspired data overage!  With seven days to go in our plan, we received notification that we almost hit our data  allotment  and would be charged handsomely for each GB we went over.

For me personally, my solution was to return to the “dark ages” that I referenced in the introduction to the article.  I turned my data off immediately and turned back the clock on my phone.   When I wasn’t connected to WiFi, I could only text and call  on my phone.  Unless I was connected to WiFi, there would be no Tweeting from our account, no Facebooking from the Diplomats’ page, no aimless surfing, no unnecessary/lazy usage of Google Maps for directions,  and no responding to comments on our blog.    If I wanted to do something extra, I would either have to suck it up until I went home or try to find a WiFi connection wherever I was.  Folks, the struggle was real!

What happened & lessons learned

What happened?  Nothing.  Absolutely Nothing.  I was joking above, but there was no struggle.  It is funny, turning off my data showed me just how much of a luxury data was.  I didn’t need my smartphone or the internet to live my day-to-day life.  Remember those quotes from the introduction, the things that were my biggest fears and reasons why I didn’t need a smartphone, data, or the whole nine yards?  I had forgotten that as my smartphone became intertwined with my every day life and our blog began to take off.  I forgot that there was a time where I lived just fine without having unlimited information at my fingertips and all answers readily available.  I forgot that it is okay not to have my phone attached to my side or explore on my own without knowing the answers or the Yelp scores of every place I went.

Of course, I wasn’t completely handicapped here.  So many places offer WiFi nowadays that I can still use my phone if I can access the internet.  So I wasn’t living in the dark ages when I went to a restaurant with WiFi, when I was at home, or when I was at work and could hop on my company’s WiFi.  That’s a huge disclaimer to all of this.  But, not having the data turned on my phone did open my eyes to a few things and teach me a few lessons that I can hopefully carry forward when I turn my phone’s data.

It Can Wait –  Whatever it is that you think you need to look up and know the answer to now, most likely it can wait.  Who was the MLB All Star Game MVP in 1997?  Don’t know, but it can wait (Will give major props to anyone who knows that without looking it up and lets me know in the comments section.  Honors system here folks!).   Who followed our Twitter account or followed the Dividend Diplomats on Facebook today….It can wait.   What was the name of the movie that featured X actor/actress 10 years ago with that really funny plot about something that I just can’t remember during this conversation…it can wait.   Having smartphones and access to this information whenever we want through data or WiFi has created this “Know Now” mentality that forces us to look up everything at that moment in time, because let’s face it, the world will end if I don’t know the answer to all my questions within 10 minutes.    Before, I was absolutely a “Know Now” person.  But this experience reminded me that I can function just fine without knowing the answers to my questions until a later date.

Improved Conversations–  Part of my seven days without data overlapped on a work trip and one of my co-workers and I traveled to Vermont for a client.  Typically, what happens when we travel with our co-workers is that most of our lunches and dinners involve catching up on Twitter, the news, the markets, what happened in the sports world during the day, and for me, catching up on a lot of the Diplomats happenings since we can’t check during work all the time.  Well, when I didn’t have my data turned on and the restaurant didn’t have WiFi, I wasn’t able to do any of those things.  I actually had to talk to my co-workers about things. OH MY GOSH…STOP THE PRESSES!  It turns out we had a lot of great conversations and I got to know them pretty well (Shocker, I know).

To parlay off of the last point, we had a really fun conversation one meal where we tried to name all the Heisman Trophy winners since 1995 and their respective teams.   My data was turned off so I couldn’t look up the answer and we set a rule that he couldn’t look it up on his phone either.   It was a blast and I think we hit about 75% of them since we took the time to think about it, talk about the possibilities based on our knowledge of championships, etc (Darn you Chris Weinke!).   But if we just sat on our phones the whole time like we typically would, these conversations would never have happened.  Funny how the basic art of conversation gets away from us as we are glued to our phone screens.

A Lot of Places Offer WiFi–  I was shocked about this.  Since I didn’t have my data turned on, if I wanted to use my phone for anything outside of calling and texting, I had to connect to WiFi.   It blew my mind how many places offer free WiFi to their guests.  So many restaurants, stores, and public places have a free WiFi connection that is either open to the public or is easily accessible if you ask for the password.   All I had to do was ask, a favorite frugal living lesson of mine from a year ago, and the waiter or waitress happily provided me with their creative WiFi password.  My favorite password was “End Apathy!”   Having access to WiFi was huge and definitely eased the pain of not being able to use my data.  Without free WiFi, the tone of this article would have been a lot less optimistic and probably had a much more annoyed tone to it.   But it is great to know how easily you can access WiFi and will help reduce overall data usage going forward when I do decide to flip the switch back on.

Improved Focus on The Road–  This is the last one and it is kind of embarrassing, but not having data has made me a better and more alert driver.   How easy was it at red lights to update your Twitter feed, see who was the last person to follow you on Twitter, or read the comment on your blog that prompted your phone to vibrate?  Extremely easy!  Well, you will never have WiFi while driving, so not having data turned on removes all of those distractions from you while driving.   My focus on the road has never been better.  Our cars cause us enough headaches with all of the other costs such as insurance and costly repairs, we don’t need another self induced expense from an accident caused by our smartphones.  Sadly, it honestly should have been like this all the time and I shouldn’t be writing this.  But, it is a major pro to all of this!


Told you all this had a sarcastic undertone to it.  While it sucks that we used up most of our data allotment, this was a great eye-opening experience that the world will still revolve without it.  My life will be okay without data and in fact, it will barely be impacted (especially with how readily available WiFi is).   All the stuff I thought I needed data to do can still be done without it.   Going forward, I am going to focus on remembering all of these lessons learned and hopefully continue to apply them all.   I don’t need data to have a good conversation at dinner and I don’t need to have all my answers answered immediately.  This week proved how wrong that mentality of mine over the last few years was and I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong.   This was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

What are your data usage habits?  Do you try to only use data in an emergency?  Or does your plan allow unlimited data usage?  How have you handled situations like this?  Are there any other lessons or points that you would like to make that I left out of this article?  Please all, share your experiences here, I would love to hear them!



25 thoughts on “I Turned Off My Data for a Week & Lived to Tell About It

  1. Hey Bert, can totally relate – occasionally I use up all my data and have to go into dumb phone mode. It’s not too bad really! Plus, if you have downloaded games on your phone, you can just play those instead 🙂

    But really, the thing I agree with is that things can wait – there’s nothing that urgent that can’t wait until you’re at least in WiFi range again.


    • Tristan,

      Learning to wait was probably the most refreshing thing from all of this. A great freaking reminder that the world will move on if you don’t address it now. Something you sometimes want to remind your bosses too haha

      And no, dumb phone mode isn’t bad at all…in fact, it is extremely refreshing. Great tip on the games, I’ll have to remember that next time. I try to keep the games to a minimum though so I don’t get addicted to them.

      Thanks for the comment!


  2. It is always refreshing in life to see things from a different perspective. It really helps facilitate us growing into the people that we are meant to become! I hope things have been going well for you Bert!

  3. I need to do a WiFi cleanse as well. I don’t use too much data each month (normally less than .250) but I’m connected to wifi all the time and find myself on it mindlessly. I have thought about taking some time off from it but I never pull the trigger. I’m glad you proved that the world doesn’t stop when you aren’t connected and that everything turns out just fine. I may need to follow your lead and give mine up for a bit!

    • Thias,

      Well, it wasn’t a full Wifi cleanse. I was still connected to Wifi and able to use that. To avoid sitting on my phone on Wifi constantly, I have been resorting to just leaving my phone in the other room or out of reach. Sounds ridiculous that I need to go to those lengths, but if I have to get up to get my phone, chances are that I am not haha But you are absolutely right, it was refreshing to prove that the world goes on if you aren’t staring at your phone 24/7. A nice reminder here.


  4. When we went on our family trip, we turned off data for a few days. It was actually very relaxing when you are unplugged from the world.

    • D4s,

      It is awesome. I love hearing that from you and others as well. How nice was it not having constant twitter updates, news refreshes, and texts from people that allowed you to focus on some quality time with your family?


  5. You are a braver person than me Bert. I will admit that I am a classic millennial that is addicted to my phone. Give me five seconds of not doing something and I will be on my phone reading something. I will say though that my cure to this is to exercise as I get to unwind for the day.
    Fun fact though, whenever I go back to Trinidad I do not have data so technically I have gone 4 months without it only using wifi when I had it but in the US I need data :(, or so I think…

    • hahahaha all of us millennials are addicted to their phones. I wouldn’t call myself “brave” though, we kind of backed ourselves into this situation and was able to be your typical millennial whenever I was on Wifi. It is just nice to have the forced stopping of constantly reading things when you are’t connected to Wifi. It is weird a first, especially considering how easy it was to whip out my phone when waiting in line, but I eventually got used to it haha

      4 months…great streak! I think you could pull off a similar streak if you were in the US.


  6. He lived to tell the tale, go bert 😉
    Without joking, I “misplace” my phone occasionally and love the piece and quite. It’s great to not be connected on occasion (especially true on holidays). As for data, we both have a company phone but try to limit data usages (especially for personal use). So we generally turn it off and just use wifi where possible, only turning data on when necessary for work purposes. Seems to work out just fine.

    • I’m just loving all of these comments. Everyone showing how things are fine when only using wifi and barely touching their data allotment. Kinda funny if you ask me. I actually temporarily lose my phone about once a month at home, so I understand the struggle you are going through. It is amazing not being connected and not having the crutch of surfing on your phone to fall back on.

      Glad to see that you lived to tell the tale as well!


  7. I’m almost never near my 3gb limit these days but that’s mainly because Wi-Fi is so prevalent. If wi-fi wasn’t everywhere then I think I’d have some issues because I’m on my phone all the freaking time. I’m probably addicted and not sure if I could go a week without the internet at this point.

  8. I have 3gb and I am always surprised I actually use it. Most games and apps now use insane amounts of data but I guess I could find wifi almost everywhere…

    • 3 GB can definitely add up quickly if you download a lot of apps and constantly have them running in the background and engaging in activities that use up data. It may seem like a lot, but one or two days of heavy use and you can fly through that. Don’t even get me started on streaming. It seems like the newer apps are designed to suck up data as well. That’s the best party about having Wifi almost everywhere. I just wish there was a feature hat would fully disable apps unless connected to Wifi. If there is, I would love to find it.


  9. I’m happy you survived. I should try this with my 15-year-old. I suspect that he would rather lose a finger or two than go with data ;-).

    • hahahaha I don’t think kids would handle it nearly as well as us. Especially now that Pokemon Go is such a big thing. Talk about data hogs…. If you try it with your 15 year old son, please let me know how that turns out…


  10. My wife and I use little data. The kids a bit more. We recently dropped from 15GB to 10GB plan to save $20 a month. We have carry over so I might revisit and drop it down lower if we are still carrying over a lot. Glad to hear you had fun with your co-workers.

    • Saving $20 per month AND having carry over is amazing. How do I sign up for that plan?? I wonder if they will let you keep the data you have carried over if you drop the monthly usage in the future. Imagine if your data bank became so large that you could use a 2GB plan (which is much cheaper) for a while without skipping a beat.


  11. I still dont have a smart phone! I am in the minority for sure at this point and yes, the friends poke fun when I whip out my dumb phone to talk/text but hey… all those things above that you mention… that occurs everyday for me. Thinking about answers, conversations, alert driving (hello printed map quest directions on long trips alone) and for the time being, I still do not want a smart phone. Like you said – it can wait!

    I will say though that the biggest thing that annoys me with my dumb phone is that it can not handle big group texts and that is a major drawback. It also cannot handle texts with emojis or pictures. If it could, I dont think I would ever migrate towards a smart phone but there are things that I miss out on and it would be nice to have those features.

    Anyways… glad you got to experience my life for a week haha


    • Woah…Woah….Woah…..ADD, I am loving the fact that you don’t have a smart phone. That’s awesome that you have held out for so long. Now this truly goes to show that you don’t need all the bells and whistles of a smartphone to survive. Heck, I can’t think of the last time I actually printed off step by step directions on Mapquest. I remember when you had to do that before any big trip and that was the new high tech way of getting directions to places. Man…

      I can definitely see how the group text thing can get annoying. Smartphones make it so easy to have a group conversation and getting individual text notifications when you can’t see the group messages would suck. After I while I would just tell my friends to take me off the group text haha

      It is all funny to me and you are a perfect example of how you can live the exact same life without being addicted to data. Sure there are some features you would like, but none of them are necessities to live on a day to day basis. I wish I could walk in your shoes for more than a week and I may be doing this long term haha

      Thanks for sharing your story ADD!


  12. I held out until 2012. I only succumbed because my dumbphone broke and it was impacting my dating life. True story. I now run a business and a non-related blog largely from my phone while I am at my FT, non-brain-requiring job. I definitely go over my 2 GB lately, but that is just my being silly.

  13. Hi Bert, I went 5 years without data but when my phone broke, I upgraded to a new plan with 5gb data a month. Ever since, I do not think I can survive without data for more than 2 days . 🙂

  14. I lose my phone ALL the time. Or maybe one of my kids loses it. (yeah we will go with that!) Or it’s dead. Or on silent for the last 10 days without me noticing. People have stopped taking it personal when I take 5 days to respond to a text. Something that was really challenging was no cell phone/internet for 50% our 6 week road trip this summer. The whole 10 days we were in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons I had NO internet. At all. It was weird to be so off the grid. But weird in a good way. Apparently my happy life keeps moving forward even if I don’t get to check fb. Who knew?

  15. I switched from AT&T to straight talk to drop my bill. But I’ve been seriously considering switching to Tracphone or some other a-la-carts carrier like us mobile. I’ve started using google hangouts for their free Sms/call phone feature. And now I’m thinking, why do I even need data. I’ve got wifi at work and home, the two biggest places I’m at. Anyway, will hopefully make the switch soon and live to tell the story! Lol

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