Stung by increasing cloud costs? Downgrade iCloud to save money

Cloud storage prices are rising and Apple increased iCloud prices up to 25% recently. That is a big jump, but what can you do about it? Downgrade iCloud to a cheaper plan. Here’s how to do it.

To be fair, Apple iCloud pricing is not that expensive and not all parts of the world have seen price increases. Some have and some haven’t, although you have to wonder whether those that escaped the price rises will soon be hit by them.

Right now, Apple iCloud storage is priced higher than competitors like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and others. However, other cloud storage providers may also increase their prices, which may reduce the difference between them. Time will tell.

iCloud may not be the only online storage you are paying for and you may have storage elsewhere that is under used. For example, I have Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, Box and Mega, and some of them have tens of gigabytes of free space. I thought, why am I paying for iCloud when I am also paying for cloud storage elsewhere?

One reason is that iCloud is integrated with all of Apple’s devices and operating systems. It is the natural choice for iPhone, Mac and iPad. If you use only Apple devices, it works very well. However, if you use a mix of devices, like a Mac and and Android phone, or an iPhone and a Windows PC, you will find that iCloud does not work well across them. Alternatives are usually cross-platform and work everywhere.

If you want to reduce cloud storage costs, you could drop to a lower iCloud storage plan and save money. If you have online storage elsewhere, use that instead. For example, you could downgrade iCloud storage from 2 TB to 200 GB, 200 GB to 50 GB or even 50 GB to 5 GB, which is free.

It might seem like a lot to give up if you are on iCloud’s 2 TB storage plan, but it costs £8.99 a month here in the UK, whereas Microsoft provides 6 TB (1 TB per person) on the £7.99 Family Plan. OneDrive costs less and you get more space, plus all the Microsoft 365 Office apps too.

Google matches Apple’s 2 TB storage plan, but undercuts it on price, costing only £6.67 a month (paid annually), and they throw in a free Chromecast with Google TV too.

Of course, all of these prices and offers could change at any time. However, I decided to downgrade to the free iCloud plan, since I was not using much storage anyway, and to use more of the free space I have elsewhere. Here’s how I did it.

I will be using an Apple Mac to downgrade my iCloud subscription, but it can be done on an iPhone and iPad. Preparing for the downgrade is best done on a Mac though.

Check iCloud storage usage

To see how much iCloud storage you are using, open System Settings, click your Apple ID at the top of the sidebar and then click iCloud. At the top is a bar showing your current usage. Move the mouse over the colored bars to see how much space is used by photos and videos, documents, backups, mail and messages.

Manage iCloud storage on the Apple Mac.
View and manage iCloud storage in macOS

Click the Manage button to see a breakdown of the amount of space used by Photos, iCloud Drive, Backups, Keynote, Pages, Mail and other apps.

Downgrade iCloud storage plan

View iCloud usage and change iCloud plan on the Mac.
Want to change your iCloud storage plan?

Click the Change Storage Plan button to choose a different plan. Your current plan and bigger plans are shown.

Downgrade iCloud storage on the Mac.
Want to downgrade iCloud? Click this

In the bottom left corner is a Downgrade Options button to enable you to switch to a smaller and cheaper plan. I selected the 5 GB free plan.

Downgrade your iCloud storage plan on the Mac.
Select a new iCloud storage plan

Before you downgrade to a cheaper plan, make sure that your iCloud usage is lower than the new limit to avoid problems. Here is what you can do if it is not. Do these tasks first and then come back here and downgrade iCloud afterwards.

Move photos and videos to alternative cloud storage

The Photos app on the Apple Mac, iPhone and iPad is good, but it is probably the one thing that is using the most storage space on iCloud. Photos can work offline, but for convenience a lot of people use iCloud to store photos.

Reduce the online space used by Photos by moving photos and videos to alternative storage, which can be local or cloud based.

Open the Photos app and scroll back to the first photo you took. Select the oldest photos and export them to a folder on the Mac’s drive. Then delete the photos in the Photos app. Export more photos and delete them. You might save enough storage space by just exporting the videos and deleting them in Photos.

Export videos from Apple Photos on the Mac.
Export videos from Photos

Empty the Recently Deleted folder to completely erase exported items and shrink the storage space used by the Photos library. Check the iCloud storage usage again and export and delete more photos. Until the storage usage is under the plan limit. In my case, this is 5 GB, but it could be 50 or 200 GB.

If you have an iPhone, simply turning on the photo upload feature in Google Photos, OneDrive, Dropbox or Mega apps on the iPhone automatically uploads all photos to your online storage. If you are paying for storage elsewhere, use it instead of Photos and iCloud. You can still use Apple Photos, but if you do, delete old photos and videos so you don’t break the new downgraded plan storage limit.

Exported photos and videos can be imported into alternative online storage on your Mac through a web browser at the site. An easier way is if you have the sync apps on your Mac, you can simply drag the exported photos and videos to the synced folder using Finder, or export from Photos straight to your Drive/OneDrive/Dropbox/Mega sync folder.

Stop WhatsApp backups on iPhone

Another big user of iCloud storage for me is WhatsApp and gigabytes of space are used backing up every message. Text takes almost no space, but if chats contain a lot of photos and videos, they all get backed up to iCloud and the space used can be large.

Apps like Whatsapp back up to iCloud, using storage.
Whatsapp iCloud storage usage

I am a light user and have only a few chats, but still use 1.4 GB of storage after cutting down. Active people could use several gigabytes of iCloud storage.

Delete Whatsapp backups from iCloud on the Mac.
Delete Whatsapp backups to free up space

Click Whatsapp in the app list and delete the backup if you can bear the thought of not being able to restore chats and really need the iCloud space.

Open WhatsApp on the iPhone and go to Settings > Chats > Chat Backup. There is an option to exclude videos, which helps reduce the backup size, but no option to exclude photos. Tap Auto Backup and set it to off if you really need to reduce iCloud usage to a minimum.

I wish there was an option to exclude all media and just save text, which would save a ton of storage, but it’s everything or nothing. Disabling backups won’t suit everyone, so here is what to do instead.

Go to Settings > Storage and Data > Manage Storage. Browse the media and delete old, big and unwanted videos and photos to reduce the space needed for backups.

There is a Save to Camera Roll option in Whatsapp for iOS and I disable that to save space. I get many shared photos and videos in chats that are fun to see at the time, but which I don’t need to keep forever. Just long press and only save important photos and videos, which adds them to the Photos library.

You may have other apps using large amounts of iCloud storage. Check and see.

Mac Desktop and Documents syncing

Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Mega and other online storage enables you to sync folders on the Mac with your online storage and other devices. If you are syncing elsewhere, you probably don’t need to sync using iCloud as well. It is another way to reduce storage requirements.

Open System Settings, click your Apple ID and then click iCloud Drive to see space usage. If you need to reduce storage used, turn off the switch next to Desktop & Documents folders. I sync files in OneDrive anyway and have very little in Desktop and Documents on my Mac, so it’s still enabled.

Save screenshots elsewhere

It is not the default, but I was saving screenshots to a folder on iCloud for convenience. However, if you have Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox or other storage, screenshots can be saved to them instead. It’s saving me a couple of GB iCloud of storage.

Press Shift+Cmd+5 and click Options in the screenshot toolbar. Click Other location in the menu and select a folder in whatever synced drive you use.


I had the 50 GB iCloud plan, but I wasn’t using a lot of storage because I have other cloud storage apps on my Mac. Moving photos, videos and other files to OneDrive instead of iCloud and meant that I could reduce iCloud storage to below the 5 GB free limit and downgrade my account.

iCloud is now free, or it will be on my next renewal date. That is one less thing to pay for each month. This is not the ideal setup for everyone, but it works for me and instead of paying for multiple cloud storage services, I just pay for one.

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