Subscription services like Netflix, Game Pass, and Spotify let us consume as many movies, games, and music as we like for a flat fee per month. While this seems like a great deal on the surface, the costs can quickly add up.
Here are some tips on breaking free of subscriptions that no longer spark joy.
Why Cut Back on Subscriptions?
It could be argued that subscription models aren’t purely about consuming media, whether it’s games, music, movies, or niche and original content. The way we treat these subscriptions often feels like we’re paying purely to have access, rather than to actively use the subscription.
It’s nice to have a Netflix subscription ready to go the next time a new documentary or original smash hit lands, it’s nice to have Spotify for listening to music in your car on long journeys, and it’s great to have Game Pass for times when you’re not playing one of the $60 new releases you had to buy from the store.
This isn’t true of everyone, and some prefer it when these services help decide their viewing habits. You might only play whatever’s been added to Game Pass each month, before moving on to new titles next month for example. Many are probably familiar with the “Netflix deadlock” of scrolling endlessly in the pursuit of something to watch (only to settle on something you’ve already seen or aren’t that engaged in).
Subscription models aren’t necessarily bad, but they can be wasteful of both your money and time. Ask yourself how much money you would spend on movies or TV content per year and consider whether that exceeds the $240 or so you spend on a 4K Netflix subscription.
Looking at subscription models as a yearly fee can help put your spending into perspective. It allows you to contextualize whether or not these services are of good value. Microsoft’s Game Pass costs around $180 per year, which is the price of three full-price games (at $60 each). If you’re getting three full-priced games (or more) worth of value out of it, then the ongoing costs probably make sense to you.
But remember that when you buy three games per year, you get to keep them forever with no further commitment required. Some mediums like games and films get cheaper over time, particularly on second-hand marketplaces like eBay so you could always pick up something you loved later for a bargain. This doesn’t necessarily apply to other mediums like music or hard-to-find Blu-Rays.
Tools to Help Moderate Your Spending
The easiest way of tracking your subscription costs is to use a simple spreadsheet. You can turn this into a broader family budget spreadsheet to manage all your outgoing costs, which gives you a better overall picture of your monthly incomings and outgoings. Microsoft has some available through its Office website, while Google Sheets has templates in the “template gallery” you see when you start a new document.
You can make this as complex or simple as you like, adding and removing subscriptions over time. You’ll have to keep this up to date by yourself, and you’ll miss out on things like notifications that let you know when your subscription is up for renewal (though you can add this information yourself).
The benefit of a spreadsheet like this is that it costs you nothing. You can use a service like Google Sheets, Apple Numbers, or LibreOffice Calc and keep it synced across devices so you always have access to it. Add your renewal dates to a reminders app and set alerts to ensure you always have money in your account when the time comes.
If you’d like something a little more purpose-built, there are apps and services that can track your subscriptions like TrackMySubs. The service is primarily aimed at businesses but can track up to ten subscriptions for free (with a $5 monthly fee for 20, with higher pricing tiers above that). There are built-in alerts so you can cancel on time if you need to, plus charts to help you visualize your spending.
iPhone users might also be interested in Bobby, a free app that does the same from a mobile interface. Subby is a similar app built for the Android platform. These apps have the added benefits of automatically notifying you whenever a payment is due to leave your account, giving you an opportunity to decide whether you really need another month based on past usage.
And then there are services that go much further than simple subscription services, like Truebill and Trim. These are whole online finance management systems that promise to get you better prices on your existing bills (like internet packages or cellular plans) by taking a cut of the savings. Trim is the better value of the two, taking a 33% cut (to Truebill’s 40%) and bundling in a free subscription management service (which costs extra through Truebill).
It’s worth keeping in mind that there are some horror stories online about these services renegotiating bills and negatively affecting plans or taking a cut of savings that customers themselves have organized. You need to give these services the “keys” to your financial life and trust them implicitly. On the upside, they technically shouldn’t cost you anything since their fees are recouped from your savings.
However, there are some caveats. Not all banks are compatible, and some banks will already provide similar tools to manage your finances (or at the very least visualize your incomings and outgoings). There are also privacy and security considerations to make when handing over access to your finances like this.
How to Save Money on Subscriptions
Rotating subscriptions is a great way to save money, particularly if you mostly subscribe for original content. Unlike movies and TV shows which are licensed, original content is unlikely to disappear from the service. The only price you’ll pay is potentially missing out on the hype and conversations surrounding a new hit, as we’ve seen with shows like Squid Game and Stranger Things on Netflix.
There are only so many hours in a day that you can dedicate to catching up on content like this, so it often makes little sense to have two or more “primary” content subscriptions going at once. It’s better to rotate between services and play catch-up every few months.
If it’s your first time subscribing, you can also take advantage of free trials. Some services will offer a free trial again in the future just to get you back in the door, or you can get another member of your household to sign up next time instead. Subscriptions may also be included with other products, for example when you buy an iPhone you get a free trial to Apple TV+.
It’s also worth keeping an eye out for new services that have just launched which haven’t previously been on your radar. This is especially true if you have niche interests. For example horror movie fans should check out Shudder, classic cinema buffs might like The Criterion Channel, and indie film fans will love MUBI. Most offer a free or heavily discounted first month, and you can resubscribe in the future to catch up on what you’ve missed.
Another avenue for saving money is Microsoft Rewards. This reward program lets you earn points by unlocking Xbox achievements and searching with Bing (among others) which you can then cash in for real-world rewards. You can exchange your points for codes that give you access to services like Spotify and Crunchyroll, sometimes for up to three months.
Lastly, some cable or home internet providers bundle subscriptions to services like Netflix with their higher tiers. It’s always worth checking what you’re entitled to with your plan to make sure you’re not missing out.
Too Many Subs
While services like Netflix and Spotify screamed value for money when they first launched, the fragmentation of the streaming economy has led to a worse deal for consumers over time. The upshot of this is that more services are creating original programming and content to compete, which means more varied and interesting programming to watch.
In terms of games, Nintendo already offers some emulation with their Nintendo Switch Online service, while Game Pass remains a great value. Now Sony is entering the streaming space, so how does PlayStation Plus stack up to its closest rival?
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