Death By The $10 Monthly Subscription

One of my favorite phrases of 2018 went a little something like this…

“It’s only $10 a month!”

Before the internet exploded, subscriptions seemed limited to a) magazines and newspapers, or b) total ripoff service like the Columbia Mail Order CD Club (please tell me someone else remembers this?!). Now, of course, you can literally order/buy anything your heart desires via a subscription model. Everything from movies and razors, to themed subscription boxes for you or your pet. Do I have to say it again? It’s an amazing (albeit slightly terrifying) time to be alive.

I think one of my very first “tech” subscriptions was Netflix — back when they still offered physical DVDs by mail (#imold). There may have been a few others here and there, but generally, it was rare that I paid for something this way. Now, I pay for somewhere close to 20 subscription services each month. TWENTY!!! I’ve listed a bunch of them below so you know I’m not being hyperbolic. Some are billed monthly, others are billed yearly — but somewhere between 2012 and 2019 they slowly started taking over my credit card statements, and I’m at the point today where the majority of my credit card bill is comprised of monthly subscription charges.

Medium — $5/month

Hulu — $7.99/month

Netflix — $10.99/month (but going up $2 soon)

Lola — $12/month

Spotify — $14.99/month

Audible — $16/month

Barkbox — $22/month

New York Times — $25/month

Peloton — $40/month

Plated — $54 per box (we usually get 1-2 a month)

Adobe Creative Cloud — $55/month

Thrive Market — $60/year

Amazon Prime — $99/year

Canva — $120/year

Sirius/XM Radio — $230/year

WordPress — $300/year

The Economist — $55/quarter

Wall St. Journal — this one is a little complicated to break down with all the discounts/gift subscriptions we’ve had over the years!

While it’s somewhat shocking to see that number (and see how long it takes me to scroll down that list), I can’t say it really surprises me. Because I closely review my credit card statements every month and, like a freak, check my Quicken account at least once a day, I’ve known for a while that I had started to accumulate quite a few subscriptions. But what DID shock me was doing the math on just how much we’re actually PAYING in subscription costs per month and per year. This is where I think a lot of people fool themselves into thinking these services “aren’t that expensive”. Individually, they aren’t. But collectively? Yikes. So it’s safe to say that we (like many others) lost sight of just how much money we have been spending on these each month. And if I’m being TOTALLY honest, it was probably also a little bit of laziness on my part. Even though I recognized there were a few monthly subscriptions we could probably cut, I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and, well, here we are.

But I could no longer live in denial when I finally sat down a few weekends ago to work on our 2019 family budget. Side note: I’m a huge fan of budgeting and tracking expenses, but as the year goes on I tend to slack on keeping up with my monthly process of downloading credit card and bank statements and bucketing each expense into a category so I can see where our money goes each month. I’m hoping to do a better job this year. But wait. You might be thinking, “Emilia! There are apps that will do this for you!”. And it’s true, there are. But I like my process and find that is much simpler and more accurate than some of the apps or software I use/have used (e.g. Mint, Quicken).

We don’t eat out a lot and we don’t shop a lot — we don’t spend a lot of money in general. Or so we thought (ha!). In fact, we ARE spending a not-so-insignificant amount of money each month on “services”. Keep in mind that I AM drawing a distinction between subscription services for the things I’ve outlined below, and monthly dues for something like our gym or monthly/yearly renewals for things like car insurance. Those are obviously also billed monthly or yearly, but (IMO) fall into a different category.

So how did this spiral out of control? Well, I have a few theories:

  • There’s something about spreading out the cost of a purchase that makes my brain think I’m paying less. So if given the choice, oftentimes I’ll opt for the monthly cost vs. the lump payment. Especially if it’s a service I’ve never used or tried before.
  • Subscriptions allow a little more freedom and flexibility, especially if you can cancel at any time.
  • Typically these are all on auto-pay so it’s easier for me to “forget” about them each month (whereas as it’s hard to ignore the cost of something when you go to a store and swipe your credit card to make a purchase).
  • Individually the monthly cost for each of these services seems SO LOW

Ok, now that I’ve exposed how much of a sucker I am, you’re probably thinking “ok, that’s great and all, but offer up some kind of solution.” So here’s what I’m doing to (try to) stop the madness.

  • Turn on alerts from my credit card companies — Most of these are already turned on because it helps me monitor any potential fraud. However, the added bonus is that actually SEEING that monthly charge go through each month and show up as a push notification on my phone is a helpful reminder that BARKBOX IS NOT FREE and no matter how much Dexter likes the toys, our money might be better spent (or saved) elsewhere.
  • Sit down and do an audit of all of your subscriptions — Yes, this is manual and maybe even a little tedious, but the only thing worse than paying for too many of these services each month is paying for services you don’t want that you didn’t even REALIZE you were still paying for.
  • Use a tool like Trim or Truebill — I wasn’t too concerned that I was paying for subscriptions that I wasn’t aware I was paying for, but I WAS a little curious to see if any of the tools/apps that I had seen out there were worth using on a regular basis.
    • Trim is an interesting service that isn’t an APP, but a “Chatbot” or AI Assistant (the friendlier term) that interacts with you over text message. Trim does have a mobile-friendly website where you can view transactions and see a summary of your subscriptions.
    • Truebill is a little bit like Trim on steroids and offers a slightly more in-depth look at your finances and spending habits. Truebill’s iPhone app is nicely done and fairly easy to navigate. As with any of these apps that proclaims to help you budget and categorize your spending, Truebill is a little dumb at first. So as expected I have had to do a lot of recategorization of my expenses. Truebill does give you the option to have it “remember” the correct category though, so while I’m not sure it’s actually learning, at least it’s listening to what I’m telling it to do. Of course, the app and more robust features do come at a small price. I pay $5 a month (yes, this is ironic since it’s supposed to be helping me CONTROL my subscription spending), but the interesting thing is that during sign-up, Truebill ASKED me what I wanted to pay (I’ve included a screenshot below). Truebill — I see what you’re doing there. But nonetheless, it’s an interesting this-is-how-we make-money strategy. Only time will tell if it’s actually worth the $5/month, but I’m going to give Truebill 6 months (and $30 dollars) to find out.

So my advice is, take a few minutes out of your next weekend Netflix binge-session to peel back the curtain on your subscription spending. And don’t be like me and avoid it out of fear of what you’ll find. There’s no time like the present to get rid of unnecessary charges and put a few bucks back in your wallet. At the very least, this exercise will open your eyes to how much is going out the window each month for all of the services that we feel like we so desperately “need” these days. Good luck, and let me know how it goes! 

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