From streaming TV channels to phone apps to food services, your money is being siphoned off here and there — a little or a LOT — over the course of a year.
So the question is do you know, and I mean REALLY KNOW, what your subscriptions are costing you?
Several times a year, my bookkeeper will shoot me an email when she’s reconciling the credit card statements and ask, “Lori, what is this charge?”
My first reaction used to be, “I have no idea, OMG… it must be a fraud!” Only to dig a little deeper and realize it’s the phone app I signed up for on a whim and missed making a note to cancel before the trial expired. Or it’s the annual charge for a course I forgot would renew and that I STILL have yet to dive into. (Please tell me I’m not the only one guilty of that… please.)
I’m dating myself here, but I fondly remember when Adobe Creative software upgrades came out on a CD (remember those?). Depending on the improvements made, every 3 years or so you invested $600 to install a new version and you were good for another few years. Today the subscription is monthly and equates to $600 each and every year. No option.
Or this little gem… did anyone else’s Google Docs & Sheets get suspended out of the blue unless you agreed to an $18 subscription? Happened to me in August 2022. One day I’m doing my thing, working away and the next day I have no access to my online docs with deadlines looming unless I start paying for a service that had been free. YIKES!
Recent studies have found that subscription models can account for $200 or more of our monthly personal expenses. Well, that was all the nudging I needed to look at my own collection of subscriptions to see where I fell on the spectrum of subscription indebtedness.
So, over the holidays, I rolled up my sleeves, promised myself a margarita as my reward when I finished this beast of a task, and dove in. The reality of this exercise was staring at me in black & white and perhaps some flashes of red. What I uncovered shocked me a bit...
My personal/home subscriptions averaged $232/per month. This included things like clothes, streaming channels, hair products, supplements, meditation apps, and food services.
My business subscriptions were a bit steeper at $672 /per month for important tools that I use daily. That margarita just shifted from reward to numbing agent.
Times — and paying for services — have changed.
Subscriptions are the ruling model of the moment and so our system to track these recurring charges needs to keep pace.
The 4 actions I’ve implemented to take back control of subscriptions:
Track… oh so simple to do and it simply does not get done. I created an excel spreadsheet to log subscriptions as they happen. I note whether they are personal or professional in nature, if they renew monthly, quarterly, annually, or something in between, and the month in which they started. Also, keep an eye out for any fine print that states that the charge will hit your account as “XYZ” which can be very different from the actual service name.
Set reminders… once I have my tracking sheet started, I go into my calendar and add those renewal dates. Do I do this for monthly business subscriptions like Audible, Adobe Creative Suite, and LinkedIn? No. For me, these are part of my monthly overhead for doing business. It’s the annual renewals that sometimes catch me off guard. On the personal side, optional subscriptions like Stitch Fix, Prose, or Vital Proteins with variable renewals must be logged in my calendar or I will be surprised by a package (and expense) I was not anticipating.
Review cost & payment method… while the amount may be nominal ($.99… $9.99… $15.98…) if it’s hitting a credit card that you are not paying off every month, those subscriptions are costing you more than the charged amount. Believe me, I love racking up points on my credit card to cash out later, but it can be a slippery slope if the balance isn’t cleared each month. So be honest with yourself about those recurring expenses. If you are not willing to have it come directly out of your checking account, OR you’re not paying off your credit card monthly, rethink if it’s really a necessary expense.
Reassess… I use the end of the year as a gut check on whether I got value from my subscriptions. Do I need the paid version or is the free version enough? Was it an experiment? Did it deliver value that outweighed its cost? And here’s another litmus test… take that monthly cost and multiply x 12. Is that nifty phone app still worth the money? The answer was “No” on two for me.
Subscriptions aren’t inherently bad.
One of the subscriptions I absolutely love is Audible. Can’t imagine road trips, long flights, or sleepless nights without it. Subscriptions are convenient, relatively flexible, and let us try things without a huge investment. We can cancel at any time provided we notice the expense hitting our bank account.
Interestingly, the Kearney Consumer Institute is predicting a steep decline in the subscription market looming, predicting a subscription apocalypse on the horizon. The Kearney survey found more than half of subscribers wanted to reduce their subscription exposure to about $50 per month. Overall 40% of the consumers think they have too many subscriptions. I’m in that group. Are you?
Take an afternoon and go through your credit cards and your bank statements. Find those recurring charges and make a spreadsheet. Or email me and I’ll send you my template to get you started.
If you need help, reach out. I’ll be happy to mix a margarita and drink it for the two of us.
Disclaimer: I am hardly a financial guru, but as a business owner I have to manage my books and a P&L. My financial degree was earned at the University of Life and its sister institution the University of Solopreneurship. After 20 years of being self-employed, I’m close to earning my PhD.
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