My family was drowning in subscriptions. Here is how we got it under control and saved about $190 a month.

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My family was drowning in subscriptions. Here is how we got it under control and saved about $190 a month.
  • Despite a thriving US economy, many Americans feel it is worse than the reality.
  • For my family, the perception shift can be attributed to the rise in our monthly app subscriptions.

There are several reasons to think the US economy is thriving, yet many Americans still feel it is much worse than the reality.

Until recently, my family of four felt bad about the economy despite the good signals. Then we sat down, got better control of our budget, and realized how much our household economy had changed in 15 years. Specifically, what felt like an endless supply of monthly app subscriptions that didn't exist in the 2000s.

We had everything from a food delivery app to a habit tracker app. As a family, we had about 20 apps and streaming services with subscriptions that made it easy to forget how much we were spending each month.

But we aren't alone. A 2022 study showed consumers underestimated app subscription costs by $133 a month.

Our subscriptions needed an intervention. Here are the six steps we used to get out of subscription hell and cut our expenses by about $190 a month.

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1. Track everything

1. Track everything
An example of a YNAB budgetYNAB

Our family now tracks every expense and keeps a budget in the YNAB app. This is a great app if you are ready to go all the way with budgeting, but other apps out there have an easier learning curve if you are just getting started or just want to track your expenses.

The key to success for us was tracking every dollar spent. Seeing where our money went gave us a better idea of how much was wasted each month on apps we didn't need or rarely used, helping us save hundreds every month.

2. Categorize all your subscriptions

2. Categorize all your subscriptions
Our Peloton subscription passed a key test.Peloton

We broke all our subscriptions into three categories: needs, wants, and why are we still paying for this?

For something to be a need, it had to either make us happier, healthier, or wealthier. For example, watching sports makes me happy, so ESPN+ — which costs $11 a month — is in. The Peloton app — which costs $48 a month — makes us physically and mentally healthier, so it is a need. We also kept the YNAB app — which costs $99 a year — because the amount of money it saves us makes up for the price.

Netflix — which starts at $7 a month — is a good example of one of our wants. We watch Netflix sometimes, but some months go by without it being used. So this is a subscription that we will pause for a while and then pick back up for a month or two and then pause again. We were surprised by how often we went five or six months without needing to see anything on certain streaming services.

When it comes to the last category, it can be annoying to cancel unwanted subscriptions, but many companies are making it easier.

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3. Avoid annual subscriptions, if possible

3. Avoid annual subscriptions, if possible
An annual subscription can save you 20% on HBO Max, but only if you use it all the time.HBO Max

Annual subscriptions are enticing because they cost less in the long run, but there is a reason for that — the companies want to lock you in long-term.

The problem with annual subscriptions is that you lose flexibility and control, and that is the key to saving the most money, in my experience.

If you can stay disciplined and review your monthly subscriptions every month or two and pause or cancel the ones you don't need, it usually only takes a couple of months with the subscription off to save money over the annual price.

Of course, there are exceptions. I have journaling, exercise, and banking apps I use every day without fail. In those cases, it does make sense to go with the annual plans. In addition, there are occasionally annual deals that are just too good to pass up. For example, the Paramount+ Cyber Monday deal offered an annual subscription for $24 or $2 a month. It would take just four months to pay the same amount under the monthly $6 plan.

4. Avoid bundles

4. Avoid bundles
Consider how often you need all the apps before signing up for a bundle.Disney+

Avoiding bundles is another strategy that keeps your subscriptions flexible.

For example, I use ESPN+ almost daily and Disney+ occasionally. If you subscribe to those apps separately, it would cost $19 a month. It might seem like a good deal to get the bundle at $15 a month, which also comes with Hulu.

However, we never use Hulu, and the bundle takes away our flexibility to turn off Disney+ for those stretches of months when there is nothing on there we want to watch.

The bundle would have cost us $180 in 2023. Instead, we kept ESPN+ all year and used Disney+ for two months which cost $148, a savings of $32. Not the biggest savings in the world, but it adds up.

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5. Always cancel your subscriptions immediately, even if you plan to keep it

5. Always cancel your subscriptions immediately, even if you plan to keep it
Apple iOS subscriptions page.Cork Gaines

I also suggest canceling any subscription you buy. That helps control your spending as you decide when — and if — you will renew the subscription.

This is also key for those free trials, which often come with automatic subscriptions when the trial ends.

You will be amazed at how often you can go weeks or months without using the app.

6. Don't assume the "deal" you are being offered is the best one available

6. Don't assume the "deal" you are being offered is the best one available
The subscriptions being offered can vary and can be found in the settings.Cork Gaines

On Apple iOS devices, there is a subscription trick for finding the best deal for an app.

The key here is to cancel the subscription. After that, go into the subscription section under settings. Here you will find every app you have or had a subscription with.

Click on the app, and on the next page, there is an option to "see all plans." Here, the app must list all its available subscriptions, not just those advertised.

Some offers can vary widely, but we've found a better deal roughly 50% of the time.

Getting our subscriptions under control was a bit overwhelming at first, and still takes a little leg work every month to keep on top of them. But the savings is worth the effort.

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