Costs add up with subscription services
Sure, it’s nice to have your groceries delivered now and then. Ditto dinner.
Want to stream your favorite movies? Why not? Curated clothes and books sent to your home? Yes, please.
Subscription services are attractive because they’re easy to sign up for and come with a minimal monthly financial commitment. But the small costs can add up, and prices can increase over time.
“It’s very easy for consumers to lose track of what they are purchasing,” said Kate Ryan, a director with TIAA Financial Solutions.
There has been a proliferation of subscription services in recent years. Throw in auto-billing and the ease of mobile payments, and you can see how some expenses can fall under a consumer’s radar.
About 15% of online shoppers have signed up for one or more subscriptions to receive products on a recurring basis, according to a study released last year by McKinsey & Co.
More than half of U.S. consumers streamed video content via subscription last year, according to NPD Group. And nearly two billion foodservice deliveries took place for the year that ended in March, according to NPD.
Here are a few tips on how to get a grip on it all:
Do an audit
Pay close attention to all the payments you make — recurring or not — and to the forms of payment: credit cards, apps such as Venmo, etc.
Research by Waterstone Management Group found that 84% of consumers underestimate how much they spend on subscriptions. Waterstone looked at 2,500 American budgets and found that while consumers estimated they paid almost $80 a month on certain subscriptions, they actually paid closer to $240. Sticker shock can often be a good call to action.
Consider the value
Deciding if all these costs are worth it is a highly personal decision.
Grant McOmie of Portland, Oregon said that he and his wife began to cut back last year. They decided ridesharing didn’t have a spot in their aggressive budget, and they ditched Amazon Prime, Netflix and various music streaming services as well.
“Ultimately none of these services were worth it,” he said. He estimates that over the past 18 months — through taking the bus instead of Lyft or Uber, and cooking a meal instead of ordering delivery — they’ve saved around $5,000.
In some cases, however, convenience can pay off. Sarah McLaughlin relies primarily on Instacart for her groceries and estimates she’s cut her monthly grocery spending by $200 by curtailing her impulse spending.
Instead of picking up extras like magazines, makeup and prepared meals, she buys only what is on her list and is able to use online coupons to maximize her savings.
Consider other benefits too: A time-starved parent may be thrilled to pay extra for food delivery. A pricey at-home workout subscription might be worth it to a fitness junkie.
Ask yourself: If I didn’t have this service today, would I buy it again? Then consider whether you would pay cash each time these charges occurred.
There’s plenty of research to show that a consumer is likely to spend more if they use a credit card, versus the inconvenience that comes with paying cash. So ask yourself whether you would hand over $50 cash for that last Uber ride and see how that feels.
How to make changes
There are some actions you can consider to adjust your habits:
— If you know you are ready to ditch something, unsubscribe or delete your account. Be prepared; they will try to lure you back.
— Add some friction. Even small steps to make payments less easy may curb your spending, such as eliminating auto billing or deleting an app on your phone.
— Put all your subscription or convenience spending on one card to better monitor it. Or change your credit card number, forcing you to update billing only for the services you truly want.
— Set an alternative goal. If there is something else you are saving for — such as a new car or a down payment on a house — think about that when you are tempted to make another purchase. That can help keep your spending focused.
— Go on vacation or do something else to disrupt your life. The best way to break a habit is to change the context in which the habit was developed. So if you get meal kits each week, a vacation may change your routines and help shake your reliance on them.
In the end, it all comes down to you.