Eight ways to cut down on your monthly subscriptions

Subscribe, unsubscribe, re-subscribe, repeat.
iPhone with Spotify
How much are infinite skips anyway? Omid Armin / Unsplash

It’s amazing how quickly a few subscriptions can add up. $16 for Netflix here, $10 for Spotify there, $10 more for that new platform everyone’s talking about, and before you know it, you’ve racked up $100 or more in monthly costs. If that portion of your budget has gone a little out of control, it may be time to take a strategic look at what you actually use.

1. Pay for the essentials up front

If you know you just can’t live without a certain subscription—that space in the cloud to back-up your computer comes to mind—you might be able to save some money by paying for a year (or more) up front, rather than on a monthly basis. Backblaze, for example, costs $6 a month, or $60 for a year up front. You can even pay for two years up front for $100, which is a total of $34 in savings. It’s small, no doubt, but the more subscriptions you can pay up front, the more you’ll save. And this is not only for digital services—some insurance companies may even offer similar incentives, so check with yours if you have the option.

2. Scale back your services

In other cases, you may want the subscription itself, but you can lower your cost by scaling back the features you use. Netflix in 4K is nice, but unless you have a high-end TV, Netflix’s cheaper Standard HD plan may be more than good enough. Again, that $3 savings may seem like small potatoes, but repeat the process for other bills and you’ll be looking at significant monthly savings. Start by making a list of your subscriptions and see what can you dial back: maybe you don’t need five whole gigs of data on your cellphone plan—especially if you’re spending most of your time connected to WiFi—and maybe you don’t need the fastest internet speeds money can buy—actually, you probably don’t.

3. Rotate subscriptions as you need them

You might have grabbed that HBO Now subscription to watch Game of Thrones, but HBO is banking on you forgetting to unsubscribe, or keeping it around just in case—even if you already have dozens of hours of TV waiting for you in your other streaming queues.

But as we’ve already mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with unsubscribing, re-subscribing, and then un-subscribing as you need a given service. Grab Netflix for a month when the new Stranger Things comes out, cancel it and switch to Disney+ for The Mandalorian; then cancel that and move to HBO for the latest season of Watchmen. It might seem like a lot of effort, but unsubscribing is easy, and that way you’d only be spending $10 a month rather than $30 or $40 for all those shows you “might” watch down the line.

4. Negotiate your rates

You probably know that you can negotiate your cable and internet bills, but have you actually taken the time to do it? It’s super easy, and it works for plenty of other subscriptions too. We’ve got your step-by-step guide right here, but here’s the gist—do your research and ask what you need.

Dive into Google to see if anyone else has successfully negotiated their bill down and how low. Then find out how your company’s prices compared to the competition’s so you’ll know what fee is worth quitting for. Then call the company (or, if you’re nervous on the phone, bring up their online chat), and tell them your bill is too expensive and you’re hoping they can find you a better rate. If they don’t meet your number, ask to cancel. Every time I’ve done this, they’ve come back with a better number, sometimes even going through this process two or three times until they reach my goal.

They usually lower their prices for a limited amount of time, so you may have to repeat this process every few months when your bill goes back to normal. But once you do it once or twice, it becomes second nature.

5. Share your account

People listening to music.
This is not what we mean with going halfsies, but if it works for you, sure, why not. Wesley Tingey /Unsplash

In certain scenarios, you may be paying full price for a subscription, but only using part of it. Maybe you’ve only registered three out of the five devices a service qualifies for, or you’ve only used a few gigabytes of cloud storage space and you have plenty of extra to spare. If that is your case, then you might be able to get a friend or family member to go halfsies with you. My brother in law and I did this with my old cloud backup service, and we both got a good deal as a result—just be sure to read the terms of service, since some products may specifically forbid this practice.

6. Buy instead of subscribing

Take a look at your subscriptions and ask yourself a simple question: which of these are costing me money, and which are saving me money? A Costco membership, for example, pays for itself as soon as you replace the tires on your car. In other cases, buying individual items a la carte may be better for your wallet. Do you really need an Amazon Prime membership if you only require two-day shipping for a few items every year? Do you really need that YMCA membership when you only go once or twice a month and can pay for individual visits instead? Tally up the totals and see what shakes out—you might be surprised. Even if you want to visit the gym four times a month, canceling your subscription and paying per-visit is a good idea until you actually build that habit.

7. Find free alternatives

You might be surprised at how much free stuff is out there if you look in the right places. Got too many streaming services? There are lots of free ones with rotating catalogs. Kindle Unlimited weighing down your wallet? Check out the Kindle Lending Library instead. Or maybe check out an actual library—yes, they still exist both physically and online. With a library card you can often access an enormous library of ebooks, movies, music, magazines, and a whole lot more.

8. Kill what you don’t need

I know you don’t want to hear it, but some things just aren’t necessary to your daily life. Once you’ve done the above, make a point to track all your subscriptions in one place. Apps like Truebill and Trim (which can even handle some of the aforementioned negotiation) will do this for you, but I just use a separate page of my budget spreadsheet.

If, after some time, you find that one of your subscriptions isn’t getting used, cut it ruthlessly. Remember you can always resubscribe later if you happen to miss it. If you’re having trouble quantifying how much you use your services, calculate an hourly rate for the relevant ones—if you spend 20 hours a month watching Netflix and only a couple hours listening to Spotify, then that music plan is a lot more expensive, even though they both cost $10 a month.