Who else is Marie Kondo-ing their life right now? We’re ridding ourselves of big things like toxic relationships, thought patterns and habits. Some of us are tossing out and donating the stuff that no longer serves us — the books collecting dust, the old electronics in the junk drawer, the bridesmaids dresses in our closets that we’re never going to wear again.
At one time or another, all of these things served a purpose. They taught us a lesson, brought us joy, added convenience to our daily lives. But they don’t anymore, so we’ve decided to let them go and opt for cleaner closets, neater drawers and more peaceful minds. Isn’t it time we do the same thing with our money?
All we have to do is take a look at our debit and credit card statements from the last few months and we’ll come face to face with our financial clutter. You know, the forgotten magazine subscription, the gym membership we don’t use (and, let’s be honest, didn’t use regularly even before the pandemic hit) and the HBO subscription that is pretty useless now that "Game of Thrones" is over. I’m talking about the $10 here, $25 there, another $15 that we pay every month without even realizing it.
That’s $50 a month. Times 12 months. That's $600 a year. That’s a vacation or an elective medical procedure. That’s a solid start to an emergency fund or extra payments toward debt. That $600 every year in a 401(k) or IRA will be over $8,000 in 10 years and over $42,000 in 30 years thanks to the magic of compound interest, all because you decluttered your financial junk drawer.
I’m not recommending that you cancel all of your subscriptions, but take stock of what you’re actually using right now. If you’re not using a subscription during quarantine, when will you use it?
Who else has a year’s worth of unread magazines lying around? I recently cut two magazine subscriptions ($60 per year) and a certification for a fitness class that I haven’t taught in four years (at the cost of $140 per year). When my husband and I both lost work back in March, we had to let our yard guy go. That’s $70 twice a month ($1,680 per year). Now, I cut the grass. I bust out the old push lawn mower and up and down the big slope in the yard I go. Money saved; killer workout complete.
So, we’re ready to get serious about cutting our unnecessary subscription costs. How do we do it?
1. Take inventory.
Scanning your bank account and debit and credit card statements for recurring payments is a good way to come to terms with all of your expenses in general. Even if you don’t cancel a thing (but I bet you will), you have already taken an important step toward getting your finances in order through awareness.
There are several apps out there that will scan your statements for you and generate a list of subscriptions or recurring payments. I would recommend that you not use these to begin. I think it’s important to look at your statement, line by line, to see exactly where your money is going.
Get out a pen and paper or open up an Excel sheet and start making notes of the subscriptions you have and the monthly or annual amounts. Circle or highlight the ones you absolutely will not give up — maybe it’s Disney+ that keeps your kids entertained so that you can get work done or the meal subscription service that allows you to eat well and reduce food waste.
If you live with someone, a partner or a roommate, and use the same services (think Spotify), see if you have the option for a family plan. You often can save money by switching to a family plan instead of paying for two individual subscriptions.
If the service or product is not something that brings you joy or saves you time, I say cut it.
For the subscriptions you do keep, note the renewal date, either monthly or annually. Mark your digital calendar for a couple of days before and evaluate whether having that subscription still makes sense.
2. Make the cut.
Send an email, call the customer service number or get into your account on the app and cancel the subscription. If you have to make a call, don’t let anyone guilt you into keeping the subscription, or worse, upgrading it. You’re not letting anyone down. You’re keeping more of your money.
Notice how you feel about living without these subscriptions for the first couple of months. Do you notice yourself missing the product or service? If so, make a short journal entry. What is it that you miss? Is there a way to accomplish the same thing without spending money?
3. Give that money a new job.
You don’t want that money sitting in your checking account, tempting you to find something else to spend it on. Let’s get it out of there and working for you:
- Do you have credit card or student loan debt? Put the amount you were spending on now-canceled subscriptions toward extra debt payments.
- Build an emergency fund. Funnel that subscription money into your emergency savings account until you have three to six months of expenses set aside.
- Are you debt-free with a solid emergency fund? Get that money into your retirement account — 401(k), 403(b), IRA — and let that money make you some more money. Check to see if you’re hitting your target savings rate based on your age.
- Save it for something fun. If you have the three bases above covered, then use your subscription savings to fund a dream or future want. Open a savings account and give it a name like "vacation," "new car" or "home down payment."
4. Set it and forget it.
Just like your subscriptions came out of your account without you even realizing it, treat savings the same way. That money never hits your checking account, it goes straight to its intended purpose.
Add up your total monthly savings from canceled subscriptions, then:
- If you’re making extra debt payments, set up an auto payment for that amount each month to go toward your credit card, student loans, car note, whatever you’re paying off. I recommend tackling the debt with the highest interest rate first.
- For an emergency fund or other savings account, authorize an auto-transfer every month from your checking account to that savings account.
- If you’re putting your savings toward retirement, call up HR. Tell them you want to increase your retirement contribution by $X per month. If you manage your own retirement account, set up the auto-transfer from your bank account to your retirement account.
5. Avoid getting sucked into new subscriptions
If it won’t bring you joy or save you time, don’t sign up for it. Even if it would check one of those boxes, do the math. Let’s take fitness classes, for example. Does it make sense for you to have a monthly membership or are you better off paying the drop-in fee when you want to take a class? Be honest with yourself about how frequently you might use any subscription.
Also, beware the free trials. If you forget to cancel before the trial period ends, you’re stuck with another subscription. If you absolutely MUST take advantage of the free trial, mark your calendar for a couple of days before the billing period starts, and cancel it.
Just like those bridesmaids dresses you’ll never wear again and your cell phone charges from your first iPhone, your underutilized and unnecessary subscriptions need to go! They served their purpose. Now is the time to reclaim space in your financial closet and to put your money to work for you.
Stephanie Matthews is an operations and strategic communications consultant based in Little Rock, AR. She also is the co-founder and campaign director for Save10, a movement to empower and equip Arkansas women to save for their future selves. Matthews is passionate about helping women take control of their finances so they can achieve their goals.