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How to Decide Which Subscription Services to Keep

With inflation on the rise, you most likely won't be getting as much from each dollar spent. To save money, consider cutting back on subscriptions. Here's how to figure out which subscriptions to keep.

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With inflation on the rise, your paycheck is most likely getting gobbled up quicker as prices of everything from gas to food to the cost of shoes increase. To curb your expenses so there's a bit more money freed up each month, consider cutting back on your subscription services.

In 2021, consumers are spending, on average, $273 a month on subscription services, from makeup boxes to streaming services to meal delivery. Here's the kicker: among consumers who participated in the survey, 100% of them were unaware of their actual spend.

Deciding which subscription services to keep involves a bit of awareness, work and thought. Here's how to go about in a relatively painless manner:

Take inventory of your subscription services

First, figure out exactly what subscription services you already have. This might actually be a bit harder than it seems. That's because often we click the "subscribe" button only to forget we have a subscription to that service or product in the first place.

The good news is that there are apps to help you keep track of your subscriptions, such as Truebill, Trim, and Bobby. These apps either sync to your bank accounts to spot and track subscriptions or you can manually enter your subscriptions. You can also tally up your subscriptions by looking at your bank account or credit card statements, or by looking at monthly transactions and combing through your purchases.

Here are some subscriptions you might have:

  • Food delivery
  • Streaming movies, TV and music, and gaming services
  • Magazine subscriptions (print and online)
  • Gym or fitness
  • App subscriptions (could be a monthly or annual fee)
  • Productivity software
  • Cloud storage
  • Subscription boxes
  • Subscriptions related to hobbies and interests
  • Web hosting
  • Web domains

Besides what the subscription is, you'll want to note:

  • How much you're paying each month. If it's an annual fee, you can break it down to see how much it's costing you monthly
  • If it's set up for auto-renewal
  • If you budget by category, label each subscription by the spending category it falls under (i.e., food, entertainment, fitness, business)

Find your "cut number"

After you've tallied all your current subscriptions, figure out how much you need to cut back on. For instance, let's say you spend $300 a month on subscriptions. And because you would like to, say, be more aggressive in paying off your student debt, or would like to get a save for summer travel, you want to bring that number down to $200 a month.

Figuring exactly how much you'd want to save on your subscriptions gives you a jumping-off point, and you can quickly glance at how much each subscription is costing you to determine what you can potentially nix.

Drop the ones you rarely use

The psychological pull of keeping subscriptions you rarely—if ever—use is, well, you'll eventually use it. For instance, it's nice to have a Netflix subscription, even though you haven't logged on to watch anything in the last four months. Maybe you've grown tired of those healthy salads from your weekly food delivery service, and they've been going bad in your fridge. Or you've convinced yourself that you'll finally focus on your New Year's resolutions and get yourself to the gym.

Chances are, if you haven't used that subscription after a certain period of time, it's safe to cancel. The beauty of most subscriptions is that you can pause or cancel at any time. So if want to subscribe down the line, you always can.

Look for redundancies

The easiest subscriptions to drop are the ones are redundant, and where you have several subscriptions that provide the same service or function. For instance, let's say you subscribe to six different media streaming services. While they don't have identical content libraries, which streaming services do you tend to use the most? Then, cancel subscriptions to the services and products that are redundant.

Swap it, don't stop it

Before canceling a subscription, see if you can find a less expensive or even free alternative. For instance, Kanopy is a film streaming service that features classic cinema, independent films, and documentaries. Kanopy has partnered with some libraries across the country to offer a free subscription for their library card-carrying members.

Also, see if there are any promo codes, available discounts, or times of the year when there's a sale. For instance, some software service subscription companies offer deals during Black Friday, or you can snag a "two months free" if you hop on an annual pass. If it's a subscription you know you'll need for at least another year, it could be worth signing up a year ahead of time.

Consider the enjoyment and value factor

Some subscriptions you'll want to keep because you might need that productivity software or cloud storage for work or that your family uses. Then there are those that you have just for fun. If you don't necessarily need that say, a monthly subscription box of designer pop culture toys, and still look forward to when that box gets delivered to your doorstep each month. If you can afford to, consider keeping it.

But sometimes the novelty of a subscription might've long worn off, and you find a box of makeup samples or sustainable home goods piling up in a pile that's gone unopened for months. Or you find yourself needing to resell or donate a lot of what is contained in those boxes. If that's the case, it might be time to part ways with that particular subscription and cancel it.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to deciding which subscription services to keep. Nor is there a science. But it does take a bit of work, planning, and thoughtful decision-making. In time, you'll cut back on your subscriptions without it impacting your quality of life or everyday enjoyment.

Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Business Insider, and GOOD.