These days, many of the things we buy regularly are becoming part of a monthly subscription service. You can have pet food, groceries, meal kits, and more delivered on schedule monthly for a set fee.

Even some traditional monthly charges have been broken up into multiple subscriptions. Where we used to have a hefty cable TV bill, now many of us have several smaller subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime.

Different kinds of subscription services
Decades ago, we always had to remind our debt management clients to cancel magazine subscriptions to save money. These days, magazine subscriptions are all but a memory, but there are so many new kinds of subscription services in our lives, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. They take many forms:

Entertainment subscriptions
Whether it’s through cable or internet service, online media streaming like the ones we mentioned above are common. There are also music subscriptions like Apple Music and Spotify, and software subscriptions, like Microsoft Office 365 for $7 per month. And online video game services carry extra subscription fees, like PlayStation Plus for $10 per month, Xbox Game Pass for $15 per month, Nintendo switch Online for $4 per month, or Apple Arcade for $5 monthly.

You may even have individual smartphone apps that carry a subscription charge of a few dollars per month.

 

Food subscription boxes
You might have a subscription for food delivery, either for yourself or your pets. Since you know you’ll always need food, it makes sense to have it delivered on a regular schedule. This is really nothing new—for most of the 20th century families had a “milk man” deliver fresh dairy and other food products, and modern food delivery services are similar.

Many modern food box subscriptions form a ‘meal kit’, so you have all the ingredients and instructions to makea home-cooked meal, without having to shop for individual items and without having food waste to deal with.

 

Clothing box subscriptions
There are a lot of clothing subscriptions, where socks, underwear, or other clothing items are sent to you every month. Some clothing subscriptions have variable pricing each month depending on what you buy, and some are “personal styling services” designed to help you create a coordinated wardrobe.

Beauty and grooming subscriptions
Makeup and men’s shaving gear are popular subscription items. These kinds of goods are typically expensive and have high markups, so getting a good deal on a regular monthly delivery for makeup or razor blades can help you save money.

Memberships & clubs
Joining a gym or club near you involves a regular monthly subscription charge, and while they don’t involve regular deliveries, they should be included in your catalog of subscription services.

Credit monitoring subscriptions
These days, everyone’s data has been involved in some kind of data breach. Anyone who has suffered from identity theft might need to subscribe to a regular monthly credit monitoring service to ensure there isn’t any fraudulent activity on their credit report. We usually recommend starting with a credit report review first to determine if you need ongoing credit monitoring.

Other recurring subscription services
There are all kinds of other subscriptions like “theme of the month” boxes that contain small collectibles or gifts, or online dating app memberships, web hosting, book club or eBook subscriptions, home security monitoring, cloud storage plans, and more.

How do subscription services help?
Subscription services are popular for good reason. Used properly, they can help you create a stable budget and save you money.

It’s easy to keep track of spending
If you subscribe to a service that sends you groceries, pet food, etc., then you’re typically spending a set amount every month on that item. When you use our free budgeting resources (like the Power of Paycheck Planning workbook or financial worksheets available from our downloads page), it helps to have some of that spending figured out and consistently planned every month.

Of course, some subscriptions won’t cover an entire category, but if you have a subscription to a meal kit that costs $12 per meal and you have four meal kits delivered per week, then that’s a chunk of your food budget that is predictable and fixed.

They can save you shopping trips
Every time you go to the store, there’s an opportunity to spend more than you planned to. Avoiding impulse buying is a big part of the process of achieving financial freedom. By having more things delivered as part of a subscription service, you’re not heading out to the store and risking a big unplanned purchase.

Something like pet food delivery is a good way to avoid buying extra chew toys and treats for your pet. You’ll get exactly what they need, on a predictable schedule and budget, and you’ll only go out and buy those extras intentionally, when you have a plan for them.

Groceries, too, can lead to unwanted extra spending. “Don’t shop hungry” is common advice we give, but with a meal subscription service, you’ll never throw a box of snacks in your cart or grab a candy bar at the register.

You may find financial savings
While impulse buying is important to be guarded against, the #1 form of overspending isn’t impulse purchases — it’s paying too much for things. By not comparison shopping, people pay more than they have to for many goods. But subscription services let you do your shopping online, where comparing prices is easy and you’re less likely to overspend.

Of course, one service might be better than another, so you will want to gauge the quality of what you get and decide if it’s worth it to spend a few more dollars on another service.

Do subscription services really save you money?
New subscription models seemed like a good way to save us money at first, but now many of us are paying as much as we did before. If you canceled your $100/month cable bill, then switched to a $10/month Netflix subscription plus $40/month for internet access, you cut one bill in half. But now add Hulu, Apple TV+, YouTube TV, HBO Max… it’s easy to get right back to that $100/month you were paying before.

And if you never actually canceled your cable subscription, then you’re definitely paying more.

These subscriptions keep piling up, leading to a growing “subscription fatigue” among the population. A recent study by Deloitte found that households subscribe to 3 media streaming services on average, and over half (53%) of consumers are frustrated by the many subscription services they need to access all of the content they want.

Because each individual subscription seems inexpensive, it’s easy to ignore the math when adding another charge to the budget. An extra $4.99 per month doesn’t seem like it’s going to break the bank, but just like morning lattes, those charges add up quickly.

 

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