How To Save Your Budget From Hidden Subscriptions

Dollar bill cut into puzzle pieces with several pieces missing.

One of the biggest hidden expenses most of us have is subscriptions.

Subscriptions have a tricky way of making us feel like we’re getting a deal by spreading the cost out so it seems nominal.

That new iPhone is a hard sell at $1200. But sign up for the upgrade plan and all of the sudden it feels like a deal.

Not only is it “just” $50 a month, but you can get a new phone every year!

Subscriptions can be hard to track and budget sometimes, but if you want to be intentional with your spending, getting a grip on your subscriptions is a must.

Start With Determining How Many Subscriptions You Have

Take a minute and think about your monthly subscriptions.

How many do you have?

Do you even know?

I’ve got a few that are obvious to me because they have their own budget categories – phone, internet, TV.

But there are also the ones I tend to forget about. The ones that are buried down in other budget categories like “apps,” “entertainment,” “security,” and “fun money.”

They’re almost all online services or apps with recurring monthly or annual subscription fees that get lost or forgotten in our normal day to day spending categories.

If you’re in a similar situation, the first thing to do is figure out just how many subscriptions you’ve currently got.

I started with reviewing my credit card purchases and found 16(!) monthly subscription charges.

As shocking as that may be, I knew that was just the monthly ones and I probably had some quarterly or annual ones as well. I ended up finding another 15(!!!) of those.

You’d think that would cover them all, but there are a few other places to check – iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. These subscriptions aren’t always easy to find so here are some walkthroughs for each service.

Instructions for checking your iOS subscriptions:

  • Tap App Store
  • Tap your profile pic (upper right)
  • Tap manage subscriptions

Here you can see all your active subscriptions and your expired ones. Under the active list it should specify which have a future billing date or expiration date.

Instructions for checking your Amazon subscriptions

  • Log in
  • Hover over Account and Lists
  • Select Your Membership and Subscriptions

I currently only subscribe to one extra Amazon service so I’m not sure you’ll see everything here or if you’ll need to dig around some more.

Per Amazon’s website:

Keep in mind that Subscribe with Amazon subscriptions are different than Amazon Video add-on subscriptions and other content subscriptions you may have purchased from the Appstore, Kindle Store, or Digital Software Store.

To view or manage other types of subscriptions, you’ll need to open the related subscription manager in Your Account. For quick navigation to one of these pages, look for the Don’t see your subscription? section at the bottom of Your Memberships and Subscriptions.

Instructions for checking your Google Play subscriptions

  • Open the Google Play Store
  • Make sure you’re signed in to the correct Google account
  • Tap the menu
  • Tap Subscriptions

I don’t have an Android, but according to Google’s instructions, you can tap the subscription and then tap cancel to get further instructions.

How to Manage Your Subscriptions

After searching through all the places I could think of, I found 34(!!!) subscriptions we’re paying for. That’s a lot of hidden expenses!

One of the most important mindset changes that helped us break free of debt was learning to be intentional with our spending.

But it’s hard to be intentional after the fact, and that’s pretty much how subscriptions work. You may have made the decision for that initial expense, but the future ones seem to pop up as an afterthought.

So to tackle this growing and potentially dangerous aspect of my budget, I want to make sure I’ve got complete awareness moving forward.

I’ve got three methods I’m going to use to help me gain more awareness and control over this subscription situation.

  1. Schedule future transactions in my budget.
  2. Cancel all subscriptions on my phone.
  3. Make a habit of adding “renewal reminders” to my calendar so I can decide whether to continue a subscription before I’m charged.

1 – Schedule Future Transactions

Scheduling future transactions in YNAB will make sure I budget as needed. I won’t run the risk of any surprise expenses derailing my budget, but they’re still kind of afterthoughts when it comes to deliberately making the purchase decision.

To get a clearer picture of all the subscriptions we have, I’ve also added each recurring expense into the notes section of my budget categories. Now I can see at a glance what we’re paying and when.

This helps give me a bit of a heads up so I can make more intentional decisions moving forward each month.

2 – Cancel All AppStore Subscriptions

I won’t even try to guess how many times I’ve “accidentally” paid for app subscriptions because I forgot to cancel before the free trial was over.

To avoid this in the future I’m cancelling all my current App Store subscriptions and making a point to cancel any trials immediately after I sign up.

It may seem severe, but it’s easy enough to re-subscribe and it will force me to make that purchasing decision each time.

3 – Add Reminders to My Calendar

For subscriptions outside of my phone I’m adding “renewal reminders” at least a week before they come due.

This not only forces me to make the deliberate decision to purchase again or not, but also gives me time to address the expenses that require more effort to cancel.

Services like DirecTV and SiriusXM can be a hassle to cancel since you have to call in person. Giving myself a week to get it done makes sure I don’t procrastinate past the renewal date.

Can You Justify the Value?

Buying into subscription plans isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you can justify the value. But they can quickly become a slippery slope toward debt when those small monthly payments start to add up.

The trick isn’t necessarily to eliminate your subscriptions, though that will undoubtedly save you time and money. The trick is to make sure you’re aware of the expense and deliberate in your choice to pay it.

Only you can set the priorities you have for your money. Hopefully, this article helped you review your subscriptions and gave you some ideas on how to manage them. Leave a comment and let me know if you have any other ways you handle your subscriptions.

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