The psychology of subscriptions

Are your savings getting smoke-bombed by your subscriptions?

Off the top of your head, do you know how much you spend on subscriptions per month? Take a stab in the dark, write it down, then find out.

More than you thought right?

Netflix, Spotify, your mobile, Xbox Game Pass, HelloFresh, your fitness app, Wi-Fi and insurance. Oh, and your Tinder Plus account. And your cloud storage. And Stan – the one you forgot to cancel after the free trial ended.

$10 bucks here, $12 bucks there…your savings are using subscriptions to smoke-bomb their way out of your account.

Subscription creep is real

It seems like every business is finding a way to offer subscription services. That might have something to do with the fact that once we sign up, we stop thinking about it. The money is direct debited without us blinking an eye. It's a pretty good business model for stable cash flow, and part of the reason why researchers at Gartner predict 75% of organisations selling direct to consumers will offer subscription services by 2023.

Yes, the “all you can eat” vibe of subscriptions does give us what we want – choice, convenience and access. But the subscription economy takes all the friction out of a transaction. You don’t feel the money leaving. You don’t notice it happening. You probably don’t even use all the services you’ve signed up for. So it’s pretty easy for things to get out of control without you realising.

Snap out of your subscription apathy

Research by REST Super[1] found that we are wasting $3.9 billion on unnecessary subscriptions, apps and services we either don’t use or have forgotten about. That’s 3 in 5 of us, so odds are you’re one of them. Yes, you.

Time to get conscious about how many direct debits you’ve got going on, and whether you can justify them. If you want a save a little, figure out where you can cut back, and consider redirecting that money to your savings account each month. Here’s how to get started:

  • Find all your subscription services – check your bank and credit card statements, check your app settings, check everything. Write it down. Read it and weep. Then use that pain to kick your own butt into action.
  • Split them into needs and wants – are all these subscriptions really necessary? Prioritise them and see if you can live without any.
  • Limit yourself to one per category – do you really need both Spotify and Apple Music?
  • Share the load – if you live with flatmates, maybe you can split the cost of Netflix? Think about what else you can share.
  • Make the chop – you’ve narrowed it down so it’s time to hit ‘unsubscribe’ on wasting money.
  • Find a better deal – There is a whole bunch of psychological trickery that happens with subscription plans so it’s worth checking if you’re on the right one.
  • Question the upgrade – can you get away with the free version of the service? Do you really need to upgrade your phone when the contract is up?
  • Redirect – perhaps the most important step. That money you were spending on your now-cancelled subscription can be redirected straight to your savings account.

The subscription economy isn’t going anywhere, if anything it’s only going to grow. Get on top of your own habits and enjoy those extra savings.

[1] https://www.rest.com.au/member/tools/news/australians-losing-6-billion-in-avoidable-costs