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How to avoid subscription creep and save on recurring bills

Can’t imagine living without your Netflix or Spotify subscription? Well, you’re not alone. According to a 2020 report, “73% of Canadians stream video, TV, or movies online at least once per month, while 46% use online music streaming on a monthly basis.” Between music, video, lifestyle boxes and more, subscriptions account for an increasingly large chunk of the average Canadians’ budget. Add to that your essential bills for cable, internet and your mobile phone, and there seems to be no end to the growing list of monthly expenses.

While subscriptions may seem like a small monthly expense, added up together they can take a big chunk out of your budget over the course of a year. If you feel like subscriptions might be suffocating your savings, here are eleven strategies to avoid subscription creep and save on bills – from regularly auditing your card statements to using a rewards credit card to rake in bonus cash back rewards on your recurring payments.

Tip 1: Audit your credit card statement (and smartphone) for subscriptions

Ever notice how signing up for subscriptions is easy (especially when so many have low monthly fees and enticing welcome offers with free trials) but actually keeping track of them is hard? That’s why it’s a smart financial move to go over your credit or debit statements carefully each month and note all your recurring payments. Heck, I (a certified credit card nerd) even print my statements out and go over each purchase line by line to make sure there are no mistakes and that I’m not paying for any subscriptions I no longer use.

Trust me, when you go through your statement you might be surprised how quickly subscription fees can add up. It’s also a good idea to check your smartphone for recurring bill payments tied to the app store (these are especially easy to forget about). As soon as you find a subscription you rarely ever use, cancel it.

Tip 2: Pay upfront for must-have subscriptions

We all have some subscriptions we simply can’t live without. For those essentials, it might be worth biting the bullet and paying in advance for the 12-month subscription. By doing so, you’ll often get a reduced rate for paying upfront for the year versus spreading out payments monthly. For example, a subscription may charge $100 per year or $12 per month, which adds up to a $44 difference. Just be sure to only pay for the year for subscriptions you absolutely know you use frequently.

Tip 3: Strategize use of essential bills

Of course, there are lots of important other ways to save money that have nothing to do with subscriptions. The smart use of electricity, hydro, and gas can save you big.

Time your dishwasher, washing machine, and vacuuming for off-peak hours when rates are lower (your utility provider will often have information about when it’s cheaper to use electricity). Cut down on electricity use by switching off lights when you leave a room, replace bulbs with more efficient LEDs, get a smart thermostat so you can set optimal temperatures for whether or not you’re at home, and avoid the power-hungry drying machine by hanging your clothes to air dry.

Tip 4: Use a credit card to rack up bonus rewards on recurring payments

Did you know that some credit cards earn you accelerated rewards on every dollar you spend on your monthly bills?

Recurring payments don’t just include eligible subscriptions like Netflix or Spotify, but can also include internet, cable, and phone bills too.

Also read: Best credit cards for subscriptions service

Tip 5: Cut out duplicate subscriptions (and leverage bundles)

Identify any duplicate subscriptions (like if you subscribe to both Spotify and Apple Music) and get rid of one of them.

Also keep an eye out for subscription bundles to maximize your money. For example, if you’re subscribed to YouTube Premium as a way to avoid ads, you’ll also get the YouTube Music app for free. Or, with Amazon Prime, you’ll also get Amazon Music Unlimited in addition to Prime Video and two-day shipping.

Tip 6: Negotiate your subscription and recurring bills

Sure, you might not be able to negotiate the price of your Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription, but in other cases, you might be surprised to discover you have some wiggle room. For example, I’ve negotiated the price of my NY Times subscription, software subscriptions I rely on for freelance work, gym memberships, and even the cost of my cell phone’s data plan. It’s always worth trying to negotiate internet, phone, and even insurance bills. Be sure to ask for the retention department and make it clear that you’re ready to move on unless you get a better deal (and be prepared to follow through on your promise if you don’t get what you want).

Tip 7: Rotate subscriptions as you need them

Only interested in a streaming service because a new season dropped on your favourite must-see show? Subscribe, binge, and quickly cancel so you’re only charged for one month and that’s it. Avoid needlessly paying for several months if you just want to use it for one show. I do the same thing for Amazon Prime and just pay for it for the few months a year I want same day shipping (like Christmas) or want to watch a TV series.

Tip 8: Share your subscriptions

Some subscriptions let you set up family accounts or use multiple logins, so why not create one account for you and several friends, split the bill, and get a reduced overall rate.

Is there a subscription service that you really love but only use infrequently? You can also consider sharing logins with a closely-trusted friend and then split the bill (just be careful you’re not sharing essential subscriptions you use all the time or violating any terms of the subscription service).

Tip 9: When you’re ready to cancel, don’t procrastinate

Okay, so you’ve found a subscription you’re not using and you’re ready to cancel it. But there’s a problem: you can’t easily cancel online because the company has set it up so that you can only cancel by calling in and speaking with someone first or by using the company’s chat feature.

Having to talk or chat with customer service can be a pain and you might be inclined to put it off, but it’s important to fight against this urge to procrastinate. If you wait too long, you might be charged for another month for a service you’re not getting the most out of. It’s in your best interest to call in or chat with a customer service rep right away and cancel. Don’t wait.

Tip 10: Look at subscription fees on an annual basis

Sure, $9 per month for a new subscription service may not seem like a big deal—but how about $108 over the course of a year? And does that include taxes? When you’re trying to decide if a subscription service is worth it, consider looking forward and viewing the subscription cost as one large annual lump sum payment rather than 12 smaller monthly payments. It’ll help put your subscription spending into context and you’ll be more critical regarding what you want to keep and what you want to cancel.

Tip 11: Refer friends for referral bonuses

Don’t miss out on referral bonuses. If you have a subscription you love and know that your friends will too, find out if the company offers a referral bonus. Many subscriptions give you a discount or a free month off when you share a referral link.