A problem you didn't even know you had: How to manage your unused subscriptions
Everyone has a subscription that they never get around to cancelling.
Whether it’s a gym membership stemming from a New Year’s resolution that lasted a week, the website domain for your unwritten travel blog, or the food-of-the-month box you barely open, we have become great at signing up for everything – but even better at forgetting these subscriptions exist.
“The amount is typically small for subscriptions, but they’re forgotten and people don’t know where their money is going at the end of the month,” Jamie Golombek, managing director of tax and estate planning at CIBC, said in a phone interview.
The issue of unused, reoccurring subscription charges have become such a growing problem that U.S. financial intuitions like Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Discover Financial Services and Wells Fargo & Co. have started offering services to help customers trim the fat on their membership spending.
So how can Canadians rein in their spending on underused memberships? Many people are starting to turn towards smartphone applications for a quick fix to their subscription glut.
Butter, a Toronto-based subscription manager backed by RBC Ventures, allows consumers to track, cancel and receive recommendations for their subscriptions through an app.
“People always underestimate and forget about what they have. I think most companies are quite clear to what the charges and terms of the subscription are, but it’s very easy to forget about them once you put down your credit card,” Derek Szeto, co-founder of Butter, said in a phone interview.
“Subscriptions are a double-edged sword, you are basically renting for access. The con is that you can’t afford to not pay attention anymore. We are in a subscription-based society.”
The company offers users the choice of linking their Canadian credit cards to track reoccurring expenses, or manually logging charges to monitor all of their subscriptions in one space.
Other companies like Trim, an online financial management service, will analyze users’ accounts and identify where they can save money on recurring subscriptions. It then provides an option to help cancel memberships or negotiate bills directly with service providers on an user’s behalf – allowing them to avoid long-winded phone calls accompanied by aggravating, repetitive hold-music.
“Most people on a day-to-day basis do their best to avoid thinking about their financial situation. We believe that the only way to make a difference in these peoples’ lives is to take some action on their behalf,” Thomas Smyth, CEO of Trim, said in a phone interview.
“When I was creating this service, I saw so many people struggling with their personal finances, myself included, who did nothing to solve it. There are books and apps that suggest tips for people to learn, but in reality they won’t do it. This doesn’t help anyone grow or their financial literacy, for that matter.”
Canadians can easily keep tabs on reoccurring monthly expenses by developing a habit of regularly checking banking statements, Golombek said.
“What we tell people to do is take three months worth of debit and credit card statements. Print them out and right away you will be able to isolate those reoccurring charges. Ask yourself, ‘Do I still use it?’ And if so, is it worth the cost?” said Golombek. “You’d be surprised at how much you are spending a month on useless subscriptions.”
Trim’s Smyth also stressed that some people still need help, though.
“At the end of the day, just know your own limitations and design around those. You’re not going to change,” said Smyth.
“People don’t change and once you accept that, you can choose to put yourself in a situation where your habits are bringing you the right direction.”