Yet another modern challenge: managing your paid subscriptions
April 29, 2021
There are too many things to control in life nowadays. There are many things that do not want us to control them. Just forget about us, they whisper quietly, we’ll charge monthly a tiny sum for that.
For example, paid subscriptions. Recurrent monthly payments for apps like Tinder or Spotify, for media like Bloomberg or Netflix, for services like a gym. They might have been invented to be handy and comforting: it’s emotionally easier to pay 10 dollars a month than 120 a year, it’s better to have the money charged off automatically than to enter all that card details in a form every month.
But then the 21st century came, and paid subscriptions started proliferating and multiplying. And there comes a moment when you find yourself paying for something you hadn’t used for a long time (or at all). The joke’s on you since tracking your payments is your job? Actually, 35% of US adults confessed
in a survey that they “had set up an account – such as a streaming TV service, cloud software, a magazine subscription or a gym membership – that enrolled them in automatic payments without them realizing it. Additionally, 42% of consumers said it’s difficult to turn off recurring charges”. Another survey shows
that “almost 62% have paid for unwanted subscriptions or memberships because they failed to cancel an auto-renewal feature”.
Of course these numbers include only people that remembered the forgotten subscriptions at some point and do not consider those who still stay in delusions.
Easy to get in, hard to get out
This life consists of a huge stream of microtasks overflowing the existence of a modern city dweller and active internet user. Startups and corporations became too good at luring you into subscribing and paying for it, and it’s fine while you have the feeling of money well spent.
What if you subscribe for some “free trial”, but the website asks for your credit card details — just in case, you know, for your convenience, if you decide to hang on after the trial. You can always unsubscribe. If you don’t forget.
But even if you do remember -- it might be not so easy. As the song goes, “You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!” A quick example: in order to cancel the subscription to New York Times, you have to call their office at the working hours or chat with a “customer care advocate”. At the working hours. In 2021, it looks like some relic of the past. But actually it is a brand new “feature”: up until 2020 it was possible to cancel your subscription on the personal account management page.
During the call or a chat you will have to provide your 9-digit account number and personal details. And afterwards you’ll need to turn off auto-renewal for the subscription! Isn’t it cute? People helping you manage subscriptions? (sarcasm)
All the while, data analysts in the office of New York Times must be racking their brains in attempts to understand why do people unsubscribe right after they move to California. What happens to them there?
There happens California Business and Professions Code. It demands
that “if the consumer accepted the subscription or free trial entirely online, then the business must allow the consumer to cancel their subscription or free trial entirely online also”. So NYT’s subscribers started changing their addresses in the settings to have the opportunity to unsubscribe online.
Companies go to great lengths not to let paying customers go. Sometimes it seems to be easier to close a bank card or literally move to California in order to part with a subscription uninjured. But there must be some other ways.
So what solutions do we have for not wasting money on recurring payments? We need to manage subscriptions and to be able to cancel them without to much effort or extra costs.
1) Pull yourself together, become a disciplined person, train your memory, keep in mind all the subscriptions, review them from time to time, be conscious and honest with yourself in order to timely understand, that no, you will not start to learn Spanish first thing next monday having already paid for the app for half a year.
2) Use calendar apps and reminders, set them up to warn you that a payment is due the next day. You’ll have the time to think well whether you will really start learning Spanish next monday. Even the old plain Notepad can be your subscription tracker if you just keep a list of everything with payment dates.
Tou can use subscription management software. There are apps for managing personal finances like Truebill
that help you track and control paid subscriptions -- mostly they analyze your bank account and payment history and draw your attention to recurrent payments. But it will be up to you to cancel them. Goldman Sachs supported an app named Clarity Money, a subscription manager, but shut it up back in 2018.
Many banking and financial apps offer some options of subscription management too, for example, PayPal. But the share of world’s shops that accept PayPal is far from 100%. And the quality of their customer service and support has long been a source of horror stories
in social media.
4) Virtual bank cards are a solution to manage subscriptions for situations when you give your card credentials without an honest desire to give them. Or when you are not sure you’ll have the Happily ever after with this service. A virtual card is a set of card credentials that can be used when purchasing online just like a “real” card’s. This card is connected to your bank account and has a number of useful features:
It can be tied to the merchant you’ve paid to, so in case of a data breach the card will not work for any other payments.
You can set a transaction limit or a general limit small enough that a subscription fee could not be charged
You can use a fake name and billing address when you do not want companies to have a lot of your personal data.
So there are actually quite a lot of ways to protect your budget from accidental, unwanted, and unused paid subscriptions. But, in every form and with any tools, managing subscriptions must be an important part of your personal financial hygiene.
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