Unsubscribing the Subscribed

Consumption of content is a way of life these days. Whether recreational or professional we are constantly consuming content. We have books, movies, TV shows, courses etc. all up for grabs now. There’s something for everybody!

We also love good deals. 10 shows at Rs. 10 is better value to us than 1 show at Re. 1. This is probably what content creators have spotted and latched onto, which has led to the birth of suscription plans. A regular fee which gives us access to a library of content.

As consumers, we believe that we’ve scored a fantastic deal simply because something as low as Rs. 99 a month gives us access to hundreds and thousands of hours worth of content. It is a ridiculously brilliant ROI, almost unprecendented in anyother expense you will ever make. But as we have learnt, from the last post that small things add up, we are going to look into how subscription services can be an expensive proposition.

You Are Not The Winner

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear. You are not ripping off your subscription provider. There is no way in hell that they are giving you their services at a loss. You can watch Netflix for 24 hours, 30 days of the month and they would still have managed to make money off of you and your subscription fee. I claim to be no expert on their model and so I won’t comment on it.

However, it is extremely important to note that there is no way, you will be able to watch or consume even 10% of the content on these services combined. Which means your brilliant ROI, is nothing but a myth. All you have is a slightly more depleted bank account with a watch list of shows.

It’s Not Just Netflix

Let’s also keep something else in mind, video content streaming is not the only streaming service out there. You have Kindle Unlimited for books, you have blogging apps like Medium, you have education apps like Skillshare or Masterclass. All operating on the model of subsciptions. Your diet apps, workout apps, budget trackers all have subcriptions for additional features and content. Hell even YouTube has a subscription now for you to avoid the ads! Your money is more diversified right now between streaming services, than it has ever been in an investment portfolio!

Is it really that much?

I’m certain that you’re actually wondering if subscriptions can really add up to that much. Allow me to demonstrate with my own example.

Back in December 2019, I had the following subscriptions. Some of these may be India-specific. Some of them are annual subscriptions, but I have mentioned a monthly cost for them (Annual Amount/12).

Service NameType. Monthly Amount
(in Rs.)
NetflixVideo Streaming199
Hotstar (Paid Annually)Video Streaming83.25
Amazon Prime (Paid Annually)Shopping, streaming, music83.25
Zee5Video Streaming99
Sony LivVideo Streaming99
Magzter (Paid Annually)Magazines292
YouTube PremiumVideo streaming, music169
ScribdBooks689
Apple Cloud StorageStorage219
Kindle UnlimitedBooks169
AudibleAudio Books199
Harvard Business ReviewResearch content785
MediumBlog content389
Apple ArcadeGaming99
Playstation plusGaming499
ShineSelfCare383
LinkedIn PremiumNetworking1400
Grand Total5855.5

I don’t know how to draw a parallel of this with regards to my income without actually disclosing my income at the time. Let me once again equate it in therapist visit terms. This is equal to more than half of my monthly therapist visits.

By the time I reached March, 2020 it felt like a good enough time to start cutting things out. Even though I could absolutely 100% afford all of these subscription, I just didn’t see the point of having so much content to consume but not consuming it. It was just wasteful and truthfully, very overwhelming. This was financial clutter, I needed to cut out.

How did I cut it out?

My process for cutting out the subscriptions was layered. Some of the steps/criteria that I will describe ahead were almost simultaneous.

  1. The Expensive Vision: The first thing I did was to just list down every single subscription I had along with how much it cost. This helped me with two things. First, I got a shocking overview of my monthly spend on content consumption. Secondly it helped me determine the per visit cost, which was very useful in the next step.
  2. Per Visit Cost: After I knew how much I spent on each subscription, I could now determine the value that each subscription gave me. I used my ‘Per Vist Cost’ for each app as a criteria for value. My numerator was the cost of the subscription, my denominator was the number of times I actually opened that app and consumed content there. So for instance, I open YouTube everyday for atleast 15 minutes, sometimes even more. If I just go with the fact that I use YouTube 60 times a month (twice a day), I am paying about a little under Rs. 3 per visit for consuming a lot of content which includes videos as well as my music streaming. Fantastic value! YouTube, you’ve made it to my list!. One usually subscribes to something to save money and get more value from it. However, if you’re spending more than you’re extracting it can make you feel like your subsciption was pointless. My goal was to keep my per visit cost to an app less than Rs 10.
  3. The Extra Drive: I am a moderate gaming buff but I’m very selective about the games I enjoy. So when I got my PlayStation, I decided to opt for the PlayStation Plus subscription. I mean for Rs 499 a month, I got two games each month and I got discounts on other stuff too. Ridiculously good value when you look at it. However, a few months into the process I realised that I barely played those games. I am really not a huge fan of games like Detroit and some of the others on the subsciption. I’m more of a light gamer with things like NFS or some sports games. So, this made my subscription almost pointless because in addition to the Rs. 499 I was easily paying another Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1500 to buy games I actually wanted. This made me realise that sometimes when something seems to be good to be true, chances are it’s not. However, its not because there’s something fishy hidden inside it, but because you actually don’t need the ‘it’.
  4. The Impossible Overconsumption: This was a tricky criteria to have because this involved a lot of introspection on my part. It revolves around human limitation. There is only so much content that one can consume in a day, week or month. I knew that I could not possibly watch every series, read every book and play every game. I have limited time with unlimited priorities. This was a bitter sweet moment because if I can’t consume everything, why pay for everything. For instance if you go back to the table above, you’ll notice that there are about six different kinds of video streaming services. This means that a part of me believed I could consume enough content to justify the subscriptions. Naturally that wasn’t possible. No one needs six streaming services. Infact, if there is a show on a particular streaming service that you want to binge watch, its just cheaper to buy a monthly subscription when the show is released and use it up then, especially if you don’t view a lot of other content on said app. Again, this is easier said than done and requires a ton of introspection on your end. I did this and I was able to cut off a few ‘repetitive’ subscriptions on my end by doing this.

After using my process, my new subscription list looks something like this:

NamePrice
Netflix199
Hotstar83.25
Amazon Prime83.25
Audible199
Kindle Unlimited169
Apple Arcade99
Apple Cloud Storage219
Harvard Business Review785
Total1836.5

If you notice, this is less than a third of the original monthly spend. That two thirds is now free for more useful stuff like maybe an emergency fund or investing.

What’s the point?

This difference may seem small, but if you look at the way it adds up, its a lot! A monthly save of about Rs. 4000 equals to about Rs. 48000 annually. That is equal to:

  1. About 1/3rd of the limit of what you can contribute to your Section 80 C (through PPF, ELSS etc.) and claim your tax rebate!
  2. You can use this money by putting it in a recurring deposit and creating a travel fund to take a long overdue trip. (More glamourous than PPFs, I know)
  3. It’s also half way to getting you a new high end iPhone to consume the consumable content better. Or almost full way for any other top of the line android phone.
  4. Combined over a couple of years and it can become the start up capital for your small business idea.

This is genius! Why don’t we do this more often?

Given the benefits of all of this, what really stops us from actually going and chopping off all those subscriptions? Well I have a couple of theories, from my experience.

  1. The Let me give it another month Syndrome: Every month you look at money getting deducted for a nearly unused subscription, you think to yourself: I am definitely going to use this app more now. Let me give it another month and I will definitely extract all possible value from this app. Chances are within 15 minutes you forget about the content on Zee5 you need to consume to justify the subscription and instead go back to binging on YouTube or Netflix. You forget about Zee5 for the rest of the month till the money gets dedecuted again, and you re-pledge your allegiance to the app only to forget it again.
  2. Its too Small to Matter: This has happened to me for so many of my subscriptions. The smaller Rs. 99 ones don’t really feel like a pinch. You’d feel like even if you open the app 3-4 times a month and consumer a few hours worth of content, its substantially cheaper than say going out for a movie. But again, you don’t open it!
  3. The Deduction date conundrum: This is common and can happen a lot. There are times when you think that a day before the subscription ends you’ll go and cancel it before the next deduction so that you’ve extracted this month’s subscription completely by staying on. But you never really remember the date! Good news is that most subscriptions now allow you to cancel at any point in the payment period and continue using it until the payment period expires. This means even if my I cancel my subscription on 15th, I can continue using it till the 22nd because that’s when my payment period ends. Thus, the moment you realise a subscription isn’t bring you the necessary value, you cancel it and not wait for it to charge you again.
  4. Complex processes for cancelling subscriptions: Some subscriptions have complex processes for cancellation. You have to call people or write to them. For instance, because I was using a discount offer for my Shine subscription, I couldn’t go into my Apple ID to cancel the subscription and there was no cancellation option via their website. So I had to write to their customer care for the cancellation. They were sweet enough to do that promptly and I wasn’t re-charged. Some providers however, can be very fishy with their cancellations. So we avoid the hard part and keep paying and once again making ourselves lose more than we need to. Do the hard part and cancel it, no matter what the process!

There’s a very important thing to note here: minimalism on subscriptions is not equal to not using value adding stuff. For instance, I am currently on the YNAB free plan for their budget tracker and in all likelihood I am going to take on their annual subscription because it’s an app I’ve been religiously using and it gives me the benefit of tracking all my money on one go. That may increase my monthly spend, but it’s for something which gives me a benefit.

Money should be spent on what brings you value and on things you like or enjoy even if its content consumption. However, its equally important to factor in your limitation in consuming all that content and saving yourself some money by cutting out what you’re actually not consuming but paying for.

I hope this was useful for you! Until next time with another small hack!

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