Time to review your subscriptions

This is a good time to review your digital subscriptions and recurring monthly charges. It’s likely to save a sizable amount of money, especially if you subscribe to a number of digital publication. In a space of a few hours I was able to save about $400 by making a couple of phone calls and navigating through a few websites.

Play the same game

Monthly and renewable subscriptions that automatically renew are all part of a game that companies have developed, making it very appropriate for us to play a similar game in return. After all, these services are trying to maximize what we pay, while offering more favorable pricing to those less loyal than we have been.

Developing revenue from recurring services is a strategy that companies such as Apple, General Motors, and many others look to for growing their business.  

According to Variety, Apple now “has more than 1 billion paid subscriptions across all apps and services, up 150 million year over year. During the quarter, sales in Apple’s services unit grew 8.2%, to $21.21 billion. The services segment includes the App Store, Apple Pay, Apple Card and subscription services such as Apple TV+, Apple Music and iCloud.”

DIgital newspaper subscriptions

I began with my New York TImes subscription that costs $30 per month, and after spotting much lower rates for new subscribers, I called them, telling them I wanted to cancel my subscription. I expected the customer service agent to offer a savings of perhaps $10 per month, but to my surprise he offered a $4 per month rate for one year. The catch is it would automatically renew at $25 per month after twelve months. That call saved me $312!

I also decided it was time to cancel my Washington Post subscription that was recently raised from $90 to $120 per year. I was able to go online and cancel. But after I confirmed the action with a second click, it offered me a special rate of $80. I accepted that, but a day later had second thoughts and went back and cancelled once more. I was then offered a $40 yearly rate, which I accepted. (When I mentioned it my friend Joe, he told me he pays $28 per year!)

Most businesses will negotiate or offer better rates because their cost of acquiring a new customer to replace you is much higher than what they can offer you to stay. I’ve been less successful with doing negotiating with the Wall St. Journal, Bloombergs and credit cards such as American Express. Instead you may need to cancel and resubscribe at an introductory rate using another email address.

(Amex in particular was an odd one. After 20 years as a Platinum member, I chose not to renew at a higher rate, and they made no effort to retain me. Yet for an entire year they bombarded me with mail encouraging me to sign up again.)

Of course, the companies hope you will forget about cancelling at the end of the promotional rates and renew at full price. But there’s a method I use to avoid that from happening. I’ve handled the auto renewal strategy two different ways, depending on the service and what they allow.

Apps

In the case of renewable apps and some services, I have canceled the app right after buying it. Generally you have the use of the app until the expiration date and it will not automatically renew. Before you cancel it will usually tell you if that’s the case.

A clever way to keep track and remind yourself

In the case of the newspapers, where they cancel immediately and prorate their refund, I don’t want to cancel, so I send an email to myself, created to be received a week before the subscription comes up for renewal to remind me of the need to either cancel, accept the renewal, or try to negotiate a better rate. I also add it to my calendar.

The ability to create an email to be sent to yourself at a future date is a terrific feature, not only for this situation, but for all types of uses. I send reminders to myself about something I need to do, such as create a report, book hotels, or defer a decision to a later date. Or instead of acting on an email, I’ll have it come back to me a few days later.

To send a deferred email with Gmail or Apple Mail simply create an email with a reminder to yourself and chose the down arrow to the right of the Send button. Select the date for the email to be sent and click send.

XM/Sirius

When I checked my credit card bill, I noticed I was being billed by Sirius at about $21 per month. I had originally signed up on a promotional plan at what I thought was a lot less than $250 per year. That sounded much too high. I called them, asked for the cancelation line, and after a 20-minute wait, reached an agent and told her I either wanted a better rate or I was likely to cancel. She came back with a $8.99 Platinum plan that included the stations, plus podcasts and computer access. I sad I just wanted all of their stations for my car and nothing else. After a few minutes she came back with a $5.99 rate. The plan expires in a year and then jump to $16.99, but she said I could call back and ask for the promotional rate again. So I created another reminder email for delivery a few days before it renews.

Cellular plans

I used to examine my cellular bill each January and check online to see if better rates were available. Some of the sites such as Verizon make it easy to see their other plans and compare your bills under each.

SInce I have basic plans without the extra streaming services, I’ve not been able to save. I’ve purposely avoided plans with special streaming deals, because when I took a new plan out a few years ago that came with 6 months of Disney, which I never used nor was aware of, they began charging me $6 per month after the initial 6 months that I only discovered several months later. It was my fault, but still upsetting. So be leary of these.

TV streaming

Lastly, there’s another source of savings, the streaming services we are paying for from Netflix, MAX, etc. With increasing rates, new plans, promos, versions that add advertising, and the ability to share with others, this is a column by itself for the future. My advice is to try to share youre services that you know you will keep throughout the year, such as YouTubeTV, but activate and deactivate your subscriptions with the services that have a few movies or series that you want to watch, and try to watch several of the series from one service, cancel and then move on to another service. These services are getting smarter about detecting sharing, but I’ve found some work only if you share with another in the same geographical area (YouTubeTV), while others don’t care (MAX, HULU).

The bottom line is companies profit by our lack of diligence in managing they myruad of subscriptions we have, so a little effort on our part can save hundreds of dollars.

by Phil Baker