In the past few months, we’ve ended our subscription to GameFly, reduced our subscription to Netflix to streaming-only, stopped receiving four magazines, and given away or sold a bunch of items around our household.
At first glance, one might think we were going through some sort of economic crisis. After all, this is the exact same kind of cutting back that I regularly suggest to people who are finding themselves in a financial pinch.
We actually made these decisions based on time, not money.
With each one of those spending cuts we made, we realized that we simply weren’t getting our money’s worth out of the item.
With GameFly, I recognized that my time playing electronic games was actually pretty small, and most of that time was actually spent at my computer. We would get a game in the mail, it would get played an hour or two on the day it arrived, then it would usually sit for a long time and eventually get mailed back.
With Netflix, we had a very similar problem. The disks we’d get in the mail would sit for a month or so until we could find a great evening to watch that film.
With the magazines, we realized that some of our magazines were consistently going unread. We’d end up with a pile of unread magazines, then one day we’d just flip through them, tear out a piece or two that we wanted to read, and toss a pile of magazines.
With the other items around our home, we just got rid of items that we didn’t use.
In each case, we cut our spending on an item that we didn’t use enough to justify the cost.
Over and over again, though, I see people having a challenging time making that justification or, in many cases, never bothering to make that justification at all.
My own original experience with Netflix is a perfect example of this.
About eight years ago, I opened a Netflix account. Sarah and I used it like crazy for several months, then the usage dropped off. It reached a point where we would have a couple of Netflix envelopes on our DVD player for weeks, almost gathering dust. Why didn’t we cancel? We liked the convenience of having the movies available if we did decide to watch them. We ended up keeping the account until our 2006 financial meltdown, and only resubscribed a few years later due to the availability of streaming and a large backlog of children’s movies that our kids wanted to watch.
The natural counterargument that many people have when they hear about such changes is that we’re losing some degree of convenience or joy by making these changes. In fact, we actually have great alternatives to each of these if we were to use that service.
For example, the reason we had GameFly is so that I could try out new video games if I wished. However, at the rate of one per month, it’s actually less expensive to just keep trading games at the local used game store. If I end up keeping a game for two or three months (as would happen), I’m far ahead simply trading games.
With Netflix, if we decide that we want to watch a particular movie that’s not on streaming, we have lots of options to rent that movie, from Redbox to Amazon Instant Video. Considering that we’re looking at most one rental a month, it’s far cheaper to just rent them individually.
The same concept is true for the magazines. If I just bought a weekly magazine at the newsstand once a month when something interested me, it’s still far cheaper than the cost of the subscription.
A subscription can save you money if you use it consistently, but if you’re not using it consistently, you’re better off just buying or renting individual items when the opportunity comes up.
In the end, it’s all about time. If your interests are such that you’re actually devoting a lot of your time to a particular hobby, a subscription service might make it worthwhile for you. If you’re doing it mostly for the convenience of the one time every month or two you actually end up using it, drop the subscription and find another option. Your wallet (and your clutter) will thank you.