Magazine Subscriptions: Are They Worth It?

I currently subscribe to seven magazines: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Mother Jones, Wired, Consumer Reports, and Money. That seems like a lot, but it’s actually down from the ten magazines I subscribed to before my son was born.

Why so many magazine subscriptions? There are two reasons, really: one, I ask for them as gifts a lot, and two, I actually read them. I leave the newest issues out on the table for guests to flip through (my father-in-law basically reads The New Yorker and The Atlantic cover to cover when he visits) and for me to read in my spare time; when it’s time to rotate them, I read anything I may have missed, save the New Yorker covers for art projects, and then toss them.

On the other hand, for many people magazine subscriptions are a great waste of money. They sit around gathering dust and end up being lost money for the people who subscribe.

In my opinion, when you’re looking for fat to trim from your budget, magazines should be one of the first places to look. Ask yourself these questions:

Do I actually read the magazine? Don’t idealize the question by saying, “Well, I would if I had time…” If you say that, then you don’t read the magazine and it’s probably a pretty good clue that you shouldn’t be subscribing. Note that this doesn’t mean you have to read every issue, just a large portion of them.

Would I buy the magazine on the newsstand if I didn’t subscribe? This is what actually got me to subscribe to at least three of the magazines above – I kept reading it on the newsstand and often buying an issue. If you find yourself buying even a quarter of the issues of a magazine on the newsstand, it’s more cost-effective just to subscribe to the magazine.

Does the information in the magazine directly affect my bottom line? This is a big reason why I subscribe to Consumer Reports. Prior to writing the issue reviews on The Simple Dollar, I used to primarily subscribe so I could use their online service as a reference to aid in product purchases. Thus, I will likely subscribe to Consumer Reports for the indefinite future, especially since there are several purchases coming up that I will consult Consumer Reports on.

Could I just read it at the library? This is why I stopped subscribing to Science and The Economist – I could easily read them both at the library during my weekly visit (I spend a couple of hours there each week, usually on Thursday evenings, reading periodicals and exchanging books).

Would it make a good gift instead of paying for it? I traditionally receive a few of my magazine subscriptions as gifts from relatives, because it is a great gift that I appreciate throughout the whole year. Would I subscribe on my own? I’m not entirely sure, but I am sure that I do really appreciate receiving a renewal as a gift.

Addressing each of these questions made it clear that if I were completely subscribing on my own, including no gifts or anything else, I would only subscribe to The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Consumer Reports, and I am very strongly considering subscribing to Make. This would easily trim more than 50% from my magazine spending in a year.

Take a look at what you’re doing with your magazines – you might be surprised to find the fat that you can excise from your spending.