A tech geek's financial downfall: Death by a million subscriptions
My Bundle spend type is Wired Thing. And it makes sense that my connected life is, gigabyte by gigabyte, emptying my coffers. Just look at my monthly statement: AT&T ($130 for the iPhone with unlimited minutes), Netflix ($20), Time Warner Cable ($115, before I ditched it. more on that later), iTunes ($20), Google Picasa photo storage ($20/year for several gigs of adorable baby photos), SurveyMonkey ($19.99, old startup research), LessAccounting.com ($12, back when I was creating invoices for freelance work), Apple MobileMe ($9, and I'm not sure why I have it), and, finally, Yahoo Domains (untold hundreds of dollars for domain names to websites I once planned to create during moments of entrepreneurial inspiration).
Maybe my Spend Type should be called "Subscriber Thing." Not too long ago, you could make a clear distinction between what you were spending for utilities — heat, electricity, water and a phone — and entertainment — cable TV and a few magazines. Now it's more blurry. I need Internet access for work and research as much as I want it to stream movies. The online data storage has replaced our photo albums. Clinging to a domain name like DesperateHousespace.com? OK, maybe not.
But for better and for worse, these new utilities come with new monthly payments, all of which I've automated, of course. So until I actually spent the time to write the above paragraph, I didn't quite realize how costly it was to maintain this life of digital connectivity.
At least I'm not alone. Gizmodo tackled the issue this week, estimating that a true tech geek can spend up to $1,000 a month simply to stay wired. Look at their math, and you, as an objective outsider, can quickly determine where this unnamed, underwater geek can cut spending. Can I suggest the TiVo and turn-by-turn GPS navigation?
The problem's not likely to get better. I used to be able to take comfort in the fact that paying for new services, like the Internet, enabled me to save on others, like the newspaper. That ride's about to end, I fear: The New York Times announced yesterday that it will begin charging for use of its website, and there are folks who speculate that the mythical Apple Tablet will introduce (to those under 30) or re-familiarize (for those over 30) the concept of paying for content subscriptions. As a media nerd, this is mixed news for my wallet. Good for my industry! Bad for my daughter's college fund!
I've already taken steps to remedy the problem: I've ditched more than half of those dusty old Yahoo Domains waiting to be created (so long, FirstLadyLand.org); and just a couple months ago, my wife and I said goodbye to digital cable. (With the money we saved, we bought "Mad Men" episodes from iTunes!) And I'm sure I can still cut plenty from the monthly budget, and I know I need to keep better track of the dormant services that are passively chopping away at my monthly income.
But I'm not sure why letting companies automatically bill me for services should turn me into a subscriber-for-life. In the olden days, a print magazine subscription lasted for a year or two, then I'd get clear warnings that it was about to expire. ("Hey Mark! We don't want to see you miss a moment of Better Homes & Gardens!") Then, through the magic of do-nothing-ism, they would actually expire. That doesn't happen any more. I can't help but wonder: Should there be stricter rules on how companies can set up (and shut down) subscriptions? Or is it just my own damn problem?
Do you suffer from subscription creep? What's worth it? What's not? How do you manage?