These days, subscription services are everywhere.
Netflix gives us movies and TV shows, Amazon Prime scores us free shipping, Birchbox keeps us stocked with the latest cosmetics and HelloFresh brings dinner ingredients directly to our doorsteps.
These companies advertise easy access to the things we need and want. But if you’re not careful, the costs can add up. Here’s how to get the most out of your subscription services without draining your wallet.
1. Watch out for auto-renew
When you initially register for a new service, the annual fee doesn’t sound too intimidating. The convenience is worth $50 or $100. But many programs are set to auto-renew, which can mean an unexpected charge on your statement later. And even if you’re no longer using the service and decide to cancel, you might be on the hook for at least some of the cost.
Sign up for a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime, for instance, and if you don’t opt out in time, you’ll automatically be charged the $99 annual fee. If you decide to leave Prime after your first year, make sure you’re not signed up for auto-renew, or you’ll be hit with that charge again.
Customers of food delivery service Blue Apron can skip a delivery or cancel a subscription at any time before the “changeable by” date noted in the account. But you can only make changes before this date, so keep an eye on your account to avoid unnecessary charges.
2. Get only what you’ll use
How often will you receive deliveries? And how quickly will you use up their contents? It’s important to weigh your actual consumption against the amount you’ll be spending. Bigger — and more expensive — isn’t always better, unless you know you’ll be utilizing the full amount of the subscription.
This is doubly true when you’re considering a sample box, such as Birchbox. Each monthly shipment comes with five samples of beauty products. If you end up disliking the samples more often than not, you might want to put the subscription money toward full-size products you already like instead.
3. Stay on top of your accounts
When you sign up for multiple subscription services, it’s easy to lose track of the ones you’ve canceled and the ones you’re still paying for. Keep a close eye on your statements to avoid being charged for something you don’t want.
If you can’t keep track on your own, there’s help. Truebill is a free tracking service that locates monthly charges on your online statements and even cancels services that you no longer want.
4. Take advantage of the service in other ways
Subscription services can make unique — and useful — gifts, and some clubs allow you to pay for an initial shipment or subscription without further commitment.
At shaving supplier Dollar Shave Club, for a one-time charge, you can give someone a membership or a set amount of credit to use on the site. Over at Netflix, you can be the one on the receiving end, too; friends and family can purchase Netflix gift cards from most major retailers, and you can apply the balance to your new or existing account.
And if you’re so thrilled with a subscription that you want your friends to join, you could stand to receive an extra benefit. Some services offer incentives for referrals. At snack supplier Love With Food, for example, you’ll get $10 for each friend who signs up using your referral link.
With a little due diligence, you can ensure that subscription services aren’t taking more each month than they’re giving.
Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @courtneynerd.