Think back to the beginning of the pandemic: We were all locked inside our homes, perhaps brewing coffee for Zoom meetings and navigating new food delivery services. And all of us were virtually coming together to watch and then dissect the latest binge-worthy hit we just streamed.
That’s the power of these services: delivering addictive TV (or movies, articles, or audio) that we all can’t stop talking about. If the content is good, we’ll willingly pay a fee every month to consume it. Who wants to be bored, or left out of the cultural conversations?
But now that the average viewer has four to five streaming services, the monthly price tag is on the rise. In 2021, Americans jumped from spending $47 to $55 a month on streaming services, reflecting an increase in both prices and number of subscriptions.
Wondering how to save money on streaming video services, short of just canceling them all? We’ve got 12 tips for cutting costs without cutting (all) the content. Read on to learn about the different techniques, and see which are right for you.
13 Ways to Cut the Costs of Streaming
Monthly subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and HBO Max — not to mention music subscriptions like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora — expose us to more content and more choice in terms of entertainment and education.
But the cost of streaming services is on the rise. In an age of price prices, many of us want to protect our money from inflation. Cutting costs and sticking to a budget can be especially important. Also, as life returns to normal after the early stages of the pandemic, it may not be necessary to have quite so much programming on demand.
Those are good reasons to examine how to save money on subscriptions. Here are 12 ways you might be able to save some cash on your streaming habits:
1. Paying Annually Over Monthly
Some streaming services allow you to pay a lump sum once a year instead of monthly payments. This can make it more challenging to build streaming services into a line item budget, but the reward could be worth it. Usually when you pay for a year in advance, streaming services offer you a discounted rate.
If you don’t plan to keep the service for a year — say, you only want Netflix the month that your favorite show releases a new season — paying the annual fee might not make sense. Instead, it could be more cost-effective to pay the monthly fee for one or two months a year when you want to use the service.
2. Setting Renewal Reminders
Whether you pay once a year or month to month, it’s a good idea to know when your card will be charged again. If you set a reminder in your phone or on your digital calendar, you can receive an alert before paying for another month.
When you get the alert and think about how much you and your family used the streaming service over the last pay period, you might realize that it’s not worth it to keep paying. If that’s the case, consider canceling to add $10 to $20 back into your monthly budget.
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3. Finding Streaming Bundle Deals
Many streaming services offer bundle deals that allow you to save. If you already plan on subscribing to two separate services, it is a good idea to explore discounts for bundles. For example, if your family wants Hulu and Disney+, you might be able to save money by bundling the two together.
However, if you don’t want one of the services in the bundle, calculating the cost of individual services vs. the bundle could also be helpful. If you are motivated to save money, opting out of a bundle that includes services you don’t really need could be a way to free up funds for, say, retirement savings or a cash cushion. Every bit helps.
4. Utilizing Free Trials Before Paying for a Plan
Several major streaming platforms, including Hulu, Apple TV+, and Amazon Prime, allow you to try out their content before committing. Some people who only want to watch a specific movie or TV series that is released in a certain month might take advantage of free trials — signing up to watch their desired content and then canceling the service before it renews and charges their card.
Even if you aren’t utilizing free trials to game the system, they do get you a month of content without having to worry about fees. It’s a good idea to set a reminder at the end of the free trial to cancel the service if you don’t want to keep it; otherwise, your account may be charged.
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5. Determining If You Really Need the Services — And Canceling What You Don’t Need
Regularly analyzing your budget is a good idea, especially as the cost of living increases. While reviewing your average monthly expenses, you might want to consider if you really need each of the streaming services to which you are subscribed.
If your family has any services that they rarely use, you can consider canceling those subscriptions to save money.
6. Seeing if a Phone Plan Comes With a Subscription Deal
When’s the last time you changed your phone plan? If you are thinking about upgrading to a new phone or a new plan, you might want to shop around to see what streaming deals phone carriers are offering.
Promotions are subject to change, but often, carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T offer free subscriptions to popular streaming platforms like Netflix, Apple TV+, and Paramount+. These are often for a year but sometimes for as long as you keep your phone contract.
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7. Choosing Plans with Ads
Long before TiVO and DVR, families had to sit and watch commercials during their favorite TV shows and movies. There was no pausing and fast-forwarding, and we hadn’t yet uncovered the beautiful “Skip Ads” invention.
Today, streaming services offer viewers ad-free experiences that allow them to consume content unhindered. But increasingly, that comes at a cost. To save money on monthly subscription services, many families opt in for the lower-tier, less expensive “with ads” plans.
Streaming services like Hulu offer their content at discounted rates if you opt into the “with ads” plan, and even streaming giant Netflix has announced its intentions to roll out a cheaper, ad-supported plan.
If you don’t mind watching ads in between your favorite shows and movies, downgrading to a cheaper, ad-supported subscription could save you money.
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8. Downgrading to a Cheaper Plan if You Can
Ad-supported plans aren’t the only downgrade you can consider to save money on streaming services. Some services, like Hulu, have top-tier plans with live TV options. Others, like Netflix, allow you to pay more so that you can utilize additional screens at the same time.
Here’s another way to save money on streaming services: Consider whether you are fully utilizing every aspect of a service. (This is a good moment to tap your financial discipline.) If you aren’t truly using a service or realize you can pare down, it’s wise to explore what alternatives the platforms offer that could save you money.
Downgrading your plan could free up cash that you could funnel towards growing your emergency fund or saving for a vacation.
9. Sharing the Account With Your Household
Some streaming services allow you to share your account with friends and family, usually within the same household. Rather than maintaining separate accounts, you might be able to save money by sharing services with roommates.
If you opt to save money this way, you may find that streaming services even allow you to create separate, personalized profiles within your account.
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10. Using Free Alternative Streaming Services
Not all content requires a subscription. If you have a smart TV or other internet-connected device, you can connect to free services like the Roku Channel and Pluto TV. While this may not give you access to the hot new shows everyone is talking about, it can definitely give you plenty of options for viewing.
11. Rotating Streaming Services Instead of Having Them All at Once
Most consumers have four to five streaming services in a given month, according to a recent J.D. Power survey. Depending on how much TV and music you consume, it’s possible to utilize that many services fully. But for many families, that might be too many. Just watching a few episodes of a show every month may not justify the expense.
If you find that you don’t regularly watch all your services, it could be a good idea to rotate them. For example, you could pay for two in the spring because they’ve got new shows you like, then switch to another two during summer vacation because they’ve got great content for kids, and then switch again in the fall and winter because you enjoy their holiday programming.
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12. Using a Cash Back Credit Card
Earning money by spending money can make monthly expenses a little more manageable. For example, say you have a cash-back card that allows you to earn up to 3% back on qualifying purchases. While it might not sound like much, that’s 30 cents cash back for every $10 streaming service each month. It can add up.
Some cash back credit cards are actually designed for people who like streaming services; they might offer special cash back rates specifically for subscription services like Prime Video and Spotify.
13. Swapping Down on Resolution
Some people are obsessed with having the latest, most crystal-clear image as they view their shows; others, not so much. If you fall into the latter category, you might be able to score a cheaper subscription for lesser resolution. For instance, Netflix currently charges $9.99 for a monthly subscription without HD; a standard plan with HD is $15.49 (with perhaps other perks as well); and $19.99 for a premium one with Ultra HD available.
Banking With SoFi
Looking for more ways to lighten your monthly budget? Skip the monthly fees at your current bank, and switch to a SoFi bank account. Sign up with direct deposit, and not only will your Checking and Savings account be fee-free, but you’ll also learn a competitive APY. Combined, these two factors can help your money grow faster. Eligible SoFi accounts, which allow you to conveniently spend and save in one place, can also enjoy no-fee overdraft coverage up to $50, as well as paycheck access up to two days early.
Are streaming services continuing to increase in price?
Many streaming services have increased their prices in recent years. How their pricing will evolve depends on many factors, but we are at a moment of high inflation with price hikes likely. To save money on monthly subscriptions, consumers might want to cut back on the number of streaming services, look for ad-supported plans, and consider streaming bundles.
Is cable cheaper than streaming?
A J.D. Power study from last year found that the average American uses between four and five streaming services, with an average monthly bill of $55. While higher than it was pre-pandemic, monthly spending on streaming services is still lower than the average cable bill, which is $79. Of course, you can find much cheaper basic cable packages, but you can also have a single streaming service to cut costs.
What streaming services have bundle deals?
You can find bundles with multiple streaming services, such as Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+. Amazon Prime members get access to video content plus Prime shipping deals on Amazon.com; they can also take advantage of bundles with platforms like SHOWTIME, AMC+, and Paramount+. Bundle deals might not always be available, so it’s a good idea to research before signing up.
Photo credit: iStock/Brothers91
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