Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Is your video streaming tap leaking money? Here's a 4-step strategy for taking control.

It's money down the drain!

A leaky faucet can be insidious thing. A barely noticeable drip, drip, drip easily falls below our awareness. Yet running hour after hour, day after day, it can siphon away a huge amount of water and lead to a massive surprise water bill. And worse, the water is pointlessly gone without ever being used!

Monthly payments can be like that dripping faucet. Seemingly insignificant expenses can easily fall below the radar as we automatically pay them and go about our busy lives. And when these expenses are for stuff we don't really use, well... that's just a stupid waste!

In this article I'm going to challenge you to think about one category of monthly expenses that can easily get out of control if you don't consciously manage it. I'm talking about streaming services. And like the water from that dripping faucet, the dollars spent on that unused (or underused) streaming service is gone forever, leaving you with nothing to show for having spent them! Consider this from Lifewire.com:
"The average person who uses streaming services subscribes to between five and seven services. You know the ones: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Apple TV+, Discovery+, Paramount+, Peacock, HBO Max, and others."
So let's say you are limiting yourself to five of these. The basic, ad-free versions of five of the services above could get you a monthly bill of around $65. Subscribe to all nine of the services listed and you'll be paying well over $100/month with fees. Add this to your cable bill (Why are you still buying cable!?! Can't you use an antenna?? That's a topic for another day...) and your internet bill and WOW -- that can add up to some very big bucks spent on content!  

Seriously: Step back and ask yourself: Do you actually use every one of your streaming services every day? ... every week? Do your payments stop when you're not using a service? Have you really "dug deep" into the catalogs of any of your services to see what shows you're paying for, but not watching?  If any of these questions make you uncomfortable, then you're ready for a more disciplined, strategic approach to your streaming. 

A Four-Step Strategy for Taking Control of Your Media Streaming

At our house we have a rule: Subscribe to no more than three paid streaming services at one time. This rule isn't all that hard to live with if you're willing to be a bit strategic about your choices. We add and drop services frequently. And we also supplement the paid ones with a couple of excellent free services from our local library (Kanopy & Hoopla). The bottom line: Our current total streaming bill is under $25/month! And we still have WAY MORE stuff to watch on these services than we have time available!  

(At the moment, our subscriptions are with Hulu, Acorn TV and PBS Passport. But these are all subject to swapping out for Netflix, etc. at any time.) 

Here's how you can implement this money-saving streaming strategy.

Step One: Audit your streaming subscriptions. 

  • Make a list of all your paid streaming services. (You may have to check your credit card bill to find them all, if you're really out of control!)
  • If you have "bundled" services, break out each of them and include each separately in your list.
  • Include the price you are paying for each.

Step Two: Choose three "must have" subscriptions.

  • Review your actual viewing habits for the past week or so. 
    • Which shows did you actually watch, enjoy and look forward to watching?
    • Which shows could be "binge-watched" if you decided to watch one or several episodes each night?
    • Which series are on on "stand by," waiting for new episodes to arrive? 
  • Make a list of the titles you've added to your "Watch Later" or "My Episodes" or similarly named lists of items that are in your wish list on each service..
  • For each subscription service, make a list of content that is ready for you to watch immediately. 
  • Decide how many hours of streaming content you'd like to watch each night. 
  • Review your list of content and services and decide which ones you would most like to use to fill your available viewing hours.
  • Now list the top three most appealing streaming services.

Step Three: Pause or cancel all services except the top three you identified above.

  • The object of the game is to fill your available viewing time with the stuff you most want to watch and avoid paying for subscriptions you aren't using.  To do this, you must cancel or pause all but your top three services. 
  • BE BRAVE! Remember, you can always reactivate a service. They'll be happy to have you back! In fact, many will offer you discounted rates to rejoin. But, in the meantime, you'll be saving big bucks! And you might discover, as we have, that you can go for a long time without missing some of your lower priority services. (To our surprise, for example, we've gone for over a year now without missing Starz and Netflix! And at one time these were our top priority services.) 
  • CAUTION: When you cancel a service you might lose your wish list or watch history that is being tracked by the service. So be sure you capture any important wish list items on paper or a note taking app before you cancel. This way, when you resume the subscription later, you'll be able to pick up where you left off.
  • To help you get started with your cancellations, I did a few quick searches asking: "How do I cancel my [service name] subscription?" Below is what I found:

Step Four: Now binge and watch your top priority content from your top three.

  • Be your own conscious video programming department. For example, we use a three-part viewing strategy. We start a typical viewing evening with a serious dramatic or action-based show, followed by a lighter comedy/drama and end the night with a sit-com or two. What viewing strategies would work for you?
  • Be sure to check out each service's custom-tailored recommendations that sometimes appear below episodes and show titles (i.e., "For You" or "You Might Also Like," etc.). These can help you find buried treasure and get the most out of your subscription.

When you're ready, repeat the four steps above and think about switching to low-cost alternatives.

Every couple of months, or when you're running out of good stuff to watch, you can simply repeat the four steps above and make some adjustments. As noted, you can always reactivate any of the favorite services you cancelled or paused. But before you resume those familiar, and potentially expensive, services why not investigate some low-cost alternatives? You might find some amazing gems!  Here are a few high-value, low-cost streaming services you should investigate. 
  • Acorn TV (my full review) - $5.99/mo - TV series and movies from all over the world
  • Britbox - $6.99/mo - from BBC & ITV it's "...the biggest streaming collection of British TV ever"
  • PBS Passport - $5/mo - Stream loads of high-quality PBS content on demand! Over 1500 episodes of Masterpiece and 40 years (!) of the beautifully-photographed Nature as well as Nova, Frontline, PBS Newshour and much more. It's an enormous value! Plus you'll be supporting top-notch journalism.
  • UP Faith & Family - $5.99/mo - "... uplifting, family-friendly streaming service" [Lots of positive stuff, though some programs can be a little heavy on religious themes.]
  • Kanopy & Hoopla (my full review) - FREE media of all sorts, streaming from your public library.