Do you suffer from subscription overload?

From TV streaming (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) to car rentals (ZipCar) to online medical appointments (Maple), subscriptions are popping up everywhere. We love them for their convenience and variety. For a flat monthly fee, you can have an endless library of songs to listen to (Spotify) or all the ingredients you need to prepare your weekly meals (Goodfood). But subscriptions also have drawbacks. One: they can add up quickly. And two: it’s very easy to lose track of how many you actually have. Indeed, there are budget apps, subscription and expense trackers out there that can help, but how do you choose? And is adding more tech (and more subscriptions) the answer to your subscription overload?

Subscription overload is likely to become a bigger budget issue.

As more people see the cost-benefit in cutting their cable, getting rid of their cars, and trading in “ownership” for “access,” subscription services make a lot of sense. Why own something when you can just pay to use it?

Many business writers, like Kimberly A. Whitler from Forbes, have been reporting on the rise of the “Subscription Economy.” Businesses and consumers are both flocking to this type of business model. For the consumer, it means cheaper and more personalized access to services and content, and for the business, it means a steadier cash flow and a longer relationship with the customer.

Subscriptions definitely seem to be the way of the future. Is your budget ready for it?

Yes, subscriptions come directly out of your bank or credit card account.

This is an obvious fact about subscriptions. But it’s still worth thinking about. Their convenience factor can make you forget not only about what subscriptions you have but how much they cost (they can often increase dramatically, without warning, after a promotion is over), when they are taken out (there are many days in a month), and why you still have them.

So: if you’re not a regular user, cancel it!

We tried some of the subscription/expense trackers out there (there are lots) and here are four that we would recommend.

  1. For the budgeter who wants it all is the classic money manager and expense tracker. It’s been around for over ten years and was acquired by the very reputable Intuit (Quicken, TurboTax) in 2009. It allows you to track and to connect to all of your bank accounts (and more) in one place.

Pros: The budgeting function is great. It tracks and categorizes your transactions, subscriptions, balances and alerts you (via email or a text) when you are going over budget. Mint also offers credit score and investment tracking as well as a net worth report. You get a big-picture view of your financial situation.

Cons: Because it’s a great comprehensive tool, it takes some time getting used to all of its functions. With Mint, and with all budgeting apps that connect to your banking details, there is an increased risk of fraud. That said, Intuit has an unblemished record for managing people’s data.

  1. For the budgeter who wants to overhaul their spending habits

YNAB (“You Need A Budget”) is one of the most popular paid budgeting apps ($6.99 US a month). It connects to all your accounts, like Mint, but also teaches you how to think about every dollar you spend. YNAB claims that new budgeters save more than $6,000 in their first year.

Pros: This is a great money management system that will help you get to the bottom of your expenses and adopt healthier money habits. The app’s budget method focuses on four compelling budget rules. The rule about “ageing” your money is particularly life-changing: using last month’s money to pay for this month’s expenses. YNAB is also a community of “YNABers” that support each other. This is highly motivating for people who have trouble finding the fun in budgeting. 

Cons: The app requires a certain commitment to justify the cost ($83.99 US a year). Although, you can try it for free for 34 days or one year if you’re a student. Again, with the linking to your banking details, fraud is a risk. But YNAB uses the same security infrastructure as the CIA, Heroku. Finally, this app is budget focused and does not go into all the other aspects of financial management. It’s not a one-stop shop.

  1. For the budgeter who loves subscriptions

Butter is a new free service specifically tailored to track and manage your subscriptions (owned by RBC). It also connects to your bank and credit card accounts (like Mint and YNAB.) to give you a run-down of all of the services you subscribe to. They bring these together in one place and offer cash rewards.

Pros: Butter offers you 1 per cent cashback on all your subscriptions. Once your balance is over $25, they pay this out through an Interac eTransfer. With a compatible RBC credit card, the cashback doubles to 2 per cent. They cover a wide range of subscriptions from food, gym, lifestyle, magazines to games.

Cons: It could take a while to accrue $25 in cashback. Also, the site operates as a subscription hub, encouraging you to take on more subscriptions for a better cashback return. As a rule, you should try to be choosy when it comes to your entertainment expenses.

  1. For the safety-conscious, likes-to-keep-it-simple budgeter is a free personal finance app that helps you easily keep track of your expenses, income and set saving targets. The app requires you to input your expenses while offering a very easy-to-use, attractive interface. Because the app doesn’t link to your bank accounts, there is no need to worry about fraud.

Pros: Good monthly comparisons that help you visualize your expenses, like subscriptions than you can tag as recurring transactions. You can also scan your receipts so you don’t have to type them in.

Cons: We preferred the older, simpler versions of the app. The geotagging or mapping of expenses (available in WallyNext) wasn’t very user-friendly or that helpful. Some people might find inputting their expenses tedious, but we liked doing this. It forces you to fully evaluate your spending and get into a budgeting mindset.

Choosing the right budgeting app depends a lot on the type of budgeter you hope to be. Like subscriptions, you can choose the one that best matches your specific needs – definitely more engaging than an Excel spreadsheet! But even for the most seasoned budgeter, they can free up a lot of valuable time and help you stay motivated.

Have you tried any budgeting apps that you would like to recommend? Share your experiences with us on Twitter using #BudgetTips #LeaveDebtBehind or join our Facebook community.