Retailers make it so easy for us to sign contracts that we rarely take the time to step back and think about the investment that we're making. When you sign up for a membership, it's important to weigh the long-term benefits against the costs. If you want to make the most out your budget, it's important think about which services are truly worth your money. Chances are if you consider this carefully, you'll end up with a lot fewer bills to pay.
Here are six common subscriptions that are worth re-evaluating - or just cutting right out of your life.
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
1. Your Land line Telephone
A land line telephone is more useful for some people than others. Some people use their landlines regularly because they're frequently at home or making international calls. Others are constantly on-the-go and do just as well with a cell phone only. Believe it or not, there is a solution for people who fall into both groups: Google Voice.
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Through this free service, you can actually get a permanent phone number with voice mail, both of which can be accessed online. Obihai Technology, a company based in Silicon Valley, has actually created technology that enables people to use Google Voice through a land line telephone. The device costs less than $50, works through a high-speed internet connection, and enables users to eliminate monthly phone bills.
2. Your Cable Subscription
These days, the internet provides a number of free (and legal) options for viewing your favorite TV shows and movies. Instead of paying per month, you can watch your favorite shows through major network television websites like ABC.com, NBC.com and Fox.com. Hulu is another popular service for streaming TV. If you really love your premium channels, consider getting an inexpensive Netflix account, which will let you stream television shows and movies on demand.
3. Your Gym Membership
If you actually use your gym membership enough so that each visit is cheaper than paying the drop-in rate, it is probably a good investment. After all, your health is a very important asset. That said, if you're going to the gym just to do basic floor mat workouts or walk on a treadmill, you may be able to find inexpensive, at-home alternatives. If you aren't using your gym membership at all, cut it.
4. Magazine and Newspaper Subscriptions
If you're after high-quality content, there's plenty of it online, and your favorite subscription probably also has a website. If you already have an iPad or Android tablet, all the better; you can use these advices to read your content, and get an interactive reading experience that might just be better than paper.
5. Your Cell Phone Data Plan
For some users, a cell phone data plan is valuable. Professionals who rely on their phones for work, especially, benefit from having consistent access to internet and email, especially if they are traveling. If you are not a traveler, you may want to evaluate whether your data plan is actually worth the money. These days, free WiFi is available in so many places, and even when free WiFi isn't available, you probably have internet access. When it comes to your budget, there is such a thing as too much connectivity, particularly if you don't use it. (For more tips, see 7 Places To Find Free WiFi.)
6. Software Subscriptions
If you're tech-savvy and able to put in a little bit of research, you'll notice that there are a number of open source, free and legal alternatives to the software packages that you're using. For instance, AVG is a free, widely used and reliable anti-virus program that works well for personal use. No matter what you need, always make an effort to search for an open source alternative.
The Bottom Line
While you may feel enticed by subscriptions, you should evaluate whether you actually need them. With a little bit of research, patience and strategic thinking, you can find less-expensive or free alternatives to traditional money pits. In other situations, you may find that you're simply happier when you don't spend the money at all.