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Plan Well, Retire Well

For the Love of Streaming

Woman streaming television eating popcorn

My family had been waiting to see the movie, Onward since we saw the first trailer in 2019. One of the local theaters is about a mile from our house, and we love to walk (when the weather permits) or take a short drive to see some of our favorite new movies. Since we couldn’t go to the theater when it was released, we were happy it was available to stream. Each year, we go through the motions of subscribing to or canceling streaming services based on changes to the service or the time of year when our favorite shows are available. However, social distancing and shelter-in-place policies have changed the way we consume entertainment.

The early estimates from a Forbes article show an increase in streaming over the past few months. As we are at home more and we adjust our entertainment needs, some of us are turning to more video-streaming options. Whether movies, reality shows, documentaries, or different genre series, our options for streaming are growing and ever-changing. Entertainment companies are offering free trials, watch with commercials, partial free/partial pay to watch, and other consumer-centered approaches to attract subscribers.

Some streaming video services are offering low-cost monthly fees for an extended period (e.g., six months) to allow consumers to explore more and make decisions about intermediate or long-term streaming commitments. Furthermore, streaming media players like Roku and Apple TV provide options that enable viewers to connect to multiple apps and some free services. So, if you are planning to sign up for more streaming options, what should you consider?

Tips for streaming online today

Add, pause, or cancel: How many video streaming services are too many? This is not always an easy question to answer and may largely depend on your household needs. Make sure the total costs for all your subscriptions fit in your monthly spending plan.

Also, advertisers make it very attractive and easy for consumers to sign up for new services. Therefore, if you have a video streaming service that you don’t frequently use and you want to try out others, make sure pause or cancel your account. Some services allow customers to hibernate their accounts if they don’t want to withdraw entirely. In my household, we would pause one of our accounts each summer (for about 12 weeks), which stops our monthly payments and our access to the service. We would renew in the fall, but we also had the option to cancel.

  • Always check with your service providers to see what your options are before you sign-up so that you can have some flexibility if you don’t want to cancel, but you want to save some money.

Pay attention to when the free trial ends: As mentioned above, video streaming services typically offer free trials, sometimes for 7-days or 30-days. These trials provide the opportunity for you to explore. Another type of trial is a limited-time offering, a specific lowered amount for a few months, and then you pay the standard fee after that trial ends (e.g., $5 per month for the first three months or $25 for six months). If you do not want to continue past the trial period, make sure you cancel and remove your payment information, or your credit card will be charged. Streaming services often require that you add your payment and contact information to access the service. If you intend to continue with the application, you should revisit your payment amount and the card you have on file.

In addition to the different types of free trails, during this time of economic hardship, some providers are offering free options with limited access to specific series for a few weeks or longer. You don’t need a subscription for this opportunity, and as viewers, you only need to download the app via the App Store or Play Store at no cost to you.

Estimate your annual cost: Explore free options that are bundled with other subscriptions (e.g., watch free with commercials) or a part of your streaming media players. For others, consider the cost, and evaluate if you can afford this additional monthly expense. The subscriptions add up. If you have four video streaming services and your monthly payments are $12.99, $14.99, $11.99, and $4.99, you will pay approximately $539.52 per year (rates may change). Therefore, when you add the price for all your subscriptions (or bundles) to your other entertainment cost (i.e., cable, music streaming, video rentals), it may be more than you want to spend on entertainment or too expensive for your budget.

Plan with your household members: Roommates or other household members may play a role in the type of services you use daily. Sharing the responsibilities for subscriptions may be a way to save on the full cost. For example, if you are sharing with a roommate, decide who and how to pay it (i.e., alternate payments, etc.). If you have older working teens who want to subscribe to the new $4.99 streaming service because it is affordable for them and it has some of their favorite series, develop a plan. A plan can help you decide how long you’ll have the subscription (so that it doesn’t feel indefinite) and identify who is paying. In households with different ages and interests, it’s also a good idea to first explore free services and decide what you can afford to cover each month, especially during challenging financial times.

We have more options for video streaming services today than we did five years ago. We face a paradox of choice as we explore what is available to us. Sometimes it is more about choosing what fulfills current needs rather than trying out all the recommended services. So, since our entertainment needs are ever-changing, and these services are adapting to advances in technology.  Consider what streaming services are right for you and how the costs fit into your monthly expenses.


The Next Financial Thing, the paradox of choice – Family Financial Feuds Podcast

How to find out where movies and TV shows are streaming – Consumer Reports

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