Even if you and your family haven’t been financially affected by the global pandemic we’re living through, no one can deny that these are very uncertain economic times. That means you might want to consider cutting down on your monthly expenditures—and that includes all those music, movie, cloud storage, and software subscriptions that you’ve racked up over the years.
With many digital subscriptions, you won’t lose everything if you take a break for a month or two, because it effectively pauses rather than cancels your account.
Here are the services that should be at the top of your list when it comes to cost-cutting, and the (legal) alternatives you can replace them with.
The good news is that video-streaming services are set up to allow you to unsubscribe and resubscribe on a month-by-month basis—it’s like they almost expect it. Just because you take a couple of months off doesn’t mean that you’re going to lose all your viewing history and recommendations forever (Netflix keeps this data for 10 months, for example, in case you ever want to come back).
The bad news is that it’s all or nothing, so you’re either subscribed with full access to all the content, or you’re unsubscribed and left without any access to anything. It’s not as if you can queue up a select number of shows for free until you subscribe again. This isn’t something we’d recommend right in the middle of a binge-watching session where you’re trying to cover several seasons of a show.
One partial workaround is to download some offline content to one particular device before canceling your account—if you then make sure that your chosen device doesn’t go online again, you should be able to keep watching for a while. On Hulu, downloads expire after 30 days, which is pretty standard across the board.
Otherwise, you’re just going to have to do without movies and shows on your chosen streaming service for a month or two. Dig out your old DVD collections, borrow movies in physical format from friends, check out some of the free video-streaming services out there on the web, or just do more reading until you’re ready to resubscribe again.
Music streaming isn’t quite like video streaming. On the one hand, it’s not as easy to take a break from music for a month or two as it is to give up movies and shows (though your mileage may vary). On the other hand, you’ve got more free options to choose from. On the whole, we’d say it’s a little easier just to take a month or two off from music subscriptions than video, but it’s close.
Spotify has a free tier, which makes giving up a premium subscription a little less painful. Downgrading won’t delete your playlists or the library you’ve built up, but it will introduce ads and take away the ability to sync files to a mobile device for offline listening. You’ll only be able to shuffle through most of your playlists on mobile, not play them in order.
Deezer has a free tier, as does YouTube Music, but Tidal and Apple Music do not (though you can always go back to your old iTunes library if you’ve been smart enough to keep it around). One money-saving avenue worth exploring if it fits your situation is a family account that supports multiple users, as all the well-known music streaming services offer one (terms and conditions vary).
There are dozens of free options for music if you want to take a few months away from a subscription. Radio (both FM and online), masses of music on YouTube, and whatever CDs and LPs you’ve still got lying around (though obviously you paid for them once upon a time) are all still available. We’ve previously rounded up the best free options for listening to music here.
How easy it will be for you to take a few months off paying for cloud storage space is going to depend on a few factors, including exactly how much data you’ve got stored in the cloud and whether you’re paying for a monthly or yearly subscription plan (the economic toll of coronavirus may be less severe by the time your next payment date rolls around).
If you do cancel your paid cloud storage plan, or downgrade to a lower level, your data won’t be wiped—as far as we can tell from what Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Dropbox are saying, at least. Your files and folders will stay fixed in time, without any syncing, and without the option to upload anything new.
That doesn’t sound too bad to begin with—your files are just getting frozen for a month or two—but consider how much you access those files and interact with them. Remember that Google’s storage plans cover Gmail as well, so you won’t be able to send or receive any emails until you’re back below the 15GB free limit (or whatever your new limit is).
If you really want to cut back on cloud storage costs, then the best route is to get your files and data backed up somewhere else (like a NAS drive or an external drive) before canceling. However, remember though the risk of fire, theft, and flood, which is one of the reasons to use cloud storage in the first place. Another option is to consolidate your cloud storage subscriptions (note that Google Photos can be used for free, with some resizing).
If you’ve signed up for a monthly or yearly subscription to Office, Photoshop, Feedly, or other premium service, then ending payments usually means your access to the software goes away. It’s hard to generalize here, as every software or package is different, but in most cases you’ll be left with an account and not much else.
Your only real option here, if you don’t want to keep paying, is to find suitable free alternatives. In some cases, you might find basic free versions of what you were already using are available. For instance, there are limited but official online apps for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint that you can access with a Microsoft account.
A lot of the time you might find very competent replacement software. For instance, both Google Docs or OpenOffice Writer can fill in for Microsoft Word very well, and they won’t cost you anything. Meanwhile, the open-source image editor Gimp can do a very passable Photoshop impression. We’ve written more about free software alternatives here.
Before you cancel anything, though, make sure your free alternatives of choice can work with the same file formats, otherwise you could be heading for a frustrating changeover. It’s probably a good idea to use both free and paid-for options alongside each other for a short time.
With the way that the world is at the moment, it might be time to reconsider that Amazon Prime subscription you’re paying every month. Speedy delivery—if it’s still available—is perhaps not as important when none of us are going anywhere, anyway. Delivery times across Amazon and other online retailers have become more unpredictable too.
We’ve already covered music and video streaming above, but it’s worth checking out the other Amazon Prime benefits to see how many you’re actually using: Twitch Prime? Amazon Photos? A few exclusive deals on Amazon Prime Day? The Prime Reading ebook service? Not many of them stand out as essential at the moment.
We’ll put to one side all the other issues that come with supporting and ordering from Amazon at the moment, but unlike everything else we’ve mentioned in this list, free Amazon is very much like Amazon Prime—as least as far as your online deliveries are concerned. You just have to wait a bit longer for them to show up.
If you decide that an Amazon Prime break is for you (we’re previously written about this here), then canceling it is very straightforward: Just go here to do it. It’s also easy to pick it up again, should you decide it’s worth paying for it again in the future—though maybe there’s something to be said for paying month to month, even if it is more expensive over the course of a year.