As an independent twentysomething living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, I try to pay close attention to every dollar I spend. I do have to remind myself every so often, though, that I’m no longer a college student and have a little bit of disposable income. Gone are the days of having to kiss an app goodbye because it cost $1.99, and the nights (after nights after nights) in a row of eating cheap pasta for dinner.
Because of this (and my interest in shiny new things), I’ve tried out endless subscription services, boxes and memberships, and these are the ones that have remained constant through the last few years.
1. Streaming entertainment
When I first moved into my apartment in 2012, a bundled cable and internet package was still the default choice for renters. Not unlike many other renters in the U.S., I bought a cable subscription, thinking that the $100+ dollar monthly charge would be worth it for all the live sports and news I would have access to.
Fast forward a few years, and you’ll see my little cable box sitting on its shelf wondering where I’ve been and why I’ve been spending so much time with that Amazon Fire Stick over there. And I’m not alone. A recent study conducted by eMarketer predicts that by 2021, the number of U.S. adults who pay for TV will fall to 181.7 million, which is down nearly 10% from 2016. By 2021, the number of cord-cutters is expected to be nearly equal the number of people who have never had pay TV — an estimated total of 81 million U.S. adults.
There are quite a few options out there when it comes to streaming services, but these are a few of the popular ones.
Hulu: starts at $7.99 per month
Amazon Prime: $99 for a 1 year plan (equal to $8.25 per month) if charged annually or $10.99 if charged on a monthly basis. Prime Video membership is $8.99 per month (Note: students may be eligible for a $49 per year program)
Netflix: starting at $7.99 per month
HBO Now: $14.99 per month
When it comes to price, it’s clear who takes the cake - but this isn’t just about cost. It’s about value. Depeding on your preferences, you may feel Netflix is the leader in the selction category (in terms of sheer volume of tv shows, standup comedy specials, and movies) and the service you want. If you’re looking for more new TV shows that are updated on a much faster cadence, Hulu may be the winner. Amazon Prime, on the other hand, also boasts a large selection which includes HBO shows, and also comes with a bunch of other benefits, most noteworthy of which of course is free shipping on all Amazon purchases. Again, it all just comes down to your show viewing preferences.
2. News & brain food
In today’s world, it can be overwhelming to try and keep up with all the happenings in both local and global communities. There are endless pieces of information published around the clock, and sometimes logging onto Twitter can feel like being crushed by an avalanche of content.
With the vast majority of publishers focusing on digital, you can usually get a subscription that includes everything a traditional newspaper subscription would get you (the news), plus other features like curated daily updates, email newsletters, mobile push notifications for topics of your interest and more. My personal favorite is The New York Times, which currently starts at $7.50 (charged every four weeks).
Pro tip: Throw in a New York Times crossword digital subscription for $6.95 per month if you want to give yourself a 20-45 minute brain break on a daily basis and learn cool new words like epee and Erato.
If there’s one subscription service I will constantly sing praises of, it’s Spotify Premium. It costs a humble $9.99 per month (or an even lower rate if you're a current student).
As someone who listens to music pretty much from the second I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, I swear by my Spotify subscription. Aside from being able to listen to pretty much any song you can imagine on demand (even you, Taylor Swift), make your own playlists, follow hundreds of thousands of others and discover new artists and songs via custom recommendations, the best part of Spotify Premium is the lack of ads. Maintaining the flow of writing that blog post or completing that long run without having to hear about the latest tech app five times is worth way more than $10 if you ask me.
Note: Other options here include Pandora, Amazon Music Unlimited and iTunes radio.
If you’re anything like me, you commonly find yourself either (a) going into the grocery store and buying all of the things that you think you’d want to eat right at that moment or (b) buying a bunch of things that you think adults would buy and then never using them because you haven’t the slightest clue where to begin.
That’s why meal subscription box services are so great. Not only are you spending the same money you’d be spending on groceries each week (or maybe even less), but you can be sure that you’ll have all the right ingredients to make a solid few meals throughout the week. Plus, it’s significantly better than ordering takeout or pre-made meals, because you can hone your cooking skills while you do it.
There are many options to choose from, including HelloFresh, Blue Apron and Plated. Just like with anything else, you'll want to compare the offerings of each and decide which one is right for you (and your budget).
5. Produce & snacks
Aside from the meals you’ll be cooking for yourself in no time thanks to your meal subscription box, you might also want to keep your kitchen stocked with some healthy snacks that you can use for movie night. Some options here include NatureBox, Graze or Imperfect Produce. There are several more out there, so decide what sort of items you'd like to receive and go from there.
The appeal behind these weekly or bimonthly delivery boxes is that they cost about the same amount of money that you’d be spending on snacks at the grocery store, and give you access to a large variety of different noshes — all without ever requiring you to step into a store. Think of the impulse buys you'll avoid!
If you’re a citizen of the internet (which I assume you are if you’re reading this), you’ve probably heard of Dollar Shave Club (DSC). It’s a subscription service that sends you a razor and then replacement blades for it each month. You can choose which type of razor you like, and whether you want to cancel or pause your subscription at any time. DSC also offers other shaving products that you can add to your box (for an additional price, obviously).
The value here isn’t only in the numbers - the blades generally end up being cheaper than the name-brand alternatives at our favorite pharmacies - but also in the convenience. Just think, on those days when you remember you have a big meeting, look in the mirror (or down at your legs), and remember it’s been a few weeks since you replaced your razor blade, a little box from DSC is likely to be at your door.
Checking in on your finances is one of the things you should be doing on a regular basis. But another great thing about the technology bubble is that there are endless apps available to help make managing your finances easier. There are the ones that give you a bird’s eye view of what you’re spending your money on, like Mint and LearnVest. Then there are apps like PocketGuard and MoneyStrands, that help you set specific financial goals or set you on the path to save for something big.
There are even apps out there that link to your bank account and analyze it to figure out where you're overspending. Not great at saving? Don't worry — there are apps, like Digit or Tip Yourself, that automatically set money aside from your account each week into a separate savings account. The options here are endless and you're sure to find one that fits your needs, even if you do have to pay a monthly service fee to use it.
Ally Greer is an expert in — and perpetual student of — renter’s rights, city living and other things young professionals should know. Outside of that, she's trying to figure out adulthood in the tech capital of the world while still finding time for comedy, baseball and calling her mom.
Image: Petar Chernaev