The idea of a subscription is nothing new. People have subscribed to newspapers and magazines for decades. And now, millions of people sign up for subscriptions for all sorts of digital and physical goods -- monthly boxes with themed surprises, video or music streaming services, cloud storage, etc.
In most cases, the subscription model is one that is mutually beneficial for businesses and consumers. For the most part, it makes recurring revenue predictable for businesses, and services become more convenient and affordable for end users. That said, the benefits are skewed in favor of the businesses for one reason: they're just as easy to sign up for as they are to forget about.
Fortunately, if you have the tendency to sign up for new subscriptions and constantly forget to cancel when you no longer need or want them, you have options. There is a growing number of applications and services specifically designed to help you track and manage subscription services and recurring bills.
The first subscription manager I came across was Truebill, a web-based service that requires a bit of trust, as you need to link your bank accounts and credit cards to your account for it to work. It uses the Plaid API, meaning your banking or credit card credentials are never stored.
After you've added your accounts, Truebill will scan them for recurring transactions, all of which will be sorted into three different categories: Subscriptions, Bills & Utilities and Other Recurring Payments. You can manually change which category a recurring bill falls under or remove a subscription from the list, but you cannot manually add subscriptions if Truebill doesn't automatically detect them.
For the most part, it found and properly categorized most of my subscriptions without a hitch.
Trim is a lot like Truebill in that you must create an account and add your bank accounts and credit cards for it to work.
However, Trim is a little more transparent with its security -- it uses the same Plaid API to connect your bank account, but it also boasts the same 256-bit encryption used by leading financial technology firms. Also, if you don't feel comfortable adding your bank accounts or credit cards, you can email the statements to firstname.lastname@example.org which, if you ask me, seems a bit more risky.
What sets Trim apart from Truebill is mobile access. While there is no application, you can setup text notifications so that you are notified every time it's payday, you pay an overdraft or late fee and are charged over a set amount.
With the text alerts, you can also respond with specific commands for checking account balance, recent transactions and more. You can also text to cancel certain subscriptions through Trim, though some cancellations come at a cost of $6.00 (£4.61 or AU$8.04).
SubscriptMe is a mobile app for iOS. And instead of scanning your bank accounts and credit cards for recurring transactions, SubscriptMe uses Slice to scan your email inboxes for transaction receipts.
In the time I've used SubscriptMe, I've found that it doesn't seem nearly as accurate as those with access to your bank. However, you can add subscriptions manually or from a list of popular services if they're not automatically detected -- something you can't do with Truebill or Trim.
You can also edit the amounts of each subscription if they're incorrectly input with an inbox scan, which is also something you won't find with the aforementioned sites. Sadly, you'll have to sift through categories to find specific subscription services, as there is oddly no search function.
Within the app, you are given a visual overview of all your subscriptions, divided into different categories, such as music, business services, cloud storage, etc. You can also view and enable reminders for upcoming bills.
SubscriptMe is easily the most flexible and fully-featured subscription manager of these four.
My most recent discovery, however, is Bobby (previously called Billy). It's an iOS application that allows you to track up to four subscriptions for free, making it the only paid option out of these four. After the fourth subscription, you're met with an in-app purchase of $0.99 (£0.79 or AU$0.99) to unlock the ability to add unlimited subscriptions to your account.
Adding each subscription sounds like a chore, but Bobby has a very long (and searchable) list of popular services that allow you to quickly add the brunt of your subscriptions. Even additions you will need to add manually will only take a few seconds each, so long as you know how much they cost you each billing cycle.
Despite not having import features or notifications, Bobby is my go-to subscription tracker of them all, solely for its simplicity. It's a very quick and easy way to look at what you're paying monthly for subscription services, which is really all I need -- a visual reminder of all the unnecessary things I'm throwing money at every month.