Some subscription services are worth it (you can pry Netflix from my cold, dead hands) but for this month’s money challenge, we challenged you to save money by ditching the subscriptions you don’t use or need. To help you, here are a few ways to get the perks of some popular subscription services, like gym memberships and pay TV, for free.
Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti
Create Your Own Meal Kit
Services like HelloFresh and My Food Bag are great if you suck at meal planning. They mail you a box of fresh ingredients and recipes and all you have to do is cook the meal. These kits are convenient but they’re also quite expensive, starting at about $70 a week. There are creative ways to get a couple of the same perks these kits offer without emptying your wallet.
Meal kits save you from having to plan your meals but there are some free or cheap apps that can do this for you, too.
Simple apps like Pepperplate (free on iOS and Android) organise your recipes for you, then automatically create grocery lists based on those recipes. Just search for the recipe online, upload it, then go to the grocery store and get what you need. If you want even more convenience, you can skip the recipe search with apps like Cook Smarts and Plan to Eat. Just like a meal kit service, they plan out your meals and come with step-by-step instructions. Both Cook Smarts and Plan to Eat cost money, though. You'll pay $US6 to $US8 ($8 to $10) a month with the former at $US5 ($7) a month with the latter. They're not free, but they're more cost effective than a meal kit.
Of course, meal kits save you a grocery trip, too, which is another reason they're so expensive: Your ingredients are delivered to your door. You can get around this with grocery delivery services like ShopWings. Of course, you'll pay a delivery fee, but you'll get the same convenience you do with a meal kit.
Work out at Free Facilities (or Your Own Home)
A gym membership is expensive but, provided you actually use it (or it motivates you to work out), they can be worth it. That said, there are free or cheap places to get a workout, too. For example:
- Public gyms: Search for public gyms, fitness centres or community centres in your city. Some community colleges have cheap or free fitness classes, too.
- City parks: As our own Stephanie Lee points out, you might find find at least find a pull-up bar at a city park, and many of them include other rigs for ab exercises, lunges, dips or other exercises.
- Playgrounds: If all else fails, playgrounds are also a great place to workout. You have to get a little creative, but this video shows you how to get a monkey bar workout and this post from Nerd Fitness shows you how to turn a playground into your own personal gym.
You could build your own home gym, too, and this post breaks down how to do it for cheap with just a few pieces of equipment. Small space? Here's a list of cheap essentials that don't take up a lot of room: Suspension trainers, dumbbells, a skipping rope and a Swiss ball, for starters.
All of these options are about compromise, so obviously, you're not going to get all of the same benefits you find at a traditional gym. They're solid options if you want to save money on a membership, though.
Ditch Pay TV and Stream for Free
Ditching pay TV is easier than ever, but subscription streaming services also cost money. Far be it from me to suggest anyone should cut these paid services (or even pay TV), but if you want to save cash, there are ways to watch stuff for free, too. You won't get the latest season of House of Cards, but you can watch old movies and cartoons online. For example:
- Cartoon Network: You can watch full episodes of shows like Adventure Time, Powerpuff Girls and Steven Universe without having to pay or even create an account.
- Internet Archive Movies: Watch over 4000 movies listed on Internet Archive, a nonprofit that archives all kinds of content, from photos to books to classic movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space.
- PopcornFlix: If you're looking for more current options, PopcornFlix has a pretty wide selection of shows and movies.
- Top Documentary Films: Watch popular documentaries for free and check out their top 100 documentary list to see what other people are watching.
- Crackle: They're hit or miss, but they include episodes of shows like The Blacklist and Diff'rent Strokes and movies like Resident Evil: Afterlife and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. They also have their own original content, like Comedians In Cars, for free.
Every free service has its limitations and they're certainly not for everyone. That said, if your priority is saving money, it's possible to still watch shows and movies without even paying for any kind of streaming service.
Read Your Favourite Magazines at Your Local Library
And then there's the original subscription service: Magazines. If you're on a budget and looking to cut back on your subscription, try public libraries. Many of them use apps like Zinio, which lets library patrons read magazines for free.
You'll need to create an account and link your library card to that account, but once you do, you have access to digital versions of magazines like Time, Wired and Cosmopolitan. Of course, you can always just visit your local library and see the selection in person.
In many cases, your subscription service is worth it. I love Netflix, for example, and gladly pay $11.99 a month for it. When you audit your subscriptions during this month's challenge, though, consider these options to get some of the same perks for less.