How I saved hundreds of dollars a year getting rid of zombie subscriptions

My family is trying to reign in our credit card spending and we recently ran into a little surprise. A card that we had paid off, cut into two and all but forgotten existed was the subject of an email asking if I was planning on paying towards the balance. Since I had cut the card in half six months ago, I was really curious what balance was being talked about. And how much it was going to cost me.

Apparently, I had Hulu (opens in new tab) attached to the card. My old Hulu account that we didn't use anymore because now we had Hulu in my wife's name through some offer or another and were "saving" money.

For six months I was being charged $6 each month and it eventually got the card company to trigger off an automated email. To make matters worse, it had been well over a year since we moved to a different Hulu account and we just never got around to closing the original. That's over $100 that I've just thrown away because I'm forgetful and/or lazy.

I hated giving away $100 but thought that was the end of it.

Now I am not very happy that I gave away $100, but what's done is done and I was ready to move on. My wife the accountant, however, weelllllll let's just say she decided to take a look and see what recurring payments I was making.

Recurring payments are those amounts, usually small, that you get charged every month for a good, service, or subscription. And I have a handful of them, including some that I have no idea what they are or how they got there, and more importantly how to stop them.

My wife was inspired. She moved through all of our accounts, then went to work seeing what my kids were paying and didn't know why, and even talked to the neighbor who was apparently still paying for a recycling service that she no longer uses. Zombie subscriptions are a thing, and companies depend on you signing up and forgetting so that they keep getting a few dollars each month.

Companies depend on you signing up for things and forgetting to cancel.

I'm guessing all of us have seen one of those deals where you sign up for a free trial, but if you don't reach out and cancel it will cost you a few dollars every month to keep. There's a good chance you may have said to yourself "I'll never remember to cancel" and passed — I know I have. And you're probably right; you would have forgotten to cancel. It was designed to make money because you will forget to cancel. It's set up to create a zombie subscription that you pay without realizing. Braiiiiinnnnnnnnssssssss.

Now I'm now saying that you should be afraid to sign up for anything with a recurring monthly charge. Things like streaming services, in-app subscriptions, monthly book or music services, all of these can be awesome and worth every penny. But you need to take a look and make sure you're only paying for the things you want. You might be surprised.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Great advice. Thanks.
  • That happened to me with Amazon Prime. I looked up and wondered about my balance....yup...Amazon....charging away due to my lack of canceling it. It's not their fault and it taught me to be a better steward over my finances. Great article.
  • Absolutely no need for an article like this .
    Its good management to know what your bills are each month . Anything else is just slovenly.
  • Was there a need for this comment?
  • He wants everyone to know he is perfect.
  • @TheWounded... Judge much?
  • Hmmmm.......yea......ok what ever you say there chief
  • He wants everyone to know he is perfect!
  • Its not a Matter of being perfect, its just managing your finances properly.
    I find it incredibly dumb too not know where your money is going .
  • What about not knowing the difference between 'too' and 'to'?
  • I find that incredibly dumb... :-D
  • I couldn't agree more with you. 👍👍
  • Considering English is not my first language I am not bothered if to or too is correct .
  • Maybe some people have other things going on in their lives that preclude them from being aware of minor amounts of fees being charged to their accounts.
  • Yet... you read it... and ....commented on it ( and a rather silly comment if you ask me ) .. and ....continued to comment on people's replies to you .,... Perhaps you just have too much time on your hands ....
  • Considering how much money companies make off of folks with this tactic, its an extremely widespread issue and therefore you are factually incorrect with your first sentence. Moreover, there are numerous articles written about "good management" of finances. So, you're also demonstrably wrong on your second sentence. Your last sentence is entirely subjective. Moreover, its unnecessarily negative. So, while I can't say its wrong, I can at least say it's entirely unnecessary and added absolutely nothing of use to this conversation. So anything of or related to this article... you're comment has absolutely no need. Congratulations on being absolutely careless on how you comment about articles... or should I say, congratulations on your sloven behavior.
  • I usually put a reminder in my calendar to cancel a couple of days before getting charged. But yet I forget in some that I am still interested in.
  • When I subscribe to something, no matter how the payment is made, I make a note in my calendar for when it is supposed to renew. Some things are 3 years out. One is 7. Most are a year or less. If there are special instructions for "how to cancel" I will put a note with them, or a link to them, in the calendar entry. If the subscription renews indefinitely, month to month, I put in a note for a year to remind me to see if I still want it. Years ago we had our credit card number stolen. Since then I check all my accounts regularly, especially bank and credit cards. I know what I have charged or returned and make sure it shows up. Google Pay makes it easy to keep track of the small stuff. The rest I should remember.
  • that is why I feel all businesses that auto charge should notify you prior to charging you and this includes trial subscriptions. I have had zombie charges in the past and I have forgotten about trial subscriptions.
  • All my recurring payments go in a spreadsheet with a price, date, and service name. Streaming services are the easiest to manage. YouTube TV = Keep; Hulu and Netflix are interchanged. I only watch one of these for a period of time and never have both activated together. HBO Now = When GoT is on. No need for the service after that. All though I do miss Last Week Tonight. But not enough to pay for it alone. Spotify, Amazon Prime, Google Drive, Adobe and Office 365 are on a yearly reoccurring cost. VPN is on a yearly non reocurring cost so I can switch services if need be.
  • Google Drive *and* Office 365? I mean, I can see an argument for Hulu & Netflix at the same time, but since you're that cutthroat there, why not with GDrive and O365? What does one offer that the other doesn't, enough so to justify paying for both?
  • Nothing. That's why I just use, Office 365, OneDrive and call it a day. No point riding the fence. The Microsoft's subscription is one of the best values on the market. I only have that and Amazon Prime. The free shipping, alone, more than pays for that subscription. I cut cable completely. Don't even have Netflix or Hulu. No need. Prime has enough co tent for me, and news etc. Is freely streamable on a Roku. Actually surprised at the amount t of stuff you can get without paying for cable or streaming subscriptions on those cheap devices.
  • These sorts of things should really be illegal IMO.
  • You willingly signed up for a/the service... There's nothing illegal about it when you forget to cancel it before the charges start after the trail date of said service has ended. It's your responsibility...period! There are some services nice enough to drop you an email before your trail date ends, but not many. However every single service does email you the billing charge, and with banking and credit card apps at your fingers said charge also is listed as perhaps even notifies you if the charges to your card when they happen (if you set that notify up). Again it's your responsibility...period!
  • Glad you can see it's the responsibility of the subscriber.
    So many people blame everything on everybody but themselves. Whatever happened to taking responsibility.
  • He didn't say it was illegal though. 'Should be' and 'are' are two very different things.
  • You're not wrong about responsibility, but saying every single service emails you is quite the stretch. You're going out of your way and making things up to try and make it sound even more easy than it actually is. The only reason to do so is to try and be condescending. There's no need for that. Your negativity is uncalled for. What are you so riled up about?
  • I once found a Zombie account for donations to Nigerian Princess who just needed money to release her billions from the Bank after which she would pay me pack 1000 fold... Poor thing - those Nigerian banks must be terrible out cause it has been 7 years and I have never missed a payment....and she is STILL trying! I hope it happens soon as I have got good plans for the $36 million I am going to get.
  • I had this happen to me with Amazon Prime, Audible and recently with MyFitnessPal. You should just ask for a refund :) tell them to give you a refund for the months that you didn't use the service. Worked for me, I was pleasantly surprised.
  • Anyone that has a charge on there card that they don't know about almost right away just don't care with all the cards I know of you can receive a notification be it by card app, sms or email or all 3 if you like
  • What happens to me is I sign up for the "free" trial, but then forget to cancel in time and end up getting charged for the next month. Usually I'm OK with this and I just see it as an extension of the trial. I cancel as soon as I see the charge, so instead of 3 months for free, it's 4 months for the price of 1, lol.
  • I don’t think you can call hulu orcany other media based subscription a zombi subscription. It is not designed that way, unless you consider you should pay once for unlimited access forever... it is debatable for apps that offer monthly subscription for small perks (no ads, apps like weather apps etc.) but when you are paying for content and you forget to cancel it is not the company which is to blame imo