The phrase “cancel culture” has been in the news a lot over the past year or so. It’s a kind of modern boycott, with people calling out and then no longer supporting, or “canceling,” a person or a company for something they said or did. And it’s gotten a pretty negative reputation.
I’d like to suggest a different, more positive connotation. Think of “cancel culture” as canceling things that hurt you financially.
A higher-than-necessary insurance policy. An entertainment subscription you don’t fully use. A service you pay for even though you could easily do it yourself. These and other items can add up to some serious opportunity costs: Every dollar you spend on them is a dollar you can’t make work for you in some other way.
This is especially important when times are tight. Canceling unneeded or underused goods and services gives your budget some breathing room.
Use some — or all — of the following tactics to cancel waste in your financial life.
Some people overpay wildly to stay connected. Maybe they never thought to look for a better deal, or maybe they’re paying for features they don’t need and never use.
So, cancel it! After you’ve shopped around, that is. “5 Places to Check for the Best Cellphone Plans” offers ways to look at what you pay versus what you could be paying.
You can also compare cellphone plans — and phones themselves — in Money Talks News’ Solutions Center.
Again: Cancel after you’ve shopped around! Don’t just drop your car or homeowners insurance policies without having replacements ready.
If you haven’t gotten estimates recently, you might be overpaying — and maybe by a lot. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of calling around and talking to insurance agents for quotes, you can let a third-party service like The Zebra or Gabi do it for you.
These articles can help, too:
- “How to Get the Best Possible Deal on Car Insurance“
- “How to Get the Best Deal on Homeowners Insurance“
Home and personal services
Using a cleaning service? Have them come a couple of times a month instead of every week. You could also try the magic of speed-cleaning, thereby reducing the service to once a month — or not at all.
How about mowing your own lawn or doing the shoveling when it snows? (Unless you have a health condition that precludes this.) Or detailing the car. Or grooming your pet and trimming its nails. (My sister says her pet clippers paid for themselves on their first use.)
Do your own nails at least some of the time, too, rather than rely on weekly manicures or pedicures. As for your hair, barber or beauty schools are incredibly affordable, and box dye has come a long way since the days when it “had the reputation for unnatural — and sometimes hair-damaging — results,” according to Consumer Reports.
The savings are primo: I used to pay $140 (with tip) for a cut and color every six or seven weeks. Now I get an $11 beauty-school haircut (plus a $10 tip) and have my teenage niece color my hair ($20 for her, about $3 for the name-brand dye). I’m saving almost $100 a clip, so to speak.
Maybe you swore you’d go to the gym at least three times a week. Instead, excuses pop up like puffballs after a summer storm: Big project at work keeping me busy; I feel a cold coming on; I don’t want to drive there in the rain/snow.
Maybe a few years ago you bought a membership at the local museum/zoo/aquarium. How many times have you gone since then? (And could you get free passes via your local library instead?)
Maybe after a few yoga sessions, you decided it’s the best thing ever and bought a studio membership. Then something kept you from going one week, and the week after that, and so on. Now your yoga mat is rolled up and dusty in a corner of the hall closet.
If you’re not using these things, stop paying for them. If on one day in the next two years you actually want to go to the aquarium, just pay at the door.
Incidentally, canceling a gym or yoga membership doesn’t mean you can’t stay fit. See “9 Free Ways to Work Out From Home” for ideas.
Those monthly deliveries of makeup, apparel, toys, pet items and such can be lots of fun to receive. But be honest: Do you actually use all this stuff, or are makeup and skin care items piling up in your bathroom cabinet?
Have the kids stopped getting excited about the latest STEM package? Are those gluten-free snacks being eaten, or ignored in favor of taco chips? And does your pet really need a new squeaky toy every month?
Yet somehow you never get around to taking a hard look at the cost versus the benefits — which is what subscription box companies count on. Consumer “inertia” keeps the dollars rolling in, according to The Washington Post.
We’re also pretty bad at realizing how much we spend on subscriptions, according to a study of 2,500 consumers by consulting firm West Monroe. Given a chance to estimate how much they spent each month, consumers were off by as much as 197%.
In the TV comedy “The Good Place,” one of the characters gets tortured in the afterlife by being locked in a room with a huge stack of The New Yorker magazines. He protests, “Aw, come on — you and I both know I’ll never read those!”
The man in charge of his torment agrees: “Of course you won’t. But they’ll just … keep … coming.”
Are your own magazines piled up on the coffee table or nightstand? Do you wind up guiltily pitching them, unread, into the recycle bin?
Cancel them! They’re a total waste of your money. Besides, there’s little reason to subscribe. See “4 Ways to Read Magazines for Free or Cheap.”
I used to work for a guy who had season tickets for the Philadelphia Phillies’ baseball team, even though he went to maybe 20% of the games. The rest of the time his seats stayed empty — a big waste of his money.
My partner and I used to subscribe to the local symphony and opera, until we realized we weren’t interested in a lot of the pieces being played. We either gave away the tickets or turned them back in at the box office to be resold (which was ostensibly a tax write-off, except that neither of us itemizes our tax deductions).
While my former boss never stopped buying baseball tickets he didn’t use, my partner and I quit our subscriptions and instead buy tickets only for the shows we want to attend. Sure, we’d like to support the local arts scene by subscribing, but it’s more important that our books balance. We can always send a donation at the end of the year, once we’ve determined we can afford it.
Be honest: Will you really drive downtown for all 12 pro soccer club home games? Do you want to see all six plays at the regional theater? If the answer is “no,” then pick your spots, pay at the gate and save.
Credit cards with annual fees
Some credit cards might be worth their annual fees if, for example, you fly a lot, stay in hotels frequently or just spend a lot of money every year. But what the average Joe probably needs is a credit card with decent rewards and no fee.
Take a look at your card(s) and add up how much you’ve paid for them in the past few years. Did the perks really offset the cost?
Canceling a credit card can affect your credit score in a couple of ways. It lowers your total available credit, which raises your credit utilization rate. Additionally, if the card you cancel is among the cards you’ve had the longest, then the average age of your credit accounts will go down.
Thus your credit score will take a slight hit, but this is probably temporary. According to Experian:
“[Scores] typically rebound in a few months if you continue to make your payments on time. It becomes evident that you just closed an account and didn’t take on new debt, but it can take some time. So don’t cancel a credit card if you plan to apply for other credit, such as a mortgage or auto loan, in the next few months.”
There are plenty of great cards out there that don’t have a pay-to-play rule. Look for one in Money Talks News' Solutions Center.
We don’t mean you should cancel the holidays entirely! Just that you rethink the way you usually do things.
Specifically, talk with family and friends and agree on a more budget-friendly framework. Maybe that means limiting gifts to those under 18 or setting a limit on how much can be spent.
The giant Thanksgiving meal you put on every year, with multiple meats and innumerable side dishes and desserts, could be reimagined as a potluck. The annual Christmas open house might become a “cookies and cocoa” event rather than a buffet. And so on.
Maybe you’ll feel like a Grinch for mentioning it. But take heart: Chances are at least one other person in your extended family is also feeling the annual holiday pinch, and will be glad that you brought it up.
For other tactics, see “17 Ways to Keep Your Holidays Debt-Free.”