Maybe it’s time to simplify life…

Last year, I was experiencing a short-term liquidity crunch. I have a good idea what the big stuff (mortgage, health insurance, auto insurance) goes. To get a better handle on where money was flowing, we saved all of our receipts from everything we bought that month. When I tabulated up everything at the end of the month, I didn’t see any huge areas that could be cut back (not that I thought there were), but I did notice a lot of little things, which leads into today’s random brain dump…

Businesses are seriously trying to push customers to automatic billing and on-line maintenance of their accounts. It’s easy to understand why. There’s an immediate benefit reaped from not having to print, postage, and process bills. A less subtle benefit is the revenue stream when customers don’t cancel their subscriptions.

Director Mitch noted that people are too lazy to cancel. That $30/month payment for a gym his friend isn’t using adds up to $360 per year. Even the smaller chunks (AOPA legal insurance, Total Fark membership, etc.) add up to some serious coin.

I’ve analyzed my calling patterns for over four years. For me, the optimal plan has always been smaller than I would have guessed. This Spreadsheet, while dated, can probably be adapted to your own situation.

We are also programmed to want more than we need. Consider cell phone plans, whose pricing creates some anxiety when near the plan’s limits. It’s very tempting to opt for the next higher plan. The same concept applies to garbage collection (buying more service than you need) or cars. How many Hummers, Tundras and Dodge Rams (with the Cummins Turbo-Diesel Engine) do you reckon actually tow a boat? Answer: far fewer than the number parked outside of Starbucks.

There’s also the perceived future convenience. Even though I rarely watch TV, I had the “Standard” cable plan for a year and a half before I sought out the unadvertised “Basic” cable for those of us without reception… you know, just in case I wanted to watch something on the History Channel or Headline News. There’s a $10 fee to switch and, for whatever reason, it was easy to rationalize not switching when it eventually cost twenty times that.

Companies can often make it ridiculously complicated enough to cancel subscriptions, making us give up too easily. I recently signed up for a trial subscription. Anticipating these issues, I started the “cancellation process” a few days before the trial elapsed. Here’s how that worked:

  1. Day One I clicked on the cancel link sent in the confirmation link sent when I signed up.
  2. I followed eight screens (not including the seven that were essentially “loops”) to … a form that needs to be filled out. Only guess what option is not in the “reason for contact” field?
  3. Day Two Email comes back, pasted with blurbs. Blurbs are a scourge standardized text that customer support people are supposed use in written correspondence with customers.
    (Often a sign that support is outsourced.) Blurbs contain soothing words, but are bereft of any specific commitment. Occasionally, analysts will go medieval with the blurbs, perhaps as a way to blow off steam. Like today. (My comments/edits in [])

    Thank you for contacting [Us]. My name is [Dude] and I will be glad to assist you today.

    I understand from your e-mail that you would like to cancel subscription to [our product].

    We are sorry to hear you are considering canceling your [our product] trial or subscription. We at [Us] take customer satisfaction seriously. If you are having a technical or billing problem, please give us a chance to resolve it by contacting [Us] Support.

    Please be advised that you must sign in on the support page in order to see all options available to subscribers. [Like the one I sent this message from?]

    If you choose to cancel your account, you will no longer be able to access to [our product] even if there is time left before your expiration date. Also, once a subscription is terminated, it cannot be reinstated.

    [wait for it… wait for it…]

    To protect your account, we cannot cancel your subscription in response to email. Instead, please contact Customer Support using our secure chat client.

    You can access the chat client by going to [back from whence ye came …] If you prefer, cancellation by phone is also available. […]

    We appreciate hearing your comments, positive or otherwise, on our features. We regret that you do not like the changes made to our website. Thank you for taking the time to forward your thoughts to us. We would forward your suggestion to the product team that carefully reviews these suggestions and considers them for future releases. Stay tuned as we work to provide the [best] experience possible.

    Your feedback is very important to us and we are working hard to update the [service] to serve your needs better.

    We will consider your feedback as we plan for future site improvements. Because of input from customers, we made the following improvements: […]

    Hope the information provided is helpful to you. Thank you for your patience and continued support.

    If you have any further questions related to [service] in future, please feel free to contact us.

    The only useful stuff was the phone number to cancel, but [Dude] hit his blurb quota with my mail.

  4. Day Three (because their center was closed) I called the phone number, provided sixteen forms of identification, and promised to mail in urine sample. Finally, the subscription is cancelled. To emphasize that “I’m really serious about cancelling,” I ask for a confirmation number
  5. Day Five I receive the email confirming my subscription is cancelled. It would appear the “cancellation computer” is powerd by lignite coal.

Once I started taking the inventory, I really started getting into seeing how much I could pare back. For example, instead of dropping $1,000 a year for books at Amazon, I avail myself of the library. When we buy ready-to-eat cereal, it’s the generic variety. We’ve even tracked patterns of where and when things go on sale.

Simplification might not be so bad.

6 thoughts on “Maybe it’s time to simplify life…”

  1. Yeah, my Amazon bill could be cut back. The problem is that the chances of my local library having the book I want is about nil, in those cases where I know the title/author.

    What could really be cut back is the Mrs. clothing allowance (my close from 1989 are still in style, why aren’t hers?)

  2. I *knew* there was a reason those generic cerals were so cheap. Red Dye #2 🙂

    Mitch: My library’s physically very small; however, the system has a wide selection ssss I mostly use the online system. For titles outside of the library’s holdings, Inter-library loan is available. It takes longer, though. (My spouse & kids make a weekly library run and pick up my holds. When I do occasionally go (e.g., a weekend hold comes in and I really really want the book now), I browse the ‘new books’ kiosk.)

  3. Think of the Library as, in convenient store form, but without Super Saver Shipping or the cool bling.

  4. “In convenient store form” – huh,when did stores become a convencient form of anything.

    Now, for a library to be really convenient they should adopt a NetFlix model (except free, since they are a library). Now that would be convenience….

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