I sat down mid-month to handle our bills. When I got to our credit cards, I was surprised to see a new charge on a card we’d left buried deep in a sock drawer at my mother’s house. I tensed up. Was this $13.99 charge a test volley from some credit card scammer? Then I clicked on the statement.
“Sweetie,” I said, “Our TiVo will be in the box for the next year at least. I’m cancelling our subscription.”
Like many recurring expenses, cancelling our TiVo subscription required jumping through some serious hoops. You can do many things online with your TiVo subscription, but cancellation requires a phone call. While I was on hold, I added up how much money we’d spent on a subscription we weren’t using. Total: $83.94. $83.94! That’s more than I spent on my sleeper car train berth from Glasgow to London (thank you, Two Together Card). $83.94 would have paid for a really nice meal for us. We could have gone to the pub three times in York. It would have paid for a decent hotel in Glasgow. We could have rented a car for two days with that money!
By the time I canceled the subscription, I was absolutely furious with myself. How had I let this slip by me?
It’s simple. Once a recurring expense becomes routine, you may see it hit your credit card or account, but you don’t really see it. You’re so used to it that you forget that you’re not using it any more.
My $83.94 mistake was minor in the grand scheme of things, but it’s possible to have much larger zombie expenses. Gym auto-charges, for example, can be pricey and are notoriously difficult to cancel. When we moved, my cable company acted like an especially clingy ex. Even though I’d cancelled the service and returned my equipment in person, they billed me for service and equipment rental. I had to call from Bangkok with my receipt number to get the charges reversed and have yet another “it’s not you, it’s me” recurring charge conversation. If I hadn’t been paying close attention, that would have been a significant recurring expense.
You might assume that electronic receipts will remind you to eliminate these charges. In the case of my TiVo subscription, Gmail had been sweeping my receipts into my spam folder for ages and I never even knew it. I have other charges for which I received receipts by mail – not very helpful if you’re overseas!
After this charge I did something that is the opposite of fun: I spent the entire evening reviewing all our accounts for zombie charges. And, what do you know, there was another one via PayPal, a recurring fee for a coworking space in Thailand that there’s no chance we’ll see in the next seven months. Combined with the TiVo fee that would have been two sleeper car berths from Glasgow to London! I’ve learned my lesson. From now on I’ll be doing regular reviews of all automatic charges, because a fancy dinner out is a lot more fun than a zombie expense.