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Is The ‘Set-It-And-Forget-It’ Mindset Costing You Money?

Erin Wood  |  April 14, 2023

Research shows we underestimate monthly subscriptions by $133. Here’s how to shake up your set-it-and-forget-it mind set to save money.

About three years ago, my husband and I swapped out our iPhones for another brand. But we never got around to canceling our iCloud account. Since we don’t have the phones anymore, we know we’d have to jump through several hoops to cancel the account and with busy jobs and kids, this pesky task falls to the bottom of our to-do list every month. Plus, at 99 cents a month, there hasn’t been a huge incentive to do it.

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But every now and then, I start adding it up. At $12 a year, we’ve paid out almost $36 for cloud storage we don’t use. There are other small expenses that we pay for either out of neglect or laziness, like the stylish grocery store whose vibe we like and whose layout we know like our living room. We could be saving on groceries every week by going a few minutes out of our way to a store we’re less familiar with, but habit and convenience win out every time.

No doubt about it, “set-it-and-forget it” is costing us. According to one recent survey, people underestimate the cost of monthly subscriptions by $133.

Imagine what you could do with a few extra hundred dollars a month? You could be paying down debt, saving for a down payment, building emergency savings—or having fun.

It’s time to give set-it-and-forget-it a shakeup. Here’s how:

Is Streaming Worth It?

Many of us cut the cord on cable TV years ago because the cost had gotten out of control for a bundle of channels we rarely watched. In comparison, streaming services seemed like a steal, even if you had to go to your parents’ house to watch the Super Bowl live.

But the cost of these services has been creeping up. And no one service has all the shows you probably want to watch. You might be signed up for half a dozen of them. Between Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV, Disney+, Amazon and others, you could be paying more than $100 a month for these services. Because you pay for each of them individually, it might not feel like a lot of money.

I recommend going through your credit card bill to see which services you’re signed up for. Then ask yourself, “Am I using these?” If you signed up for HBO to catch the last season of Succession but forgot to the cancel after Kendall Roy’s failed coup attempt, it might be time to say goodbye (at least until the next season begins). 

Have Your Cell Plan Costs Creeped Up?

Another big area for review is your cell phone plan. You might have been enticed to switch to your current carrier by a tempting introductory offer a few years ago. Those teaser rates have probably long expired. You could save quite a bit by shopping around every few years to find the best deal. According to, the average cell phone bill is $144. You can likely do better than that by finding a new provider or by choosing a group or family plan that can bring down the cost per person substantially.

Check Your Insurance Coverage

Another item you don’t want to set and forget forever is insurance. I advise clients to check their policies every few years to make sure they have the right amount of coverage. Take homeowner’s insurance. If the last time you updated your policy was before the pandemic, you might not have enough coverage. Building costs, like timber and windows, have gone up a lot in the last three years. A bigger policy would give you the money you would need to repair or rebuild your house in the case of damage.

Then there’s life insurance. Again, I recommend clients review their policy at least once every five years — sooner if their life circumstances have changed. If you’ve gotten married, divorced, had kids or became widowed, your insurance policy needs an update. Even if your life has stayed more or less the same, you might want to increase your policy amount. With inflation still running pretty high, your family’s expenses are probably a lot higher than what you calculated when deciding how much coverage to get. Adding more coverage would ensure that your beneficiaries would have enough money to continue their current lifestyle. Plus, additional coverage doesn’t cost a lot more.

When it comes to your car, you may have too much coverage. For example, collision coverage — which pays to repair your car after an accident if you are at fault — isn’t worth the cost if the premiums cost more than the car’s cash value. Even if you find you have the right amount of coverage, you might be surprised to find out you are overpaying. There can be big differences in premium costs from company to company. Shopping around at least every two years for a better deal can offer big savings that are worth the time and effort.

Make Set-It-And-Forget-It Work For You

With human nature being what it is, sometimes inertia or laziness can be a good thing. I’m a big fan of auto enroll features on retirement saving accounts, which automatically sign employees up for the plans. Right now, more than half of companies use this feature in their 401(k) and 403(b) plans, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. That’s about to change.

The recently passed Secure 2.0 Act will require new plans to auto enroll employees beginning in 2025 at a minimum rate of 3% of their salary and up to 10%. And there’s more good news: Employers can also automatically increase the withdrawal rate by 1% each year, up to a maximum of 15%. In other words, if you’re automatically enrolled in your company’s 401(k) at a 6% rate, after three years you will be contributing 9%.

The reason these plans are so effective is they work. Vanguard, one of the biggest managers of 401(k) plans, reports that when companies use auto enrollment, the participation rate in their plans is 91%. This is an instance when set-it-and-forget can work for you.

It All (Really) Adds Up

Any one of these actions alone won’t make or break your budget. But when you add up all of the different ways that you may be leaking money, it’s real money.

I’m not suggesting you eliminate the small luxuries in life. If you need your daily latte to get through the day, keep doing it and enjoy it. But if you look at where your money goes on a monthly basis and see that it’s not bringing you joy, then it might be time to make a change.

Think about it this way: If you were to pull the plug on at least some of them, would you even notice?


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