Spending

Is Instacart still worth it, or Netflix? How to cut costs as states reopen

Twenty/20

In order to adjust to shelter-in-place guidelines and lower your risk of contracting Covid-19, you might have changed your spending habits to make your quarantine life more functional and enjoyable, like maybe cutting out gym memberships but investing in online fitness classes and better Wi-Fi for your home office. 

Now, as states start opening back up, it might be a good idea to sit down and reassess how your spending might change again, and which expenses you want to keep or cut.

Here's how to decide, according to financial experts.

Streaming services

Netflix gained 16 million subscribers in the first three months of the year. This is probably because Americans were gearing up for having a lot of extra time on their hands, says Chris Browning, founder of the podcast Popcorn Finance. Services like HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, Disney +, and Amazon Prime are "some of the few entertainment options left with theaters, sporting events, and concert venues closed," he says.

Now, however, is a good time to look back through what you subscribed to and see if it is worth continuing to pay for.

When to keep: Pay attention to how often you're watching, Browning says. If you continue to actively use a streaming service multiple times a week, it's probably worth the money, assuming you can afford it.

When to cut: For streaming services you watch less frequently, Browning recommends implementing a rotation. "Pick one streaming service and cancel all of the rest," he says. "Then spend the next month watching all of the shows you have been meaning to get to on that service. Then cancel that service and reactivate the next one."

"You will probably discover that there were many services that you didn't really utilize all that often, and decide to permanently cut it from your budget," Browning says. 

Grocery delivery services

Before the coronavirus pandemic, only 3%-4% of grocery shopping was done online, according to research by consulting firm Bain & Company. Now, about 10%-15% of grocery shopping is done online. 

Delivery service Instacart, specifically, holds 57% of the grocery market, according to a report by Grocery Dive

You will probably discover that there were many services that you didn't really utilize all that often, and decide to permanently cut it from your budget.
Chris Browning
Host of Popcorn Finance

When to keep: Think about how much you will use a grocery delivery service as supermarkets open back up. Maybe quarantine has gotten you hooked on the convenience of grocery delivery. Or perhaps you want to brace for a second wave of Covid-19. Whatever the reason, experts say that a membership can quickly pay for itself if you use it frequently.

"Without an Instacart Express membership, you'll pay up to $7.99 per grocery delivery," says Kristin McGrath, shopping expert at Offers.com. "If you use Instacart a few times a month, keeping your monthly membership and paying the $9.99 per month is probably worth it."

When to cut: If you used grocery delivery "a couple times and don't plan to use it much going forward," you should cancel, McGrath says. If you signed up for a longer membership with a grocery service, make sure your subscription isn't set up to automatically renew.

As an alternative, explore your curbside pickup options, suggests consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. "Stores like Target and Walmart have been offering [curbside pickup] and some smaller chains began offering driveup services during the pandemic," she says. "We may see this as an emerging trend which doesn't cost any money."

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Gym memberships

Many gyms paused monthly charges when they shut down earlier this year. To replace your gym routine, you might have invested in some at-home workout classes. And depending on your state, you might find that your regular gym is starting to resume operations — and monthly membership fees.

Whether you want to continue paying for your new fitness routine depends on factors like whether your gym is reopening, whether you feel safe returning to the gym, and how much you like your at-home workouts. 

When to keep: If your gym isn't opening, or if you still don't feel safe working out at a gym, it's best to stick to your at-home fitness routine. Especially if you perfected it.

Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of "The Forever Transaction," told Grow that her mom might never go back to the yoga studio she had previously patronized for years. In lieu of a hot yoga membership, Baxter's mom streams classes, steams up her bathroom by running hot shower water, and places an electric blanket beneath her yoga mat to keep it warm.

"Now that she's figured it out, she loves it so much," Baxter says. "She said, 'I'm not sure if I'm going to go back to the studio. This is great. I'm not going to go back to what I did before.'" 

When to cut: If you're comfortable going to the gym, look into when your membership will start up again and cut whatever you've been using as a substitute.

"Go back through your email to find out when that bill is going to start hitting your account again," McGrath says. "Check your contract to see if that three-month pause lengthens your membership at the end. Some gyms allow you to cancel your membership only within a very specific window of your anniversary." 

Go back through your email to find out when that bill is going to start hitting your account again.
Kristin McGrath
Shopping Expert at Offers.com

Extended Wi-Fi coverage 

To work-from-home adequately, you might have updated your home office to include a faster Wi-Fi plan. Whether or not you should continue paying for it depends on you what you will be using it for. 

When to keep: If your job calls for you to work remotely indefinitely, as some are, then keeping the Wi-Fi boost might be in your best interest. It's also a smart buy if you aren't the only one in your house working, says Sascha Segan, lead mobile analyst at PCMag

"If multiple people are doing video calls at the same time, it's good to have an upload speed of 10Mbps or better," he says. 

When to cut: If you're going back to the office on most days and can use your company's WiFi, there is no need to continue to subscribe to a faster Internet speed at home. You could also buy a new router, a one-time-cost, instead of paying monthly for faster internet. 

"Make sure your router supports the 5GHz frequency band and the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, also known as Wi-Fi 5," Segan says. "If you're having trouble with coverage around your house, a mesh system is the way to go." 

Browning bought one for $250 at the beginning of quarantine. "I figured if I'm going to be at home for a long time, I might as well have reliable internet coverage," Browning told Grow. "I value it because not only can I now work without randomly dropping my internet connection, but because Netflix now works in every room."

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