My app subscription reset

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 6 min read

I strongly believe in paying for good software, and that having better software can go a long way to making your computing life better. And in an increasingly online world, making your computing life better can mean genuine improvements to your actual life. Of course Maslow's hierarchy of needs comes into play here, and if your more basic needs aren’t being met as well, those take priority (aka why not everyone is willing to pay for software), but I digress.

A few weeks ago I posted my home screen to Mastodon, and Sohan Subhash replied:

that’s a lot of subscriptions haha, do you have a rough idea how much you spend on software annually?

The response was spot on for me because this home screen was a deliberate attempt to put most of my subscriptions on my home screen so that I could see those apps all the time and use them easily. If I wasn’t using them regularly, it would become clear and I would feel more comfortable cancelling my sub.

My pivot to a full reset

The annual cost of all of my subscriptions on that home screen was $650, which isn’t a small number by any means, but if someone told me I could get paid $650 more this year, but I couldn’t use my favorite apps, I don’t think I’d take them up on that offer. No matter the breakdown, doing the math made me wonder, “what if I just turned everything off?”

A major value of subscriptions is that you can turn them on and off with very little effort, so why not turn everything off and see what I can get by without?

So that’s what I’ve done.

Core subscriptions I can’t do without

Now a few of my subscriptions are pretty foundational to my digital life, so they’re sticking around.

  • Apple One Premier: I use a bunch of Apple’s products, and while News+ and Fitness+ don’t do anything for me, I make huge use out of Apple Music and iCloud storage, and I use Arcade enough that I’d miss it. TV+ gets used for like 1-2 shows per year, so I could drop that too, but the monthly cost would only go down $3 for me, so it’s not really worth dropping.
  • ChatGPT: Probably the most controversial one, this subscription is absolutely worth it to me, as I use it multiple times a day and it makes a meaningful difference to my productivity.
  • YouTube Premium: YouTube without ads and paying the video creators I watch (aka why I won’t use ad blockers or extensions that use alternate players) is absolutely worth it to me based on the amount of YouTube videos I enjoy.
  • 1Password: I tried using iCloud Keychain for about a week and it made me want to tear my hair out. It doesn’t work reliably for me, it doesn’t autofill on the Mac in apps, it doesn’t work well when sharing passwords to computers on different iCloud accounts, it doesn’t store non-password data, editing items is a pain, and using it in non-Safari browsers is torture. I’ll keep paying $5/month, thank you very much.
  • Ulysses: I tried quitting Ulysses already this year, and it was too painful, so I’m not letting it go now.
  • Letterboxd: I just love this and there are no replacements.

What I cancelled

2 clarifications. First, cancelling yearly subs means I likely have months left with them, but for the purposes of this I’m going to uninstall them right away. Second, I like all of these apps a ton, but I’m being brutal here, and some of these will absolutely come back.

  • Carrot Weather: I love Carrot mostly for its excellent radar and UI customization, but I wonder if I need this as much as I think I do. I’ll be using Apple’s own Weather app instead. Saved $25/year.
  • Fantastical: I’m really worried about this one, as I’ve tried to quit Fantastical before, but I’m always disappointed by the alternatives and find myself missing the little things Fantastical does so well. That said, I’m going to try to make it work with Apple’s app on my iPhone, iPad, and personal Mac, and Cron on my work computer since reliability and sync speeds are essential for me there, and Apple’s app is hilariously slow in this regard. Saved $56/year.
  • Readwise Reader: It’s one of my most used apps, but I might be able to survive without it. I’m switching to Omnivore, which is completely free and has better text-to-speech than Readwise, which is a feature I use all the time. I’ve even gotten my Omnivore highlights to sync into Obsidian (also free) and have adapted my Shortcuts workflow to quickly generate link posts from those highlights. Saved $96/year.
  • Overcast: I think Overcast is the best podcast app out there, but Apple’s app has gotten much better over the last few years, and I’m enjoying it right now (video overview on ABC). Saved $10/year.
  • Ivory: I love Ivory, and honestly this might be the app that I bring back quickest, but I’m going to try using Mona for Mastodon in the time being. I think Ivory is better to use in most ways, but I respect the hell out of Mona too, so we’ll see if I can stick with it. Saved $25/year.
  • Box Box: The F1 season is over tomorrow, so this is an easy one to drop right now, but honestly I don’t think I’ll get it again next year. The app is pretty buggy, has a confusing UI that’s always less helpful than you expect, and I didn’t end up using the live activities it added last year. Saved $13/year.
  • Callsheet: Love Casey, but Callsheet has to go for this experiment. The app is very good with tons of cool details (like showing how old an actor was when they were in each movie, something I’m asking quite a bit). Saved $9/year.
  • Notion: Honestly I’m not totally sure why I’m still paying for this one when the free tier is fine for me. Saved $60/year.
  • Gentler Streak: I love this app, but after using apps to track my fitness for many years, I think I have a good feeling about how much activity I’m getting and how much I need, so this best-in-class app is pretty easy to let go of for me now. Saved $20/year.
  • Parcel: This costs next to nothing, but I’m going to see what it’s like tracking packages using UPS/FedEx/USPS sites directly. I end up using the native sites anyway when a package is close since they give me more granular and real time info, so maybe this will go better than I think. Saved $5/year.
  • Photomator: This one could be tough, as I do enjoy Photomator’s super-resolution feature, but I still have that on the paid-up-front Pixelmator Pro on my Mac, so I can probably survive. This is also made easier as my work pays for Creative Cloud, so Lightroom is free for me from a personal perspective. Saved $30/year.
  • Up Ahead: This one bums me out as well, as Up Ahead is an app I really fell in love with in 2023, but it’s gotta go for this experiment. Once video game season kicks into gear again and I get some trips on the books for next year I might bring it back, but it’s goodbye for now. Saved $10/year.
  • Raycast: I pay for Raycast Pro largely for the ChatGPT integration, but it seems silly to do that when I’m using the ChatGPT site more often now, especially since I can do more on the site than in Raycast these days (image generation, file analysis, GPTs, etc.). Saved $96/year.
  • Sketch: My real work happens in Figma which work pays for, and now that my 365 Albums project is done, I don’t have regular need for Sketch. Saved $120/year.
  • Microsoft 365: I use this mostly for OneDrive, but I can make iCloud storage work for the use cases where OneDrive is convenient. Saved $72/year.
  • Kagi: I love Kagi, but I think it fits the bill for this experiment. Saved $60/year.
  • Google: I actually pay for 2 Google accounts, and I've procrastinated migrating everything to one account. Saved $120/year.
  • Stratechery: I'll miss Dithering most, and Ben does have some good insights, but I'm not sure I need to pay as much as I do when I already know his take on just about anything will be, “yay big business, boo government, boo any business with less than 100 million users”. Saved $144/year.

Total Saved in 2024: $971

Some of those will come back throughout the year, but that’s a good chunk of change if I can get by nicely with the free alternatives.

It’s also worth mentioning a few paid up front apps that have continued to deliver value to me.

  • Things 3
  • Mona (for Mastodon)
  • Pixelmator Pro
  • Bartender
  • CleanShot X
  • Keyboard Maestro
  • Visual Studio Code
  • Transmit
  • The Unarchiver
  • Rocket
  • Final Cut Pro (Mac)

Off to the races

I’ll state again that this is not an indictment of subscription software, nor is it meant to say anything bad about any of the apps mentioned above; I paid for those apps because I think they bring real value to my life. The purpose of this is to remove a bunch of the niceties of my computer life and see which ones cause the most pain in their absence and which ones I actually didn’t need as much as I thought. Some of these will come back over the course of the next year (or even the next few weeks), but I’ll know that the apps I start paying for again are really worth it.