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Are Your Subscription and Streaming Services Blowing the Budget?

Jan. 19, 2021
9 mins
A couple sit on the couch and watch a movie with popcorn

For the better part of a year, Canadians have been staying at home and avoiding traditional entertainment like concerts, in-person events, and theatre. Instead, many people jump online to use apps like Zoom and Google Hangouts to remotely connect with family and friends — making the internet more vital than ever before.

Online shopping is surging, virtual get-togethers and games are rising in popularity, food delivery is trending (#TakeOutTuesdays), and, for many, working from home is routine.

Canadians use apps to socialize, run errands, amusement and almost any conceivable task. Many are free; however, several have subscription costs or fees — especially entertainment or delivery services.

A national survey conducted by Abacus Data in 2019 found that almost seven in ten Canadians (67%) enrolled in at least one subscription service, with only 12% stating they subscribe to only one streaming service.

However, the market for streaming services and subscriptions has skyrocketed since the pandemic began.

Netflix gained 16 million global subscribers in the first three months of 2020, the meal kit service HelloFresh SE more than doubled its revenues, and Amazon’s profits continue to climb.

Canadians are jumping on board and saying yes to convenience. But it may be taking a significant toll on budgets everywhere.

How much are your subscriptions costing you?

Your subscriptions may be infiltrating more spending categories than you care to admit. These days, there are subscriptions for movies and shows, clothing, pet supplies and toys, magazines, news, makeup and beauty, hygiene, alcohol, shipping and delivery, meal kits, activities, music, books, virtual meetings, and more — it’s endless and costly.

According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), communications should account for 5% or less of your net income. This category includes your telephone, cellphone, cable or satellite, internet, and entertainment subscriptions (streaming services).

Many Netflix subscribers saw an increase in prices this past October, and Disney+ is raising its fees in February of 2021. Households with more than one service may soon have to choose which is getting more use.

As for food purchases, including grocery, restaurant and takeout, guidelines suggest this should make up 20% or less of your income.

Recreation, including alcohol, tickets for events, activities, sports equipment, and vacations, should account for 15% or less of your income.

Personal care like haircuts, cosmetics and beauty care should be 2% or less of your income.

Depending on how many services you subscribe to, your income, and your debts, you may be blowing the budget. Luckily, the FCAC has a useful budget tool to help you see if you are spending within the guidelines.

How do you decide which services to keep?

The best way to decide if a subscription is worth it is to take a good, hard look at the numbers.

Compare how much you would be spending on each service without the subscription and if you are using the products or features.

Do you order takeout often? For example, are you saving money with your Uber Eats Pass? Paying the delivery fees for occasional orders may cost less than $9.99 per month.

Do you use a package of razors monthly? Or do you find that you are getting them delivered more often than you need? You may save money if you hit the unsubscribe button and pick up your necessities at the grocery store instead.

How do you save money on subscriptions?

Here are six things you can do to save money on subscriptions:

1. Pay annually or upfront

If you are a loyal customer and get plenty of use out of your subscription, you may save by committing to a year of services or paying upfront.

2. Don’t commit to one provider

If you get bored quickly or like to try different providers, consider purchasing services monthly. This way, you can cancel at any time and rotate between subscriptions instead of paying for a handful of accounts.

3. Quit trials as soon as you sign up

Many free trials allow you to cancel right away but continue to use the services for the trial period. Doing this can ensure you won’t get charged if you forget to remove your payment details or cancel in time. You can always log back in and subscribe later.

4. Cancel underused services

If you don’t use it, lose it. Remember to cancel your underused subscriptions and save.

5. Find free resources

You may be surprised to find free online resources from your local library. The Toronto Public Library, for example, has a vast selection of digital magazines, eBooks, eAudiobooks, and subscriptions to movie, TV, music, and concert streaming services.

6. Discover loyalty programs

Check your loyalty programs for promotions and offers. You may be able to use your rewards toward subscription purchases.

Pro tip: Top travel reward programs like AIR MILES or Aeroplan usually reward members with extra points for shopping at partnered brands with an affiliated credit card.

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Compare the best credit cards on RATESDOTCA

Find the best credit card for your lifestyle today!

AIR MILES members can use their Cash Miles for eVouchers from Uber Eats, DoorDash, and the Cineplex Store.

The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$344
+ Annual rewards
$430
- Annual fee (First Year Waived)
$0
Total first year value
$774
BMO AIR MILES World Elite* Mastercard*

card image
Welcome bonus
$344
AIR MILES Rewards
Annual rewards
$430
AIR MILES Rewards
Annual fees:
$120 (First Year Waived)
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases • 23.99% on cash advances
Great rewards card for Air Miles collectors
Includes comprehensive travel insurance and access perks
Details at a glance Collapse details
Welcome bonus
$344
Annual rewards
$430
The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$344
+ Annual rewards
$430
- Annual fee (First Year Waived)
$0
Total first year value
$774
Annual fees:
$120 (First Year Waived)
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases
23.99 on cash advances
Great rewards card for Air Miles collectors
Includes comprehensive travel insurance and access perks
Details at a glance Collapse details

Apply for the BMO® AIR MILES®† World Elite®* Mastercard®* and get 2,000 AIR MILES Bonus Miles when you spend at least $3,000 in the first three months of opening the account. Plus, BMO will waive the annual fee for the first year.

Offer expiry date: October 31, 2021

Aeroplan members can earn points when they shop with partners like Amazon.ca, Hello Fresh, and Disney+ through the eStore.

The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$1000
+ Annual rewards
$570
- Annual fee
$139
Total first year value
$1431
TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card

card image
Welcome bonus
$1000
In Aeroplan Points
Annual rewards
$570
In Aeroplan Points
Annual fees:
$139
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases • 22.99% on cash advances
2024 Winner – Best Aeroplan Credit Card
VIP benefits when travelling on Air Canada flights, plus great travel insurance
Details at a glance Collapse details
Welcome bonus
$1000
Annual rewards
$570
The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$1000
+ Annual rewards
$570
- Annual fee
$139
Total first year value
$1431
Annual fees:
$139
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases
22.99 on cash advances
2024 Winner – Best Aeroplan Credit Card
VIP benefits when travelling on Air Canada flights, plus great travel insurance
Details at a glance Collapse details

For a limited time, new cardholders of the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card can earn up to 20,000 Aeroplan points and a Bonus Buddy Pass. Plus, pay no annual fee for the primary cardholder and up to three additional cardholders for the first year. Conditions apply.

This offer is not available for residents of Quebec. For Quebec residents, please click here.

Offer expiry date: August 16th, 2021

How do you earn or redeem rewards for subscriptions?

Many rewards credit cards offer flexible redemption options that allow users to redeem their points or cash back to pay for purchases on their statement.

Although redeeming travel rewards for travel generally offers the best value, cash equivalents can be a terrific way to save money on other everyday luxuries.

Some credit cards also reward members for their subscription purchases. Here are four excellent credit cards for subscription fans.

American Express CobaltTM Card

The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$362
+ Annual rewards
$1155
- Annual fee
$156
Total first year value
$1361
American Express Cobalt® Credit Card

card image
Welcome bonus
$362
AMEX Rewards points
Annual rewards
$1155
AMEX Rewards points
Annual fees:
$156
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases • 21.99% on cash advances
2024 Winner – Best Overall Rewards Credit Card, Best Credit Card for Young Professionals, and Best Credit Card for Earning Travel Points and Best American Express Credit Card.
Particularly great for individuals who live in the city, eat out often or order in.
Details at a glance Collapse details
Welcome bonus
$362
Annual rewards
$1155
The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$362
+ Annual rewards
$1155
- Annual fee
$156
Total first year value
$1361
Annual fees:
$156
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases
21.99 on cash advances
2024 Winner – Best Overall Rewards Credit Card, Best Credit Card for Young Professionals, and Best Credit Card for Earning Travel Points and Best American Express Credit Card.
Particularly great for individuals who live in the city, eat out often or order in.
Details at a glance Collapse details

*Best of Finance Winner: Best Rewards Credit Card in Canada for 2020

Apply for the American Express CobaltTM Card and earn up to 15,000 bonus Membership Rewards® points in the first year.

Regular features and benefits of this card include:

  • Monthly fee: $12.99 ($155.88 per year)
  • Annual fee for additional cards: $0
  • Earn five points per dollar you spend at eligible restaurants, bars, cafés, food delivery services and grocery stores.
  • Get two points per dollar you spend on eligible transit and gas purchases, including buses, taxis, and rideshare services.
  • Receive one point per dollar you spend on all other everyday purchases.
  • Redeem the flexible Membership Rewards® for travel or statement credits.

Members can redeem rewards for almost anything. That means users can pay for subscription services and other purchases with points. Cardholders can also use Membership Rewards® to purchase eligible items through Amazon.ca’s Shop with Points program.

Offer expiry date: N/A subject to change without notice

Scotiabank Gold American Express® Card

The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Cash bonus
$75
+ Welcome bonus
$400
+ Annual rewards
$744
- Annual fee
$120
Total first year value
$1099
Scotiabank®* Gold American Express® Card

card image
Welcome bonus
$400
Scotia Scene+ Points
Annual rewards
$744
Scotia Scene+ Points
Annual fees:
$120
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases • 22.99% on cash advances
[[gift]]Get a $75 CashSurge from RATESDOTCA
2024 Winner – Best No Foreign Transaction Fees Credit Card for Long Stay Travellers and Best Credit Card for Subscriptions
Details at a glance Collapse details
Welcome bonus
$400
Annual rewards
$744
The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Cash bonus
$75
+ Welcome bonus
$400
+ Annual rewards
$744
- Annual fee
$120
Total first year value
$1099
Annual fees:
$120
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases
22.99 on cash advances
[[gift]]Get a $75 CashSurge from RATESDOTCA
2024 Winner – Best No Foreign Transaction Fees Credit Card for Long Stay Travellers and Best Credit Card for Subscriptions
Details at a glance Collapse details

*Best of Finance Winner: Best Travel Credit Card in Canada for 2020

New cardholders of the Scotiabank Gold American Express® Card can earn 25,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points when they make at least $1,000 in eligible purchases in the first three months of opening the account.

Regular features and benefits of this card include:

  • Annual fee: $120
  • Annual fee for additional cards: $29
  • Earn five Scotia Rewards points per dollar you spend on eligible grocery, fast food, and restaurant purchases, as well as popular food delivery and food subscription purchases like Skip the Dishes, Hello Fresh, and Chefs Plate.
  • Earn three Scotia Rewards points per dollar you spend on gas and daily transit, including taxis, buses and rideshare services, as well as select streaming services like Netflix and the Cineplex Store.
  • Earn one Scotia Rewards point per dollar you spend on all other purchases.

Earn rewards as you watch, listen, stream, and dine. This card offers an excellent return on your subscription purchases and is an exceptional travel card.

Offer expiry date: February 28, 2021

Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* Card

The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Cash bonus
$75
+ Welcome bonus
$153
+ Annual rewards
$564
- Annual fee (First Year Waived)
$0
Total first year value
$792
Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* Card

card image
Welcome bonus
$153
Scotia Cash Back Rewards
Annual rewards
$564
Scotia Cash Back Rewards
Annual fees:
$120 (First Year Waived)
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases • 22.99% on cash advances
[[gift]]Get a $75 CashSurge from RATESDOTCA
A top card that earns you generous cash back in a variety of key purchase categories
Details at a glance Collapse details
Welcome bonus
$153
Annual rewards
$564
The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Cash bonus
$75
+ Welcome bonus
$153
+ Annual rewards
$564
- Annual fee (First Year Waived)
$0
Total first year value
$792
Annual fees:
$120 (First Year Waived)
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases
22.99 on cash advances
[[gift]]Get a $75 CashSurge from RATESDOTCA
A top card that earns you generous cash back in a variety of key purchase categories
Details at a glance Collapse details

For a limited time, the Scotia Momentum® Visa Infinite* Card offers new cardholders 10% cash back in the first three months of opening the account, up to $2,000 in total purchases. Plus, Scotiabank will waive the annual fee for primary and additional cardholders for the first year.

Regular features and benefits of this card include:

  • Annual fee: $120
  • Annual fee for additional cards: $50
  • Earn 4% cash back per dollar you spend on groceries, recurring bill payments, and subscription purchases, like video or music streaming and meal kit delivery.
  • Earn 2% cash back per dollar you spend on gas and daily transit, including taxis, buses and rideshare services.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other everyday purchases, with no limit to how much you can earn.

Earn cash back as you watch your favourite shows or listen to your tunes — it’s as simple as that.

Offer expiry date: February 28, 2021

TD Cash Back Visa Infinite* Card

The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$284
+ Annual rewards
$492
- Annual fee (First Year Rebated)
$0
Total first year value
$776
TD Cash Back Visa Infinite* Card

card image
Welcome bonus
$284
TD Cash Back Dollars
Annual rewards
$492
TD Cash Back Dollars
Annual fees:
$139 (First Year Rebate)
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases • 22.99% on cash advances
Cash back rewards will never expire
Includes complimentary travel perks and benefits
Details at a glance Collapse details
Welcome bonus
$284
Annual rewards
$492
The estimated dollar amount of benefits you’ll accumulate based on your monthly spending and rewards preference
+ Welcome bonus
$284
+ Annual rewards
$492
- Annual fee (First Year Rebated)
$0
Total first year value
$776
Annual fees:
$139 (First Year Rebate)
Interest rates:
20.99% on purchases
22.99 on cash advances
Cash back rewards will never expire
Includes complimentary travel perks and benefits
Details at a glance Collapse details

*Best of Finance Winner: Best Cash Back Credit Card in Canada for 2020

Sign up for the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite* Card to earn 6% cash back everywhere you shop for the first three months, up to $2,000 in total purchases. Plus, TD will rebate the annual fee for the primary and additional cardholders for the first year.

Regular features and benefits of this card include:

  • Annual fee: $120
  • Annual fee for additional cards: $50
  • Earn 3% cash back on eligible grocery and gas purchases, as well as recurring bill payments.
  • Earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.

Earn Cash Back Dollars on your recurring bill payments set up on the account (like your subscription services) and redeem your rewards to pay down your credit card balance whenever you like. Plus, this card includes a Deluxe TD Auto Club Membership, travel insurance, and complimentary Visa Infinite Concierge services.

This offer is not available for residents of Quebec. For Quebec residents, please click here.

Offer expiry date: August 16th, 2021

Rates, product information, and reward estimates are subject to change at any time and do not constitute financial advice. This post was not sponsored. The views and opinions expressed in this review are purely those of RATESDOTCA. Information in this article is accurate as of the date of this posting, January 19, 2021. Read our full disclaimer.

This post has been updated.

Hayley Osmond

Hayley Osmond is an editor and writer in the personal finance space, where she uses her eight years of media and marketing experience to bring content to life. She specializes in money products, including mortgages, home and auto insurance, and credit cards. Hayley holds a Broadcast Journalism diploma from Sheridan College and was awarded the Shaw Media Journalism and Media Award for graduating at the top of her class. Her work has appeared in Global News and diverse digital corporate training materials behind the scenes.

Hayley is passionate about making complex subjects, such as home buying and financial literacy, concise and intriguing. Her work has garnered media coverage from The Globe and Mail, blogTO, Yahoo! News, and CityNews 680 and has been syndicated across other publications.

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