Cutting costs in the New Year? Here are 5 types of paid apps to delete first.

Young woman in her living room deciding what apps to delete so she can cut costs in the New Year Image:

In a Nutshell

Almost half of Americans regret how much they spent on apps in 2019, a Credit Karma survey reveals. Find out what types of apps people most regret spending money on, and what you can do to cut back your spending in 2020.

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If your goal is to get financially fit in the New Year, you’re not alone. But as you’re thinking of costs to cut, remember to keep smaller purchases like paid apps (or in-app purchases) in mind.

When we think about how to cut costs to get our finances in shape, we often think about changes associated with big expenses — like wedding spending, traveling or a night out with friends.

But we may not realize the impact of smaller, incremental costs, like those that can come from apps. Monthly app-related purchases — particularly those you can quickly access on smartphones or tablets — can add up to hundreds of dollars in unnecessary spending over the year. In fact, nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) who spend money on apps spend between $132 and $300 annually, according to our survey. And about half (49%) of smartphone users who spent money on subscriptions in 2019 ended up regretting their purchases. 

We asked survey respondents to name the kinds of apps they regretted paying for the most. Read on to see the list. (Learn more about our methodology.) If you find yourself also regretting your spending on apps, we’ve got some tips to help you hit “refresh” on your spending habits.

Key survey findings 

About half (49%) of smartphone users who spent money on an app service or subscription in 2019 regret their purchases.
Almost one quarter (24%) of Americans who spend money on apps spend between $132 and $300 annually.
More than two in five (42%) Americans have lost money after signing up for a trial of a paid app and forgetting to cancel before payment was due; among millennials, the number jumps to around two-thirds (62%).
Nearly a third of Americans (32%) have paid for a subscription app they’ve never used.
Gaming apps are what people most regretted spending money on in 2019. Food-ordering apps, music streaming, video streaming and clothing subscriptions round out the top five spending regrets.

The 5 types of apps people most regret paying for in 2019

When it comes to smartphone spending, respondents from our survey expressed regret about spending money on certain types of apps more than others. 

Here are the five types of apps respondents said they most regretted paying for in 2019.

1. Gaming apps

2. Food-ordering apps

3. Music-streaming apps

4. Video-streaming apps

5. Shopping or clothing subscription apps

The table below shows just how much survey respondents estimate they spent on the apps they regretted spending money on in 2019. 

Type of apps Common spend on each app type per year % of respondents
Gaming apps $12–$120 28%
Food-ordering apps $312–$600 26%
Music-streaming apps $12–$120 40%
Video-streaming apps $132–$300 38%
Shopping  or clothing subscription apps $612–$900 14%

Annual amounts are based on respondents’ monthly spending estimates

The impact of smartphone-app spending

Although things like gaming apps and music-streaming services might be fun or convenient, they can also be costly. 

In particular, it seems the “set it and forget it” automation of subscription apps may be causing problems. Nearly half (42%) of respondents who signed up for a trial of a paid app have lost money because they forgot to cancel the trial before payment was due. And nearly one third (32%) paid for an app that required a subscription but then never used it.

If you’re not watching closely, app-based purchases could have serious consequences for your bank account.

More than one quarter (26%) of people surveyed said they’d gone into debt for an app-related purchase. And, nearly one in five (18%) have overdrawn a bank account because of an app.

What’s keeping us from deleting our apps?

Although almost half (49%) of Americans surveyed regretted their spending on apps, many have chosen to continue using them. Only 15% of those surveyed said they plan to delete an app in 2020, while another 18% are unsure.

We found a few reasons why people seem reluctant to delete or cancel these expenses. The top reason, affecting almost one in five (17%) respondents, has to do with the feeling that they might want or need to use an app in the future.

  • 17% are afraid they’ll need or want to use an app in the future if they cancel it
  • 10% are dependent on the convenience of using their apps
  • 4% tried to cancel an app but gave up because there were too many hurdles
  • 3% don’t know how to cancel a subscription
  • 3% say they’re simply too lazy to cancel
  • 3% say they fear missing out or not being in the loop with regard to trends

We’ve found in the past that FOMO is a struggle many millennials in particular face.


Saying “unsubscribe” to overspending

If you’re experiencing regret about your smartphone-based spending in 2019, there are a few things you can do to cut back in the New Year.

  • Try “No App January”: Dry January, where folks go without drinking alcohol for a month, has become a trend. Consider trying out a similar practice with your paid apps for a month. You may find that you really don’t miss some of your apps as much as you thought you would.
  • Ask yourself: “Does this app spark joy?” This popular slogan coined by Marie Kondo is a way to ask if items around your home are worth keeping around (i.e., does it spark joy for you?). If they don’t, you thank them for their service and then get rid of them. Going through a similar thought process with your apps may help you be more intentional about which services you keep and which you cancel.
  • Include the cost of subscriptions in your monthly budget. It’s important to have a budget for things like emergency expenses and basic costs of living. Adding the monthly cost of subscriptions into your budget could help you be more mindful of where your money’s going — and help you think about whether that spending is necessary.

Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in November 2019 among 1,044 American adults with smartphones to better understand the financial impact of paid or subscription-based apps or services.