How not to be frugal: Too many magazine subscriptions

Sometimes a great deal isn't. Because I have a small computer consulting business, I've been placed on a mailing list for “corporate rate” magazine subscriptions. Corporate rate subscriptions are unbelievably cheap, on the order of $10 or $12 a year for many magazines.

Being the frugal fellow that I am, when I received my first offer for a corporate-rate subscription, I signed up. Sure, it was a subscription for Business 2.0, a magazine I'd never read in my life, but so what? I saved money!

Soon I was receiving offers for corporate rate subscriptions on all sorts of magazines. Money? Sign me up! Smart Money? Kiplinger's Personal Finance? You bet. PC World? I'm in. (Even though I'm a mostly a Mac user.) Forbes? Sure, why not.

I even subscribed to Newsweek, which was dumb. The Newsweek subscription was more expensive — about $30/year, I think — but still a great deal. I loved to read weekly news magazines back in the nineties, but this is a new decade. A new century! A new millenium! This is the age of the Internet. Newsweek offers almost no value. The “news” is a week old. The columns are worthless. There are whole pages devoted to celebrity gossip or to new tech gadgets. Gawker and Gizmodo beat them by a mile. Newsweek is so worthless that it usually goes straight to the recycling bin. (But I got a great deal on it!)

I also spent $10 to subscribe to Sunset, which might be an interesting magazine if I had time to read it. But I don't. And so it, too, goes straight to the recycling.

Not all of the subscriptions have been duds. I got a $20 subscription to The New Yorker, and that's worth it for Anthony Lane's film reviews alone. (That man is funny!) Add the insightful articles and, of course, the famous cartoons, and that's $20 well spent. I only hope I can get that rate again on re-subscribing.

In all, I've spent about $150 on magazine subscriptions during the past year. That's not going to break the bank, but it's $150 I could have spent elsewhere. It's $150 I could have invested, or that I could have added to my Nintendo Wii savings account. I certainly haven't derived $150 of pleasure from my magazines.

Worse, even if they do get read, the magazines defeat the concept of simple living. They're extra clutter — both mental and physical — that complicates life. They weigh on my mind. Every time I walk through the living room, I think of how ugly the stacks of magazines are. And then I feel guilty for not having read them.

Basically, I'm paying $150/year for the added mental stress of having too many magazines around the house.

And so I've decided to let most of the subscriptions lapse. I'll keep the best personal finance mag (Smart Money is out of the running — I'm choosing between Money and Kiplinger's), and I'll keep The New Yorker. But all off the other corporate rate subscriptions are done as soon as the terms expire. It feels great to have realized this. If only I hadn't subscribed to them each for five years in order to save the most money. (My subscription to Newsweek doesn't expire until 2008!)

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The Tim
The Tim
13 years ago

I totally agree on the magazines. I am currently receiving two different video game magazines, but only because I got the subscriptions for free. My wife has one magazine, Architectural Digest, which she reads to get ideas for her work as an Interior Designer. Hooray for the Wii! I just got through selling my old SNES & Sega Genesis (along with their associated games) as well as a few other video game systems I had collected here and there (a PSone with the LCD that I got for a project at work that never panned out, an Atari Jaguar that… Read more »

Michael
Michael
13 years ago

You can always check out back issues of magazines at most public libraries. About the only thing I like to subscribe to is the Sunday edition of the local paper.

Charles
Charles
13 years ago

You missed one point: professional magazines are eligible as a tax writeoff. This doesn’t cover magazines like Newsweek or Smart Money, but it would cover computer trade magazines (if you’re a computer geek), Architectural Digest (if you’re an interior designer) or other publications directly relevant to your specific job.

Andrew W
Andrew W
13 years ago

Putting subscriptions on your holiday/birthday wishlist is a good way to save too, especially if it’s for a publication you think you’d like but haven’t read yet enough of.

A subscription to Wired is still a fantastic deal…something like a buck an issue.

al
al
13 years ago

Even better than checking out the back issues at the library, is using your card to access databases with full-text of ALL your favorite magazines!

Getting To Enough
Getting To Enough
13 years ago

You should call the magazine customer service department (or better yet, the company that you ordered the magazines through) to cancel your subscrptions now rather than wait for them to lapse (they’ll refund the prorated unused portion of your subscription). In fact, your post inspired me to do just that. Coincidentally, it was one of the magazines you mentioned, Smart Money. I subscribed a few months ago, but didn’t end up reading it much. I just called the customer service department and they’re cancelling the subscription and refunding the balance to my credit card. In your case, especially paying $30/yr… Read more »

anne
anne
13 years ago

I subscribe to salon.com for $30/year, read it every day. With that online subscription they’ve given me a free year’s worth of other magazines – The Week (highly recommended), Wired, Rolling Stone, Food & Wine. I also receive The New Yorker as a gift from my parents. We liked The Week so much we renewed our subscription, but the rest of the freebies I’m planning to let lapse, for exactly the reason you mention. Too much clutter, too much time spent trying to keep up with our magazines and too little time spent reading real books as a consequence (something… Read more »

Melsky
Melsky
13 years ago

Some places are very happy to take magazine donations. I gave a ton of back issues to a free medical clinic when I moved and they were happy to get them. So even if you don’t end up reading all of them at least you can have the satisfaction that someone got to read them!

Noel
Noel
13 years ago

I subscribe to many magazines and the way I see it is that if for example Business 2.0 can give me an idea to generate or save money in some way, then that idea could be worth hundreds if not thousands – way more than the measly subscription rate.

HC
HC
13 years ago

I second the suggestion for giving magazines away. If I haven’t hit the recycling center, then I scoop up all my magazines and take them with me to the doctor’s office. Just remember to clip off your address label.

Rebecca
Rebecca
13 years ago

I read almost everything online, but I did go looking a short while back for a single good, meaty magazine to read at the gym.

After a little searching, the hands-down winner was Harper’s. I’d had no idea what I was missing. It’s worth checking out.

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

A couple things: Though I went to all the effort, I forgot to point out that for each of the magazines I named above, I linked to the online version. Sure, some of the articles come out after the print version, but these online versions are all free. Silly of me to forget to point that out. It’s a great idea to donate used magazines. I acutally do a magazine exchange with some friends, but that’s an entry for another day. I agree that Harper’s is excellent. I didn’t mention it because I already have a subscription, even though it’s… Read more »

Matt
Matt
13 years ago

Your post made me smile because I made reference to expensive magazine subscriptions in my post today. I used to subscribe to a couple magazines but I never read them and the clutter is annoying. Now when I want a magazine bad enough I buy a single unit and read it then I throw it out (if I want to keep an article I litteraly rip it out and save that only).

rich
rich
13 years ago

The discount price of a magazine subscription is inversely related to that magazine’s consistent quality. If a magazine is the type that they’re hoping people will buy because of one cover story, or seasonally, and so on, it’s deeply discounted for subscription because they know you won’t buy every copy at the newsstand. But for magazines where they expect you want every issue anyhow, the discounts are a lot less steep. The one news subscription that the Internet does not render moot — and at $50 for 25 weeks, an example of the “less steep” category — is The Economist.… Read more »

Jan
Jan
13 years ago

Check out my post last month on the same topic:
Extra !! Extra !! Newspapers and magazine for free!!
http://pricequality.blogspot.com/2006/08/extra-extra-newspapers-and-magazine.html

JR
JR
13 years ago

Magazines are a tough one! There are some I really enjoy, look forward to every issue and read every issue. Those I subscribe to and just look for the best deal. Some, like Real Simple, are NEVER on sale. I can’t bring myself to spend $4.50 at the newstand, so I get them at the library, a month later.

And yes, magazines are full of ads which instill the “I want that”s and the “I deserve that”s–bad bad karma.

Schizohedron
Schizohedron
13 years ago

The New Yorker will send you about 10 renewal notices as the deadline approaches. Eventually they’ll get to $20. You can even let it lapse, read issues at the library short term, and you’ll get a notice every few weeks, if you want to wait them out until they get to $20 (or less!). I cancelled more than a year ago, and I just got an offer. Alternately, if you don’t want to play the junk-mail waiting game, call the subscription 800# and ask for the double-sawbuck rate. If they decline, tell them you’ll cancel. All they want is subscription… Read more »

Jennifer
Jennifer
13 years ago

Be careful that they did not sign you up as a “Preferred Subsciber”. I ignored all of the renewal notices I recieved for a magazine because I wanted to let it lapse and the next thing I knew I received a letter from a collection agency demanding the $17 subscription fee. You should call them and make sure they cancel your subscription.

pussfeller
pussfeller
13 years ago

Yeah, from listening to the Clark Howard Show, I learned that alot of these companies surrepticiously contract with you to renew, and unless you give them some specific advance notice, they will auto renew you, and turn you over to collections, like the above poster says.

Just what I heard Clark say, you might wanna check before you just stop paying!

hiccupqueen
hiccupqueen
13 years ago

I had cancelled all my magazines in an attempt to cut down on clutter and spending — but then I found myself buying single issues whenever I craved some light reading, which was costing me nearly as much as a subscription would. Then I discovered the super-cheap magazine subscriptions you can buy on Ebay — these are like those free promo subscriptions that a lot of companies offer for buying something, only they are sold on Ebay for just a few dollars. I subscribed to Domino for $4 and Runner’s World for 4 years for $4! In several cases the… Read more »

dave
dave
13 years ago

You need one and only one magazine subscription (online or print): The Economist. Simple as that. If you want tech, get it all free online. Knitting? The same. Finance? You’ve already found it! To me, blogs like this and iwilteachyoutoberich, offer far more insight, real-life usefulness, andare generally much better than financial magazines which cover the same rubbish in a mundane, dry way. But make sure you get the economist; finance, business, politics, asia, tech, literature, art. Podcasts are a big no-no for me, they’re just too slow for getting the info, and you can’t scan’n’feed on a podcast like… Read more »

John
John
12 years ago

The Week is by far the best deal in magazine subscriptions!!

Fred Stratman
Fred Stratman
10 years ago

I am seeking a discounted subscription rate to
Astronomy Magazine.

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