Subscriptions and in-app purchases

People spend a lot of money on things that make them feel good, like entertainment and exercise.

These can be:

  • subscriptions, such as to online content or gym memberships
  • games and apps for consoles, computers and phones
  • streaming platforms, for watching tv and movies, or gaming.

To access some services, you need to ‘subscribe’ or ‘become a member’. And some games and apps will only let you access certain things if you pay for the ‘premium’ version.

Sometimes there is a ‘free trial’ period. Some may give you access to all content but with ads, or limited amounts of content until you pay for more.

Understand when and what you’ll have to pay

It’s important you understand how much money these services cost before you subscribe.

When you subscribed you probably agreed to some terms and conditions.

You may have just ticked a box saying ‘I accept the terms and conditions’. What you’ve agreed to is a ‘contract’. Contracts are a deal between 2 or more people or organisations agreeing to do certain things.

Often the company asks for your card details when you first join. They won’t charge you for the length of the free trial, and often that’s all you wanted it for.

  • If you don’t cancel your subscription after the free trial period, the company will start charging you money using direct debit and that might be more than you can afford.
  • Some contracts can even include an agreement that if you cancel early then you have to pay them a cancellation fee, or for a full month/year, even if you don’t use it.

Make sure you understand what you’re signing up for, and check with an adult if you don’t understand the terms and conditions.

I want to buy or save...

We all want to buy things straight away, but sometimes there are hidden costs. This tool can help you think about what those costs are so you can make smart saving decisions.

Read about the app or game before you download it

Before you download and install an app pay attention to its description.

Even though the app says it’s free, in smaller print it might say ‘Contains ads’ and ‘In-app purchases’.

Both these things mean there will be options to spend money in the app.

  • 'Contains ads': some games will have so many ads in them that it’s really hard to play without being interrupted. Often the game will say you can pay to remove ads.
  • 'In-app purchases': some games will have parts that you can only access if you pay for them, or you have to use tokens or play money. They often make it hard to level or play the game without them. The game will often have options to sell you those tokens, often as discounted ‘specials’ and bundles.

Gaming

Buying a video or online game isn’t strictly a one-time purchase anymore. It’s a good idea to be aware of extra costs of playing the game, before you buy. 

Many games, once they’re released, will have lots of expansions and extra content to go with it that becomes available later – called downloadable content or DLC. It often costs as much as the original game and it can feel like you need to get all the DLC in order for you to enjoy the game. If so, add it to your savings goal so you’re not left short.

In addition, getting more gear or relevant tokens is often necessary to level in a game or properly enjoy it. Loot boxes usually contain these but they’re rarely free. Even if they are, chances are you’ll need to purchase something else to unlock them. 

Read reviews

Most online game stores include customer reviews in the description. Make sure you read them. If you see lots of people complaining that the app was full of ads, asking for lots of money, or wouldn’t let them unlock levels unless they paid for them—it’s probably not going to be very fun.

Make smart decisions

It can be tempting to buy in-game purchases so you can get on with enjoying the game. But the more you level, the more likely you’ll need more upgrades and more tokens. That could start to really add up.

It’s all about balance. If paying a couple of dollars once just to turn off the ads is all you need to enjoy the game, then that’s probably okay. But if the game keeps asking for more money so you can play, you need to either:

  • set yourself a limit on what you’re happy to spend
  • ask yourself whether it’s worth it to keep playing.

Savings calculator

Use this calculator to work out how long it will take you to save up for something you want.

On this page