3 Things to Consider Before Signing Up for a Free Trial

“In a situation like this more vendors are going to offer the software this way, because they’re certainly not going to come in and say to consumers, ‘Hey, make some big investment, trust me, you’re going to like it,’” says Gartner’s Santoro.

Certain categories of apps in particular are well-positioned for this moment, he says, including wellness apps and media-streaming apps—all of which serve habits we might have adopted in our lives before, and now can be extended while we’re all stuck at home. But those app categories are also incredibly crowded, which is why marketers need to push so hard. Something like Salesforce is hard to learn, and therefore hard to leave, Santoro points out. Something like Headspace is easy to use and easy to leave, so the company needs to entice you in some way.

That still doesn’t mean you should jump at every free trial offer. Just as the fear of missing out was a real thing when we could all hang out outside of the home, the fear of missing an “exclusive” online workout class, a new HBO series your friends are all talking about, or that subscription app that promises to simultaneously entertain and educate your kids, can be an additional stressor in these isolating times. Pause before you press download. Only you know what fits into your life right now, and what might still fit into it when we enter an actual post-pandemic phase. Unless the app also promises to put your kids to bed for you after it teaches them and entertains them. You should sign up for that one.

Comparison shop, and keep tabs on expiration dates. Some of those offers are just too good to pass up. And maybe you were already curious about Peloton, had resolved to try meditation, or were planning to brush up on your Broadway knowledge (BroadwayHD: free seven-day trial). You’ve gone ahead and downloaded the app, created an account, and punched in your credit card number.

Wait! You should still comparison shop. Yes, these are free trials, but if you’re going to invest any time exploring a new app or service, shouldn’t it be one you might want to actually continue using after the trial period ends? Not only that, some deals truly are better than others—and there might be freebies out there that don’t require you to hand over your payment info first.

For example, if you’re considering Headspace for meditation, you should also explore directly competitive apps like Calm (free seven-day trial, special offer of $42 per year after that); consider an extended online course, like Tara Brach’s Mindfulness Daily (free for a 40-day course); or look for an app that caters to your very specific needs, like Expectful for parents (free seven-day trial, $10 per month after that). If you’re looking for a streaming video fix, consider that Netflix just made 10 documentaries and documentary series free on YouTube; SlingTV is giving totally free access to its Sling Blue package between 5pm ET and midnight every night, no credit card required; and the NHL (and other sports leagues) are streaming classic games for free.

It goes without saying that you should keep track of every free trial you opt into. Screenshot the offer that was presented to you, and note the date the trial expires on your calendar. Some people download third-party budgeting apps to remind them of their subscriptions, like Truebill. Another app, DoNotPay, offers a kind of virtual credit card that you can use to sign up for free trials anonymously.

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