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Are You “Sleep-Spending”? Here’s How to Stop

September 10, 2019

4 min read

Is your bank account leaking funds little by little? Are your credit cards accumulating tiny charges on a regular basis? Are you losing money without knowing why, when, or where?

While it’s possible that tiny elves are going through your phone at night, laughing maniacally as they enroll in a grocery delivery service you’ll only use once, I have another idea. You may be unconsciously wasting resources by passively engaging in something I call “sleep-spending.”

I don’t mean that you’re whipping out your credit card in your sleep to order a pizza on Postmates, or 85 pounds of organic, hand-dyed yarn made of free-range sheep’s wool on Etsy for the knitting habit you’ll never actually start (um, not that I’ve done that.) A sleep-spender is somebody who buys something—a streaming service membership, a magazine subscription, a monthly contribution to a charity—and then forgets about it, wasting money for months or even years without noticing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used a dating app for a couple weeks and taken it off my phone, only to remember a few months later that I never actually closed my account. Oh, and I once forgot about some random nutrition app for an entire year, wasting $1.00 a month I could’ve spent on a trashy snack I never would’ve entered into the app anyway. (Gas station cuisine calories do not count.)

Based on a highly unscientific survey of my busy Millennial friends, here are the most common voids into which the sleep-spender unconsciously tosses money: Gym memberships they don’t use, dating apps they never open, publications they never read, and delivery services they don’t need.

If you suspect you may have lost track of your automatic renewal or automatic debit expenditures, it’s time to do a little digging to figure out where your money is going. And it shouldn’t take you too long—my guesstimate is anywhere from one to three hours of research.

Where to look

So let’s search the places you’re likeliest to find evidence of this unfortunate but common habit.

Bank account

Look at all the automatic debits for the past few months. If you’ve got the time, look at the past twelve months. Does it all look familiar? Do you see a strange pattern?  If you see things that aren’t useful to you any longer, log into the proper website or call the right customer service number to end your membership immediately. And of course, if you notice a charge you never actually made, alert your bank immediately.

Credit cards

Use the same process as above.


Deleting an app off your phone does not mean you’ve actually unsubscribed to the dang thing. Because I have an iPhone, I typically pay for these apps via iTunes. If you do the same, it’s a good idea to periodically check on your iTunes subscriptions.

From your laptop or desktop, go into iTunes and click on Account. Select View My Account. Then scroll down to Settings. Next to Subscriptions, click Manage. Do you really like the apps and services to which you subscribe? If so, great! If not, time to get rid of ‘em. If you do use certain services, you may be able to switch your subscription to an annual rather than a monthly plan, thereby saving a few bucks.

For example, the popular meditation app Headspace offers a monthly subscription for $12.99. But the annual membership is $95.88. Sure, you have to pay it all in one lump sum, but it factors out to only $7.99 a month. That’s $5 you could be investing via, say, your Stash app. Or purchasing gas station cuisine. Just saying, you’ve got choices to make.


I don’t know much about this mysterious alternate phone option, but as a faithful reporter I did the research on this strange technology to tell you how to unsubscribe from your auto-renewing apps there.

  1. Launch the Google Play Store app
  2. Go to Menu
  3. Highlight Subscriptions
  4. Touch the app you’d like to cancel
  5. Tap “Cancel subscriptions”

Streaming services

Do you actually use your music, TV or movie streaming service? Maybe you have a subscription that costs more than you’d spend to simply rent an individual movie once or twice a month. Or perhaps you can downgrade to a plan that requires you to watch or listen to a commercial or two in order to enjoy your preferred digital media. Lizzo will still sound great if her soulful jams are punctuated with the occasional advertisement for something you’ll never actually purchase.


After you login to your PayPal account, look for “Payments sent” and see if you see anything marked “recurring.” If you’re pleased with it, that’s great. If not, it’s time to see about eliminating some of those unnecessary expenditures.

It’s time to stop sleep-spending, and wake up to your financial reality. It may seem like small change right now, but in the long run you’ll save a lot. Think of all the road trips or student loan payments or pounds of unnecessary yarn you could fund with the extra cash!

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By Sara Benincasa
Sara Benincasa is a screenwriter, recovering stand-up comedian and the author of "Real Artists Have Day Jobs"

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