Should you pay for cloud storage?

The Financial Post spoke with financial expert Kelly Ho about subscription cloud storage – is it worth it? Read below to learn what you need to know before you decide.

Though the average young Canadian might feel inclined to steer clear of adding yet another subscription to their budget, cloud storage might be worth it — as long as they ask themselves the right questions first, experts say. Liam Curran, a second-year master of communications student at the University of Ottawa, faced the dilemma of whether or not to fork out the cash for extra digital storage a few years ago.

As a Google device user, he had already spent years accumulating tens of gigabytes of files on Google’s cloud-based platform, which automatically syncs to Google computers and phones. However, in November 2020, the platform updated its terms and conditions to limit the amount users could store for free.

“Through Google, I had years’ and years’ worth of videos and photos of family members — deceased family members — friends, birthday parties, et cetera,” said Curran. “Not to mention all the school, work and tax documents I had in my email inbox, too.”

“So I decided it was worth it for me to buy the extra storage.”

The grand total for the upgrade? Just three dollars a month.

In fact, most cloud storage platforms on the market aren’t likely to break the bank these days, said Kelly Ho, a certified financial planner and cash flow specialist.

“Most cloud storage options I see in people’s budgets are under $10 a month, or might be included with devices or subscriptions they already have,” such as Apple iCloud storage for iPhone users or Microsoft OneDrive for those with the Microsoft suite, she said.

However, Ho emphasized the importance of keeping in mind how these kinds of “minimal” charges can add up over time, cautioning young Canadians in particular to pay attention to their cash flow when adding a subscription to their roster.

“To be frank, our entire lives are online now — especially for gen Z and millennials — so there are going to be apps and subscriptions out there that are absolutely essential,” she said.

“But one of the most common things I hear from millennials when I get them to do a cash flow exercise on some of these tinier expenses is how surprised they are to learn how much they spend on subscriptions (overall),” Ho added.

People are most likely to run into trouble if they are open accounts in several places for the same or similar service, then forget they have them. It sounds obvious, but the oversight is more common than one might expect. A survey conducted by West Monroe in 2021 found that the average consumer surveyed spent $273 a month on subscription services. However, nearly 100 per cent of respondents were completely unaware of their actual total spend on subscription services.

To avoid this, Ho suggested that young Canadians — who already are less likely than older generations to have a lot of room in their budgets for expenses beyond necessities — should start by asking themselves how much these subscriptions cost versus how well they fit their needs.

“It’s really important that we hold ourselves accountable, either by speaking with a cash flow professional, or even just doing some self-reflection,” she said.

Curran said he kept this in mind when deciding which cloud storage option to purchase, choosing one he already got regular and satisfactory use out of. Then, he waited until he absolutely had to purchase it before doing so.

“It goes without saying, but I think it’s really important that young people and students especially don’t … buy these things before they actually need them,” he said.

“Start backing up your files online through a free platform, and once it gets to a point where you need more, then you can upgrade — but don’t spend your money until you actually have to.”

Curran also acknowledged that paying the small subscription fee on one account — as opposed to trying to “game the system” by signing up for multiple Google accounts and making use of the maximum free storage on each — was something he rationalized as an investment in time versus money.

“Sure, I could spend the extra time going between all these different accounts to save a bit of money,” he said, “but I considered what was important to me, and to me, it was the convenience of being able to access my files quickly and easily.”

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Published August 22, 2023