Before you sign up for Disney+, this calculator adds up the ‘true’ cost of your streaming services

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Netflix for $12.99, Disney+  for $70 a year, Hulu with no ads for $11.99, and add on HBO for $14.99… wait, how much is this all costing?

Welcome to the next phase of the streaming wars, where some of the biggest companies in tech and media are fighting for your attention and your subscription dollars. With the launch earlier this month of Apple’s AAPL, +0.96%   streaming service and then, this week, Disney’s DIS, +7.32% Disney+, never before have there been so many services, offering a deluge of content, various bundles and countless add-ons. But there’s only so much money in peoples’ budgets.

For many viewers, it’s time to look at the costs behind the services and do the hard math.

If you are planning to load up on new services, take a moment to consider what the mounting costs of your streaming subscriptions will mean over the long term.

Our calculator adds up the costs over 50 years, plus factors in opportunity cost to get at the “true” cost, or not just how much you spent but how much money you lost out on by not investing in the stock market. We set the rate of return to calculate that figure as a conservative 6%, lower than the S&P 500 index’s   SPX, +0.07%   historical average of 10% annually, but more in line with what some experts, including Warren Buffett, say investors should expect factoring in inflation and anomalies over the years.

As our calculator shows, adding just one service to your budget can snowball into a hefty increase when you’re looking at that “true” lifetime cost.

Take someone paying for Netflix’s NFLX, -3.05%   standard subscription and Hulu, with no add-ons. That person is looking at a monthly bill of $18.98, and a lifetime cost of $19,264. Factor in the opportunity cost of how much money could have been made investing in the S&P 500 all those years, and the lifetime cost balloons to $87,656.

Now tack on Disney+ and you’re looking at $25.97 per month, $26,358 over a lifetime and a “true” lifetime cost of $119,938.

It may be hard to put that number in context over a lifetime, but that’s well over three times the current median annual income in the U.S. of about $31,000. It’s also, however, far less than the $300,000 “true” cost of an iPhone estimated by MarketWatch columnist Brett Arends.

In a MarketWatch Twitter poll, 58% of people responding said they only intend to pay for one to two services.

Experts have told MarketWatch that most families will max out at $50 per month for three services. A Wall Street Journal/Harris Poll survey of about 2,000 adults found about the same: On average people said they’d spend $45 on 3.6 services. In that survey, 53% of respondents said new or original content makes them more likely to subscribe to a service. Over 47% of people said they planned to sign up for Disney+, and 41% said they’d pay for Apple TV+.

If our calculator has you second-guessing your streaming expenditures, and looking to knock off a few services from your budget, here’s our take on the pros and cons of Apple TV+, Amazon Prime video, Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu and Disney+.

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