Subscription Boxes Suck
I recently received a subscription box or “loot box” as a birthday present. While they can make wonderful gifts, more often than not they’re not adding value to your life as a regular subscription. If you’ve got financial goals you’re trying to achieve, subscription boxes suck.
What’s a Subscription Box?
If you’re asking yourself what a subscription box is, I congratulate you. You’ve narrowly avoided a trend like the Kylie Jenner challenge or eating Tide Pods.
Though not harmful to your physical health, subscription boxes are deleterious to your financial health.
A subscription box is a package (typically monthly) of items that the subscription company has picked out for you.
You get charged automatically each month for the privilege of having a box of somewhat random trinkets, baubles, knick-knacks, doodads, and junk “curated” for you.
The subscription prices range on average from around $10 per month to $50 or more per month. I found a lot of useful data in this Forbes article. The most popular subscription boxes are shown below:
If you’re not familiar with what these companies peddle, here’s a quick summary:
Ipsy/Birchbox: beauty products
Home Chef/Blue Apron: food you cook at home
Dollar Shave Club: men’s shaving supplies
Stitch Fix: fashion
Bespoke Post: random dude stuff
There are HUNDREDS of these things, catering to almost every whim out there.
As traditional bricks-and-mortar retail continues to take an ass-whooping, companies have fiddled around with different sales models to continue to extract money out of your wallet.
Online subscription services thrived in this environment, and subscription boxes are the perfect hybrid of subscription services and traditional retail.
According to Hitwise, the number of website visitors to subscription company websites has grown by over 800% since 2014. This is a favorite new retail model, and I’ve even seen it come up on shows like Shark Tank.
Who Buys Subscription Boxes?
There are a total of 5.7 million subscription box customers. Hitwise publishes data showing that the typical subscription box customer:
- has a college degree
- is politically liberal
- likely a late millennial/Gen-Xer
- is likely female (61% of customers)
- has an income of over $100k per year
- has small kids between the ages of 3 and 5
- is unlikely to be fully aware of how much they’re spending on what each month
I added one bullet point here, can you guess which one?
Why Subscription Boxes Suck
So far, subscription boxes sound kinda cool, right?
Yeah, I thought so too, and I had subscriptions to BespokePost and Blue Apron before I got on the path to financial independence. I had a lot of stupid spending habits back then, and this was one.
I recently wrote a post highlighting the powerful impact of automating your savings and investing.
Subscription boxes are just like that, except the complete opposite. You’re automating your spending and adding yet another expense!
Another reason that I dislike subscription boxes is that you often have little to no control over what you’re getting each month. Some companies like Blue Apron give you a narrow list of choices, but a lot of subscription boxes give you no choice. So you’re paying money each month for an unknown collection of items that are likely to clutter-up your life.
Behind the Numbers
Do you want some numbers behind my distaste for subscription boxes?
Let’s say you’re getting a subscription box of retro Ninja Turtle Venetian masks for your Chiweenie every month. It costs you $10 per month. No big deal, right?
If you use the Money Multiple, you quickly see the impact that keeping a subscription has on your life. The monthly subscription comes out to $120 bucks per year. If your Money Multiple is 9x, this is effectively stealing $1080 out of your net worth!
That’s just for one year of this habit. Imagine maintaining this for several years with several different subscription boxes! The thought gives chills.
Put all this together, and you get the main reason I hate subscription boxes: they engender a certain passivity and laziness with your finances. They encourage waste.
You don’t know what you’re getting each month (it’s mostly junk), but the companies know exactly how much money you’re good for.
It’s easy to forget about these seemingly insignificant expenses, and the subscription companies know that, much like a gym, you’re unlikely to cancel the service even if you want to. Laziness is a momentum game.
These are the reasons why subscription boxes suck:
- You’re automatically spending additional money each month, money that could be invested or used to pay off debt
- You have little or no say over what you’re buying each month; carefully choose every expense
- Subscription boxes can have a substantial adverse effect on your net worth over time, as per the Money Multiple
- They’re easy to forget about, and you’re unlikely to unsubscribe for many months if not years
- They encourage a lax attitude toward spending which can creep into other parts of your life
Ok, now that I’ve said my piece, are there any times when subscription boxes make sense?
Sure. I can think of three.
The first is if you have no idea what to get someone for their birthday, but you know their interests. I received a subscription box recently, and it’s a great present. I enjoyed several of the men’s grooming items I received. However, I don’t want to be getting different types of hair paste every single month. Call me simple, but once I find something I like, I stick to it. I don’t need mustache wax, either (I blame my Native American heritage for that).
The second scenario I see them being useful is when you’re house-trapped. When we had Mini Moose, a subscription to Blue Apron helped us considerably. We didn’t have the time or energy to leave the apartment due to our screaming newborn and having the food sent to us made life much more manageable. Blue Apron also gave us new ideas for how to add variety to our diet.
Now that Mini Moose is more grown up, we carefully plan our meals and our food budget is lower than if we used Blue Apron.
The last reason I can see for temporarily using a subscription box is to try a wide variety of samples. If you need a new type of (insert item), a targeted subscription box can be good to try out small samples and decide which you like best. But you better cancel that shit when you figure it out!
More on Shaving
“But Moose, I love my monthly shaving supplies!”
That’s great, and Dollar Shave Club or whatever that other one is called (Harry’s?) is an excellent alternative to the traditional Gillette or Schick quintuple-razor/possible sex toy scam. You don’t need your vibrating electric razor to shoot goop at your face.
However, shaving with a straight razor or with a safety razor is MUCH cheaper than using even these basic cartridges. I buy a year’s worth of high-end razor blades for $20. If you’re exceptionally hairy, double that.
Additionally, you’ll learn how to shave correctly if you start your day with a straight or safety razor. Not knowing how to shave correctly is the likely cause of all the ingrown hairs, razor burn, and bumps that you need XYZ Minty Goop to help prevent in the first place. This isn’t limited to just men either, ladies can and should use a safety razor to shave once they learn how to wet shave adequately.
What To Do About It
I promised in the title that I’d tell you what to do about subscription boxes. It’s really simple: cancel them. If you don’t have any, don’t sign up for any.
You say you enjoy getting little presents? Who doesn’t, but your future is more important.
Do you enjoy getting new ideas for products? Here is a little secret…the boxes often list everything included in them that month. You can take a look at what’s cool these days for free on the websites without having to outsource your spending to a subscription box service. If you see something you like and NEED, buy it individually without the rest of the junk that comes with it.