Are Monthly Subscription Boxes Worth It? – Costs, Pros & Cons
These days, you can get nearly anything in a monthly subscription box. From beauty sample boxes to meal delivery services, these companies will deliver a fresh selection of products to your door, month after month, for a flat monthly fee. People love subscription boxes for their convenience and the thrill of getting a surprise package each month. And with prices as low as $10 a month, they can look like an unbeatable deal.
However, even $10 is no bargain if you’re spending it on stuff you wouldn’t normally want to buy – or stuff you could get for less at a store. So, before you jump on the subscription box bandwagon, it’s worth taking a closer look at what these services really have to offer, what they cost, and what their hidden catches are.
The subscription box was born in 2010 with the launch of Birchbox, a $10-a-month beauty sample box. Since then, this business model has spread to nearly every kind of product you can buy. In fact, there are now thousands of different types of subscriptions boxes. Here are a few of the most common types, and the most popular services for each.
The whole idea of the subscription box started with beauty boxes, and this is still one of the most common types. Here are some of the top choices in this category:
These days, subscription boxes can do more than groom you – they can dress you from head to toe. The best-known clothing subscription is Stitch Fix. This shopping service is a bit different from other subscription boxes. For $20 a month, you get a box with five items – clothing, shoes, and accessories – chosen just for you based on your style preferences. However, if you want to keep the items, you have to pay for those separately.
Stitch Fix offers boxes for men and women from both well-known and new brands like Joie, Citizens for Humanity, Original Penguin, and Converse. Items cost an average of $55 each, and the $20 “styling fee” is deducted from the cost. If you choose to keep all five items, you get a 25% discount on the lot. If not, you can send back the ones you don’t want in a prepaid envelope.
Another clothing subscription service, Nice Laundry, focuses specifically on socks. Every three months, it ships you six pairs of dress socks, especially chosen for you. Each quarterly shipment has sock weights and styles appropriate for the season. Socks are only available in one size, which will fit most men as well as women with larger feet. It costs $49 for one quarterly shipment, or $99 for a full year.
Subscription boxes aren’t just for humans. You can also get monthly deliveries of goodies for your furry friends. The best-known box of this type is BarkBox, which contains toys, treats, and chews for dogs.
Each BarkBox contains four or five items, which are never the same from month to month. When you sign up, you enter your dog’s weight to get items that are sized appropriately for your pooch; you can scale up or down at any time. And if there’s an item your pup doesn’t like, you can exchange it free of charge (up to one item per month). The service costs $29 per month, with a discount for 6- or 12-month subscriptions.
For cat people, there’s KitNipBox, which provides a monthly assortment of cat toys, treats, and other accessories. The basic subscription costs $19.99 a month and includes four items; the multi-cat subscription provides six items for $29.99. A portion of this monthly fee goes to shelters, rescues, and other charities that help cats in need.
A relatively new variant of the subscription box is the meal delivery service. The best known of these is Blue Apron, which ships a refrigerated box each week containing recipes and all the ingredients you need to make them. All the ingredients are pre-portioned to cut your prep time, so you can cook a complete meal in about half an hour.
Blue Apron offers subscriptions at several different levels, with two to four meals per week for either two or four people. The prices range from $48 to $140 per week, which works out to between $9 and $25 per person per meal. This is less than most restaurant meals, but more than you’d pay to cook at home if you did your own grocery shopping.
In addition to meals, there are subscription boxes for specific types of food items. For instance, UrthBox delivers healthy snack items each month, along with a few extras like supplements and personal care products. Prices range from $20 a month for a six-item mini box to $50 for a large box with 25 to 30 items. There are also subscription services for vegan and gluten-free foods, wine, beer, coffee, and even hot sauce.
Several gift boxes offer entertainment of one sort or another. For instance, Book of the Month delivers a new hardcover book each month for $14.99. You can choose your book from one of five monthly selections, or skip a month if you don’t like any of them.
Other services offer books for more specific audiences. For instance, Comic Bento ships a monthly assortment of graphic novels with a cover value of at least $50 for $25. OwlCrate is a themed monthly box containing a young adult novel and various related items like pens, bracelets, and bobbleheads for $29.99 plus shipping. OwlCrate Jr. provides the same service for tweens, with subscriptions starting at $27.99 a month plus shipping.
Speaking of kids, you can also get subscription boxes with educational toys or projects for children. KiwiCo includes a monthly magazine and an age-appropriate creative project, along with the materials needed to complete it. There are subscriptions for all age groups, from toddlers to teens, and you can choose between art-themed or science-themed boxes for older kids. All boxes are $19.95 per month, with a discount if you commit to a 6-month or 12-month subscription.
Other just-for-fun boxes cater more to adults. For instance, Loot Crate is a $16 monthly subscription box “for geeks and gamers” containing a themed assortment of t-shirts, decals, figurines, and more. And Spicy Subscriptions is strictly adults-only, providing a monthly selection of sexy products like massage oils, candles, and adult toys for $34.95.
For most people, the big advantage of subscription boxes is the fun factor. Experts who spoke with LearnVest about the psychology behind subscription boxes say people enjoy the suspense of looking forward to each month’s box and wondering what it will contain. As addiction expert Amanda Dorman explains, “Waiting for that box each month – not knowing what it is, but knowing it’s coming – creates an adrenaline rush.” It’s like getting a birthday gift every month.
Other perks of subscription boxes include:
Subscription shopping also has some big drawbacks. The most obvious one is that, with most services, you don’t get to choose the items you receive. You get the thrill of looking forward to a surprise package, but when you open it, the surprise isn’t always a pleasant one. You could find yourself stuck with a bunch of stuff you don’t actually want, and not enough of the stuff you need.
This, in turn, can cancel out the convenience of monthly shipments. For instance, if your monthly grooming box sends you sunscreen, but what you really need is deodorant, you have to go to the store for it. You don’t save any shopping time, and you have to pay for the deodorant on top of what you’ve already paid for your subscription.
Other problems with subscription services include:
With such a huge variety of subscription boxes out there, it’s impossible to say that they’re always a good deal, or that they never are. You have to look at a specific box – its contents, rules, and cost – to decide whether it’s a good value for you personally.
Here are some questions you can ask to help you make the decision:
There are ways to get some of the perks of subscription boxes without having to commit to a monthly service. For instance, if what you like about them is having products specially chosen to fit your style, you could join a loyalty program like Sephora’s Beauty Insider. This program rewards you for shopping at the store with bonus products tailored to your tastes.
On the other hand, if your favorite thing about your subscription box is getting a special treat each month, you can give yourself the same experience by creating a category in your personal budget for “mad money.” This is a sum of cash – which doesn’t have to be large – that you can spend on anything you want. It allows you to treat yourself to something special each month – and since you pick it yourself, you can be sure it’s something you’ll really use.
Have you ever subscribed to a monthly subscription box? Did you think it was worth the money?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
Are Monthly Subscription Boxes Worth It? – Costs, Pros & Cons
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