Apr 23 2013

Are subscription boxes worth it?


I’ve noticed the subscription box trend lately — boxes featured on blogs and Facebook. In some ways, these boxes full of curated items fitting a theme just seem so fun. Who doesn’t love getting packages with surprises in the mail? Even if they’re sometimes gifts to yourself?

Over the last few months, we’ve tried a few boxes on a short-term basis. In the end, I couldn’t justify continuing any given box. I think these work for some people in some circumstances, but I decided that there was too much waste going on for me to want to continue.

What is a subscription box?

There are boxes that fit just about any niche you can think of — kids’ toys, clothing, kid products, crafts, books, makeup, beauty products, food (and many subcategories within), household products…any so many more.

The premise:

Typically, you subscribe month-to-month, or 3 at a time, or 6 or 12 and with each shipment, you get a box containing items fitting that company’s niche. The retail value of the items are often higher than the price you paid for the box, so in some ways it’s a good value. The actual contents of a box will usually vary each month, and you won’t know ahead of time what will be in it. You can’t select which specific items you’ll receive. It’s a surprise, and that’s part of the fun.

The good:

If you select a subscription box company that fits a shopping need you have, and the products are mostly a good fit, then you might be able to save time and money with a box. You might discover products you wouldn’t have otherwise, and maybe even find new favorites.

The bad:

There will perhaps be some waste. You may not like the contents of a given box, and have little to no use for the contents. Even if the retail value vs. the price you paid is a good deal, it’s not a good deal if you won’t use everything (or at least, most things).

What do subscription boxes do to our consumption habits?

Ya know? This is where I have the most trouble I think. It is SO easy for me to say yep, I want that and that and that, without really thinking about the extra clutter in my house, or the waste, or even the extra expense. Instead of subscribing to a $25 box with things for moms, what if I just took that $25 and picked out items I actually knew I needed and wanted? Would I even need to spend $25 in a given month? Probably not.

Boxes I’ve tried:

Kiwi Crate was my first. I had an excellent promo code, and that code made it too good of a deal to pass up. Kiwi Crates are boxes with craft ideas and all the supplies needed for 3-7 year-olds to do certain crafts within that month’s theme. This box was great for me because I’m not that creative when it comes to coming up with crafty ideas. Sure, there’s untold amounts of inspiration on Pinterest, but I appreciated having a kit in a box. My kids have completed 2 crates, with one waiting for when we’re needing something new to do.

I did pause this one, though, because at $20/month, it was still kind of pricey. I do like that you can now buy individual crates while knowing the contents/projects ahead of time. I might buy a few a la carte to have ready after the baby comes. I haven’t decided though. I can get a lot of craft materials at the Dollar Tree for $20, for example. Ideas to go with it…not as much. The other plus with Kiwi Crate were the high-quality materials. Our first two crates included some materials that we could use in the future (oil pastels, watercolors, nice scissors, markers).

Goodies Co. This one is inexpensive, at $7/month. The contents are snacks/sample sized foods. Some of them were healthy, but some were total junk. And plenty contained nuts, so if you have a nut issue then this one is not for you. The idea behind this one is to discover new favorite foods/snacks/on-the-go things, and then you can buy them directly from the company or look for them in stores.

I canceled this one after 3 deliveries (I tried to cancel after two, but I missed the cancellation deadline so I have another box on the way. Grumble grumble). I just didn’t like the contents enough and figured I could try something new that I chose and have better success.

Citrus Lane — I signed up for a month because there was a 50% off promo code (TAKEHALF) that made it seem like a great deal ($12.50 for that month vs. $25, though if you subscribe for a few months out, you can get a better price). I ordered one for each child.  In each box, the retail value was around $30 each so I definitely got a good value…except I think we’ll only get use out of the shampoo/bath wash and the apple sauce snack that my daughter already ate. There was a juice box holder that might get used on trips, and each box had a Melissa & Doug arts & crafts thing (one was a paint-with-water book; the other some stampers and an ink pad).

I went ahead and canceled. Citrus Lane recently expanded their line to include boxes curated for kids older than 3. While the contents of my daughter’s box were somewhat different from my son’s, there was a bit of overlap. I think this box might be better for a young baby. Could make a fun shower gift.

I should point out that some people love their boxes (from many companies). Reviews abound, so if you’re curious about past contents of any particular subscription box, you’re sure to find something on a blog, the company’s Facebook page, or YouTube.

How about you? Are there any subscription boxes out there that are worth it to you? Or does the premise just fall short?

Posted under Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

7 Responses to “Are subscription boxes worth it?”

  1. I’ve never gotten the boxes. I have read blogs where people were talking about Birchboxes and thought they sounded fun. But I also think I would have a lot of waste and they are pricey. My fun way to get samples of new products is to go to the free sample page on the All of You magazine homepage. They have something new every day. You can even go back and sign up for offers from the past ( if they still have product available). WalMart has them too. Under search you put in free and it will take you to free sample offers. Then you sign up for what appeals to you. I sign up and forget about the item. Then when it comes in the mail, really pretty fast, it’s a surprise. And since I asked for it, I know it’s something I would like to try.

  2. That is a really good point about just getting samples from companies for FREE. haha!

    The one downside to that, is you could end up on mailing lists and get lots of junk mail and stuff. But still, it’s an alternative and thank you for sharing that!

  3. I’ve never actually heard of this before. But I wouldn’t sign up for one anyways. I’d rather just use the money to buy things I know I want and will use.

    Every once in a while Oriental Trading Company will offer free shipping on any order. I usually spend about $10 and order some craft kits for my kids then. At Christmas they made gingerbread notebooks and snowflake bookmarks to hand out to grandparents, aunts, uncles and teachers as gifts.

  4. I’ve heard fun things about birch box too but have never broke down to subscribe?

    Have you tried that nature box that I’ve seen floating all over Facebook? Where you get the natural/healthy snacks. I think it’s like $10 for the first month. That’s the only one I’ve been really tempted to try lately.

  5. Don’t think I’ve seen that nature box. Send me a link/the name of it if it comes up. Oh, and we got our 3rd (and final) Goodies box the other day. It was gross. The kids liked some of the things, but they will eat anything. But yeah. Blech!

  6. The only one I’ve tried is Nature Box, which provides different “healthy” snacks. I found that the snacks weren’t as healthy as advertised, and it was hard to control portions — they come in very small bags (about 5-6 bags to a box), and each bag often had 2 or 3 servings, though they look like single-portion bags. At $25, it wasn’t worth it.

    The one subscription service I can think of that might be worth it is the Household Bundle from the Honest Company. It’s $35 for a bundle, and it includes all sorts of cleaning and personal care supplies. You can also limit the frequency of the shipments so it’s every 2 or 3 months rather than monthly. Haven’t tried it yet, but thinking about it — have to use up what we have first.

  7. I think subscription boxes could be worth it. But sometimes, otherwise. So if packaged products from subscription boxes are fine, there’s always a tendency to patronize them. But anyway, thanks for your two cents about such.

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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