Apr 23 2013

Are subscription boxes worth it?

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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?


Apr 11 2013

Making several investment deposits in a month, rather than one

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Money

Have you heard about the record highs the stock market is seeing lately? Our IRA and 529 account balances have shot up, reflecting the market. It looks great on paper, but since we won’t be withdrawing the money any time soon it’s … only on paper.

We’re continuing to invest on a regular basis. Prices are high right now, so that means I’m buying fewer shares with my dollar than I could if prices were down. Ya know?

One strategy experts often tout to make the most of market fluctuations, is to do something called dollar-cost averaging.

An example, with numbers pulled out of thin air and simplified (ignoring taxes, fees, dividends, etc.):

On the 1st of the month, a share costs $10. You have $100 to invest, so you were able to buy 10 shares.

On the 15th of the month, a share of that same fund costs $10.50. Your account balance from the investment you made on the 1st of the month would be worth $105. With another $100 to invest, you can now only buy 9.52 shares at $10.50.

So, with those two investments you now have $205 in your investment account and own 19.52 shares of the fund.

Follow that?

If you buy when the prices are low, you can buy more shares for your dollar. When the prices are high, your value is higher of course…but when you buy when prices are high, you can buy fewer shares for your dollar.

Let me make one thing clear right now (if I can get any point clear in this post): I am not talking about trying to time the market. I can’t look at a news report and think, “Well, this looks like prices are about to jump in the coming days. Better buy now!” or “We are topping out. Better stop investing for now/or sell.”

No. I can’t time the market, and Wall Street traders can’t do it consistently, either.

We don’t know when prices will be low, or when they might make a move up. When people do try to time the market, they can get burned, missing a stock market rally and missing out on big gains.

What I’m talking about, is to use these normal price fluctuations to your advantage.

Rather than make one annual lump investment to your IRA (or any investment account) and calling it a day, I’m more into investing multiple times per month. Some months, I’ll buy when my fund is lower-priced and I get more shares. Other months, the prices are higher but I’m still adding more shares to my portfolio.

What’s more, my husband and I invest on different days of the month.

I’ve got the 3rd and the 16th, and he has the 9th and the 23rd. Just picked those dates that are sort of spaced out — no real reason.

Also, we have our kids’ 529 deposits automatically sent each month, but since my only option is a monthly or quarterly contribution for those automatic deposits, I just have Johnny’s sent on the 10th and Vivie’s on the 17th.

Over time, one account might do better than another, or it might not make much difference at all.

I like to view our family’s investments collectively, and try to maximize the money as a whole.

P.S., last year our IRA contributions were a bit lopsided. We didn’t have the money to finish them off until toward the end of the year, so that’s when the bulk of our contributions were made. Do what you can! Investing something, at any time, is better than nothing, no?

P.P.S: It’s really important to note if your investment company charges you fees per transaction. If you’re hit with a fee every time you make a deposit, that can add up fast. Might be worth seeing about switching to a different investment firm.

How about you? Do you spread out your investment contributions? What’s your strategy?

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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.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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