Read my disclaimer here.
A few months ago, I thought subscription boxes were fantastic. They were a mini monthly present to myself that was exactly what I wanted, and yet still a complete surprise. Makeup subscriptions, children’s books, dog toys, clothing, sustainable products, underwear, snacks, produce, etc. You name it, if marketing told me I needed it, I tried it and became addicted. But was I spending our hard-earned money on stuff we needed, and how much clutter was I accumulating in our home for my monthly fix?
The industry has recently exploded so much that Amazon even offers over 400 different types of subscription box options.
Clearly I was going to be prettier, healthier, and a more loving mother to my children (and my dog) if I regularly spent money on this stuff. Unfortunately for our family, it meant more stuff entering our home, more frustration over clutter and boxes, and less money in the bank to build our savings. The happiness was not long-lasting, and let’s be honest, it certainly didn’t make me a better mother, wife, or friend.
In this post, I’m going to talk about why we buy into these products, our three-month experiment pausing subscriptions, and how continuing for a full year could result in $650/yr of passive income when we retire. Don’t worry, I won’t immediately tell you that all subscription services are bad and to be extremely frugal and save all of our money. It’s important to recognize that what works for one person, may not work for another, and we need to be aware of the value we receive from these paid subscriptions.
Why We Buy It
After watching the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma“, I became increasingly more aware of how companies are advertising to us through social media. While impressive, it’s frustrating to accept that I’ve fallen into that trap. As I was 4 weeks postpartum after my daughter’s birth, I was being bombarded with products that helped me fix or hide all the problems that apparently now existed with my body. It was not the type of messaging I needed or wanted in my life.
I continue to be amazed by what companies have accomplished with these services in recent years. Products are personally catered to us and minimize the choices we need to make. By stripping away the decisions, we are less likely to feel buyer’s remorse. Algorithms can predict exactly what we want, deliver it to our front porch, and we didn’t even make the decision of what to select or the decision to go get it. Meanwhile, the dopamine hit we receive when that box arrives on our doorstep prevents us from second-guessing the monthly subscription cost.
The motivation to buy these boxes can be partially explained through the powerful rush of dopamine that we get both when there is anticipation of a reward and when the reward is actually delivered.Forbes Magazine – Why Subscription Boxes Are Here to Stay
Unfortunately, that happiness is not long lasting, and we’re almost immediately waiting for our next box to arrive.
Experiment: Pause Services for 3 Months
At first, I was nervous about canceling my subscriptions like my life was going to fall apart. To reduce my anxiety about the change, I decided to pause a few of my subscriptions for three months. After three months, I told myself that I would reevaluate whether or not I felt happier with these services, and continue if I felt they added value to my life for the price I was paying.
I also unsubscribed from about twenty different companies who regularly bombarded me with ads and “sales” every day in my email. You save 100% of what you don’t buy, so I was interested to see how much I could save by avoiding the temptation altogether. I also pondered whether or not to cancel my Amazon membership, but to avoid my husband thinking I went off the deep end, I decided to keep it… for now.
So what happened?
Our Home Felt Less Cluttered
For starters, we saved a lot more money each month which allowed us to boost our savings. If you read about my 2021 goals, you’ll know that we are working to slowly minimize the clutter in our home. I started a one-year spending freeze of nonessentials, cutting down the stuff that enters our home. We make fewer decisions on what we need to get rid of, and we feel more relaxed without the empty boxes and extra stuff on our counters, waiting to find a home in our already clutter-filled closets.
Not only did we bring in less stuff by cutting the monthly packages arriving on our doorstep, but I found myself purchasing less because I was no longer bombarded by ads in my email every day. By intentionally only buying what we need, whether on sale or not, we have ultimately saved money by buying less. Less stuff also means less clutter and less free time wasted organizing stuff we didn’t need in the first place.
I truly believe that challenging what we bring into our home regularly will greatly improve our chances of successfully right-sizing our belongings to the size of our home. It took us a long time to get to this point, and it’s going to take us a few years before we get back to where we want to be. By putting an immediate stop to the stuff showing up on our doorsteps, it made it easier for us to deal with our clutter problem. Our goal is to make our home a relaxing place to enjoy our free time, not a place we make excuses to leave from.
We Have Saved More Money
Starting in October of 2020, I did a serious purge of my subscription services. In my post “Finding Your Happy Place with Money”, I detail out many of the things I made a strict decision to stop buying.
- Makeup: $12/month [sometimes more as I would addon to the initial purchase]
- Clothing: $210/month
- Sustainable products: $15/month
- Underwear: $15/month
- Children’s clothing: $99/month
- Produce: $140/month
We were easily overspending by $300-$400 per month. By instead choosing to save and invest this money, we can potentially accumulate $4,333 by the end of the first year.
While $4,333 may not sound like a huge amount of money, we are still 20 years away from retirement, and that could grow to $16,252 by the time we are in our 50s (assuming a 7% interest rate gain) without adding another penny. By applying the 4% rule, that means we could potentially earn $650 annually or $54 per month of passive income to support our retirement without ever reducing the amount we have invested.
What regular subscriptions add value to your life?
For this post, I focused on the physical subscriptions I was ordering, but we could easily consider our cable service, cleaning services, lawn care, gym memberships, etc. During my experiment, I realized we could live happily without many of the subscription services, and immediately redirect that monthly allocation towards our savings instead. Double win!
However, after a few months, I am going to restart our produce subscription because I am passionate about cooking healthy meals for our family and find that having organic food sent directly to my home allows us to enjoy higher quality produce compared to our local grocery stores. That weekly reminder to eat more fruits and veggies is one I’ve been missing and the scale is agreeing with me.
We think these services make our lives easier and increasing our happiness. After all, we work so dang hard so we should treat ourselves, right? Meanwhile, we may be spending significantly more for the convenience of these subscriptions, driving us to work longer than we need to. Are we sacrificing our future freedom by giving ourselves a dose of instant gratification today? Are we raising the bar for our future self higher than it needs to be? Are we happier with these products, or is ignorance bliss? Comment below on some of the subscription services you’re considering putting on hold.
Do you know what makes me happy? A walk in the woods surrounded by nature, or time spent with friends and family. Thankfully, no one has figured out how to charge me for that experience by delivering it in a box on my doorstep just yet.
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