Life by Subscription: Are Those Monthly Boxes Worth the Money?

Newspaper and magazine subscriptions may be dwindling, but the Internet has enabled marketers to exploit far more niches than news. As a result, monthly box subscriptions have now gone way beyond Fruit of the Month. And while I have yet to try Peanut Butter of the Month Club (just how many varieties are there?), or Teddy Bear of the Month Club (really? every month?) or even the Dog Treat of the Month Club, I have sampled a number of basic—and some of the slightly more outrageous—subscriptions:

Birchbox ($10/month)
The trend of ordering a box online all started with Birchbox, which promises four to five beauty samples each month, so I decided to give that a try. Sure enough, a beautifully wrapped package arrived on my doorstep, and I felt a little excited opening it up. It had a pretty nail polish I wouldn’t necessarily have picked out for myself, a waterproof eyeliner, a small bottle of hair oil that smelled too flowery for me. But then I found something called a pore minimizer. I didn’t even know what a pore minimizer was, but when I tried it, it did a great job covering up a few little scars I had. That discovery alone was totally worth the $10 a month.

Manpacks (price varies)
While Dollar Shave Club may just have the edge when it comes to price on razor blades, Manpacks also offers men’s underwear, shirts, socks, toiletries, and of course condoms. No surprises in what comes in the box, as you “build your own Manpack,” either as a one-time purchase or as a quarterly subscription. I can see this as a genius gift for a gentleman who let his manscaping get away from him or for Mom to send to her son at college.

Splendies ($12-$14/month)
Ladies, fear not; your delicates can be delivered, too: Splendies “discreetly delivers” three pairs of ladies’ undies a month to your door for just $12 a month—or $14, if you choose the “no thong option.” You choose the size; they choose the style. Now, I hate shopping for underwear, but whether this service is of value to you may depend on how much you (or your partner) like surprises. Plus, while the price is right, do you really need three pairs a month? Final note for those who are picky about comfort: These undies come with frills, lace, and bows, so stick with your day-of-the-week cottons if you can’t take the embellishments.

BlushBox ($50-$100/quarter) and Déjàmor ($35/month)
And speaking of surprises your partner might like…the small package from BlushBox contains three to five items, while the large contains six to eight items. And by “items,” I mean lingerie and, well, um, “accessories.” Déjàmor follows along the lines of BlushBox, promising to “upgrade your romance and intimacy” with “his” and “hers” surprises every month. Along with little goodies like rose petals and arousing bubble bath, the “surprises” include suggested activities. The pack I received had a pair of what can only be described as “ornamental handcuffs.” They were basically two bracelets connected with beads. I’m not really into that, so now I just have two new bracelets—bonus!

Sock Panda ($11/month)
Not every surprise delivery has to be X-rated, and when you subscribe to a sock-of-the-month-club, most aren’t. Choose “Bold” or “Cool," and Sock Panda will send you a different, colorful pair of socks every month—hopefully at least enough to replace what gets lost in the drier. The socks are really comfy, and the patterns are fun.

FabKids ($30/month)
Equally hard to stay on top of: keeping my children in clothes that fit. I also never have enough time to go shopping with them. FabKids offers a complete outfit for just $30. You take a short quiz (kid’s age, size, favorite color, and so on) and FabKids takes it from there. My daughter loved coming home from school to a package for her. She wore each dress-plus-leggings outfit, and somehow it mattered that Mommy didn’t pick them out for her. While $30 a month can add up quickly, I was really amazed at how fashionable and cute each outfit was, and for what I got, I’m not sure I could have done better on price.

Mexican Candy Box ($12-$20/month)
Its tagline: “It’s like getting a piece of the piñata every month.” Mexican Candy Box offers a monthly choice of box sizes, plus choice of sweet, spicy, or a mix. These nostalgia subscriptions are fun; they feel like a care package from the past. But my advice is to subscribe for a few months and then reevaluate. I’m not sure you need the piñata arriving monthly. Then again, it may just be that Mexican candy didn’t hit my nostalgia cues, so read on…

Skoshbox ($12/month)
If Mexican candy isn’t your thing, what about Japanese candy? I didn’t actually try Candy Japan, which says it ships from Tokushima, even though the company’s proprietor seems to be in Finland. But I did sample Skoshbox, which ships from Honolulu. Oishii! This box hit my childhood nostalgia buttons, and I can tell you that the flavors and weirdness of Japanese candy make for a lot of fun. If I subscribed regularly to this service, I would save each box as dessert when friends are over—so fun!

New York Bagel of the Month ($33 and up)
Of all the subscription boxes I sampled, this is the one that really surprised me. How could bagels shipped across the country to California possibly taste fresh? As fresh as the bagel place I beeline to when I hit Manhattan? But these did! At 40 bucks for a baker’s dozen, New York Bagel of the Month Club is certainly a splurge, but if you’ve gotta have it, this is the real deal. Adding to the indulgence were the cream cheeses—cinnamon raisin, jalapeño, chunky plain—shipped in a mini cooler with the bagels. An NYC-themed brunch would benefit mightily from this splurge.

The bottom line
We’ve all known for years that you can buy just about anything via the Internet, and I think much of this new subscription trend is just a ploy to get you to buy more than you really need. That said, there was some cool discovery of new products (Birchbox/Manpacks) and some fun (candy boxes) that you just can’t replicate with traditional shopping.

Bottom line: When these boxes arrive on your doorstep, it seems like you’ve received a care package full of surprises. Only when I open my credit card bill did I remember that I actually sent the care package to myself—and after a few months, I think that surprise will start to get old.

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