Remember when getting a hot pizza delivered to your door felt special? (OK, it still does.) Now you can spice up that pie with regular deliveries of hot sauce, or subscribe to nonfood items like neckties, razors, underwear, makeup, dog toys, mystery books — even slime.
These subscription-box services can allow you to try out new types of goods and bypass shopping errands. They can also wind up costing you a lot of money. Here’s how to keep spending on subscription boxes in check.
Before you buy a subscription
Identify your motive. Consider whether aggressive marketing has swayed you toward a subscription you wouldn’t have otherwise bought. Ads for trendy services may show up repeatedly in social media and targeted emails, and constant exposure can be persuasive.
“We only have so much resolve,” says Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and author of “Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy.” “When we say ‘no’ to ourselves five times, we feel better about saying ‘yes’ the sixth time.” The idea of getting packages in the mail has quite a pull, too.
Before you sign up, “identify a reason [for subscribing] beyond the allure of having something delivered to your door,” says Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder of Retail Minded, an industry blog and publication, and an author of “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business.”
For example, the subscription may save you money or time, like diaper deliveries for busy parents. Or maybe a service exposes you to products that are unavailable in your area, like designer clothes, Reyhle says. If you feel good about your reasoning, then it’s time to do some homework.
Scrutinize the service. Research as much as possible about a subscription before committing. This homework can come in handy when choosing between multiple subscription services that deliver similar products.
Examine the terms to see if you can cancel at any time or if signing up means you’re on the hook for a year, Reyhle says. Services that offer a free trial get bonus points.
Read reviews. Look for customer reviews on the service’s website, Facebook page and Yelp, Reyhle says. For Yelp, you may have better luck searching “razor subscription Yelp” or “Dollar Shave Club Yelp” on Google rather than searching within the Yelp website. Try the same for reviews on Reddit by Google-searching the product or subscription name, along with “Reddit.”
Once you’ve subscribed
Evaluate the value of each delivery. When you subscribe to a service, you typically agree to have your credit or debit card charged automatically for each new delivery. As Yarrow puts it, you don’t feel the “pain of payment” for each box, like you would if you had to locate your wallet, pull out your card or cash and agree to its cost. “[Subscribers] logically know they’re paying for this product,” she says. “But, emotionally, it feels like they’re getting free goodies in the mail.”
Then “inertia sets in,” Yarrow says. You continue the subscription because, well, you’ve already subscribed.
To fight this mindless spending, set a reminder for a few months into the service “to reevaluate the benefit of the subscription,” Yarrow says. Or try treating each new box as a “fresh spending experience,” she says, and ask yourself if its contents were worth the monthly cost. “The minute you have doubt,” she says, “take action.”
Prepare to cancel. Even if you have doubts about the value of your subscription box, canceling is just no fun. “We don’t like spending time doing things that don’t give us immediate rewards,” Yarrow says.
So if it helps, bring on the rewards. For example, promise yourself ice cream or a bubble bath if you unsubscribe. You deserve a treat for making a smart money decision.
After all, you probably only need so many makeup samples, hot sauces or pairs of underwear. Whatever product you’ve subscribed for, “in most situations, eventually you have enough,” Yarrow says. “Sooner than [consumers] think, they’re going to have to pull the plug.”