Looking to spice up your life on the cheap? Sign up for a subscription box. It's a fun way to try new products (often sample-size) while remaining true to your frugal ways.
But before proceeding, make sure you will actually use the contents of a subscription box. While they offer substantial value, they're a total waste of money if the items go unused. Also make sure you can cancel if you decide the subscription isn't worth it. And finally, check shipping rates, which can be expensive.
For Men or Women:
Birchbox: This is a subscription service that offers boxes for men and for women of sample-size products. Women receive a box of four to five beauty, skincare, and makeup items for $10 a month, while men get four or five grooming products, tech, and lifestyle accessories for $20 a month. Birchbox also maintains an online shop through which you can purchase full-size products if you like the sample. Shipping is free on the boxes and on orders over $50.
Subscribers earn points by writing reviews of the contents and then use the points towards items in the store. Cancellation is easy for month-to-month subscribers -- just tell the company prior to the next billing cycle. Full-year subscribers who paid in advance must cancel in the first month or wait out the year. One of our researchers subscribes to Birchbox and considers it a good value. He has received sports shorts that retail for $36 among other items in a monthly box, and says that most samples run out around the time the next box arrives.
ipsy: For just $10 a month, women receive a Glam Bag packed with sample and full-size beauty and personal care products. Subscribers can log on to the ipsy website and view stylists using the products showcased that month, as well as participate in the ipsy community. They also earn ipsyPoints -- e.g., by referring friends -- that can be applied towards bonus gifts and special goodies to be included in future Glam Bags.
Fresh Neck: This unique subscription box for men is all about ties, bow ties, pocket squares, and cuff links. Membership starts at $20 a month and works like Netflix: Choose the items and place them in your queue; the top three available items will be shipped. Subscribers wear the accessories as long as desired, with no fees attached, and send them back in exchange for a fresh supply. Items can be purchased for 20 percent to 60 percent off retail. This is a valuable subscription box for men who are required, or just like, to dress up on a daily basis.
Citrus Lane: A six-month subscription plan starting at $21 nets a box each month with four or five age-, gender-, and season-appropriate items (e.g., dual-tipped markers, a wooden food set) for a baby, toddler, or preschooler, plus a card with information on each item. A review by MySubscriptionAddiction.com commends the quality of the products, saying they are safe, fun, and made with at least some eco-conscious materials. The estimated value of the (preschooler) box being reviewed is about $34.
Kid Stash: For about $25 a month with a year's subscription paid in full, subscribers receive monthly deliveries of assorted age-appropriate crafts, games, toys, and books for children three to seven years old. Each month's box is organized around a theme and can be customized for boys or girls. My Subscription Addiction attaches a value of about $37 to each box, which is shipped free. One review posted at SubscriptionBoxes.com applauds the insect-themed box, saying it provides an entertaining way to learn about insects.
BarkBox: This subscription box service can quickly spoil four-legged best friends. Each BarkBox, starting at $19, contains a selection of toys, bones, all-natural treats, hygiene products, and new gadgets. Shipping is free, and cancellation is possible at any time. Note that 10 percent of each subscription is forwarded to a variety of rescue programs and organizations.
Meowbox: Similar to BarkBox in concept, Meowbox is designed for cats. Starting at $22 a month, a feline friend receives a box stuffed with toys, treats, accessories, and gadgets. The site says boxes are worth $35 to $50 each.
Food and Drink:
Love with Food: For anyone who likes to "eat healthy," Love with Food delivers eight or more healthy snacks for $10 a month. Snacks are organic, all natural, GMO-free, gluten-free, or free of artificial additives. Subscriptions can be cancelled at any time unless paid in advance. Unlike most services, however, there is a small shipping fee of $1 or $2 for select monthly plans. Every box sent buys a meal for a hungry child in America. Real Simple magazine notes that the boxes are often theme-oriented, such as like New Year's or Valentine's Day, and members receive discounts on food in the online store. Note that sample sizes may be on the small side.
Laithwaites Wine: A Laithwaites Wine membership yields 12 bottles of wine every three months. The first shipment costs $69.99 and the next three cost $139.99 each ($11.50 a bottle), which is a decent price for good wine. Shipping is $19.99 for each round. Subscribers can opt out whenever, delay delivery, skip a delivery, or change wines in the order. The WineClubDirectory.com named Laithwaites Wine the best of the wine clubs for wine quality, education, and pricing.
Green Bean Delivery: Currently available only in Ohio and Kentucky, Green Bean is a type of delivery/subscription service that is rapidly catching on. Subscribers order a produce bin for a minimum $35 and specify the contents and frequency of delivery (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly). They can add more items, skip a delivery, or cancel without penalty. Full Circle is similar, and serves the San Francisco Bay area, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska.
Our family of four buys one $35 bin each week that holds all the produce we need. The service saves us $5-$15 compared with what we would pay at the local grocery. Only in-season produce is offered, and there's a choice of organic, sustainably grown, or conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Another money-saving element: The box shows up at our doorstep, which cuts down on trips to the market and minimizes temptations while wandering through a store in search of items on the shopping list.
|Birchbox||$10/month (women); $20/month (men)||Four or five skincare, makeup, and non-beauty extras (women); grooming products, lifestyle and tech accessories (men)||Free (monthly box and full-size orders over $50)||Free for monthly members; annual subscription must be cancelled first month|
|ipsy||$10/month||Deluxe samples and full-size beauty products||Free||Cancel any time; paid boxes delivered with no refund|
|Fresh Neck||Starting at $20/month||Three or more neckties, pocket squares, bow ties, and cuff links||Free||Cancel any time; paid boxes delivered with no refund|
|Citrus Lane||Starting at $21/month||Four or five age-appropriate (kids) items||Free||Cancel any time; paid boxes delivered with no refund|
|Kids Stash||Starting at $25/month (full-year rate)||Four or five age-appropriate (kids) items based on gender||Free||Cancel any time; paid boxes delivered with no refund|
|BarkBox||Starting at $19/month||Toys, bones, all-natural treats, hygiene products, and gadgets||Free||Cancel any time; paid boxes delivered with no refund|
|MeowBox||Starting at $22/month (six-months paid in full)||Toys, gadgets, accessories, and treats.||Free||Cancel any time; paid boxes delivered with no refund|
|Love with Food||Starting at $10/month||Eight or more snacks (organic, all- natural, GMO-free, gluten-free, or free of artificial ingredients)||Free for some plans; $1 or $2 on others||Cancel any time; paid boxes delivered with no refund|
|Laithwaites Wine||$69.99/first three months; $139.99/every three months thereafter||12 bottles from select list||$19.99||Cancel any time; delay or skip deliveries|
|Green Bean Delivery (or similar local service)||Starting at $35/week, month, or bi-weekly||Bin with organic, sustainably, or conventionally grown produce of your choosing||Free||Cancel any time; skip deliveries|