Today I want to admit something to you, dear reader: I have a non-frugal habit that I’ve been hiding. I haven’t had to fess up to it yet in our monthly spending reviews because it’s only a periodic expenditure, to the tune of about $5 – $10 a month on average. Yep, that’s right, I am a Birchbox subscriber. Dun dun duhhhhhn!
In case you aren’t familiar, Birchbox is one of those monthly subscription boxes where you get skincare, makeup, and hair care samples sent to you in the mail (p.s. that link is a referral link – yes, I love it so much I’m backing it on a blog about frugality). I’ve been a subscriber for a little over a year.
Now I will digress and tell you a brief, subscription box-related story…
Every morning I get the Rockstar Finance featured articles in my email, which is how I find some of the best posts out there as well as awesome new blogs that I’ve never visited before. However, a couple of weeks ago there was an article that made me feel pretty guilty.
This article was all about subscription boxes, and made some excellent points about the conspicuous consumption inherent to this increasingly ubiquitous subscription mania.
I read the article over my morning bowl of cereal, and then I felt shame, knowing that I have at least eight of the above pictured boxes floating around the house. I couldn’t even find any dissenting opinions in the comments of the article.
Obviously, I have no way of justifying that I need anything that comes in a monthly subscription box. Of course I don’t need it, I don’t even know what’s going to be in the box each month! But if you’ll just give me a few moments of your time, I’ll explain why I didn’t cancel my Birchbox subscription in the midst of this cloud of chagrin.
In defense of monthly subscriptions (and simple splurges in general)
- It’s pretty cheap. I’ll put this as number one since this is an early retirement / frugality blog, after all. Birchbox for women costs $10 per month (or $9.20 if you pay in advance for a year). Birchbox gives you $5-$6 back in rebates each month for leaving reviews, which can be used on products or on a new subscription if you decide to re-up. This knocks the monthly price down to about $4 / month, or $48 / year. Not too bad considering that I haven’t bought hair gel, moisturizer, eye shadow, lip gloss, or mascara since I subscribed.
- It’s a form of entertainment. Where we get into trouble is when we start thinking this is something we need as opposed to want. A monthly subscription is a form of entertainment that costs money, just like going out to a restaurant or bar, going to a movie, etc. For some people (e.g. me), receiving a bunch of new makeup and skincare samples in the mail each month is something to look forward to and enjoy all month long. It’s inexpensive entertainment that continually provides new excitement every month.
- It doesn’t have to be a waste. The samples that arrive monthly in my mailbox last anywhere from one use to a couple of months. If I don’t like a sample or I know I’m not going to use it (sometimes Birchbox gets a little confused about how bright a lipstick I am willing to wear…), I give it away. The rest I store in a couple of the pretty boxes (refer to Figure 1) in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom for easy access.
- It doesn’t have to lead to an avalanche of spending. I get to try a lot of cool products by being a Birchbox subscriber, but so far over the past year that I’ve been a member, this hasn’t let to buying the full size version of anything. Maybe this is a little bit of my ADD showing, but often by the time I finish a sample, a new one of the same type has usually arrived in a new box and I forget about the previous one.
- Birchbox doesn’t make minimalism, orderliness, or frugality harder. I might go so far as to say that it actually improves the Frugal Paradise scores in these categories. Almost all the products I use, besides shampoo and conditioner, are Birchbox samples. That means they are all tiny bottles / tubes / vials that fit in a small portion of the bathroom medicine cabinet. And each delivery comes with its own organizational system (a.k.a. a sturdy box). This is also a bonus when traveling!
- Sometimes we need things we don’t need. (I’m pretty sure Confucius said that.) I put this as the final reason because it is the heart of of this post. It’s fine to occasionally splurge on something that you truly enjoy and appreciate. Don’t feel guilty about it. Just remember to check in once in a while to make sure it’s actually improving your quality of life rather than sucking dollars out of your wallet and piling up random stuff you don’t use in your closet.
Whatever it is for you – your morning coffee, lunch out once a week, paying someone to mow your lawn instead of doing it yourself so you can sit on the couch and watch Netflix instead, whatever! Give yourself permission to enjoy it as long as you’ve got the rest of your finances in order.
To paraphrase another of my favorite bloggers, you can splurge on anything, just not everything.
And as far as subscription services go, I can’t speak for other types of these programs since Birchbox is the only one I’ve tried personally, but I’m sure there are other ones that would fit in with the above as well. Especially the ones where you actually consume the contents. In fact, we once gifted a “beer of the month” subscription and I’m pretty sure that scored us some major ‘awesome friend points’.
All right, now I’m off to go throw out all those extra empty boxes I was saving “in case I needed them”.