Between work, school, walking the dog, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, running errands and trying to fit in time for friends and family, who has the time to spend hanging out at the grocery store, or shopping for the latest trendy clothing?
Subscription services that deliver everything from food, clothes, even razor blades are booming as people become enchanted with these modern conveniences designed to take the mundane out of your day and give you more time for everything else in your life.
Does time saved equal money saved?
Saving money with subscription services is do-able, said Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, but you have to employ a few subscription savvy smarts to see the cost savings.
“Most of them, they are getting you to spend more than you would spend otherwise, but the ones that do have that frugality factor in mind or appeal to that are giving you a product that you already buy,” Palmer said.
“So whether that’s TV subscription services or something like Amazon.com, where you’re already going to be buying certain household products, so you can save by getting them delivered to you free within two days.”
Another category where consumers will often see savings is clothing subscriptions, such as Rent the Runway, that let you rent dresses or other outfits that you need for a one-time occasion, such as a ball gown for a black-tie event or a cocktail dress for your best friend’s wedding.
Maternity clothes are also another great item to rent through a subscription, Palmer said, because pregnancy only lasts for a few months and your body is constantly growing and changing.
Matching your lifestyle to needs
For Kristin Leahy-Fleming and her husband, their subscription to Dollar Shave Club saves them both time and “a ton” of money. They now get four blades for $9, delivered each month to their Connecticut home, as opposed to paying $20 for four, store-bought blades and having to go to the store to get them.
“We also love the convenience of the auto-delivery,” said Leahy-Fleming, a former teacher. “We never get caught without new blades in the house. The quality is great, so I ordered an extra handle and I use the blades too.”
Palmer has tried a few different subscription services with varying success. A win was her beauty subscription to Birch Box — at just $10 per month, she gets to treat herself and try some new products she wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. A fail was her $30 per month snack box subscription for her children that no one liked, or used.
And not every subscription is the best choice for each person who tries it.
Maggy Patrick, a news producer in New Jersey, loved her Hello Fresh deliveries after the birth of her daughter.
“Not only did it eliminate a shopping trip,” said the new mom, “but it took any thought out of cooking when we were literally brain dead from lack of sleep.”
Yet Katie Morison, an editor and mom of three from New York, went back to grocery shopping after trying both Blue Apron and Plated.
“Ultimately, it didn’t make sense given the ages of my kids and my own gluten-free dietary restrictions, she said, adding it also “didn’t seem to be cheaper.”
Not sure where to get started? We broke down 5 popular subscription services to see whether it can save you money or balloon your budget.
Streaming vs. Cable
Netflix: The basic package is $8 per month for one-screen viewing and no HD. The standard package is $11 per month for two-screen viewing and HD.
Hulu: There is an $8 per month package with add-ons for an additional cost, such as commercial-free viewing. There’s also a $40 per month subscription for Hulu with Live TV to catch your favorite programming in real time.
Cable: While cable companies, plans and pricing vary based on where you live, you can expect to pay between $150 and $200 per month for TV, Internet, and voice packages once your sign-up bonus rates end. Cox, for example, offers a Bronze Bundle that includes 140 channels plus internet and voice for $90 per month. But after your promotional period ends, the regular cost is $190 per month.
The Verdict: Even after you pay for Internet service, streaming subscriptions will save you a substantial amount of money over traditional cable.
Music Streaming vs. Purchase
Spotify Premium: This $10 per month plan is ad-free and allows unlimited skips of songs you don’t like along with the ability to listen offline.
Pandora Premium: Also $10 per month, this service allows you to search and play any songs and is also ad-free with the ability to listen offline and create your own playlists.
Buying Music: Buying new or popular digital singles off iTunes or Amazon typically costs $1.29 per song. Digital album prices vary — Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy” album is $9.50 to download off Amazon and $10 to download off iTunes, but the CD, which releases several weeks after the digital album is selling for $19 on Amazon.
The Verdict: Streaming services are a better bang for your buck overall, but it’s worth making room in your budget if you’d like to buy a favorite album to have at your fingertips. Just stick to digital purchases … because it’s 2018.
Meal Kits vs. Grocery Shopping
Hello Fresh and Blue Apron: A two-person plan is $60 per week for three meals per week. Typical meals include spiced chicken and couscous with sauteed summer vegetables and tzatziki (Blue Apron) and cranberry apple pork chops with asparagus and herbed potatoes (Hello Fresh.) Both companies offer family plans for four-people and menu options for vegetarian and gluten-free customers.
Grocery shopping: We did the math on both of those menu options, using Walmart’s grocery prices. The total Walmart cost for the spiced chicken and couscous ingredients was $25.92 while the total cost for the cranberry apple pork chops was $23.71. While subscription services send you only the quantity of ingredients you will need to complete that recipe, at the store you have to buy full packages of spices, sauces and other ingredients no matter how much the recipe calls for.
The Verdict: It’s a toss-up. These meal kits, Palmer noted, are all about convenience. You are paying for balanced, perfectly portioned meals to be delivered your front door, saving you the time and energy of trekking to the store for ingredients. If you are planning to make the exact same recipes that these companies offer, then they offer a bit of savings. But if you want to use simpler recipes and shop on your own, you will save more money at the store.
Clothing Subscriptions vs. Buying New Clothes
Rent the Runway: This company is the OG clothing rental subscription that set the mold for the host of like-minded businesses that followed. RTR offers a $90 per month starter membership, which includes 4 pieces per month, including cocktail attire, along with the option to swap out one item each month. The $159 per month unlimited membership allows you to have 4 pieces on rotation at a time with unlimited swaps. This subscription also allows includes black tie attire.
Buying New Clothes: Rent the Runway boasts pieces from high-end designers that retail for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. But you can also buy office-ready staples at traditional retailers such as Old Navy, H&M and department stores such as Macy’s or Dillard’s for a fraction of the designer cost.
The Verdict: Buying well-made wardrobe staples that you can get several years’ worth of wear out of is infinitely cheaper if you shop chain retailers that often offer sales and coupons. However, if you like to change up your wardrobe often, or have a job that requires you to make multiple appearances at high-end functions, then borrowing those expensive clothes rather than buying them will save you hundreds in the long run. This is definitely one subscription that’s worth trying before you commit.
Shaving Kits vs. Buying Your Own Razors
Harry’s Razors: You can buy a trial set for $8, which includes a razor and a trial size shave gel. After that, new blades are $1.87 each and ship in boxes of eight based on how often you shave.
Dollar Shave Club: The Executive plan for $9 per month gets you four, 6-blade cartridges per month with the handle in the first box. The 4x plan for $6 per month sends you four, 4-blade cartridges per month, also with the handle in the first box.
Buying your own razors: We found the Gillette Fusion5 Pro Shield at Target for $9.99, which includes for a razor and two cartridges. A four-pack of blade refills retails for $19.99.
The Verdict: Get the razor subscription. While you can bring the price of store-bought razors down by using coupons you will still pay less by having the blades delivered to your door.
Before you sign up for any subscription services, Palmer cautioned, consider a few things:
- Is this in your budget? There are subscriptions for just about everything — books, wine, kids toys, pet gear, makeup, workout clothes, accessories and the list goes on. “If it’s in your budget and it gives you joy,” Palmer said, “then there’s not necessarily something wrong with it.”
- How much do you need? When starting any new subscription, choose the smallest or lowest-priced plan to get a feel for how much of a product you will actually use. “Doing it as little as possible while still getting the savings that come from that subscription service can be a really good approach because then you aren’t ending up with much more than you want,” Palmer said.
- Am I still using this three months later? “Limit yourself,” Palmer said. “Make a note on your calendar to cancel it or at least reevaluate after three months because the danger a lot of people get into is with that auto renew.”
Sarah Netter is a freelance writer living in New Orleans.
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