Subscribing to a monthly box of random shit treats your financial goals like a dartboard and your money like the darts...while you're wearing blindfold and drunk off your ass.

Fuck Your Blue Barking Birch Box

It’s time for another edition of Piggy Complains About Wasteful Spending! In this episode, I’m going to cover a recent phenomenon so antithetical to both minimalism and frugal spending that it has literally left me apoplectic with indignation.

I am speaking, of course, of the monthly subscription box.

As best I can tell, the trend started with Birch Box, a monthly package of beauty product samples to which you can subscribe. Here’s how the model works: you pay a monthly subscription and in exchange you’re sent a monthly box of stuff. You do not get to choose the stuff, you are not told what the stuff will be, and usually you don’t get to exchange the stuff for stuff you would prefer.

Most of the companies providing this service have a theme: there’s the dog theme, the nerd theme, the clothing theme, the healthy snack theme, the makeup theme, I shit you not the Ron Swanson theme, the I-am-incapable-of-meal-planning theme, the affluent vegan theme, the agoraphobic bookworm theme, and the I-find-the-wine-selection-at-my-local-liquor-store-intimidating theme, just to name a few.

The point, I guess, is that everyone loves surprises (except me, I fucking hate them). Getting a surprise box in the mail is exciting! I wonder what it could be! Every month a new and intriguing mystery to solve! Here, just have my money in exchange for this regularly scheduled feeling of delight and curiosity!

It’s a waste of money

Listen, I get it. I play video games. I know how goddamn exciting it is to pick the lock on a safe in Fallout 3 to find like six Nuka-Cola bottles, a skill book, and four boxes of ammunition. Hell, I find that shit exciting even when the contents of the safe are a single bottle cap and a rusty lawnmower blade. If there ain’t loot to collect, I don’t want to move my thumbs through forty hours of gameplay.

But we don’t live in a post-nuclear wasteland where survival is dependent on lucky scavenging finds. Therefore, we can afford to plan our purchases with deliberation and an eye toward our loftier financial goals.

We don’t live in a post-nuclear wasteland where survival is dependent on lucky scavenging finds. We can afford to plan our purchases with deliberation and an eye toward our loftier financial goals.

My brother subscribes to one of these things called Loot Crate. It’s the unrepentantly nerdy fanboy version of the monthly subscription box, and it costs him about $12 a month, or $144 for the whole damn year.

The problem is—no, one of the problems is that my brother is perpetually broke and underemployed. He does not have the money to rent his own apartment, let alone disposable income. So he’s paying for this subscription box instead of saving up for a place of his own, contributing to a retirement account, or making any move toward financial independence.

And while Loot Crate is but one of what I perceive to be his many money-wasting activities, it sticks out to me as one of the most absurd. Because it’s not like he’s spending $12 a month on a game or comic book that he really, really likes and wants. He’s spending $12 a month on random shit that he did not personally choose and may not even like. He’s spending $144 a year on uncertainty.

Case in point, he gives some of his Loot Crate loot to me when it doesn’t fit his particular nerdy milieu. And while I dig those Game of Thrones magnets and will definitely use them to affix wedding invitations to my fridge because I can’t resist the grisly irony, they are not something I would have chosen for myself. I don’t particularly need or want them in my life, I would never have paid money for them, and I’m going to eventually throw them away.

Every time I look at these things I’m reminded of how broke my brother is and how his financial situation could be a little bit better if he wasn’t literally casting his money out into the ether in this weird ritual to summon a surprise box of shit he may not even want or like every damn month.

It’s the fucking opposite of minimalism

Not to be outdone in wasteful spending, my aunt subscribes to Bark Box, which is the Monthly Box ‘O Shit, Spoiled Dog Edition. Now don’t get me wrong: spoiling my dog is like my third most important fiscal priority (right after paying the mortgage so my dog has a place to live and maintaining my car so my dog has a vehicle from which to stick his head whilst traveling at high speeds).

But dogs are relatively simple creatures. They need food, a few toys to tear to shreds, and the attention of their humans in order to be happy.

My aunt with the Bark Box subscription tried to get me to sign up so my house beast would have loads of toys to play with and new treats to fatten him up, just like her little floofers. The floofers in question are frighteningly obese Yorkshire terriers with perpetual diarrhea who don’t get enough exercise and as a result barely have the energy to play.

The contents of her monthly Bark Boxes just kinda… pile up around her house. Along with the stuff from her other subscription boxes, including rapidly expiring Blue Apron meals.

I can only assume that given enough time, the toys and bones and stuff will eventually bury her porky little pups. So I just told her that my dog would be way more thrilled to play with the actual box than its contents. And empty cardboard boxes are pretty easy to come by.

Having too much stuff literally stresses me out. I don’t enjoy finding a place for useless items in my home. I don’t like looking at an unnecessary thing and regretting the space it takes up or the money that was wasted on its purchase. I hate the thought of unwanted stuff eventually ending up in a landfill, in effect, literally throwing money away.

My dog is one of the bright, shining beacons in my life. He’s therefore allowed to take up as much space as he wants. But I don’t need to fill my house with random, unchosen toys—for him or for me—that are barely going to get used when an open car window and an empty cardboard box will fill us both with much more joy.

Spending money should be intentional

As we bitches have said before, there’s nothing wrong with spending money on a simple pleasure once in awhile to get you through the monotony of life. My issue with the wastefulness of subscription boxes is that it’s so fucking mindless. It’s the ultimate way to burn your money without thinking about it.

It’s not just one-time wasteful spending. It’s repeat wasteful spending that you set and forget. It’s not just clutter that you carelessly buy once. It’s an invitation for clutter to enter your life on a monthly basis. It’s not just a convenience charge. It’s trained laziness, a habitual inability to spend a little bit of effort picking out the things that you need and want before purchasing them.

Yes, I am still the same person who wrote about how shaming poor people for their latte purchases is fucking evil. But spending money should be intentional. Subscribing to a monthly box of random surprise shit is basically treating your financial goals like a dartboard and your money like the darts… while you’re wearing a blindfold and drunk off your ass.

Subscribing to a monthly box of surprise shit is basically treating your financial goals like a dartboard and your money like the darts.

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17 thoughts on “Fuck Your Blue Barking Birch Box

  1. This was just the post I didn’t know I needed.

    I haven’t been in the financial position to subscribe to any but ohhh I have wanted to! And for what? Tiny samples of makeup I won’t use or will use once and never use again (I hardly wear makeup?)… guilty of wanting the Loot Crate but I know it will just be junk from movies or shows I don’t even like… I could go on but you said it all above so I’ll just go read the post again when I feel the twinge to subscribe to a box!!!

  2. I haven’t signed up for any subscription boxes myself but I have given them as gifts. If somebody bought me a subscription, then sure why not. I didn’t pay for it. Lol. I wouldn’t go out and sign up for one on my own, however, the snack box is probably the only one I would consider signing up for it just because it’s food rather than stuff. I don’t know about you, but the idea of getting a food surprise in the mail sounds fun. Especially if you’re hungry and happen to be low on groceries. 😛

  3. I admit being lured by those useless boxes…until I see the price then I think “nah man.” I think the only acceptable reason to buy them is if you’re buying them as a gift for someone. Though, I’m not sure what occasion “box of rando useless junk” is best for.

    1. I agree that a one-time gift box is a nice surprise. I’d be tickled pink if I received a box of snacks or books or lotions in the mail from a friend. But the repeated monthly boxes that you buy for yourself? That’s where I’ve got a problem.

  4. I kind of enjoy Blue Apron. We pick maybe six meals a month and it is fun preparing them as a couple. Sure it is a luxury but we can easily afford it. I’m already financially independent and retired early and wealthy from corporate life and making 100% of our living expenses piddling on side gigs two days a week. I could also afford a Porsche but Blue Apron is pretty cheap and a Porsche isn’t. But for people still working to get where we are that’s great advice. You nailed everything wrong with the concept.

  5. This post is ON POINT. I’m the last person to harp about splurging on things, but I agree that all spending should be intentional, splurges or not. Subscription boxes are just filled with cast-offs that most people don’t want, disguised as a little surprise at your doorstep. Deceptively evil. The worst are the clothing ones–my office is rampant with boxes from Stitch Fix, Trunk Club, etc. Clothes are so specific to the person, I don’t see how anyone thinks having someone else pick out clothes for them is a good idea. Go buy your own damn clothes!

    1. Thank you so much!!! I share your frustration. The last thing I need is more stuff that someone ELSE picked out. That’s what Christmas is for.

  6. I only have one of these subscriptions (Ipsy), and I just cancelled it. What the hell was I thinking? Thank you for making me see the damn light.

  7. I do think there is a small value you’re overlooking: I *love* mail. Even if I know what it is. There’s even a book-a-month service that you can subscribe to that let’s you pick which book you receive, or skip that month indefinitely. And penpals are fun, but I mostly just get free catalogues from places I shop at to get something to excitingly flip through. There are also some food subscription services, or toiletries that you’d be buying anyway, that are super targeted. So I don’t think they’re all bad! 14 bucks a month is still cheaper than a lot of movie theaters, DVDs, and even recently released ebooks so it really depends on what motivates you.

    I do think that you pointed out some major flaws of the industry that need to change- inflated products cost because of another person it has to go through, not needing items, clutter, stuff you don’t even like. But if it’s something you know you’ll automatically like regardless of what it is (there are chocolate boxes, so enough said there) it could be just as good of a moral investment as lattes. Regardless, an important article for people who don’t actually want them, and needed to hear this to save their money for something better!

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