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 subscription box 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-need-help-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!
But is that feeling… worth the money? And is the contents of your subscription box even all that necessary or enriching to your life? I’m here to systematically answer these questions and shit all over your fun!
A subscription box is 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 4 to find like six Nuka-Cola bottles, a skill book, and four boxes of ammunition. Hell, I find that shit exciting even when the only thing in the safe is a 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.
My brother subscribes to a subscription box called Loot Crate. It’s the unrepentantly nerdy fanboy version of the monthly subscription box. 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. Or contributing to a retirement account. Or making any move toward financial independence at all.
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 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. I think of 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.
Subscription boxes are the fucking opposite of minimalism
Not to be outdone in wasteful spending, my aunt subscribes to Bark Box. It’s 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.
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. All I have to do is ask my friends for the boxes their subscriptions came in.
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 wasted on its purchase. And I definitely I hate the thought of unwanted stuff eventually ending up in a landfill. In effect, that’s literally throwing money away.
My dog is one of the bright, shining beacons in my life. I therefore allow him 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.
And it’s not just one-time wasteful spending. It’s repeat wasteful spending you set and forget. Nor is it just clutter 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 is 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 subscription 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.