Peak Consumer: Cash Flow Suicide By A Thousand Box Cuts


OUCH!  Hold on a second, guys.  I just sliced my thumb opening my latest box of gourmet goat cheeses from Azerbaijan.  Man that smarts!  Mmmm, but gourmet goat cheese is the best!  

Remember when product of the month clubs were a joke?  Remember how infuriated we were when Clark Griswold got his “Jelly of the Month Club” Christmas bonus instead of the money he needed for his in-ground pool?

They’re not a joke anymore.  Now they’re popular.  At least they seem to be popular.  Subscription-based Box clubs are everywhere.  There are thousands on the internet filling almost every niche.

I got to thinking, is this peak consumerism?  Is this where the consumer finally flames out?  Is this as nuts as we can possibly get in spending our money on stuff we don’t really need?  Buying a mystery box of stuff with a blindfold on so we can get a little surprise in the mail every month then calling 1-800-Got-Junk a year later to haul it away?

It’s not enough to have monthly bills for just about every little necessity or convenience in our daily lives.  Mystery Money Man had an excellent article in August about what we spend these days on communication alone:  cell phones, cable, internet, satellite radio, Netflix, newspapers and magazines.  All subscriptions that together can easily cost $500.  Many of them small charges that we don’t even notice.  But the costs of all these little subscriptions add up quickly and absolutely kill cash flow.  Mystery Money Man called it, Death By A Thousand Cuts: The Startling Cost of Communication.  Didn’t mean to steal your title, Mystery!   

Now there are box club subscriptions for the impulse stuff we’d normally see in the checkout aisle at Target.  You know, the stuff you feel a little bit guilty as you add it to the conveyor belt because if it’s food you know it’s bad for you.  Or if it’s a gadget you’ll probably only use it once then it will end up lost in the junk drawer to pile up with the rest of the random crap until you can’t ignore it anymore and you end up throwing it out because the drawer won’t close.  That stuff.

Here’s a random list of some of the random items box clubs offer for a monthly or quarterly fee:

  • Scented candles
  • Scented candles with surprise prizes buried in them
  • Lotions
  • T-shirts
  • Socks.  Lots of crazy socks!  Used to be my least favorite Christmas present. Now people subscribe to get them sent monthly
  • Monogrammed shit.  Your initials on random crap… sent to you monthly!
  • Monogrammed socks
  • The Steelers logo on random crap.  I only found Steelers schwag for some reason
  • Doggy scarves
  • Nerd stuff
  • Stuff nerd icon Will Wheaton thinks are nerdy enough for you
  • Geek stuff
  • Cool stuff
  • Stuff pop icon Pharrell thinks are cool enough for you
  • Adult coloring books.  Not what you think… I checked
  • Macarons.  $40/month for a dozen
  • Ramen.  $25/month… Where I come from, $25 is a ten-year supply
  • Disney mug of the month.  What?  One Disney mug is enough… Okay, maybe two
  • Enchanted crystals
  • Inspirational rocks
  • Moss.  MOSS!
  • Craft beer.  I’m on board with this one
  • Craft jerky.  I just subscribed
  • Grooming gear
  • Tactical gear
  • Tactical grooming gear.  Okay, this one doesn’t exist, but it probably should
  • Pocket knives
  • Anything pumpkin flavored
  • Anything having to do with Halloween
  • Limited edition decorative phone cases.  Who doesn’t need a different one each month?  Sidenote:  I hate when places use “limited edition” to sell stuff to make it seem more special.  Unless it’s numbered and you can show me the broken mold, it’s not limited edition.
  • And the créme de la créme of all subscription box clubs… the Trust Me You’re Going to Love the Crap We Stuff In This Box Mystery box.  This guy will tell you why you need it.  It amounts to, Because you like opening birthday presents, right?

I’m not saying box clubs are bad.  There are some very useful monthly subscription services that can legitimately add value.  Dollar Shave Club comes to mind.  There’s also a bunch of kid-friendly educational activity boxes that are a tempting alternative to Sesame Street or anything on a screen.  There are quite a few, actually, so I don’t mean to tear them all down.

It has just gotten a little out of hand.  Especially with the mystery boxes.  And I think the sheer abundance of these box clubs illustrates better than anything that subscriptions in general have spun out of control and consumers have gone a little crazy.

It’s one thing to splurge on an item one time.  It’s a completely different thing to commit to a recurring charge on your credit card that you barely notice.  That’s why the subscription model is so attractive to sellers.  Consumers get numb to the charge then forget to reassess whether the item is really worth the money.

Everyone is out for a piece of your monthly cash flow and it’s only going to get worse.  Box clubs on their own are harmless and can be fun.  But taken with everything else they can also be really destructive to your financial future.  All of those little monthly charges can really cut at your cash flow until there’s nothing left to save.

This simple formula from Mr. Money Mustache may help.  Multiply every monthly expense by $173.  That’s what you would have in savings in 10 years (compounded annually at 7%) if you didn’t spend that money.  Every $12 subscription is more than $2000!

So the next time you’re about to voluntarily join that Jelly of the Month Club, just think about it for a second… Wouldn’t you rather have the pool?

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  1. Hilarious, and so true! So many good points that it’s hard to pick just one or two 🙂 I don’t really buy into any subscription services as I think they’re a bit ridiculous – I mean, I’ve already got a collection of drawers that won’t close and another collection of empty cardboard boxes, so I’m fairly set for life.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anything having to do with Halloween? Seriously? Can you imaging getting Halloween crap in January? As if the big box stores don’t start selling too far ahead of holidays as it is – now you can get a little box subscription for holiday junk year-round.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that one was pretty surprising to me. Then again, I have friends who are really into Halloween. It’s by far their favorite holiday. I could see them getting a kick out of that kind of subscription.

      I don’t have a problem with that one as much as the mystery boxes. I just can’t get over that. Here. We’ll stuff a box full of random “cool stuff” (junk) that probably nobody else would buy, but we can’t get rid of it any other way… I don’t know. Maybe that’s not really how it works, but it feels that way to me.

      Then there’s the fact that there is too many subscriptions in general. It’s such an easy way to lose control of your finances.

      Thanks for the comment, Chris!


  3. I saw a review of a beauty make up boxxy thing in the UK that was talking about how much cheaper the random items were than buying them individually at only £10 per month. As my annual make up spend comes in at £10 per year, it doesn’t seem like a winner to me!

    We’ve had a year’s subscription for coffee before, with a different coffee bean posted each month (special birthday gift). As well as being a nice gift, it cut down needing to buy coffee as part of our usual shop and the quality was far better. We’d rather keep it as a treat though, than permanently inflating our lifestyle

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m actually tempted to join the sock club even though I ripped on it in this post (it was too easy). I see people at the office with great socks all the time and mine are pretty bland. And I’m just not gonna go to the store for cool socks.

      Subscriptions in general are just getting out of control so I felt like I had to write this article. Way too many companies vying for our monthly pay. Thanks for reading, Sarah!


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