One of the most appreciated gifts you can give is a subscription box: a package of curated items delivered to the recipient’s door on a recurring basis. They’re increasingly popular too. According to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the subscription market has grown by more than 100% a year over the past five years.
There is a box for just about everyone on your list, whether the person is into beauty and wellness, gourmet food and beverages, clothes and accessories, books, art — and pretty much everything else.
However, unlike other gifts that you pay for once and you’re done, with a subscription box you will be billed on a predetermined schedule. Almost all the companies operate online, and the most common form of payment is a credit card. Since you don’t want someone else’s present to wind up as your future debt, take these 9 tips into consideration.
1. Seek Specials
Ezra Dabah, the founder of kidpik, a subscription box for fashion-focused girls, says you may be able to reduce the initial outlay with a special code. During high gifting seasons, subscription box companies ramp up the discounts to entice new customers.
In the search bar, type in the name of the company you’re interested in and then “promo code.” If there is one, you’ll score a major discount on the price right from the get-go.
You can also check subscription box review sites, such as MySubscriptionAddiction, for promo codes and special trial links. These sites often have affiliate relationships with the company that allows them to pass on a discount to the reader.
2. Consider the Future Payments
You may feel comfortable with the first payment, but what about the following one? Or the one after that? It is extremely important to think ahead, says consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch.
“You have to take the long view,” says Woroch. “Ask yourself if you can really afford it later on. Upcoming personal issues might arise. Maybe your budget is in flux. Expensive things happen in life, and many of them are unexpected.”
In short, if you feel financially wobbly, don’t take on this extra obligation. Wait until you know your budget can sustain the purchase in the long-term before you go down this gift path.
3. Be Sure You Can Press Pause
JC Stock, the founder of the Shots Box, a monthly subscription service for craft spirits, suggests focusing on companies that let you suspend deliveries in the event you can’t afford them.
“If someone is on a budget or comes up against a financial hardship unexpectedly, Shots Box does give subscribers the option to pause service for a month — or several months — and then resume when they’re ready.”
It’s a smart policy. You may hit hard times, so being able to hit pause will give you peace of mind when ordering. Just let the person you bought the box for know that there will be a slight delay in the next delivery.
4. Consider Advance Payments
In general, you’ll pay for the subscription box each month (or quarter, for quarterly subscriptions), but some companies offer a substantial cut on the price if you pay for a year’s worth of the boxes in advance.
BirchBox, for instance, permits buyers to choose the $10-a-month option, or you can purchase an entire year’s worth of boxes with a single payment, in which case the boxes amount to $7 a month. If you don’t want to worry about how you’ll keep track of the upcoming payments, it may be a wise decision.
5. Be Prudent With These Presents
Want to give a subscription box to everyone on your list? That’s understandable, but hold up, says shopping expert Trae Bodge. Only order for people you’ve budgeted for already.
“Make a list of the recipients and what you can really afford to spend,” says Bodge. “You may be able to handle one or two subscription boxes but more than that can overwhelm your credit card bill.”
For example, one box at $25 per month can seem inexpensive, but eight will be $200 a month — a figure that can put a cramp in your cash flow and wind up as debt.
6. Prepare for the Charges
The last thing you want is for the expense of a subscription box to be dropped on your credit card when you’re not prepared to pay the balance in full. The remedy is simple.
“After you buy the box as a gift, mark the date on your calendar for when it will hit your statement,” says Bodge. This is especially crucial for quarterly arrangements because they’re easier to forget about.
7. Use a Rewards Credit Card to Get a Little Back
If you have a rewards credit card that allows you to accumulate points or cash back, consider using it to pay for the subscription box. “Always try to get the best benefits from your credit card,” says Bodge. “It’s what rewards cards are for in the first place.”
To make sure that you will profit from the gift, send payments in on time and keep the balance to zero. If you don’t, interest and fees will be added to what you owe, and you’ll end up in expensive debt. And of course, any interest and fees you incur will offset the benefits gained from the rewards you earned.
8. Check for Quality & Reliability
Make sure the company is sound and the products are valued correctly. Conduct research before working with any subscription box company.
“Read other peoples’ reviews to see how they like the products and if they’ve had any problems with the company,” says Bodge. “There are tons of people who create YouTube videos about subscription boxes. You can watch them opening the boxes and rate them. Instagram is also helpful since influencers will post good photos of the items. But also go on Twitter, since that’s where you’ll see any customer service issues.”
If something happens to the company before you get all of the boxes for which you’ve paid, be sure to contact them immediately. If all else fails, dispute the charges through your credit card company.
9. Mind Your Credit Card Statement
Both Bodge and Woroch are adamant about monitoring your credit card statements after ordering any subscription box. Scan the statements carefully to ensure that the amount of each charge and the frequency of charges are what you expected. And, when it’s time for the service to stop, you should not be billed again after that date.
Mistakes do happen, though, so if you spot any inaccuracies, jump into action. You should be able to resolve the problem directly with the company, but if you can’t, contact your credit card issuer immediately to file a dispute.
The Gift That Really Does Keep Giving
By keeping these tips in mind, you should be in a great position to give an impressive, individualized present that arrives on a continual basis — without sacrificing your own financial well-being. With a little planning and the right subscription, you could give a gift that truly keeps giving all year long.