Subscription Boxes: Pig in a Poke or Pleasant Surprise?

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Delivered right to your door and who knows what is inside -- oh, the excitement of it all.

Subscription boxes are the modern take on whatever-of-the-month clubs. You order online, and every so often a "curated" assortment surprises you. Forrest Gump could say, "Life is like a subscription box. You never know what you're gonna get."

Foodies, Fashionistas and Fido

There are boxes for foodies, do-it-yourselfers, babies, beauty lovers, geeks and gamers, travelers, home and garden enthusiasts, pet owners and many, many for fashionistas. There are boxes curated by celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Nicky Hilton and Coco Rocha. Most services have a profile to fill out to serve your preferences. This is all part of the "discovery model," meaning how you, the consuming public, can find new stuff amid a bewildering array of choice.

This model has become much more than a cottage industry. NatureBox, a healthy snack box company has more than 100,000 subscribers. Another snack food subscription service, LoveWithFood, had no trouble raising $1.4 million in startup money.

So, are they a deal? Depends. It's a good opportunity to sample products. Yet, as reviewer Amanda Haley said June 14 of her Indie gift box, "As with any subscription box, there always seems to be one item that I don't 'get.'" However, many subscription companies offer first-timer deals, sometimes even free boxes, like Julep does for beauty products. Discounts are available for many services just by searching online for coupon code or deals. Sites like mysubscriptionaddiction.com also post frequent discount codes and deals.

Websites are popping up to cover it all. One of the more established, findsubscriptionboxes.com, lists 33 categories. Some sites offer reviews from customers and offer helpful stay away recommendations. Some YouTubers make un-boxing videos for your edification and entertainment. My favorite reviewer/un-boxer (OK, she's an acquired taste, turn your volume down) dramatically opens her Glossybox.

A Cooler Package of Stuff

Subscription boxes can solve the dilemma what to get for that person who has everything. They are also an easy way to remember kids away at college or camp. Or they can indulge a passion of yours. Speaking of passion, adult-themed boxes are available. Dejamor's offerings are curated by romance experts, and couples receive his and her boxes.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Some of the better-known subscriptions are Birchbox for beauty products, Loot Crate for geeks (very highly rated) and Wantable for fashion accessories. Birchbox, one of the first and largest subscription box companies, has a loyalty reward system for subscribers. Its videos of product editors and customers opening boxes are fun and educational.

The concept has become so popular that large companies like Procter & Gamble (PG) are getting in, offering Gillette razor and blade subscriptions. Other boxes for men include the Dollar Shave Club (famous for its outrageous and hilarious commercials), Manpacks (underwear, socks and hygiene essentials) and Trunk Club (high-end men's clothing picked by stylists).

Many subscription box companies are small, and while researching, I found a few companies reviewed just a year ago had gone out of business. Check recent reviews, get a first-timer single box, and maybe see how many total customers they have -- the bigger, the better. Then get ready for a pleasant surprise.

Top-Rated Subscription Box Services

Kiwi Crate -- educational toys for kids 3-8.
SpicySubscriptions -- adult theme.
Escape Monthly -- for Walter Mitty travelers.
POPSUGAR MustHave -- full-sized fashion, beauty, food and home products.
WhimseyBox -- craft and DIY projects.
Twentyfourward -- artist-designed T-shirts with part of proceeds to artist's chosen charity.
My Cotton Bunny -- feminine hygiene with a surprise gift.
BarkBox -- for Fido and Fluffy and their people.
Indie Gift Box -- indie artists with hand-crafted items.
Mystery Tackle Box -- for anglers.
The Handy Box -- for those who can't take another trip to Home Depot (HD).

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15 Products You Can Almost Always Get for Free
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Subscription Boxes: Pig in a Poke or Pleasant Surprise?
If you want to take a drive across the country but haven't got wheels and don't want to rent a car, there are websites like Auto Driveaway that will help you find a car to drive for someone who is moving and doesn't want to drive their own car. For the return trip, either wait for a car to drive back or book a cheap flight home. It's a great way to see the country if you have the time.
Companies want to know more about you so they can market to you. If you're willing to give up some information about yourself -- like your career title or location - you can get a free year's subscription to a variety of magazines. In recent months, we've seen popular titles like W Magazine, Wired, Wine Spectator, Maxim and Lucky, all for free.
It's a given that your friends should buy your drinks on your birthday, but before you get to the bar, keep in mind that plenty of businesses offer free things on your special day as well. The trick is to plan ahead and hit as many of them as you can.
Many restaurants offer free meals for kids if they're accompanied by a paying adult. However, some do so only on certain nights, so it's worth checking MyKidsEatFree.com to find restaurants in your area that offer free kids' meals. This site could also be handy for diners without kids who want to make sure they don't visit on nights when a throng of children is likely to be there.
Did you know that Aug. 3 is Free National Watermelon Day? Almost every day of the year is some type of national food day, and restaurants are always looking for opportunities to run promotions. Check your local restaurants, or do a Google search for your city and the free food you're looking for. While you might not be able to score freebies regularly enough to avoid ever paying for food, you can certain get at least monthly free food, drinks, and the like.
If you're a fan of phones with Google's (GOOG) operating system, then you're in luck; so many new Android smartphones are released these days that the market has become saturated -- and as a result, most models quickly fall to $0 (with new two-year contracts) after a few months. Even trendy models with lots of media hype eventually follow the same deal path; in fact, based on patterns we've seen thus far, we're predicting that the Samsung Galaxy S5 could become free with a contract as soon as this summer.
We regularly see both Newegg and Fry's Electronics offer free anti-virus software, to the extent that you could get away without ever paying for it. The caveat is that you must buy it and then redeem a rebate to make it free. But paperwork is a small price to pay in the pursuit of a good deal. If you're adverse to rebates, there are also always-free options like Avast.
Getting a full album for free can be difficult, but with the number of music credit freebies we see bundled with Amazon (AMZN) deals, you should be able to amass a stockpile of credits to purchase a number of MP3 downloads that tempt you. Amazon has about 50,000 free songs available for download. Plus, Apple's (AAPL) iTunes, Starbucks (SBUX) and other vendors tend to distribute free songs on a weekly basis. Free music downloads can be found elsewhere, too.
Besides going to the library -- which is an obvious first place to start for free books -- there are lots of ways to get free digital books. Project Gutenberg has more than 39,000 free eBooks, and there is a Free Books app for the iPad. Free e-books are listed on DealNews. If you have shelves full of physical books that you'd like to swap out, sites such as PaperBack Swap and Bookmooch allow you to mail your books to members who request them, and you can request books from others. The more books you give, the more you can receive. These sites are free to join, but the sender does pay postage.
While cutting the cable cord entirely isn't as easy as you might think, the ways to consume movies and TV without paying a cent include free streaming sites like Hulu and Amazon Prime. Keep an eye out for free movie screenings; large studios will frequently try to give a film early buzz by showing it for free to audiences. Additionally, Fandango frequently offers buy one, get one ticket deals for certain cardholders; and now that it's summertime, many parks, libraries and towns have movie nights.
While they might not always come in the exact dimensions you'd like, you can regularly find some sort of freebie photo print deal from the likes of Snapfish, Walgreen (WAG) and CVS (CVS). Shutterfly also offers regular freebies, but shipping will tack on a small fee.
Many health and beauty companies offer free samples, and like free magazines, you'll have to offer up some personal information to get the goods. Keep an eye out for free samples from Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT). Individual brands also offer free samples of new cosmetics they're trying to promote, but if you want to skip the customary six to eight weeks for delivery, you can instead scout out free samples at drugstore counters and Sephora.
Free apps are everywhere. And at some point even the typically expensive titles see a temporary price drop. If you're particular, set up an email alert and wait for the app of your choosing to fall in price.
While you can't always wait around for free shipping when a special promotion is on the table, everyday orders that aren't time-sensitive can benefit from waiting for a shipping discount. We frequently see a variety of popular vendors offer some sort of shipping deals, which makes it hard to justify spending your cash on the service for an average order.
As a society, we often dispose of perfectly good items in the pursuit of finding something newer or better, so before you make any large purchases, because sure to check Craigslist and Freecycle for free goods. Often, people just don't want to make the effort to move or properly trash them, so you can sometimes get something substantial -- like a wardrobe or shelving unit -- without paying. It goes without saying though that you should make sure any and all items are in working order and in good shape. You don't want to be hauling away another person's junk, even if it is free.
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