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December 27, 2016

Birch Box and others are the bane of financial advisors

No doubt that most Americans are in a financial crisis; what with many living paycheck to paycheck, with no emergency funds on hand and no long-term savings in the bank or market. With that in mind, money advisors dole out advice on how to start the new year on better financial footing.

So what's MarketWatch's No. 1 advice for 2017? Ditch those subscription box services!

Marketwatch rightly notes that there is a subscription box service for everything these days, from a “salami of the month” club to beauty products to toys for a pet. In fact, Americans made about 21.4 million visits to subscription box retailers’ websites in January 2016, up from only 722,000 visits in January 2015, according to the e-commerce and consumer analytics company Connexity’s Hitwise division, in a report for the research firm Euromonitor International.

Although several subscription services have more than a million subscribers, such as Birchbox and Ipsy, two cosmetics services, most Americans probably shouldn’t be stocking up, some experts have said. Birchbox and Ipsy did not respond to MarketWatch's requests for comment.

“We’re spending before we even save and then never look back,” said Brandon Hayes, a financial planner and vice president at oXYGen Financial, a financial services firm based in Georgia. “With a cashless society, it's tough to appreciate a dollar when you never see one.

According to MarketWatch, most Americans have barely enough savings to even cover their household necessities, let alone sign up to receive a recurring monthly gift. And nearly half of US adults couldn't cover an emergency expense of $400 without selling something or borrowing money, according to the Federal Reserve.

To be sure, MarketWatch notes there may be a place in the budget for some subscription services that replenish household items people already need, like Dollar Shave Club, which sells inexpensive razors. Yet for the most part, many consumers would benefit from putting their credit cards away and just saying “No” to items they don’t need, said Rachel Podnos, an attorney and financial planner based in Washington, DC. Particularly for people with lower incomes, “you really need to live within your means and cut expenses wherever you can,” she said.

And even if consumers wake up and decide to cut the cord on their monthly surprises, most subscription service companies make it awfully difficult to cancel. 


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