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Subscribe and Save? Or Not

By , September 7th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

subscribe or not?

A lot of websites now offer “Subscribe and Save” programs. If you agree to have an item delivered on a set schedule (such as every week, month, every other month, etc.), you are given a slight discount over the single purchase price. These deals are typically found on health/beauty products, pet products, paper products, and some non-perishable grocery items. Things that are routinely used up and replaced are good candidates for subscription programs.

A recent example that I encountered was pet wipes on They were roughly $20 for a 4-pack for a one-time purchase. If I agreed to subscribe, the price dropped to approximately $19. At first glance, it seemed like a decent deal since my dog goes through these fairly quickly. When I really questioned the deal, however, I decided that it wasn’t really in my favor. There are cases where the deal may work for you, but you have to ask yourself some questions, first.

How often do you use the product?

Subscribe and Save programs really only work if you use a lot of the product. If you aren’t going through it quickly enough to keep up with the new deliveries, you’re going to end up with a backlog of product that you have to store. You’ll also have money tied up in stuff you aren’t able to use.

Do other stores sell it cheaper?

When shopping for anything you have to know your prices. It’s no different for Subscribe and Save items. Can you find the item cheaper at a local store or another website? If so, buy it there as you need it rather than signing up for a program.

Can you set your own re-delivery time frame?

Some stores force you into accepting delivery every month or every two months, for example, whether you go through the item that fast or not. Others will let you choose your own delivery schedule. If it’s not something you go through that quickly, you could choose to have it delivered only two or three times per year. This would prevent a backlog of product and may be the most cost-effective option.

Are there frequent sales/coupons on the item?

If the item is something that is often on sale (like laundry detergent or toilet paper), you’ll probably do better by just waiting for the sales and stocking up with enough to get you through to the next sale. Sales rotate pretty regularly so if you pay attention, you’ll learn that your brand of detergent goes on sale every six weeks, for example. Buy it then. Sale prices are often much cheaper than Subscribe and Save prices.

Can you cancel the program at any time?

Read the fine print before you agree. Do you have to stay enrolled in the program for six months or a year? Or can you cancel when you want? If a retailer near you drops the price on your item, you find a cheaper, acceptable substitute, or you need to stop buying the item altogether (i.e., the dog dies) you don’t want to remain locked into the program if it’s no longer the most cost effective option. Know when and how you can get out if you need to.

Is the item readily available near you?

Is the convenience factor worth it? Sometimes there will be products that are hard to find locally. In my case, I was having trouble finding the dog food my dog loves locally. A major retailer quit carrying it, leaving the local (expensive) pet store as the only place I could get it. All of the websites I looked at sold it for a similar price, too. In that case, it was worth it for me to enroll in a Subscribe and Save program since that price was cheaper than the local stores’ price. To get the food elsewhere would have meant a trip to the next town over and any savings would have been eaten up in time and driving costs. It was cheaper and more convenient to sign up for the program. Now that another major retailer in town has started carrying the food, I’m no longer in the program because it’s no longer the best deal.

Do you have to have this brand?

Subscribe and Save works best if you’re very brand loyal. If you have to have a certain brand of something, it may be a way to guarantee at least a small discount on that brand. If you ‘re not loyal, though, you can probably do better by waiting for sales or buying generic options.

Retailers love Subscribe and Save Programs. They see it as a guaranteed sale that’s as good as on the books already. They don’t have to convince you to buy because you’re locked in and they hope you’ll just forget about it and let the product keep on coming. That’s why they’re willing to cut you a little price break. But, as with anything money related, you have to ask yourself if the deal works for you. You might find that it does, but chances are that you can do just as well or better by shopping a variety of retailers and going with whoever has the lowest price at any given time.

(Photo courtesy of fimoculous)

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  • jay says:

    Newest twist: Amazon will, in about 8 days, starting adding sales tax to all purchases from California. This, I suspect, makes the whole S&S phenom a little less attractive. The other [not so hidden] variable, unless free, is shipping costs. The combination may make using such a program no cheaper, while requiring you to find storage for the volume purchased.

  • leslie says:

    These have never made a whole lot of sense to me. The time and effort that it takes to keep track of the subscription almost never makes the savings worthwhile for me.

  • Gail says:

    What is a pet wipe? and why would you need them?

    Other than intentionaly subscribing to magazines, I don’t automatically subscribe to any of those other programs.

    • Jennifer says:

      Guess I could’ve explained that better, LOL. I use these wipes on my dog’s ears to clean the ick out of them. She can’t stand any of the liquid products that you squirt in the ear, but she will allow me to use these wipes to clean her ears. If it’s pet wipes or a trip to the vet to treat an ear infection, pet wipes it is!

      (They also make bathing wipes, eye wipes (to clean the crud out of their eyes), and paw wipes. You can wipe your dog to death, but all I use are the ear wipes.)

  • Jo says:

    I used to subscribe to PetFlow’s pet products shipped for free if I purchased a certain amount of products. Great plan; set it and forget it. Until…..

    I work at Target, and with stacking my discount, sales and coupons, can get a fairly great deal. Also, PetSmart is “across the street” giving me further access to choices. The company is always having sales on the items I purchase on a regular basis; with the PetFlow program, I don’t have any savings options except to get free shipping.

    It’s wise to do one’s homework….


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