A few years ago1, a young-adult daughter of some friends posted on Facebook about one of the delights of her office routine that made the experience of work bearable – “Look at all these yummy treats in my Grazebox, oh my,” with obligatory pic of the contents. I remember thinking at the time that this was wrong on so many levels, starting with the fact that sedentary office workers don’t really need to ‘reimagine snacking’.
You sign up with Graze, they mail you snack-sized boxes weekly at £4 a box, so you are paying £20 a week for your packs of mixed nuts. Tesco will sell you a 250g bag of mixed nuts for £1.50. Estimating your graze box is about 100g, you’re paying £17 a week for the privilege of not having to think about the office snacks aspects of your shopping 😉 That’s about £900 a year, a sizable chunk of a typical starter wage.
The Grauniad tells me that this is a special case of subscription shopping – a new up-and-coming trend
Welcome to the shopless shop, where customers pay for decisions to be taken out of their hands. Since 2014 the number of visitors to subscription shopping websites has grown by 800%. Customers receive a “curated box” of items of beauty products, clothes for work, even toys for their pets.
This sort of thing should really come with a whacking great link to MSE’s Demotivator tool, to help you compute just how many extra hours you are working to save yourself the effort of thinking about what you’re about to shovel into your piehole on a workday. It’s getting on for 4% of your take-home pay if you are on the average UK full-time wage of ~£27k. Let’s hear it from the Demotivator2
At least with the latte factor 3652days took us to task for being miserable gits you can’t forget it at home, with the graze box you still get to brown-bag your lunch.
We do not need more mindless consumption
I did my fair share of mindless consumption, the purchase of this that and the other that would make me better at something.
For guys it’s often gear of some sort – take photography and cameras – a better camera makes better pictures, natch. The reality rarely meets with the hype, although you do need a minimum standard of camera somewhat north of a smartphone but nothing too special to take really good pictures3.
The tragedy is that once you have got that far, the trick is to get out there in front of interesting things, people and situations to take pictures of, with an added bonus for getting out there is decent light – if you are missing your dinner you are probably doing something right with the latter 😉
There’s a general principle here – to become a better [insert skill here] you don’t normally need better gear. You need to practice, to learn from masters. Easier for a retiree with the time and mid-level kit than my working self tooled up with the best but with no time to become proficient.
My mindless spending wasn’t as mindless as subscription shopping, although it lacked critical thinking along the lines of WTF am I actually trying to achieve here? Subscription shopping isn’t actually new, although historically it improved your mind a bit more – we used to have book clubs and record clubs, and then there’s the long history of the Franklin Mint producing oxymoronic ‘mass produced collectables’. I have to admire the new focus on consumables like food and fashion, there was presumably a limit to the number of books and records people could accommodate in their houses.
Shopping should always have some friction in it for the sake of your wallet
One of the simple things I used to reduce my mindless shopping was the simple addition fo a wait loop. Identify the desired item and supplier, but wait at least 24 hours from then to buy it. It’s surprising how many must-haves aren’t must-haves when the ad and novelty buzzes have died down. If it was over £100 I used to wait a week, but to be honest most of the win is in the first 24 hours.
Advertisers and vendors know this, so they always try and jolly you along a bit with time limited offers and pretending there’s an impending shortage. Subscription shopping is another way they try and reduce friction, and RIT introduced me to another one with his delightfully curmudgeonly post on the Amazon dash button. This seems to be an overcomplicated attempt to match an old analogue technology known as the paper shopping list under a fridge magnet.
There’s an aspect to subscription shopping that worried me that capitalism is eating itself, however. It’s given away in the Graunad’s throwaway line
The companies’ success (in the US they’re booming) lies in the surprise.
Their customers seem desperately short of meaning or novelty in their lives if they are paying several times over for a little everyday workday surprise selected by a robot. I take 3652 days point about the latte factor, but any distance you can put between yourself and automated spending is A Good Thing in my book. It’s savings you want to automate, not spending 😉
- Graze.com’s press kit tells me they launched in 2007 and I was an office droid idly dreaming about freedom sometime in 2018 when I read her post. How time flies in the office, eh? ↩
- The Demotivator was a bit aggressive as it nailed the entire £4 a working day cost of your Grazebox nuts as gratuitous spending. Tesco would charge you about £100 for the mixed nuts, but the Demotivator si a blunt instrument ↩
- some people can take decent pictures with smartphones, but it helps if you are in California where there’s loads of light, and you need to ace composition in camera. Retiring is a way to take better pictures, because you have more time to go to places worth taking pictures of. ↩