From food and booze to beauty products, entertainment and even eco-friendly loo roll, there’s very little you can’t buy on subscription these days.
With just a few clicks, you can pay weekly, monthly or annually for pretty much anything to be delivered to your doorstep, phone, TV or tablet.
In fact, stuck at home for months, Britons have gone bonkers for subscriptions, with households now having an average of seven contracts costing around £552 a year — a 40 per cent increase on 2019. In particular, deliverable meal kits have soared in popularity.
But this is small fry for some families, who splurge thousands a year on subscriptions. Here, we meet the ‘super subscribers’…
My bill tops £6,000 – but the meals alone have saved my sanity!
Helen McIntyre, 45, is an insights manager for a major supermarket and lives in Daventry, Northamptonshire, with her husband James, 50, who runs a sports bar, and their son George, seven.
Gousto meal kits, £35 a week; Freddie’s Flowers, £25 a fortnight; Beauty Pie, £10 a month; Virgin Wines, £25 a month; The Bike Club, £13 a month. National Trust, £75 a year; ancestry.co.uk, £20 a month; Disney+, £6 a month; Sky Q full package, £75 a month; BT Sport, £13 a month; Amazon Prime, £75 a year; Amazon Music, £5 a month; Apple Music, £10 a month; HP Instant Ink, £3.49 a month; gym (Helen), £30 a month; gym (James), £25 a month; golf club, £94 a month; Next Unlimited for free next-day delivery, £20 a year.
Total: £533.65 per month or £6,403.80 a year
Helen says: ‘When I realised our subscriptions cost more than £6,000 a year — more than we’d blow on a family holiday abroad — it was a bit of a surprise.
‘However, most of them make our lives easier or better in some way.
‘Many of them were taken out during lockdown when we were also saving money on petrol, with no outings to the cinema, theatre, and restaurants.
‘A particular triumph is The Bike Club, a children’s bike rental subscription. Retailers sold out of bikes within hours of the first lockdown being announced, which meant we could not replace the one George had outgrown.
‘But for £13 a month we subscribed to this club and a shiny new kid’s bike was delivered to our door.
‘After 18 months we will have the option to upgrade. During that time, the subscription will have cost us £234, which is more than the price of a new bike.
‘But at a time we desperately needed one, it has been worth it.
Helen McIntyre, 45, spends £6,403.80 on subscriptions a year, but she believes ‘most of them make our lives easier or better in some way’
‘Another lockdown gem is the HP Instant Ink subscription, as my printer was in overdrive thanks to home-working and home-schooling.
‘For £3.49 a month, a gizmo inside alerts the manufacturer when the ink is running low and new supplies miraculously appear through the letterbox.
‘Gousto food boxes have saved my sanity, too. We order four meals for two every week.
‘You choose dishes from a long list, then the ingredients arrive already weighed out with a recipe card to follow.
‘It has really taken the pressure off, and at £35, those four meals cost less than one takeaway.
‘More frivolous is my subscription to Freddie’s Flowers, which guarantees me a lovely bouquet every two weeks.
‘It’s uplifting to have fresh blooms to look at while I’m working from home.
‘I also splurge £10 a month to subscribe to Beauty Pie, which buys access to all sorts of skincare products and make-up at heavily discounted prices.
‘I recently bought £100 worth of lotions and potions for just £40. However, I can see there’s a danger I will start buying products for the sake of it further down the line.
‘The biggest subscription shock was spotting that I have been paying for one of them, ancestry.co.uk, for three years without having used it, costing an alarming £720.
‘I signed up to the £20 a month subscription in 2016 to research my family tree, but forgot to cancel it when I’d finished.
‘I’m also frittering away £30 a month for my gym membership, even though I haven’t been since it reopened. Overall, we are paying £600 a year in unused subscriptions.
‘But one I won’t be giving up is Virgin Wines.
‘We have had it for a few years and, typically, spend an additional £120 every two months on extra bottles, but it came into its own during lockdown when James and I needed to take the edge off!’
It’s a cheaper way to entertain a family of six
Jen Barton Packer, 38, is a copywriter and lives in Wandsworth, South-West London, with her husband Will, 36, who works in finance, and their four daughters, Diana, ten, Liv, seven, Stella, five, and Ada, three.
Milk & More milk and eggs, £10 a week; Smol laundry detergent, £4.50 a month; Field & Flower, £45 every two weeks; Peloton, £39 a month; Oddbox, £15.99 a week; Riverford Organic Farmers, £14.25 a week; Dame tampons, £8.50 every two months; Wild deodorant, £5 per refill/month; Outschool, £60 for an eight-week class; Amazon Prime, £7.99 a month; Netflix, £8.99 a month; Disney+ , £50 for the year.
Total: £354.85 per month or £4,258.20 a year
Jen says: ‘With four kids under 11, even before lockdown our social lives revolved around doing things at home. Paying for six of us to go out is horrendously expensive.
‘Monthly subscriptions make life a little easier and more affordable. It started a few years ago when we signed up to Netflix and Amazon Prime, before adding Disney+ during lockdown, so we could have movie nights together. Going to the cinema used to cost more than £50.
Jen Barton Packer, 38, her husband, and their four daughters, all back the subscription lifestyle. The copywriter from Wandsworth says signing up to food delivery services has made life less stressful than the alternative of heading out to a supermarket
‘As a large family, we have the capacity to use a lot of stuff, so we have taken on various subscriptions as a means of trying to reduce our waste and use of plastics.
‘It is also a lot less stressful than taking four children to the supermarket.
‘Once a week we have a delivery from Oddbox, which distributes seasonal veg that is about to be discarded by farmers, sometimes because it has been rejected by supermarkets.
‘It means the variety is amazing, from pineapples and pomegranates to spinach and potatoes.
‘There are also twice-monthly boxes from Field & Flower, which provides free-range British meat and sustainably farmed fish, and fruit from Riverford Organic Farmers, which we subscribed to during lockdown when we needed healthier foods to snack on.
‘I had never have imagined that my kids would start eating salad and cabbage — but they get so excited when the food boxes are delivered that they can’t wait to delve in!
‘Meanwhile, a milk subscription pays for two deliveries of six pints to the doorstep every week.
‘My daughters love the novelty of having to leave the empty glass bottles out for the milkman.
‘I think it is more expensive to do it this way — but worth it to support a local business.
‘In my mission to be more eco-friendly, I also subscribe to Smol laundry capsules, Wild refillable deodorant and Dame tampons with reusable applicators.
‘But there are a few indulgences too, including a subscription to Outschool, which provides online themed lessons for children and was a huge hit with my girls during the first lockdown.
‘Although they are now back at school, they love signing in at home to join virtual classes in everything from how to write Harry Potter-style spells to history lessons featuring popular toys such as American Girl dolls.
‘And Will and I have splurged £39 a month on the Peloton fitness app to accompany the studio bike we invested in during lockdown in lieu of going to the gym.
‘At £1,755 it’s pricey, but we use it every day and our older two daughters also love it, so we’re really getting our money’s worth.’
I’d have terrible telltale roots if it wasn’t for this
Katherine Busby, 41, is a communications consultant and lives in Malton, North Yorkshire, with her husband Jerry 51, who works in finance, and their daughter Orlaith, four.
Aime vitamins, £27 a month; eSalon hair dye, £18 a month; Oceans plastic-free toilet paper, £14.99 a month; online yoga, £32 a month; Vogue magazine, £20 a year; swimming lessons, £45 a term; flowers from Ducks & Daffodils, £120 per quarter; YO Bakehouse, £45 a month; Davina Own Your Goals fitness app, £80 a year; gluten-free breakfast cereal, £22.99 a month.
Total: £219.57 per month or £2,634.84 a year
Katherine says: ‘On the first Tuesday of every month the most glorious bucket of fresh flowers arrives at my door, an indulgent gift to myself that costs £120 every three months from a local farm called Ducks & Daffodils.
‘Sometimes there have been so many blooms that I have run out of vases and have to share them with friends.
‘That is one of my more recent subscriptions, bought as a lovely treat when I could not go out during lockdown.
‘But my longest-standing one is to Vogue magazine, which I have had for 25 years.
Communications consultant Katherine Busby spends £2,634.84 on subscriptions. She has been subscribed to Vogue for 25 years, and warns ‘it is easy to get click-happy with online subscriptions’
‘However, it is easy to get click-happy with online subscriptions, and I’ve been guilty of wasting cash on the likes of gym memberships and monthly beauty delivery boxes over the years.
‘I’ve also been caught out signing up to a free month’s trial of various e-courses, only to forget to cancel the paid subscription that automatically kicks in at the end.
‘Many of them then require several months’ notice to close them, so I end up paying around £80 on unused subscriptions a year.
‘This year, my biggest faux pas is an £80, 12-month subscription to Davina McCall’s fitness app.
‘I signed up in April when I had illusions of emerging from lockdown fitter and firmer.
‘But after using the app religiously for the first 30 days when I didn’t have much work, I haven’t touched it since mid-May when I became busier again.
‘However, many of my subscriptions have proved to be brilliant, including one for Aime vitamins that claim to boost skin, hair and nails.
‘I started it two years ago and, because they keep turning up at the door, I have taken them consistently.
‘Another gem is eSalon, a company I discovered accidentally online when the hair salons closed in the spring and there was a national shortage of dye.
‘In a panic about how I would maintain the pretence of being a natural redhead, I subscribed to receive a supply of dye from them every eight weeks, which they mix bespoke to match my colour.
‘Not only has it saved me from telltale roots, at £18 per month it’s cheaper and faster than having it dyed professionally, so I haven’t been back to my hairdresser yet.
‘Subscriptions have also become a way for me to support local businesses as well as doing my bit for the environment.
‘Recent additions include £45 a month to a nearby coffee shop, which entitles me to a coffee a day, and gluten-free cereal from a Yorkshire business called mybreakfastbox.co.uk. Then there’s a monthly delivery of plastic-free toilet rolls from oceansplasticfree.com.
‘All these subscriptions stop me browsing unnecessarily online!’