Shopping Hack: Minimize Impulse Purchases with Subscriptions

Target: we all know it’s a total mom trap. You go in for diapers and milk and are forced to walk by Starbucks, jewelry, purses, women’s clothing, and baby clothing just to get to the diapers. Then you must either pass by the toys or home goods to get to the milk. Your senses are bombarded with trendy, minimalist-chic décor in the season’s latest hues before you emerge with your items, now only to pass the beauty and cosmetics aisles. And somehow when you go back next week for more diapers, they will have new merch to allure you.

The average woman goes in to Target with 4 items on her list and leaves with 17. I just made that up, but I think it’s about right.

What if you didn’t have to go to Target (or Walmart, or wherever you go) nearly as often? Did you know Target will send you that stuff for free? Actually, they’ll take 5% off the price and deliver for free to your doorstep. Okay, not milk. But I get most of my household items through subscriptions to Target and Amazon.

I don’t like subscription services that mindlessly suck money out of my account each months, such as gym memberships, Netflix, Blue Apron, magazines, mystery boxes, and the like. But I do love subscription goods since I have to buy them anyway. And I mind as well avoid the mom trap.


Amazon is my favorite when it comes to subscriptions because they offer 5-20% off. 20% of diapers and wipes if you sign up for Amazon Family. 5% off all items in the subscribe and save store. 15% off all items if you subscribe to 5 or more items in a month.

Here is a list of items I am or have subscribed to from Amazon: batteries, tea, coconut oil, toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap, dishwasher soap pods, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, freezer bags, diapers, artificial tears, Aquaphor, and even baker’s yeast.

Some items in the Subscribe and Save store are packaged in bulk, requiring you to buy multiples of the same items. Others can be purchased as a single item. They sell name brands, so some items aren’t cheaper than similar off brands. Just price check next time you’re at the store (or online for big box retailers).

You choose the frequency, and you can cancel at any time. You can even do it for a one-time purchase that you want to save 15% on. I just guess the frequency at the beginning, because it’s easily adjusted on a monthly basis before the items ship. Amazon sends a reminder email a few days before shipping, allowing you to skip delivery on items you don’t need anymore. I spend 5 minutes or less per month checking whether I need the scheduled items or not.


Target offers 5% off many household and toiletry items. I’ve subscribed for toothpaste, hairspray, laundry detergent, shampoo, tampons, tissues, tea, and hand soap. Fewer items are packaged in bulk so it’s easier to subscribe to items you won’t go through quickly. And they even offer subscriptions on some of their store brands.

The items do not have to ship together, and there are lots of frequency options. Target also sends an email before an item ships, in time for you to cancel if you don’t need it. You can skip deliveries or modify the frequency at any time before shipping. And the item doesn’t have to meet a minimum spend to receive free shipping.

The Perks

So how do subscriptions minimize my consumption? I’m much less tempted to buy trendy, cute junk if I just don’t go to stores. Just imagine how many fewer impulses you’d make or even think about if you cut the weekly Target run out of your routine. There’s a great benefit to reaching a point where you can just go into a store and buy only what you need. If you’re not there yet, subscriptions are a great way to fast from in-store browsing. And after a while without making an impulse buy, it’s easier to accept that you really don’t need those extras.

Once subscriptions are set up I’m also saving time—as much as a couple hours a week that would be spent running errands, not to mention needlessly perusing clearance racks. Of course, I also love saving 5-20% off normal prices.

What about the environment? Is all that packaging and delivery ruining the earth? Surprisingly, it’s actually more efficient and better for the environment than the traditional retail model.

Although I’ve banned myself from shopping bans,  subscriptions would be a great way to complete a successful ban as they could help limit spending to essentials.

And speaking of packaging, few things excite my kids more than getting a new cardboard box to play with. No joke.

The Drawbacks

The main downside is that you have to plan ahead. Subscription items do not enjoy two-day shipping. Amazon keeps the same date each month when you’ll receive your items. Target’s is a little less organized, but you’re going to wait a few days vs. just going right to the store.

Could this lead to unnecessary online shopping? It could, but let’s face it: if you can’t see it, feel it, try it on, and it’s going to entail some hassle to return unwanted items, I’m a lot less likely to buy it. Also, if you stay in the Subscribe and Save store on Amazon, there’s pretty much only boring household stuff. If online shopping is a greater temptation for you than being in a store, by all means, keep running your errands.

For items that are not available for subscriptions, I love Target’s “pick up in store” feature. Whether it’s an item you want from another store but don’t want to pay shipping costs, or you don’t want to walk through all of Target, it’s great to show up at customer service and pick up an order. It’s the very definition of avoiding impulse buys.

I realize buying one or two items this way might just be inconsiderate. But if you only need two items, what are you doing in a big box store? Go to the drug store or grocery store, where you might pay a dollar or two more, but if you come out without $40 worth of excess junk, you’ll still be way ahead.

Do you use subscriptions for shopping? What other perks or drawbacks do you see?

13 Responses to “Shopping Hack: Minimize Impulse Purchases with Subscriptions”

  1. Carolina says :

    No use for subscriptions services. I would end up spending way more money with them. But then again, I am not the sort of person that goes to Target for 4 things and come out out with 17. It hurts too much to throw away money on junk like that.

    • Kalie says :

      I think the best approach all depends on personality. I love the convenience of having it delivered to my doorstep instead of taking kids out to the store in the cold.

  2. David Houston says :

    Amazon Canada has subscriptions. But I think you have to buy minimum $25 or they will charge shipping.

    • Kalie says :

      Interesting that there’s a minimum spend there. That might change whether it’s worth it, depending on how much you really need and how often. You can skip months, such as getting items every other or every third month.

  3. kddomingue says :

    No, there are too many things that we buy that are not used/gone through at the same frequency every month. To remember to cancel something and then remember to reorder, to remember to record the amount of the transaction…, not a thing that appeals to me. I shop once a week and buy certain items in bulk or multiples as needed. I don’t like Target very much and only go into a Walmart a couple of times a month. My impulse control has gotten better and better the older I’ve gotten. There’s little that I see in any store that gives me a bad case of the “I wants” so I rarely have issues with coming home with a bunch of random, unintended purchases. Every now and again, I’ll stumble over a great bargain like the really great tshirts that I found for a dollar apiece a month ago….ten dollars that I hadn’t planned on spending but a fantastic buy for something useful. Wouldn’t have found those had I not been in the store.

    • Kalie says :

      I agree that sometimes there are clearance deals you’d only find in the store. Despite my critiques of Target, the Walmart near us is never stocked and I always regret going there. With kids at home and guests over often, it’s easy for us to go through the items we subscribe to within the subscription period.

  4. Oldster says :

    I like this idea. We use it for some basics, but should consider broadening our list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Sam’s Club for toilet paper only to spend $100 on crap we don’t need. And if you find that you’ve got too much of something, you can cancel the subscriptions and restart them when you need to. It’d take some tweaking to make it work right for each product, but for the things that you are absolutely going to buy anyway, it is a great idea.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I do like it for those “essentials” that you’re going to purchase no matter what. Especially when the brand name is truly better or lasts longer. Sometimes with the discount, it’s even less expensive than generics.

  5. Diana says :

    Thanks for the information about how you do the subscriptions at your house. I love Amazon and Target so much! But I definitely buy more then I went in for at Target (ahem…Starbucks). And I really hate having to go out for toilet paper! Now if only they delivered bananas and milk, I’d be set!

    • Kalie says :

      That Target-Starbucks partnership was brilliant on their part! Haha, yeah milk delivery would be ideal for young families.

  6. Eric says :

    A major drawback with Amazon pricing is that is can change, rather drastically from month-to-month. Always make sure to check before the shipment is sent out!

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, they email you before shipping and also email you if the price increases. It happens sometimes, but it certainly isn’t on a monthly basis.

  7. CreditCage says :

    You can also cancel the subscriptions on amazon right after the first purchase. I do this because I am paranoid that I won’t need a re-order in time for the autorenew. You still get the discounted cost each time too.

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