Across the wide swaths of gift guides you’ve probably read this month, the monthly subscription is often treated like the holy grail. Maybe it’s a premier streaming plan, a wine-of-the-month club or (if they still exist) a print magazine — all luxuries people seldom buy themselves. Surely your sister-in-law will use a year of Disney+ more than a $70 wine decanter.
However, unlike that wine decanter, gifted subscriptions can put the gifter in an awkward position. That is, when do you cancel that Disney+ subscription, forcing your SIL to pay for it herself or give it up? Or do you avoid the conflict entirely and pay for Grandma’s Netflix account until one of you croaks?
According to Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert based in Texas, there are a few rules to follow before you gift someone a subscription.
First and foremost, make sure it’s something they will actually enjoy. “If it is going to cause them work in any way, it may be more trouble than it’s worth for the receiver,” Gottsman advises.
Such was the case for Jacob Hagman, a 34-year-old in Illinois. Hagman was gifted a yearlong subscription to an online men’s fashion service, which sent him a box of pre-selected clothes he was able to keep.
“I wear the same things until they fall apart or I outgrow them. So it meant a lot to me that they wanted to help ‘Mr. Athletic Shorts and Pro Wrestling T-Shirt’ out,” Hagman says. “And what could be bad about a year of free clothes?”
Unfortunately, a lot. “I quickly realized the stuff that I got wasn’t my style or made for my body type,” Hagman says. “Their pants and shirts varied so much in size, rarely I’d get something that fit right.”
Since his friends had paid for the entire year up front, Hagman felt he couldn’t just cancel it. “I think if I opted out before 12 months they would have been livid,” he says. So, he ended up donating all the clothes at the end of each month.
“When the year was almost up, I finally tried to cancel the service, but it was hell,” he says. “I had to be the one who called in, and I waited on hold forever and a half to talk to a guy who really didn’t care that I was canceling. God forbid they make it an easy thing to do online.” In the weeks after canceling, Hagman was bombarded with emails to sign back up. “Since then, it’s subsided to an email every quarter or so,” he says.
Hagman says he’s not opposed to the idea of a subscription-based clothes service, but he’d like to have a bit more control over what kind of clothes he’s getting — which aligns with Gottman’s advice. “Ask a family member or close friend of theirs to make sure it’s something they would be interested in receiving,” Gottsman tells me. “There are no guarantees, but knowledge is power when it comes to selecting something someone will like and appreciate. If they don’t plan to use it, it would be a waste of your money!”
With that in mind, the timing of the subscription is crucial. In the case of Bethie, a 25-year-old in Connecticut, a year of macarons was too many macarons.
“When I got the gift, it was from my (now ex-) boyfriend. I was like, ‘Yay, macarons! My favorite!’” Bethie says. However, she was the only one eating the macarons. It didn’t take long before they became a burden.
“I was responsible for eating 12 of them within three to four days of delivery before they got too stale,” she says. “By month three, I was sick of those little French fucks and resented the monthly package.”
Would she do a subscription again? “No! But I do think Charmin does a toilet paper subscription, and that would be the only practical and useful subscription I can think of. Unless said giftee has a bidet.”
If you’re deciding how long to pay for someone else’s subscription, Gottsman says to just base it on your personal budget depending on “how generous you would like to be.”
The norm: a three- to six-month subscription. “A year would be very generous,” Gottsman says.
And from there, get ahead of an awkward situation by being up-front about the length. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘This is a three-month subscription,’ or putting it somewhere on the card. You’re taking away the uncomfortable feeling of having the gift-receiver wonder or have to ask.”