5 Common Products You're Probably Getting Ripped Off On
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High markups on some things are unavoidable.
If you’ve ever bought a $9 beer at a baseball game or $12.95 hamburger at a zoo, then you know what we’re talking about.
Unless you’ve planned ahead and brought your own food, those high prices can be hard to avoid.
Other purchases, especially if you’re going to use them at home, shouldn’t have such a high price. Still, some consumers fall for them without thinking much about alternatives.
We’ve got better ways to spend our money, and try to avoid certain highly marked up items when we can. Here are products that cost much more than they should, and how you can find low-cost alternatives:
1. Bottled Water
A $4 bottle of water at a museum might be the easiest way to quench your thirst, but you already know that a water fountain is free. In that situation, paying top dollar for a water bottle might make sense.
But buying bottled water to drink at home can be expensive, even at $1 per bottle. The average American drinks 28 gallons of bottled water in a year. Plastic also has environmental costs.
The obvious alternative is to drink tap water at home and to take it with you on the road with a reusable water bottle. Tap water costs only $0.002 per gallon, which is pretty close to free.
2. Printer Ink
Ink cartridges are one of those things that every time you buy them, you realize that soon you could buy a new printer for the cost of the ink.
Printers are one of those loss-leaders that manufacturers make up for by selling ink for them. One cartridge can easily cost $25, and you often need four of them for full color printing.
There are a few low-cost alternatives, starting with questioning if you really need a printer at home.
Instead of printing out tickets or travel documents, for example, see if they can be downloaded to your phone. Or take a photo of them and the barcode for printing.
Another option is to print what you need at Staples, Costco or some other business with a printer that can connect with a USB flash drive.
If you really need printer ink, refilled cartridges can be bought online or from Costco. If refilling ink cartridges at home isn’t your idea of a fun time, then switch to a laser printer. Its cartridges don’t need refilling as often and cost less.
3. Movie Snacks
This isn’t an issue during the coronavirus pandemic, but someday theaters will reopen and you’ll be tempted to buy candy, popcorn and other snacks from the theater concession stand.
That’s OK if you’re lazy and want to help your theater make a profit. Concessions make up 20% of gross revenue at theaters, but account for 40% of profits, according to research by the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Many theaters don’t allow customers to bring in food, so smuggling in a can of soda or candy bar could get you in a little trouble.
A better alternative is to snack before you go, or buy the kid-size snack packs that some theaters offer. That way you’re not busting your budget or eating a ton of calories.
4. Coffee Shop Coffee
Among the many financial lessons the pandemic has taught us is that a cup of coffee at our local coffee shop is an expensive luxury. A small luxury, but still a costly one.
The massive price markup of a cup of coffee, even with the extras of flavors, syrups and other add-ins, isn’t worth $4 or more. Buy five in a week, that’s $80 per month, or almost $1,000 per year.
The best alternative is to make it at home for pennies. A three-pound bag of quality coffee beans at Costco is $20 or less and will last a few months, even if you and your spouse drink two cups per day. Add flavored syrups and creamer, and you might spend $20 more per month.
That adds up to $30 a month, or $360 per year. You’ve cut your coffee costs by more than half by brewing at home.
5. Name-Brand Drugs
Whether it’s prescription drugs or a cough suppressant you’re looking for, ask the pharmacist or look carefully at the label to see if the name-brand product you’re considering is available in a generic form.
Many drugstores carry medicines with the same ingredients as the name brands, but in packaging for their store.
The antidepressant Prozac costs $136 per bottle, while the generic version called fluozetine HCL costs $3. That’s a 4,451% markup.
To make sure you’re getting the medicine you need, and the same one your doctor prescribes, start by asking your doctor if a generic version is available. It probably will be, and at a much lower price.
These are just some of the common products with high markups. If you’ve ever found yourself buying something and later asking yourself why you bought it when you suspect it’s cheaper elsewhere, then think again the next time that purchase pops up.
Almost everything has a lower-cost alternative. The best way to find them is to reset your thinking about what you’re buying and when. Taking the time to shop for something will let you save a lot more money than you would by buying something when you need it immediately.