We all know that buying products in the wrong places can cost you – like buying food at the airport, movie theater, theme park, or sports arena. But items with astronomical markups are also hidden in places you’d hardly suspect, like your local grocer or drugstore.
So whether you’re sipping a martini in a swanky hotel bar or bottled water from the grocery store, chances are you’re paying an astronomical markup. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson reveals some of the most overpriced products and shares tips on how to get them for less.
Here, in no particular order, is a larger list of products with high markups, along with ways to avoid paying a premium.
Movie theater popcorn/candy
What’s harder to digest: (1) Movie theater popcorn has an average markup of 1,275 percent, or (2) With a soda, that popcorn has a caloric equivalent of three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders? Nutrition aside, concessions like $5 tubs of popcorn and $6 boxes of gummy worms are big revenue streams for movie theaters.
Since most theaters prohibit moviegoers from bringing in outside food and drinks, the way to save is to bypass concessions altogether. If you can’t, find your cinematic savings elsewhere, like getting a five-pack of movie tickets for $30 at CinemaDeals.com.
Astronomical prescription drug prices – with markups ranging from 200 to 3,000 percent – are enough to give patients a headache. In fact, price hikes caught the eye of Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne, who is suing pharmaceuticals distributor McKesson Corp. for markups on Allegra, Celebrex, Coumadin, Flonase, Lipitor, and Valium.
To save on prescriptions, ask your doctor for free samples and about generic substitutes. Comparison-shopping is also a great idea. Walmart, Target, and warehouse stores like Costco are good places to start. And take advantage of mail-order suppliers like Express Scripts if your prescription-drug plan offers it.
Shoppers in the market for a diamond should be prepared to pay anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent more than the appraised value, according to TheStreet.com. A diamond’s sparkle may cause shoppers to turn a blind eye to the price tag, but you can land a better deal by knowing where to look. Consider online diamond retailers like BlueNile.com or Whiteflash.com. If you prefer heading to your local jeweler, read our Guide to Buying Diamonds in 5 Simple Steps.
Some claim bottled water’s markup reaches 4,000 percent – more expensive than gasoline. Yet so many of us buy it. To save, use a water filtration system, if necessary, and a refillable bottle with tap water instead.
Some salad bar items are marked up more than 350 percent, according to Food Network Magazine. Items that aren’t worth their weight: chickpeas (386 percent markup), radishes (302 percent), and baby corn (277 percent). To save, load up on the lighter items that actually offer a markdown, like bacon bits (55 percent markdown) and grilled chicken (44 percent).
Dishing out $450 for Armani frames? Markups for eyeglass frames can reach 1,000 percent. That’s certainly not unheard of. Fortunately, focusing on warehouse stores and the Internet can help you find discounts.
Order a glass of Coke when you’re dining out, and you could pay 300 to 600 percent over cost. Sure, you know going into a restaurant that you’re paying for the service and ambiance too. But if you’re looking to save without sacrificing a night out, skip the extras like soda and opt for water instead.
Outgoing text messages on a cell phone can cost the provider three-tenths of a cent, but users up to 20 cents – that translates to a 6,000 percent markup. Some plans charge 10,000 times more for sending a text than other types of data. If you frequently send text messages, get an unlimited plan.
It’s not uncommon for restaurants to charge two or even three times retail for a bottle of wine. Order by the glass, and you’re sipping on an item marked up as much as 400 percent. So scan the menu for a reasonably priced bottle (look for house wines). Even BYOBs make out, charging corkage fees up to $25. In this case, inquire about fees when you make your reservation – just in case they’re high enough to send you elsewhere.
Whether you’re reaching for a Snickers or a toothpaste kit, minibar markups can hit 400 percent. Some of the most ludicrous minibar prices, according to Oyster.com: $14 gummy bears at Omni Berkshire Place and a $10 bottle of water at the Mansfield Hotel. Simple solution: Leave your room and prices drop significantly.
Coffee and tea
Lattes are one of life’s little luxuries, but they can be marked up by 300 percent. If you’re looking to save, start by turning on your coffeemaker and bypassing the coffee shop.
Some of the world’s most expensive handbags: a $3.8 million purse made by The House of Mouawad in Dubai that’s adorned with more than 4,000 colorless diamonds and a $1.9 million Hermes Birkin bag.
Women own an average of 10 handbags and spend an average of $148 on a handbag “splurge,” according to a ShopSmart poll. Keep more cash in your purse by comparison-shopping online and in outlet stores.
A $665 price tag on Gucci jeans and $225 for Sevens proves some shoppers are willing to go to great lengths for fashion. But these designer items are grossly overpriced. According to The Wall Street Journal, it costs about $50 to make True Religion’s best-selling jeans, Super T Jeans, but the wholesale price reaches $152 and the average retail price is inflated to $335. If you’re intent on going designer, check out Flash Sales: A Guide to Designer Jeans Online.
For items that can easily be baked at home, you could be paying a 100 percent markup. Granted, convenience is a factor, and maybe a baker is a better cook than you. If so, a good cookbook could offer a decent return on investment.
Greeting cards are simple pieces of paper with a 200 percent markup. And that’s before factoring in so-called “Hallmark holidays.” On a budget? Make your own cards – or better yet, if you have school-aged children, have them design one. This will likely amount to a more sentimental gesture and will leave a lasting impression.
Most college students will shell out about $655 for required textbooks this year, according to the National Association of College Stores. It’s no secret that most of these books come with monster markups.
An orchid can cost up to $25 per stem. Add Valentine’s Day or a wedding into the mix, and prices can surge. While disregarding flower purchases altogether isn’t always an option, shopping around for the best price is.
Produce is often marked up as much as 75 percent. Buying in season is the best way to find a bargain. As we explain in our Seasonal Savings post, look for deals on grapefruits and oranges in January, asparagus in March, and melons in May. Also steer clear of pre-cut veggies and fruit, which often have an additional markup of about 40 percent.
Furniture and mattresses
Furniture stores usually make a hefty margin, with markups of about 80 percent. Try to shop during sales, but if your timing is off, don’t be afraid to negotiate a better price. Also take note of the product number and then search online to see if any other retailers offer a lower price.
The average markup on cosmetics: 78 percent. Since most cosmetics are made from various combinations of dirt, oil, wax, and fragrance, it’s surprising that shoppers pay such a premium. But thanks to anti-aging claims and celebrity-endorsed marketing, shoppers have been breaking the bank to look younger and more beautiful for years. Fortunately, there are some simple ways to get more bang for your buck when purchasing beauty products (skip the drugstores and load up on free samples).