Five Leading Retail Rip-Offs

People in penny-pinching mode have probably cut out a lot of obvious purchases and expenses, such as fancy dinners, premium cable, etc.

But there are still items out there that even the most price-savvy consumer is probably over-paying for.

You may be surprised at the big markups Early Show financial contributor Vera Gibbons found on some very common products.

Retailers, she explained Monday, put steeper markups on some items than others in hopes of turning a profit.

But, Gibbons says, while that's understandable, it doesn't mean you have to play into their game.

She identified five common purchases in which most of us are simply paying too much -- and offered strategies to keep from being taken to the cleaners:

MOVIE POPCORN

You know movie popcorn is expensive. Anytime you're a captive audience -- the baseball game, the movies -- you're paying more than you would for any food for sale there. But you probably don't realize how much you overpay. But once you hear this -- you may decide this isn't a good use of your money!

Or, you may join the growing ranks of people who are giving up trips to the theatre all together. The number of subscribers to Netflix, the DVD delivery service, climbed 26 percent in the fourth quarter from the same time last year. Rent a movie and make your own popcorn -- you'll save a bundle for sure.

The average markup for popcorn in theaters is -- 1,300 percent!

WINE IN RESTAURANTS

If you've ever perused a restaurant wine list, you know that bottles cost more than they would in a wine store. The Wine Institute says to expect a markup of 100 to 200 percent, if not more.

Markups aren't consistent for each bottle. Often, the cheaper the bottle, the higher the markup. A 200 percent markup on a $10 bottle still puts that bottle in many customers' price-range, while a 200 percent markup on a $60 bottle doesn't.

Also, the Wine Institute points out, 80 percent of wine sold in restaurants is sold by the glass. Markups are even higher on glasses than bottles -- upwards of 300 percent -- because of spoil/waste issues. If a restaurant doesn't pour the whole bottle, it may need to throw it away.

Avoiding popcorn at the movies is one thing, but no wine with dinner?! That's not an option for some diners! Check to see if your restaurant allows you to bring your own bottle of wine. Even if you have to pay a corkage fee, you'll still be getting a better value for your dollar. Alternatively, some states and restaurants allow you to take an open bottle of wine home with you. Instead of overpaying for a glass or two of wine, consider buying a whole bottle so you can take it home and enjoy the remaining wine the next day.

PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the average price of a brand-name prescription drug was $119.51 in 2007 (the latest year for which numbers were available); the average price of a generic was $34.34. That means drug makers and pharmacies are charging you 346 percent MORE for the exact same drug.

According to a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about one in six people are splitting their pills in half right now. Clearly, any savings is going to be valuable, so be sure to talk to your pharmacist about generic versions of your drugs. Doctors do not always think to prescribe a generic drug but that doesn't mean one is not available.

We had a hard time tracking down a percentage markup for over-the-counter drugs, such as Bayer aspirin, compared to the drugstore brand. Consumer Reports says a general rule of thumb is that you'll pay 30 to 40 percent more for name-brand medications as opposed to generics. Other experts told us those numbers vary tremendously from store-to-store, but that the markup could easily be 50 percent or more.

Take a look at the boxes and compare the active ingredients and dosages. If they're the same, there is no reason not to buy generic. The name brand costs more due to packaging and advertising costs, not because it's more effective.

COFFEE

If you're patting yourself on the back, congratulating yourself for subbing out that gourmet latte with a regular cup of Joe, prepare to be disappointed. Yes, you're saving money, but you're still getting ripped off. Plain coffee is cheap: You'll pay no more than .55 a cup to brew your own beans. But a store like Dunkin' Donuts is going to charge you $1.65 or more for that same cup. That's a markup of 300 percent!

More people may be figuring this out: "Retailers have been selling Mr. Coffee's coffee makers faster than the company can ship them, says Matt Ragland, vice president of marketing, with sales of coffee makers and accessories rising almost five percent from last year," according to U.S News & World Report.

PRE-CUT FRUIT & VEGGIES

Pre-cut vegetables are the fastest-growing category of produce at supermarkets. And while the convenience of bagged salads or veggies already sliced for stir-fry may save you time, are they really worth the price? You're paying at least 25 to 30 percent more for these products, compared to buying the vegetables whole. Would you be OK with a grocery bill that's 25 to 30 percent higher?! Probably not, so don't settle for being ripped off here, either. Pocketing a few extra dollars each really adds up!
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