8 Overpriced Items to Avoid (and How to Save on Them When You Can’t)


None of us like knowing we’ve overpaid for something—a feeling you might get after spending on one of these items, which are notorious for price tags way beyond the cost to produce them.

Of course, some markups are necessary for businesses turn profits, so we expect to pay a bit of a premium for anything worthwhile. But the key is not getting duped into paying too much. Stay aware of what are fair prices to pay, as well as what will fit into your budget—and use these tips to cut costs wherever possible.

1. Bottled Water

The average cost of bottled water is $1.11 per gallon, while tap water is estimated to be about $2 per 10,000 gallons. Staying hydrated is important, but it doesn’t have to be that expensive.

Investing in a reusable bottle and favoring tap over store-bought water won’t just reap savings, but also cut back on waste. Even a top-of-the line bottle will quickly recoup its cost. For example, Wirecutter’s “best water bottle,” the 21-ounce Hydro Flask, costs about $33 on Amazon, while a 20-ounce Smartwater costs $1.78 at Walmart. If you refill your Hydro Flask instead of buying a new Smartwater daily, you’d make up the cost in just 19 days.

2. Eyeglasses

You don’t need 20/20 vision to see how costly glasses are. Markups on frames and lenses can reach up to 1,000 percent—with designer brands charging hundreds for a set that might cost $20 or less to make.

Checking on lower-priced options, like Warby Parker, which offer eyeglasses starting at $95, and comparison shopping online can help you spot some savings. Even if you opt to buy from a brick-and-mortar retailer or optometrist, you may be able to negotiate a price match if you find a better price elsewhere.

3. Concession Stand Refreshments

What’s a movie without popcorn? A whole lot cheaper. At AMC Theatres, popcorn can cost $6 to $10. Meanwhile, a 12-pack of microwavable Pop Secret popcorn from Target costs about $5. Similar markups apply to all refreshments at the movies, as well as concerts, sports games and other events.

You’re typically not permitted to bring outside food to theaters and other venues because your savings would mean a big dip in profits for those businesses. But you may be able to save by taking advantage of combo deals and rewards programs. For example, frequent moviegoers can score free popcorn and other rewards through AMC’s Stubs program. Or just host a movie night at home and pop your own.

4. Pink” Products

The “pink tax” refers to how some products designed specifically for girls and women tend to be marked up higher than the same products for boys and men. One 2015 study found that this difference amounted to a 7-percent higher cost for females’ products, on average, when comparing nearly 800 locally priced items. A current example: On Amazon, the cost for a classic Red Flyer tricycle is about $52, but if you want it in pink, it costs about $6 more.

Good news: This gap seems to be improving. For example, razors have historically been one of the biggest culprits of the pink tax. Now, an 18-pack of Gilette’s pink Daisy razors costs the same as Gilette’s blue Sensor2 razos, about $13 each. When you do see pricing incongruity, you may be able to save by opting for men’s or gender-neutral items.

5. Prescription Medicine

Martin Shkreli became the smirking poster boy for a vilified pharmaceutical industry when he jacked up the price of the antimalarial drug Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill in 2015. Other necessary and life-saving drugs that have made headlines for being overpriced: epinephrine, insulin...and just about everything else.

In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, eight in 10 said prescription drug costs are “unreasonable,” and 30 percent felt forced to skip medications to save money.

A few solutions: Go with generics whenever possible. Talk with your doctors and pharmacists about other less costly alternatives. Also check for the lowest prices near you through GoodRX and for rebates and manufacturer coupons. Mylan, for example, offers online an EpiPen savings card that knocks up to $300 off a two-pack.

6. Diamonds

Diamonds are not a budget’s best friend. The likes of high-end jewelers such as Tiffany’s and Cartier are rumored to mark up the jewels by 200 to 400 percent.

Fortunately, online shopping options have leveled the field. Digital dealers such as Blue Nile and James Allen offer more transparency, allowing you to compare costs of different cuts, carats and shapes more easily than you can in a store. They also offer customization, so you can build jewelry to suit your tastes and budget.

Related: It’s Time to Ditch the Engagement Ring Tradition

7. Actively Managed Mutual Funds

Stock funds are a great way to invest in a diversified portfolio at minimal costs, but not all funds are created equal. Actively managed mutual funds, for example, tend to cost investors more than passive index funds. According to Morningstar’s most recent fund fee study, in 2017, the average “expense ratio,” or fees, charged by active funds was 0.72 percent (of the fund’s total assets) compared with 0.15 percent for passive funds. That may not seem like much now, but it can compound over time.

Favoring low-fee index funds and exchange-traded funds can help you hold onto more of your investing wins. Even investing guru Warren Buffett won a $1 million bet proving that the simple, low-cost investing strategy could beat out the active, hedge-fund management style over the long term.

8. Weddings

With society- and reality-TV-induced pressure to create the perfect wedding day, plenty of people willingly pay pumped-up prices for venues, flowers, dresses, booze and more. In 2017, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. was about $27,000; in 2018, that already-high price tag went up to more than $44,000. Reminder: That’s for one party.

You can find plenty of ways to cut costs and still have a lovely celebration of your new marriage. Some ideas to consider: Try an alternative venue (i.e., not the typical banquet halls and country clubs), skip the open bar, go for an off-peak date, do a day party and DIY all you can. Most importantly, set a detailed budget for your wedding like you would for your life, prioritizing your desires for your special day and identifying where you’re willing to cut back.

Related: This Couple Planned Three—Yes, Three—Weddings for Under $7K