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Feeling gouged? The nine biggest rip-offs out there Add to ...

Kerry Taylor sees the wedding industry as one huge money-sucking scam.

“As soon as you use the wedding word, you are paying the marriage markup,” says the 38-year-old author of the book 397 Ways To Save Money and the popular squawkfox.com blog.

When planning her wedding last year, Ms. Taylor called florists, banquet halls and caterers to get price estimates. A day later, she called back and asked for comparable prices for other events, for example a family reunion.

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“Let me tell you, the family reunion cake was a heck of a lot cheaper than the wedding cake,” she said. “It seemed like everyone had two lists: one for general functions and the other for weddings, which was 25 to 75 per cent higher. It is ridiculous and I wish more people would get angry and ask for a better price.”

In the end, Ms. Taylor chose to get hitched in an afternoon ceremony on her farm in Vernon, B.C.. She bought flowers at Costco, invited guests on Facebook and got a used designer dress for $100 on eBay, although her husband did fork out $50.40 for a new silk tie.

Their big day set them back just under $600, significantly less than the average $23,000 Canadian couples spend to say “I do.”

Although few of us are as dedicated to cutting costs as Ms. Taylor, everyone has their own list of perceived ripoffs, things they believe are not good value for money. And whether it is bank fees, movie popcorn, text messaging or prescription eyeglasses, overpaying for them can make people’s blood boil.

Paying to preselect an airplane seat is a the top of Rubina Ahmed-Haq’s list. She had booked a package holiday to the Mayan Riviera this January when she got an email that set her off.

“They wanted my husband and I to pay $30 each to preselect our seats,” says the Port Credit, Ont.-based journalist, 35, who writes the www.alwayssavemoney.ca blog. “I had already done my research, created my budget, and paid for everything. If this is something they want to charge me for, I should be told upfront. I don’t like surprises when it comes to money.”

To avoid being dinged the extra $60, she and her husband secured seats together by showing up at the airport 45 minutes early. “People get duped into feeling like if they don’t pay for this they could end up sitting with a stranger or near the bathroom, but really they are just being gouged.”

Ms. Ahmed-Haq describes herself as “pretty frugal,” while Ms. Taylor sees herself as a consumer advocate: “I don’t look to cut costs in order to save a dime. I am a value hunter.”

Our third money blogger, Nelson Smith, says he is cheap. “Every time I crack out some cash to pay for something, it pains me.”

The 28-year-old, who lives in the Alberta town of Drumheller and sells potato chips for a living, started writing the financialuproar.com blog in 2010.

Mr. Smith believes most things he buys are pretty good value. “Saying that, there are a few things that are just absolute ripoffs.”

In his mind, cellphone roaming charges fall into that category. And although the consumer in him is irritated at what he says are excessive charges, his approach has been to buy shares of his telecom company.

“Anything with excessive profit margins is annoying but whatever people whine about it, I urge them to see it as an investment opportunity.”

Here are what our bloggers consider the nine biggest ripoffs:

What bugs Kerry Taylor:

Bank fees: After years of paying account fees, ATM access fees, and hundreds of dollars in service fees, maybe it's time to smarten up and fire your bank. Signing up for a no-fee online bank account with ING Direct, PC Financial, or Ally is free, and your savings may grow faster since these accounts offer higher interest rates than any of the Big Five banks. Don't let the big banks hold your money hostage – save hundreds of dollars per year in bank fees by moving your money to a no-fee online chequing and savings account.

Branded cleaning products: Why are you spending $7 on a spray bottle of toxic cleaner to scour your shower? Specialty cleaning products and disposable sweepers are a complete waste of your hard-earned cash, compared to the cost of reusable microfibre cloths, chemical-free kitchen staples like baking soda and vinegar, and elbow grease. A 99-cent bottle of dish soap serves as a multipurpose cleaner around the home and is safe for pets and children.

Weddings: It costs less than $300 to get married in Canada. Despite the low cost of a marriage licence and services of a commissioner, couples still spend an average of $23,000 on weddings to say “I do” with fancy cake, flowers and a fluffy white dress. Saying “I don't” to the wedding industry's insane 25- to 75-per-cent markup on everything from acid-free invitations to ballroom rentals could put newlyweds in a great financial position to own their home sooner. Horse-drawn carriages and bubble machines won't do a thing to get you hitched. Skip the costly wedding and start life together debt-free.

What bugs Rubina Ahmed-Haq:

Paying to pre-select your airline seat: Many airlines charge customers to get their choice of seating. For example, two Canadian carriers charge up to $20 or up to $30 for a one-way flight lasting more than two and a half hours. By arriving at the airport 30 minutes before the recommended time, you duck the unnecessary charge. Airlines prey on people’s insecurities that they will be unable to sit together or have to sit near the washroom during a long-haul flight.

Annual furnace maintenance plans: Most heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) companies offer customers a version of the plan, which costs around $120. It gives customers a once-a-year maintenance and inspection. But 90 per cent of what the “experts” do, you can yourself. Some examples: replacing the air filter every three months, cleaning the blower compartment every year, checking that your outdoor vent is clear of obstructions and is not clogged with garden material or animal nests. A furnace bought today should not require professional maintenance for at least 10 years.

Getting a manicure at the salon: Often, your hairdresser will try to up-sell you a manicure while you’re getting your hair cut. These manicures are usually $30, which is twice the price of getting the same service at a nail bar that usually charges $15. Your hairdresser might tell you the manicure service is more sterile or they practise better hygiene than the nail bar – it’s a scare tactic. At a nail bar they have one job and they do it well.

What bugs Nelson Smith:

Cellphone roaming fees outside Canada: Phone companies know we’re attached to our smartphones, so they make sure we pay for the privilege of staying connected. Even while piggybacking on another carrier’s network, texts cost the phone company fractions of a penny to process. You can buy special packages from your provider for a week’s worth of unlimited texting.

Extended warranties on electronics: It's the worst part of buying electronics. You're all ready to take your new toy home, when the salesperson starts his or her spiel. Stores are notorious for finding excuses not to honour the warranty, and chances are you'll lose your paperwork about a day and a half after taking it home. Look at it from the store's perspective: Would they even offer it if it wasn't a guaranteed money maker? According to one estimate, only 20 cents out of every dollar collected in premiums end up being spent on repairs.

Inkjet printer cartridges: Somebody's got to pay for those ultra-cheap ink jet printers at Wal-Mart, and it ends up being the consumers when they buy their placement cartridges. At about $5 a millilitre, you could buy stem cells on the black market. You can save some money by going to those ink refilling stations you see at the mall, but ink is still ridiculously expensive. No wonder we just e-mail stuff to each other these days.



What do you think is the biggest ripoff ever? Let us know in the comments section below.

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