Jaw dropping rip-offs and what you can do about them

Cellphone carriers jacking up the costs of text messages 6,500 percent? Hot, buttered popcorn at the movies coming with a whopping 900 percent markup?

Yep, the cover has been yanked back on what CNNMoney.com calls “America’s Biggest Rip-offs.”

And the the list of exorbitant expenses is enough to make you choke on that bag of cookies in the hotel mini-bar and fall over after sipping that glass of wine at your favorite restaurant.

The final tally wasn’t pretty: College textbooks tripled in price from 1986 to 2004. Brand name ibuprofen like Advil is as much as 160 percent higher than a generic brand — brands required by the Food and Drug Administration to work as well as the higher-priced, supremely advertised name brands. As for the “free” credit reports advertised by the company FreeCreditReport.com, they aren’t so free at all. Ordering wine in a restaurant can cost up to six times as much as drinking the same bottle at home.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to counter some of these expenses.

Free credit reports — for real

– Why pay $14.99 per month for a “free” credit report from the company with the catchy jingle when you really can get it for free from annualcreditreport.com. Everyone is entitled to one free report every 12 months, and in Georgia, residents can request an additional two free credit reports per year from the credit reporting agencies. These requests, however, need to be made directly to the credit bureaus themselves. Click here to go to Georgia.gov for details.

Save on college textbooks

– Why spend $200 on a textbook that will be revised in a year and that you might get only a few dollars from when you try to sell at the end of the semester? It’s the way it has always been done — until now. Today, textbooks are available electronically, you can rent them and you can buy brand new ones from discount Web sites. There are numerous resources out there for college textbooks available below the cost you’ll find at your campus bookstore.

Bust Brand Names

The markup for brand name items extends well beyond a bottle of ibuprofen. In this case, Advil isn’t the only one causing headaches at the cash register. In many instances, the store brand or generic brands are just as good, if not better. Consider trying out a new store brand item each week to see where you’re willing to make a change. Research shows that store brand over name brand purchases can save you an average of 30 percent.

Know Your Phone

The most egregious of markups may come from cellphone providers, according to the CNNMoney.com. Text messages cost providers about one-third of cent to deliver, but most consumers pay 20 cents for outgoing texts, and 10 cents for incoming text messages. Even if you pay a flat-rate of $10, the providers are delivering messages with essentially no cost to them. While you may not be able to get around it, it does pay to be well-informed about the product you purchase and the plan you use. ConsumerReports.org just published an article on the best cellphone services and providers, looking at the phones, customer service and service plans.

Snack Attack

Some people cannot sit through a movie at the theater without some kind of snack. If that’s you, consider a few cheaper alternatives than buying from the popcorn counter. If it’s a candy bar you crave, how hard is it to throw one in your purse that you’ve picked up from the convenience store? For popcorn, how often do you eat the entire bucket? It cost the theater about 60 cents for a medium-sized bag, but you’ll pay $6. Instead, I go for the kids’ pack that includes a small drink and a little bag of candy.

Hotel snacks and movies

I do not know anyone who actually buys drinks and snacks from the hotel mini-bar. Why would you when you can get the same thing for a whole lot cheaper from a nearby convenience or grocery store? You can always bring little snacks with you on road trips. Sometimes, I even save the airplane snacks and bring them to my room with me.

What would you consider huge wastes of money? How do you get around paying for it?

Follow me on Twitter @atlbargains or on Facebook at AJC Atlanta Bargain Hunter

53 comments Add your comment


February 1st, 2010
7:54 pm

Seriously, do you ever WRITE an article? or do you just take them from other websites and repost? Do you get permission before you steal the articles, or do you just take them and hope you don’t get caught.. WHY does somebody get paid for copy and pasting articles from other websites?!!!!

25-yr. DeKalb Teacher

February 1st, 2010
7:57 pm

Not only is the movie theater popcorn expensive, it’s really bad for you! Pop some Kroger brand white popcorn ($1.29 for a big bag) at home in some olive oil, add a liitle sea salt and some fresh ground black pepper, and put in in a paper bag; plastic if you prefer. Slip it into your purse, and you’ll have “gourmet” (and much healthier) popcorn to eat with that $7.50 ticket from Costco!

Rana Cash

February 1st, 2010
10:10 pm

@ lol part of my job is to curate the best content out there, in addition to creating and building my own content. This post is a great example of that, as you’ll see links to blogs I’ve originated on saving on college textbooks and the choice between name and store brands. Please take a moment to click on these embedded links. Additionally, contrary to your claim here, I always link to the article I’m referring to and give proper attribution it as well. If you would like to further discuss my approach, please contact me at rcash@ajc.com and leave your name, email address and a phone number where I can reach you. Respectfully, Rana.


February 2nd, 2010
12:38 am

Great info I would suggest using GreenTextbooks.org
Save Money, Save The Planet

GreenTextbooks.org specializes in the recycling of textbooks, DVDs, CDs. Buying used textbooks not only saves you money, but cuts down on greenhouse gases caused by the manufacturing of new textbooks.
With GreenTextbooks.org you’re not only saving trees, you are saving some green. http://www.GreenTextbooks.org

Amy S

February 2nd, 2010
6:09 am

I found a really good article on saving money on college textbooks here: http://www.celebrationideasonline.com/saving-money-on-college-textbooks.html It explores all the options out there like renting, borrowing, sharing and online resources.. worth a read as it will help students and their families find the best deal out there that works for them

BongWater Slurpee

February 2nd, 2010
9:47 am

Attention MovieGoers.

Bring popcorn, candy, soft drinks into MY MOVIE Theatre…its mine.

Norvee Michelle

February 2nd, 2010
12:14 pm

Rana you are so in my head about the movies. I definitely bring my big purse with snacks or order the kiddie pack. Thanks for sharing this list!


February 2nd, 2010
12:15 pm

lol ~ I hope your day improves. I appreciate that Rana gathers all this information into one convenient place for me.

mystery poster

February 2nd, 2010
12:25 pm

I decided that cable TV was a HUGE waste of money.

We canceled our cable and hooked our old laptop up to our TV and stereo and got a Netflix subscription. We watch network TV, Hulu, and Netflix for a total cost of $13.99 a month. There was in initial outlay of $20 for the digital converter, $59 for the antenna, and $50 for the cord that runs from the computer to the TV (we needed to get one long enough to go down through the cellar and back up to the computer).

mystery poster

February 2nd, 2010
12:30 pm

@BWS, you are correct.
If a theater catches you trying to bring in your own food, they will take it (was caught once). Why would they allow you to bring in your own snack when they are charging $6 for 60cents worth of popcorn? I do without snacks at the movies or bring in my own VERY discreetly.


February 2nd, 2010
12:32 pm

I was floored at how much colleges are charging for books these days. I saw a commercial on tv for Chegg.com where you can rent the books. I rented books for my step daughter and saved over $200. All she has to do is put the books back in the equipment they supplied and put it in the mail at the end of the semester. No more selling books back to the school for pennies.

mystery poster

February 2nd, 2010
12:33 pm

My son buys his college textbooks from half.com, then sells them at the end of the semester. I’m not sure how much the net costs is, but it’s less than buying used and selling them back to the bookstore.


February 2nd, 2010
12:44 pm

@BWS & @mystery poster: you are 100% correct! There are signs posted at theaters saying that you cannot bring in food & drinks. If they catch you with outside food, they are well within their rights not to only take it from you, but also to require you to leave. If you must take this approach, do so carefully…and think about the lesson you’re teaching your children (if you have any) about how it’s okay to break the rules if the situation deems it…


February 2nd, 2010
12:49 pm

I think it would only matter to me that Rana’s articles are not 100% created by her if EVERY OTHER JOB worked the same way. She researches, pulls the items, provides the links, gives the credit and everything else. She is supplementing the information, and that works just fine for me. LOL – go lurk elsewhere!

Junky Trunk

February 2nd, 2010
12:53 pm

what a bunch of junk… AJC twirling clockwise down the LOO – in the Northern Hemisphere.

Just me

February 2nd, 2010
12:53 pm

@ mystery poster

Wow…you’re the first person I ever heard of being caught, I assumed most of the employees don’t care enough to risk a possible confrontation to actually enforce that rule. (I sure wouldn’t)

Anyhoo… I am the all time master of bringing in snacks/drinks to the movie theater, but its mostly snacks that I can’t find at a theater like sunflower seeds, mini sized candies (for portion control, you know you can really plow thru the stuff when you’re focused on the movie) and nips. That’s right, I said NIPS. I add them to the slurpee that I ALWAYS get from the snack counter for a nice adult beverage.

Once I saw a guy with a burger and fry combo from Dairy Queen. Hat’s off to you buddy!


February 2nd, 2010
12:58 pm

Movie theatres might have those sings, but most of the people taking tickets don’t enforce it..I have walked in several times with a drink in my hand and haven’t ever had anyone take it from me..I always buy candy at the store and take it in in my purse..

@lol..Are you jealous because you don’t get paid to do this blog? I agree with Kat..Rana, keep up the good work..


February 2nd, 2010
1:01 pm

Oops..Should say signs..

Bob from Accounttemps

February 2nd, 2010
1:05 pm

@lol — the AJC, for the most part, stopped publishing original content years ago, favoring news feeds, wire services, and re-printing of days, sometimes week old news. And there went the readership along with the staff that preceded them.


February 2nd, 2010
1:16 pm

If you are dumb enough to dedicate part of your existence on this planet to text messaging, you deserve being ripped off. The rest of this stuff is about convenience, and many are too dumb to figure that out too, so they spend more than somebody else. Yawn!

David S

February 2nd, 2010
1:26 pm

Want to talk about a huge waste of money? Just look at the amount of money the local school district gets on your property tax bill. Just look at the quality you get. I don’t even have any children so this is a complete ripoff. Even for parents, the cost of homeschooling is about 10% of the cost of even the subsidized rates most households pay for the government schools.

And then there is the income tax.

You can withhold your money from private companies. Just try that with the government and they throw you in jail or kill you.

I’ll take the private option any day.


February 2nd, 2010
1:36 pm

I wish a M********* would take my snacks. Even the child snack is overpriced. It’s cheaper to bring a capris sun and a bag of chips into the theater. The next time I’m going to bring in Popeye’s chicken and have the entire theater smelling good. lol, lmao.


February 2nd, 2010
1:36 pm

I am laughing about the movie snacks. I am guilty as charged and I refuse to pay for the over-priced food at the movies. Go to the dollar store before the movie and load up. I definitely plan to before I go and watch Valentine’s Day once it hits theaters.


February 2nd, 2010
1:39 pm

I definitely, definitely, recommend half.com and sometimes ebay for selling college books. half.com allows you to list it and then they will email u when it sells, no costs to post and u only pay a percentage to them when it sells. I have bought a book, used it for the semester and made a PROFIT after selling it back on this site! Research your book costs early and take the time to save this money!

mystery poster

February 2nd, 2010
1:40 pm

If movie snacks didn’t cost so much I wouldn’t mind buying them. When I lived up north, there was a dollar movie theater near us. The snacks were reasonably priced, although more than you would spend on the “outside.” However, I always bought snacks there because the movie was only a dollar.

If you’ll excuse the expression, I’d have to be boiling in h3ll before I’d spend $3.50 on a bottle of water.


February 2nd, 2010
1:59 pm

The movie theaters make there money off popcorn not the movies. So if everyone sneaks in their own food the cost of movies goes up. Do you take food to a restaurant? Or your own flask. This is creepy advice. This is beyond cheapskate.

Voight but not Jon Voight

February 2nd, 2010
2:11 pm

I know someone who used to always go to the movies with a barrel-sized garlic dill pickle in her purse – not only did she crunch it while watching the movie, it didn’t take long for the odor to permeate throughout the room! I thought it was the greatest thing (as long as she brought an extra pickle for me).

Not Just Me

February 2nd, 2010
2:14 pm

Why is it that people going to a movie seem to think they can’t go 2 or 3 hours without food?


February 2nd, 2010
2:14 pm

What is a huge waste of money you ask – any food or beer at Turner Field. Plus almost ANYTHING you buy there is of very poor quality and is a nutricianal abomination.

Ekel and Sisbert

February 2nd, 2010
2:15 pm

Not Just Me – what planet are you from?

Voight but not Jon Voight

February 2nd, 2010
2:22 pm

Really – watch a movie without popcorn? What is wrong with you? Sheeesh!


February 2nd, 2010
2:22 pm

Chegg.com is good for college text book rentals. You pay shipping to you, they give you a return label to send them back. And they buy textbooks also – either for cash or for a Chegg credit where you get 5% over the cash price on future rentals.

dr sindoo

February 2nd, 2010
2:23 pm

Want to talk about a waste of money? The AJC. Want to talk about an embarrassing waste of ink and trees? The AJC. Want to talk about an ever-dwindling staff that needs to go back to 4th grade to learn to write? The AJC. 75c for a 5c newspaper? The AJC.

This “article” should be in “My Weekly Reader” or some throwaway driveway newspaper…or the kids’ section.

Sad excuses for newspapers that used to cost 5 cents and contained some decent writing (not always, of course) that could be recycled at school paper sales or used to line bird cages, line cat boxes, or made into arts and crafts projects.

The papers had editors and writers like Ralph McGill, Gene Patterson, Celestine Sibley, Dr Alverez, Piney Woods Pete, and even nondrug ads from “Why do the heathen rage?” and other folks who were concerned with news and literacy, or if they were not, they did not pretend to be.
Now we have the “NEW” Atlanta-Journal Constitution that is ignored by most, ridiculed by more, and purchased by those of us who cannot bear the thought of having no newspaper. Unfortunately, we have no newspaper. We only have a pretend newspaper written by folk who did not learn to write in college (or at home) and who ought to be ashamed at accepting a paycheck.

Ron Mexico

February 2nd, 2010
2:32 pm

Mr Sindoo, DON”T read it then, moron.


February 2nd, 2010
2:45 pm

It’s a fact that most Dollar stores are within a mile of most movie theaters. The candy aisle is more diverse than the ones at the theater counter, and it’s only a dollar. Even though Larry Platt begs the young people to pull their pants up, I find it convenient to keep my stash hidden. I usually try to find the dollar movie as well, it’s no longer necessary to be the first on the block to watch the new blockbuster.

Bobby dee

February 2nd, 2010
2:48 pm

My local theater has $3.50 senior citizen matinee on Wednesday. Then they give me a coke & popcorn for $6.00. I never bring my own on those days. In the evenings the admission price is $9.50. The snack bar is deserted on those nights because they do not have specials.

BongWater Slurpee

February 2nd, 2010
3:01 pm

One thing that is fun to do, wasteful but fun, is buy the largest soft drink available, probably the Big Gulp 64oz, and let is sit during whilst viewing the movie.

Upon exiting simply take the 64oz JUMBO cola and pour it on the floor!! Its loads of fun!!! LOL!!!

BongWater Slurpee

February 2nd, 2010
3:02 pm

Y’all leave Rana alone and let her do the job for which she was hired!!

You go Girl!!!


February 2nd, 2010
3:07 pm

How about just waiting for the movie to come out on DVD and watching it at home with your own snacks and drinks. Get Netflix and you won’t even burn gas to pick it up.

Voight but not Jon Voight

February 2nd, 2010
3:15 pm

And you don’t even have to shower first and can sit on your couch naked if you want.


February 2nd, 2010
3:15 pm

I’m taking my son to the circus next week and I remember the outrageous prices from last year. My husband told him he could have one souvenir or his choice & he chose the $12 cotton candy in the huge “keepsake” big, floopy hat. He wore the hat to school on “Crazy Hat Day” and I can’t swear I’ve seen it since. My neighbor gave him a souvenir clown mug that came with the $9 snow cone that he still has but doesn’t use. The neighbor told use that they spent more than $150 on snacks & souvenirs at the circus last year! Since this year’s circus trip is also considered a birthday gift, we offered our son an allowance to spend on souvenirs but he asked instead to spend the money on game cartridge that he will play with for months instead of just the next day like he would with a circus toy.


February 2nd, 2010
3:16 pm

but movie theatre popcorn tastes soooooooo good !


February 2nd, 2010
3:22 pm

I like the flask idea at the movies :) Why didn’t I think of that? Better yet, bring a pot brownie.

Rana Cash

February 2nd, 2010
3:40 pm

Hey folks. Been busy all day creating…uhhm…original content for a story later this week :-)
Thanks for all the spirited conversation.
What about bottled water? Waste of money? Worth it?
And to the person who said they ditched cable in favor of netflix, hulu and other options, I’ve been thinking about the same thing.


February 2nd, 2010
3:43 pm

When It comes to the movie thing, it depends on what theater you go to. I know the Regal 12 in Atlantic Station let you bring in you own food. These group of friends (older women) had brought them some Chinese food and walked right in like it was nothing. My friends and I went to the Target near the theater and brought all the junk food we needed and walked in with the Target bags and nobody said anything.

When it comes to the textbooks it’s best to use different search site to find the best prices. Also it’s best to buy International Books, they’re about 80% off. My books this semester in the School Bookstore would’ve been $600. I brought them online and a e-book and it was $189 for all 5 books.


February 2nd, 2010
3:47 pm

Lynn @ 1:36

I would pay your internet connection costs just for you to continue leaving comments like these. Made my afternoon. I can just imagine seeing that fight in the lobby:

“I’m sorry but you can’t take outside concessions into the theater. You’ll have to leave your chicken and biscuits with me. Please, put down the chicken snack.”
“Hell naw, m*********, you ain’t touching my Popeye’s!”

Hahaha! I might try sneaking in with a couple of barbecue sandwiches, just for the heck of it!


February 2nd, 2010
3:54 pm

When movie theater snacks get more afforadable, I’d be more obliged not to sneak food in. Why 2 drinks and a popcorn shot up to $18….WHY!?!?!?!?!?????!!!!!! When I was a teenager, I could get $20 from my mom, pay for me and a friend to see a movie and have snacks. It’s hard to take my daughter to see a movie when it costs me $50 every time I go. But until they make the snacking more reasonable, I’m going to continue to sneak food in. And I’ve never been searched for items in my purse, so until that day comes…I’m going to keep bringing my own food. And IF that day every comes, I’ll just wait for the DVD to come out.

I’ve even seen one girl bring in a pizza from PapaJohn’s and she wasn’t even questioned.


February 3rd, 2010
7:44 am

Used text books can be bought at amazon.com for a FRACTION of the cost, all you have to do is have the exact ISBN.. the little number on the back of EVERY book to get the correct book for the class you are taking. I saved HUNDREDS, probably thousands of dollars on Graduate school textbooks this way. The first semester I paid over $700 dollars for textbooks..when someone in class suggested this, I went on line and saw I could have paid $48 dollars for the very same books.. I always choose used books.. they sometimes have good notes. Then you can turn around and sell them back if you like…

mystery poster

February 3rd, 2010
8:02 am

We were going to cancel the cable a year before we did, but when I called they offered me $40 a month for a year w/free HBO. I think it’s worth $40 a month so kept it. When the year was up and the price was going to jack up to $90, we ditched it. For me, it’s a return on investment issue. It’s just not worth that kind of money.

I’ve tried to think about the expenses my parents had when they were my age. They didn’t have cellphones, cable, Internet, etc. We spend WAY too much on things that aren’t really necessary. I feel safer driving w/a cellphone and I need Internet at home for my job but the cable was not a necessity. Next thing to go is my landline.


February 3rd, 2010
8:20 am

lol is just your local hater, every town has one,,i actually read this entire article..anyone who knows anything about the statistcs on reading an article in its entirety knows its rare…good piece Rana