From the TV licence to HDMI cables: the biggest rip-offs and how to beat them

Don’t overpay for things you can get at a fraction of the price - or for free!

There are loads of things we are simply paying too much for. 

After all, it’s easy to fall for the marketing traps, clever store layouts or simple convenience that encourage you to spend more than you need when buying products and services that sometimes we don't even know we are doing it.

To help out, we’ve highlighted some of the biggest rip-offs that we are guilty of wasting money on and come up with ways to make savings with cheaper alternatives.

Contract mobile phones

When you take out a pay monthly contract that includes the cost of the handset you might think you’re saving money by splitting up the cost over 18 or 24 months rather than handing over a wad of cash upfront.

However, because most providers combine the price of the handset with the airtime, you are at risk of paying more than you need to long after the cost of the phone has been covered.

For example, the iPhone 6s is available SIM free for £529 from Carphone Warehouse or you can get a contract deal where you pay a £29.99 upfront cost  and then £33.49 a month for 24 months on EE.

The airtime you actually pay for is £12.70 and the payment towards the handset works out as £20.80. Theoretically your bill should drop to £12.70 after 24 months, but typically people will carry on paying the same amount long after this time. Paying the same price 12 months after the contract ends equates to you wasting £249.60 more than necessary.

Which? has estimated that we are throwing away £355 million a year paying for handsets that have been paid off.

Separate research from bill monitoring service Onedox reckons people are wasting £240 a year with this sneaky rip-off

To make sure you aren’t paying more for no benefit whatsoever, take note of when your contract ends and make sure you switch onto a cheaper SIM-only deal where you just pay for minutes, texts and data.

You could also try going for a provider which promises to lower your bill when you've paid off the cost of the handset. O2 and Tesco Mobile, for example do this automatically as they separate the cost of the handset and the airtime from the start so you can clearly see what you are paying for and when your bill will drop.

15 things we're wasting money on

The TV licence

Anyone who watches live TV - whether on a TV or any other device like a laptop or tablet - has to pay for a TV licence, which costs £145.50 a year.

But if you don’t watch any live TV and just watch catch-up or on-demand shows and films you don’t need to pay for this.

From September 1 the rules are changing slightly to close this loophole and anyone that watches catch-up on BBC iPlayer will need a TV licence. Read: Legal ways to avoid paying the BBC TV licence fee for more.

However, if you stick to services like Netflix, 4 On Demand and ITV Player you still don’t have to worry about shelling out for a licence.

Branded medicine

We pay a huge mark up for branded medicines over white label versions.

A recent study found a box of Nurofen Ibuprofen painkillers costs an average of £2.01 for 16 tablets, but generic alternatives offered by supermarkets like Tesco could be bought for 30p –an incredible 567% difference.

Branded medicines are typically more expensive because of the marketing and packaging that companies invest in. But own brand drugs are just as good. You just need to check the active ingredients on each box or bottle to ensure you are getting the same thing.

Read How to buy cheap medicines, painkillers and vitamins to find out where to find savings.

Branded groceries

Like medicine some own brand groceries are identical to their branded counterparts in all but price.

Standard table salt for example only has one ingredient, salt and anti-caking agent Sodium Hexacyanoferrate II. So there’s really no point paying 80p for Saxa table salt (750g) when you can get Tesco table salt (750g) for 29p, saving 51p.

Vinegar is another product where brand names don’t mean better quality or ingredients. Malt vinegar is made up of two things; barley malt vinegar and barley malt extract. But shoppers can pay as much as 94p for popular brand Sarsons Malt Vinegar (400ml) when they could pay just 39p for Teco’s generic malt vinegar (568ml).

The same goes for things like porridge, free-range eggs, bleach, flour and spices. Read Supermarket shopping: when own brand beats branded goods for more.

Gendered products

Earlier this year The Times exposed the everyday products women pay more than men for which are practically the same thing apart from the packaging.

The research found evidence of clothes, beauty items and toys marketed at females were routinely more expensive than those geared towards males.

Standard razors for women were found to cost 49% more than the equivalent product for men. And the gender tax was even apparent on a set of pens. A pack of ‘for her’ black ballpoint Bic pens with pastel-coloured barrels cost £2.99 at Staples but the equivalent pack of ordinary black pens cost £1.98.

When shopping beat the marketing companies at their game. Try to be gender neutral and shop for the cheaper products every time!

Bottled water

In the UK the bottled water market is worth over £2.1 billion and total bottled water production stood at almost 2,200 million litres in 2015.

A two-litre bottle of Evian water is 90p from Tesco. If this was what you chose to drink instead of the stuff you get out of your tap every day for 12 months, you’d spend over £300.

Among the natural mineral and spring waters though, some retailers sell what is essentially bottled tap water. Tesco for example sells a six-pack of Everyday Value water  for 95p.

Instead of spending money on bottled waters, try fitting a filter to your tap or investing in a filter jug, like this BRITA Aluna Water Filter Jug for around £10.

Beauty products

A BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour survey found we spend around £100 a month on beauty products and treatments, but a lot of the things we buy to help our skin and hair can be made at home from natural ingredients.

There are plenty of tutorials and guides online that can show you how to make a face scrub with ingredients you probably have lying about your home like sugar, honey, lemon and coffee. Here are some you could try. Shampoo, moisturising cream, face masks and body wash are all simple to make yourself too.

For more ways to save on beauty take a look at: Save money on beauty products: get eyeliner, lipstick, eyeshadow, foundation and blush cheaper.

15 things we're wasting money on

HDMI cables

Shopping for an HDMI cable can be a minefield of marketing hype.

Online and in-store you’ll find all sorts of brands claiming they offer better picture or sound quality and it’s tempting to go for the most expensive options to get the best out of your equipment.

However, technical experts reckon there's no real difference in the quality of the signal you get from cables that cost under £5 compared to those that set you back over £100.

Mini toiletries

Miniature versions of toiletries are useful for smarter holiday packing. The problem is you pay a lot for not very much!

For example, a regular-sized 500ml Listerine Total Care mouthwash from Superdrug is £4.59 (91.08p per 100ml), but the travel size 95ml Listerine Total Care mouthwash costs £1. (£1.57 per 100 ml) - a 40% mark up!

You would be much better off investing in some empty travel sized bottles and filling them up for your trip rather than buying mini versions of all the stuff you probably already have.

You can pick up a set of five travel bottles for just £1 at Poundland or Ikea have a four pack of UPPTÄCKA squeezable bottles for £2.

Pre-cut fruits and vegetables

We all want to save time in the kitchen especially after a long day at work, but cheats like pre-cut fruits and vegetables are costing us dearly.

For example Tesco’s sliced mushrooms may seem a steal at £1 for 250g, but buying 250g of loose closed cup mushrooms instead would be just 67p.

Skip the shortcuts and buy produce that will take slightly longer to prepare.

15 things we're wasting money on

Printer ink

According to the Channel 4 series The Shopper’s Guide to Saving, an average branded printer ink 5ml cartridge costs between £8 and £15 to buy in the shops, but costs less than 50p to make.

The reason for this is manufacturers use printer ink to help recoup the cost of the expensive technology in our actual printers, which are generally quite affordable.

One way to save on the high cost of printer ink is to recycle your old cartridges and buy refurbished replacements. These are refilled with ink and cost up to 40% less than buying a brand new replacement. Alternatively, you can shop for non-branded replacement inks which are also just as good.

Designer perfumes

Designer perfume brands spend a lot of money on marketing their latest scents and packaging them in fancy bottles to line our bathroom shelves.

But there are plenty of cheaper store or own-brand fragrances around that smell virtually the same for a fraction of the price.

For example, a 30ml bottle of Ralph Lauren Romance could set you back about £40, but it smells very similar to the Just Pink Eau De Parfum from Next which you can get for £8.

Get a more rewarding current account. Compare and switch today!

Greeting cards

Greeting cards can cost between £2 and £5, which if you think about it, is a lot for a folded piece of card with a picture on the front and some sentimental words.

The costs can really add up over the course of a year when you tot up the events that you usually buy them for like birthdays and anniversaries. But you can save by making your own or sending free e-cards online to show someone you care.

Household cleaners

A lot of the stuff we buy to clean our home could be replaced with items from our cupboards that can do the job just as well.

White vinegar for example is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer which can be mixed with water to cut through grease and get rid of mildew.

So rather than £3.50 for Dettol mould and mildew spray you could go for some Distilled Vinegar for 39p at Tesco.

Other everyday items you might have in your home like baking soda, lemon and toothpaste can also double up as cleaning agents.

Collector magazines

Collector magazines can be a major rip off if you don’t keep your wits about you.

Often new titles will have an enticing advert showing what you could have after weeks of collecting. Of course issue one is always reasonably priced, but further issues are typically much more expensive.

The How Your Body Works series for example helps kids discover the secrets of the human body and each week the issue comes with a part of the human body to build. Issue one was 99p, issue 2 £2.99 but the 78 issues you needed after that are £5.99 each! If you collected the whole series, you end up handing over £474!

The Art of Knitting is another recent example. Each issue comes with yarn to eventually help you create a throw. Issue one is 99p but the 49 further issues you need to complete the project is £2.99. That’s nearly £150!

While these may be educational, you may be better off just buying a skeleton model from eBay or purchasing a book on how to knit online from somewhere like Amazon!

This article has been updated since it was first published

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