Five Ways to Avoid Being Ripped-Off

Five Ways to Avoid Being Ripped-Off

Let's face it: in a struggling economy, some businesses are going to try to pull every last cent they can from you. Just like many consumers, they are pressing through tough times as well, and it's your job as a member of this economy to keep an eye out for the rip-offs"”after all, one could argue that the only reason they exist is because there are people gullible enough to fall for them.

Be on guard and look out for these five problem areas:

1. Lavishly expensive club/bar drinks

In college, you learned or are currently learning the drastic upside to "pre-gaming," or drinking at home before heading out for the night"”and there's no reason for this night-out ritual to end.

Pre-gaming can be a highly social affair where you invite a few friends over for one or two (or three or four) drinks prior to heading out for a night of bar-hopping or clubbing. With drink prices averaging over $11 in Los Angeles and New York, according to the 2009 Zagat Nightlife Survey, getting in a few cocktails early could save you precious cash.

Worried about your bartending skills? No need. Check out Web Tender or The Bar to brush up on your drink knowledge and get the night started right.

2. Horrendously overpriced flights

Buy early, buy late, buy two weeks in advance"¦

There are plenty of airline ticket-buying myths circulating and it is easy to understand why. Purchasing a ticket with the correct or incorrect date/time/website could save you or cost you hundreds of dollars in airfare. While there is no set trick to securing the best deal possible, there are steps you can take to ensuring you don't get ripped off.

According to Rick Seaney, FareCompare.com CEO, writing for ABC News Travel, consumers should "shop early (but not too early). Planes are packed these days, so last-minute deals that helped fill up their planes are no longer necessary." Seaney says you can start shopping up to four months in advance (but not before"”you won't get the best deal then) unless you fly during the holidays.

He also says that the best way to secure the cheapest tickets is to sign up for alerts from travel websites wherever possible: "Find these tools and use them," writes Seaney, "Education is key, and having the right technology to help educate yourself is vital to finding cheap airfares. [But] remember, the airlines would rather you didn’t find the cheap seats. They’d prefer that you bought more expensive tickets (or really expensive tickets). So they don’t make it easy for you."

Try out websites like Priceline and Orbitz or Seaney's Fare Compare. If you're student, great deals can be had at both Student Universe and Sta Travel, which sell discounted seats to those enrolled in universities.

3. Texting Without a Plan

Quite possibly the worst rip-off in America is sending text messages without a texting plan. Recently, CNN Money published a piece on the biggest rip-offs in the country and plan-less texting topped the list.

Costing providers about one-third of a cent to deliver, text messages usually cost consumers 20 cents to send and ten cents to receive if you don't pay a monthly fee"”yup, that's about a 6,500 percent increase.

No matter what, providers are going make a huge profit off your texts, but to avoid gouging your wallet while padding theirs, get a monthly texting plan and save yourself some dignity.

4. Concessions at the Movies

This one is easy. If you're buying concessions at movies, you are doing yourself a disservice. CNN Money reports that popcorn is marked up a grimace-conjuring 900 percent, while the prices of other products like candy and soda also see increases.

We don't necessarily want to promote sneaking in food and drinks (ahem, although it does save a ton of cash, ahem) but if you're morally opposed to that, it would probably be beneficial to you and your wallet to fill your stomach up at home ahead of time instead.

A small cup of water and ice is usually free though.

5. High-priced new books

A saving grace, literally, for many college students looking for a cheaper alternative to university bookstores, the independent seller option on Amazon.com proves to be a godsend for almost any consumer. Located directly beneath the shipping details on a product's main page, you can often find the same product sold at a cheaper price for both new and used versions, provided by independent sellers. Amazon also provides ratings for each person selling, much like eBay, allowing you a sense of comfort with your purchase.

With this option, it's tempting to never buy a book for full price ever again.