For what am I overpaying?
September 1, 2011 12:33 PM   Subscribe

For what am I overpaying (as others are doing for HDMI cables or spices, for example)?

I was recently at an electronics store and I was amazed that the cheapest HDMI cable and/or USB printer cable I could find there was $25, while Monoprice has decent ones for $5 or less. Similarly, I buy spices at European or Mexican supermarkets because they are well cheaper than traditional supermarkets and just as good.

At the electronics store, I thought "who would ever pay that?", but then I thought "oh crap, I bet I am doing that too for other items."

So, what kind of items can you buy for really cheap (comparatively) from an alternative source that are priced more expensively at typical retailers? Any category is fair game - from food to jewelry to TVs to cars.

(I should say that I am NOT interested in "supercoupon" strategies or things where you have to game the system or do a lot of homework. I am referring instead to nontraditional or unexpected or online places where you can get a like-quality item for less money.)
posted by AgentRocket to Shopping (32 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
My roommate spends way, way more than I do on basics (shampoo, soap, paper towels, toilet paper, garbage bags, etc), even though I get "good" brands and she gets the budget brands.

This is because I buy in bulk. I share a Costco membership with a friend (luuuurve the Costco) and am able to get the fancy, butt-cushiony toilet paper in backs of, like, 50, drawstring garbage bags, my preferred shampoo, bulk (dish/body/hand/laundry) soap (with which to refill smaller containers), etc. That also means I only need to haul my ass (and car) out there once or twice a year for these things, which saves money on gas and transportation.

My roommate, on the other hand, drives to Walgreens weekly to get [insert type of product], which ends up costing more per ounce/foot and isn't as good. (Even according to her, "the toilet paper I get sucks! How can you afford to buy the nice stuff?!")

Bulk. Buy in bulk.

Also, dial back on prepackaged/pre-made food. Make as much as you can from scratch. Tastes better and is cheaper in the long run. (Especially if you buy things like flour, sugar, butter, and oil in bulk.)
posted by phunniemee at 12:44 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

At least in my area limes are way cheaper at the asian/mexican grocery store than they are at Kroger. Like, 8 or 10 for $1 vs 3 or 4 for $1. Sandwich bread is cheaper at Costco (but you have to get two loafs, freeze one).

I play hockey and equipment is waaaay cheaper online than it is in local stores, like 40-50% less for some things.
posted by ghharr at 12:46 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh gosh, and vanilla. If you do a lot of baking, (real, pure) vanilla extract is approximately 400 billion dollars an ounce in grocery stores. Trader Joe's is a little better, but Costco (yet again) and Mexican grocery stores will sell you a pint of the stuff for about 6 bucks.
posted by phunniemee at 12:49 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I personally was shocked that a phone charger for at the Verizon store cost over $30. I got to my car and said to myself I can probably find this cheaper on the internet. I returned the item, hopped on eBay, only to find the charger plus shipping cost under $5. So phone chargers are definitly something to be bought on the internet.
posted by amazingstill at 12:59 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think Itunes/Amazon Music is really expensive. You can just buy a used album on Amazon. For example, if you want Bruce Springsteen's Greatest Hits album on Amazon, you can download it for $11.99. Or you can buy it used from one of the vendors (.77), and even with the shipping it's less than $4.00. And you can use it on all your computers, then give it to a friend or sell it again. Or even better use Spotify!
posted by caoimhe at 1:03 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Books, music, and videos. If you still like to read actual books (as opposed to Kindle, et al), then you don't ever need to pay retail. Find out when your local library has their book sale. Here in Houston, it's not just outdated, discarded library books - they get books from garage sales and donations, too. And they have CD's and DVD's, too. On the last day of our sale here, you get as much you can jam into a brown paper grocery bag for $10. You can also try Amazon, thrift stores, and garage sales, but the library sale is the best deal I've found. Do you realize how many CDs you can jam into a paper grocery bag?!?

If you do crafts, it's been my experience that Michael's is consistently cheaper than Hobby Lobby.

Calendars. Buy 'em in January and save about half the price. Same thing for gift wrap, ribbons, etc.

Get your shoes in DSW's clearance section in the back of the store. I've gotten $180 boots for $13.

Furniture - If you like the look of West Elm and CB2, then look at their stuff closely and you'll see that IKEA sells almost identical items. And while IKEA furniture isn't extremely high quality, neither is West Elm or CB2 - you're just paying more for the perceived trendiness. Then just get your accessories at West Elm and CB2.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:10 PM on September 1, 2011

Books. I've always loved reading, and my first job in high school was at a local bookstore, but I couldn't get over the fact that people would come in and drop $20-30 on a hardcover summer fluff novel that they were going to take the beach and read once, when they could just go to the public library and get the same thing for free. If you really want to own a book, and it's not a brand-new release, you can probably get a decent used copy really cheaply on Amazon.

TVs. I easily saved $800 by purchasing my HDTV from Amazon a couple of years ago vs. Best Buy. They even delivered it for free and set it up in my living room for me. Yet people still drive to their local Best Buy to purchase a television and lug it home themselves. It boggles the mind...
posted by Nothlit at 1:12 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I haven't done a price check lately, but paper products historically haven't been very heavily discounted at Costco. Although you get a ton of rolls of toilet paper, the per unit price isn't really considerably lower. It's often cheaper when on sale at a grocery store or chain.

It's well-known (especially to bookstores going out of business) that Amazon is considerably cheaper for books. However, graphic novels and collections of comic books are much, much cheaper.
posted by mikeh at 1:12 PM on September 1, 2011

Rice is typically much cheaper at ethnic groceries than at mainstream American groceries.

There are a bunch of things I buy at a local restaurant supply store (open to the public) that are much cheaper there. These range from pre-cubed cheese to tri-color rotini to trail mix. These are often very large packages, sometimes GINORMO packages, so I have to be rather picky since I won't go through that much lettuce in time (for example). However, I have friends with three teenagers who shop basically nowhere else for food. It's also the world's best place for parties, I put together a whole from-scratch taco bar there, plus got all the disposable plates/forks/etc., for half what I'd have paid just for the food at the regular supermarket.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:14 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Spices that you would use in Indian food are WAY cheaper at an Indian grocery, if one is convenient to your location. And this just happens to include a number of spices that you might use in other types of food, as well, like cinnamon, coriander, and cumin. At least. Probably lots of others.

The one downside is that they usually come in plastic bag packaging that doesn't tend to re-seal very well, so they may go stale if you don't intend to use them right away.
posted by rkent at 1:16 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I haven't done a price check lately, but paper products historically haven't been very heavily discounted at Costco. Although you get a ton of rolls of toilet paper, the per unit price isn't really considerably lower. It's often cheaper when on sale at a grocery store or chain.

This is definitely true when a grocery store puts TP on sale as a loss leader, but I double checked just to make sure I wasn't going crazy: I found this, which may be helpful.
posted by phunniemee at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Eye glasses and lenses. They're hundreds of dollars cheaper online.
posted by Arbac at 1:20 PM on September 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

If you have cable internet from Comcast, don't pay to rent your cable modem. They'll rob you blind on the monthly rental.

Here's a list of approved devices. Even buying a new DOCSIS 3 modem, the payback period can be less than a year - and after that it's all gravy.
posted by rube goldberg at 1:29 PM on September 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

- In the same "ethnic supermarket" vein, if you have an Asian market nearby you might find that fresh ginger root is dramatically less expensive.

- Instead of flowers from a florist, they are much cheaper at supermarkets.

- Everyone knows this one, but printer ink should be a pretty obvious choice, never, ever buy it at a local office supply store. You are paying dearly for the convenience, but few people tend to stock ahead of time using cheaper online sources.
posted by jeremias at 1:42 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can buy a bag of yeast the size of a bag of flour in some places for like $10. I've only seen them online, but a friend goes to a Polish grocery store. Much cheaper than those little packets
posted by wayland at 1:42 PM on September 1, 2011

I just discovered that doggie poop bags are so much cheaper at Amazon, it's ridiculous.
posted by radioamy at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

MexicanYenta: "And while IKEA furniture isn't extremely high quality, neither is West Elm or CB2 - you're just paying more for the perceived trendiness. Then just get your accessories at West Elm and CB2."

Better still, CB and CB2 have fantastic outlet stores, as does Restoration Hardware (which is a true "scratch and dent" outlet with some ridiculous ~80% markdowns; or at least, the one in Leesburg, VA is).

Buying at IKEA also flies in the face of the overwhelming advice in the currently-ongoing "Expensive things that are worth it" thread. Some stuff there is of decent quality, but an awful lot of it is crap.
posted by schmod at 2:00 PM on September 1, 2011

There is a jewelry wholesaler in your town. He/she sells jewelry to retail jewelry stores. But if you know where said wholesaler is located he has no problem selling to you directly at 50% off. He basically gives you the price that he would charge the retailer.
posted by dgeiser13 at 2:02 PM on September 1, 2011

Sadly, you are most likely paying too much for something once you hear the "ding" of a retail-store doorframe, unless it's your local Korean grocery, which is going to be your best bet for cheap spices.

As for eyeglasses, I am hilariously uninsured but was able to get two pairs of 'em (regular and tinted sunglasses) for $120. Coupon codes are essential, but simple to find online. Never pay the full price you see listed for something online.

As stated above, AVOID Walgreens and office supply stores. Walgreens has muscled its way into areas with no local supermarket, and sells pitifully less-than-viable consumables at a markup. I never buy more than a front-pocket's worth from Walgreens and still feel ripped off.

/End Walgreens rant

Sorry if you wanted specific examples of stuff.
posted by obscurator at 2:25 PM on September 1, 2011

2nd on spices, HDMI cables, and TV mounts (which run 300% more at Best Buy than online).

Also, anything you can negotiate. Almost everyone knows that you can negotiate car pricing, but I'm always surprised by the people who don't negotiate at mattress stores, jewelers, furniture stores, art galleries, etc. Basically, in any scenario where there isn't standardized pricing, just ask. You'll get 20% off on mattresses and the like just by asking. You can usually also get discounts on medical services if you aren't using insurance.

Ask for discounts on magazine subscriptions w/ renewing. Ask for discounts on your internet when renewing.

I also tend to buy vintage used furniture via Craigslist, which is IMO better quality and so much less expensive than new. (I'm a big fan of Heywood-Wakefield stuff, which is widely available).
posted by seventyfour at 2:28 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I bought my wife's diamond online and it was a far better quality stone than I could have otherwise afforded; I had it placed by a local jewelry shop into a setting she liked.
posted by seventyfour at 2:30 PM on September 1, 2011

Basil! I was amazed to see that ginormous bunches of fresh basil cost like $1.99 at a Vietnamese grocery store, a huge savings over what you'd get at a Whole Foods or Safeway.

Socks, especially running socks. You can reliably get any kind of socks you want for at least 50% off at Filenes or Marshalls.

Expensive toiletries (e.g., contact lens solution, fancy face creams). If you have that one brand that you always use, keep your eye out for big sales or bulk deals, which regularly pop up at CVS, Costco, etc. I've regularly save 50% this way.

And the most important one of all ... RENT!! When I'm ready to move I search obsessively for months for the absolutely perfect balance between size, location, and cost. I've gotten some amazing deals on great places, but only because I've put in the footwork (and am willing to live in smaller places/more "transitional" neighborhoods than some might be.)
posted by yarly at 2:31 PM on September 1, 2011

posted by Carius at 6:11 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are a couple ways to look at the differences:
1. brand name vs store brand / off-brand
2. individual/personal size vs bulk
3. brick and mortar impulse/convenience buys vs online
4. loss-leader sales vs retail price
5. overstock vs retail

Notes on the categories:
1. Some off-brands are the same as brand names (medicine), some are close but not quite (soda); some 3rd party electronic components are fine, while others are hit-or-miss. Read reviews if you're shopping for electronics online, and you might want to stick with name-brands if it's a critical component. Think of how long the item will serve you, not just how much you could be saving by buying an off-brand.

2. Be sure to only buy what you need and can use, or split the contents with friends and family. If the bulk material has a shelf-life or can go bad, don't go crazy or you'll lose money on the material you throw away. In this way, personal servings may be cheaper for you than bulk.

3. If you can plan ahead, you can save a lot. But if you need it now, you're usually SOL. If you can't plan ahead, consider if you need that thing to work now, or if you can wait a week.

4. If you have patience, or have time to shop around for items you don't need right now (but can still use within lifespan of the product), you can buy things for half-off or more, only with a "loyalty card" or associated phone number. Don't buy anything else, and you come out ahead.

5. Filenes, Marshalls and Ross are all surplus sellers, some times selling items after their season has come and gone. The shops can be disorganized, so you'll have to dig through racks of clothing for something that you might like, but you can save a good bit if you can find clothing and shoes in your size. Sheets are usually easier. Plus, you can buy a giant metal rooster or two at Ross.

As for comments not yet added:
* Walmart is a good source of generic medicine, and larger quantities sold locally.
* Frontline Flea & Tick control for pets comes in a varieties of sizes, and for cats and dogs, but it's all the same. Our vet sold us a Large Dog size dose and gave us a syringe or something to make smaller doses. It's great if you have a couple pets, or have somewhere to store the excess.
* You might be able to find spices in bags in the "ethnic" section of a usual grocery store, and they're lots less than the bottled spices.
* Don't stress out too much about getting the cheapest price on gas, because there are more costs than just the gas price when you drive around. And if you're driving around, you might as well be shopping around for other items and saving the same amount or more money.
* Keep track of prices of things you always buy by [lb/oz/serving/can], so you'll know when you are saving money.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:49 AM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Clothes -- consignment. Not all cities/areas have a big consignment scene, but there are tons in the Bay area and they make it difficult for me to want to pay retail for any clothing. Especially since there are so many wealthy people here that the consignment stores are stocked with awesome finds (and really awesome jeans!). Consignment stores have standards and I have not bought anything that doesn't look good as new, for at most 1/3 retail price (we're talking Paige/AG/Earnest Sewn kinds of brands). Also, if there's a Goodwill or Salvation Army that is in or very close to a ritzy neighborhood, definitely check it out. The Goodwill in the Pacific Heights area of San Francisco is full of great stuff for jaw dropping prices.
posted by imalaowai at 12:09 AM on September 3, 2011

In some cities, it's cheaper to rent than to buy. (Washington, DC)
In some cities, it's cheaper to buy than to rent, as long as you're staying 5+ years. (Pittsburgh, PA is the best example of this that has jobs; Detroit is the best example that isn't so great on jobs.)
posted by talldean at 7:03 AM on September 3, 2011

Tools are another. Of course, good tools pay for themselves. But sometimes you only need to make one cut, or you need a tool that can be abused or used without regard to its price.

Here is my affordable-tools strategy.

1. Check if Harbor Freight Tools has it. Seriously, they have, for example, entire screwdriver and pliers sets for $5. Or multimeters that go on sale for $2-$5. I often give these meters away, they're great. A similar importer is Grizzly. The other thing they are great for is sandpaper, grinding discs, etc - all disposables are cheaper there.

2. Check if local used-tool shops have it. Yesterday, I needed a framing square. It was $17.99 at Ace, $8.99 at Harbor Freight, and $3 at the used shop.

3. Online, eBay in particular. Example - I like those little fiber-reinforced cutoff wheels for dremel tools. Even Harbor Freight wants more than $1 each, but I was able to get $25 for $10 on eBay.
posted by fake at 10:16 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mortgages. Many people get a mortgage from their bank, rather than shopping around. Going through a mortgage broker could save you 1% or more a year. That translates out to many thousands of dollars.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:37 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Smart Phone screen protectors, cases, power plugs, car adapters, etc.

You can pay $30 in a store for a case or power adapter for your phone when you can get it on eBay for $1 brand new.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:39 AM on September 4, 2011

Magazine subscriptions: check ebay. Also check with your alumni association, they may have special deals.

Insurance: in Canada, check out, rates for all kinds of insurance can vary 60% or more.

knick knacks - check to see if your local transit company has a lost and found sale. Ours does and people get $1 umbrellas and backpacks there.

For travel, especially hotels - hotwire and priceline. For my latest US trip i got a $46/night deal, where the going rate is $123/night. I've gotten $65 4-star hotel rooms in San Diego.
posted by storybored at 2:25 PM on September 4, 2011

Buy from the bulk bins - even at expensive places like Whole Foods, buying bulk spices, bulk tea, bulk rice, grains, beans, etc is much cheaper than buying prepackaged from discount stores.

I can buy a year's worth of a spice for less than $1, then replace it in a year before it goes stale! Bulk bins can be hard to find, but they're awesome.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:05 PM on September 5, 2011

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