Smart SpendingSmart Spending

The most overpriced products

There are some items that will never be bargains. Here are 20 products with giant markups.

By Stacy Johnson Sep 26, 2012 1:38PM

This post comes from Renee Morad at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News logoIf you're a merchant seeking profits, there's only one way to find them: Sell stuff for more than you pay for it.

But what's a fair markup? Fifty percent? One hundred? Two? It depends on both product and business, but one thing's for sure -- some consumer goods are being sold for a whole lot more than they cost. Whether you're sipping a martini in a swanky bar or bottled water from the grocery store, odds are, you're swallowing an astronomical markup. 

Here, in no particular order, is a list of 20 products with high markups, along with ways to avoid paying a premium.

Movie theater popcorn/candy

Movie popcorn: Image: Movie theater popcorn © Lanny Ziering, Brand X Pictures, Getty Images What's harder to digest: (1) Movie theater popcorn has an average markup of 1,275% or (2) with a soda, that popcorn has a caloric equivalent of three McDonald's Quarter Pounders? Nutrition aside, concession items like $5 tubs of popcorn and $6 boxes of Gummy Worms are big revenue streams for movie theaters.

Since most theaters prohibit moviegoers from bringing in outside food and drinks, the way to save is to bypass concessions altogether. If you can't, find your cinematic savings elsewhere, like getting a five-pack of movie tickets for $30 at

Prescription drugs

Astronomical prescription drug prices -- with markups ranging from 200% to 3,000% -- are enough to give patients a headache. In fact, price hikes caught the eye of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, who is suing pharmaceuticals distributor McKesson for markups on Allegra, Celebrex, Coumadin, Flonase, Lipitor and Valium.

To save on prescriptions, ask your doctor for free samples and also ask about generic substitutes. Comparison shopping is also a great idea. Wal-Mart, Target and warehouse stores like Costco are good places to start. And take advantage of mail-order suppliers like Express Scripts if your prescription drug plan offers it. Check out "10 tips to safely save on prescriptions."


Shoppers in the market for a diamond should be prepared to pay anywhere from 50% to 200% more than the wholesale cost, according to The Street.

A diamond's sparkle may cause shoppers to turn a blind eye to the price tag, but you can land a better deal by understanding what you're buying and shopping around. Read our guide to buying diamonds in five simple steps.

Bottled water

Some claim bottled water's markup reaches 4,000% -- more expensive than gasoline. Saving is simple: Drink tap water. If you're concerned about taste or quality, use a water filtration system.

Salad bars

Some salad bar items are marked up more than 350%, according to Food Network Magazine (.pdf file). Items that aren't worth their weight: chickpeas (386% markup over retail), radishes (302%) and baby corn (277%). To save, load up on the lighter items that cost less than you'd pay at the grocery store, like bacon bits (55% markdown) and grilled chicken (44%).

Eyeglass frames

Dishing out $450 for Armani frames? Markups for eyeglass frames can reach 1,000%. That's certainly not unheard-of. Fortunately, focusing on warehouse stores and the Internet can help you find discounts. Check out "8 ways to save on eyeglasses" for more ways to save up to 90%.


Order a glass of Coke when you're dining out and you could pay 300% to 600% over cost. Sure, you know going into a restaurant that you're paying for the service and ambiance too. But if you're looking to save without sacrificing a night out, skip the extras like soda and opt for water instead.

Text messages

Outgoing text messages on a cellphone can cost the provider three-tenths of a cent, but users pay up to 20 cents. A 6,000% markup is not unusual. Some plans charge 10,000 times more for sending a text than other types of data. If you frequently send text messages, get an unlimited plan.


It's not uncommon for restaurants to charge two or even three times retail for a bottle of wine. Order by the glass and you're sipping on an item marked up as much as 400%. So scan the menu for a reasonably priced bottle (tip: look for house wines).

Hotel minibars

Whether you're reaching for a Snickers or a toothpaste kit, minibar markups can hit 400%. Some of the most ludicrous minibar prices, according to $14 Gummy Bears at Omni Berkshire Place and a $10 bottle of water at the Mansfield Hotel. Simple solution: Leave your room if you want these items.

Coffee and tea

Lattes are one of life's little luxuries, but they can be marked up by 300%. If you're looking to save, start by turning on your coffee maker and bypassing the coffee shop.


Some of the world's most expensive handbags: a $3.8 million purse made by Mouawad that's adorned with more than 4,000 colorless diamonds, and a $1.9 million Hermes Birkin bag.

Women own an average of 10 handbags and spend an average of $148 on a handbag "splurge," according to a ShopSmart poll. Keep more cash in your purse by comparison-shopping online and in outlet stores. For more tips, read our story on finding designer accessories at deep discounts.

Designer jeans

A $665 price tag on Gucci jeans and $225 for Sevens proves some shoppers are willing to go to great lengths for fashion. But these designer items are grossly overpriced. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, it costs about $50 to make True Religion's best-selling jeans, Super T Jeans, but the wholesale price reaches $152, and the average retail price is inflated to $335.

Bakery goods

For items that can easily be baked at home, you could be paying a 100% markup. Granted, convenience is a factor, and maybe a baker is a better cook than you. If so, a good cookbook could offer a decent return on investment.

Greeting cards

Greeting cards are simple pieces of paper with a 200% markup. And that's before factoring in so-called "Hallmark holidays." On a budget? Make your own cards, or, better yet, if you have school-aged children, have them design one. This will likely amount to a more sentimental gesture and will leave a lasting impression.

College textbooks

Most college students will shell out about $655 for required textbooks this year, according to the National Association of College Stores. It's no secret that most of these books come with monster markups. Read "11 ways to save big on college textbooks" for cost-cutting tips, from asking professors about coursework in advance to textbook rentals.


An orchid can cost up to $25 per stem. Add Valentine's Day or a wedding into the mix and prices can surge. While disregarding flower purchases altogether isn't always an option, shopping around for the best price is. Check out online retailers, and buy in season to help cut costs.


Produce is often marked up as much as 75%. Buying in season is the best way to find a bargain. As we explain in our seasonal savings post, look for deals on grapefruits and oranges in January, asparagus in March and melons in May. Also steer clear of pre-cut veggies and fruit, which often have an additional markup of about 40%.

Furniture and mattresses

Furniture stores usually make a hefty margin, with markups of about 80%. Try to shop during sales, but if your timing is off, don't be afraid to negotiate a better price. Also take note of the product number, and then search online to see if any other retailers offer a lower price.


The average markup on cosmetics: 78%. Since most cosmetics are made from various combinations of dirt, oil, wax and fragrance, it's surprising that shoppers pay such a premium. But thanks to anti-aging claims and celebrity-endorsed marketing, shoppers have been breaking the bank to look younger and more beautiful. 

Fortunately, there are some simple ways to get more bang for your buck when purchasing beauty products (hint: skip the drugstores and load up on free samples).

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Sep 26, 2012 7:08PM
Did someone mention #21 should be Politicians? If not, please include them.  In fact, these type products have become so dysfunctional and defective, we should be receiving rebates for having to put up with them.  Thank you.
Sep 26, 2012 7:34PM
I'm dumber for having read this. The cost of something is largely determined by supply and demand. The marketplace determines value, not cost to produce. They would charge $100 for movie theater popcorn if people would buy it. They have determined its value by what people buy, not some artificial number based on production cost
Sep 26, 2012 6:32PM
What about printer ink? It cost about $1000 per barrel, but it makes the highest gas prices look cheap.
Sep 27, 2012 8:32AM
your forgot the iphone, ipad, and well anything made by apple.
Sep 27, 2012 6:43AM
May I add dental care? Last month a dentist charged me $105 to tell me how much he charges for his service. A charge to tell me how much he charges??!!  What brass these people have. And there's no supply/demand issue involved here, unless you opt for no teeth.
Sep 26, 2012 3:27PM
I think hearing aids are one of the most prohibitively marked up items. I was quoted a $3,000 price for a simple pair of standard hearing aids. Those things are not the most complicated items. They are  probably not much more costly to make (after development costs) than a set of plastic silverware from McDonalds. 
Sep 26, 2012 4:52PM
The medical industry as a whole.

Let's not forget our Government law makers are way over priced.
Sep 26, 2012 3:05PM
They are great but Apple products should be on that list.$399 still for an ipad 2,come on.
Oct 7, 2012 8:51AM
I was in ER a few weeks ago, I was given one single aspril, I mean one single asprin, then I looked at my bill, I saw they have charged me $400.00 for one single asprin, which probably cost them 10 cents. What is the most overcharged things???
I didn't see cell phones on this list. Why pay for an over priced smart phone and plan when you won't use most of the apps and features anyway? Some data and voice plans can cost you well over $100 a month. Stick with a not so smart phone for a while and watch the savings increase.
Sep 26, 2012 3:54PM

This article proves what i've always believed...American's biggest weakness is it's stupidity it

has for adulation of Actors, Singers, Sports Figures etec, I have never paid for a bottle of water

that God has supplied for me free.  We all know that greed drives prices..but do we have to

dumb about..The list over pricing has run rampant in our our country..Cable Tv, cell phones

home utilities (Gas & Electric)  , car maintenance etc,  This is our fault people..we accept

this knowing it's wrong......Stupity...Wising Up America..

Sep 26, 2012 7:07PM
There's some good items in this piece, but I'd like to mention that some mark-ups are justifiable.  Fresh Produce and bakery items, to name two.  95% of fresh veggies, from the farm to the supermarket, wind up damaged-in-transit, spoiled, or rot before ever seeing a consumers mouth.  Liked baked goods, their shelf-life is nil, and most is thrown away.  Same with fresh baked/broiled/fried chicken etc. you always see at the store these days.  Most of it goes into the garbage within a day or two uneaten.  So, the manufacturers and distributors, etc, must recoup their losses on what actually DOES get sold, or else they couldn't/wouldn't stock them at all.

And, YES! to the guy here who mentioned printer ink cartridges.  I swear, solid 24K gold costs less per ounce and lasts longer.

Oct 7, 2012 10:52AM
he also forgot to mentioned college tuitions
Sep 26, 2012 5:04PM
Razor blades should have been on the top of the list.
Sep 27, 2012 9:41AM
Buying your textbooks from the campus store is not a smart idea.  I emailed all of my professors about 1 week before classes started, and asked if I could have a list of ISBN numbers.  I explained that I did not wish to purchase my books from the bookstore, and I wanted to buy my books online to save money.  Each and every professor agreed with me, and had no problem with giving me the numbers.  I ordered the books 1 week prior to getting back on campus, and had them shipped to my PO box in the college's mail room.  All of my books arrived within 1 or 2 days of classes starting, and I spent about $100-$200 instead of the near $700 they would have cost me at the bookstore.  A great place to look is  Just put in the ISBN numbers, and they will give you a list of stores that sell the textbook, and for how much.  This gives you the option of searching for the cheapest price available, based on the condition of the book.  Like I said, order the book about 1 week prior to classes, as most used books are shipped with media mail, which can take longer.
Sep 27, 2012 3:03PM

 The worst ripoffs are in prescription drugs  the markup in the US is outrageous  for instance Asthma inhalers here without insurance they're about $125 to $135  dollars  each, Yet I can buy them from a Canadian pharmacy the same exact inhaler  from the same US manufacturer but shipped to me from India  or Turkey, a carton of ten is around $250 to $275 for ten of them broken down that's less than my copay using insurance and  my insurnce will only allow one a month. What if I lose one or break it? It's going to cost me $130 dollars to replace it,I'm careful but I have lost one and I've broken one. Why does the government allow this to happen. We're being ripped off on a grand scale There are several meds that I take that are cheaper to buy off shore than my insurance co pay is here that's outragous to the point of being criminal. 

 Popcorn, clothing, handbags cosmetics and many of the other things are optional we don't have to purchase them, but medications are required we have no choice we have to buy them and the government is allowing them to rape us over and over every month. IF you'd like to see for yourself google canadian pharmacy and check the prics against what you are paying, you'll be surprised.

Oct 7, 2012 12:38PM
Cable TV.   Comcast gets a high def signal, turns it into analog, than charges you for a box to change it back to digital.
Oct 7, 2012 9:41AM
Sep 26, 2012 2:34PM
Prescriptions. Unfortunately for the consumer it costs quite a bit to open, stock and staff a pharmacy. It's not a vending machine industry. Just like the rest of the medical fields this business is dictated by the insurance industry. With perhaps 90% of the population covered by some form of prescription insurance actual reimbursements are relatively low percentage-wise. They call the shots. The pharmacy accepts the terms or is left out. This has forced the lttle guys out and has left the giants to do battle with the insurance industry. This requires an amazing volume of prescriptions to be filled by a limited staff to achieve a relatively small percentage profit when spread across the full spectrum of prescriptions filled. It's those other 10% that are left to fend for themselves. Shop around for the best price, I do. Tell your prescriber if you can not afford a particular drug and expect it to be changed to another alternative if possible. Ask for samples. Brand manufacturers often have special programs available also. The single source brand name drugs can be very cost prohibitive without insurance. Many generics, while bringing a seemingly high mark-up, are well worth $20 or even less. ie $4. This is a health care bargain considering what goes into the development, manufacture and dispensing. This is your health, aren't you worth well more than this?! It's however unfortunate when this is not within reach of many.    
Sep 27, 2012 4:44PM
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.