Thrifty Living: I can help you spot the bargains that turn into rip-offs

Way back in more innocent times, a purchase was a purchase. Even a discounted one. If you wanted a bargain, you sought it out and lo! it arrived, and you had the thrill of knowing that what you got was truly a money-saver.

Nowadays, things are a bit more complicated. If you want to cut down on the bottom line – and, in our credit-crunchy days, who doesn't – you have to have a Mastermind contestant-like grip on your transactions. At all times. Otherwise, what you will be handed is a great big rip-off. In my experience, rip-offs masquerading as bargains include the following:

1) "Pre-theatre" dinners, where the expected (and advertised) bill of £20 for dinner for two magically becomes a crippling £46 when the bill arrives. Silly you! You forgot to factor in the bread, mineral water and a "cover charge" – all not included in the bewitching offer.

2) Cheap travel tickets bought online that allow absolutely no latitude for human failings, acts of God etc. This week, I went to East Anglia to interview Louis de Bernières of Captain Corelli fame. Very pleasant it was too. I bought my train tickets two days prior to the journey, online; £12 each way, a bargain. Only my outward train was delayed because the brakes broke. I was therefore late for my stipulated return train and caught the next one, half an hour later. Hardly a problem, and certainly not my fault. Furthermore, as this was a mid-afternoon train trundling through Suffolk, it was about 10 per cent full. But hey ho, these modern times require up-to date policies. As I had not caught the exact train stipulated by my £12 ticket, it was rendered invalid by One trains. "Thirty-nine pounds please," said the ticket inspector with relish. Why? Why did I have to buy another ticket when I was holding one in my hand for the day and journey in question? How can a replacement ticket for exactly the same service justify this huge increase? Because the company says so. I didn't give him the satisfaction of a row, but handed over my credit card, seething and pretending not to care.

3) So-called loyalty cards. "Have you got a Nectar card?" says the person at the till. "No," I say. What I do not say is: "And I never will have one, because they are a total rip-off." Nectar! The name implies a naturally sourced delight. The reality, my friend, is that a Nectar card, or any of its many rivals, will encourage you to buy all sorts of unnecessary stuff to build up points. After about half a century, you venture to cash in your points. Sucker! All you are qualified to purchase is half a bottle of Liebfraumilch, or a pair of driving gloves, or a plant pot. Nectar cards; they are the Green Shield Stamps de nos jours, and we all know what a bargain those little gems were.

4) Waitrose. Fairly obvious, this. Waitrose presents buying three cartons of juice for a fiver as a tip-top bargain. That is about the only thing of value you will find within these walls. Oh, there's heaps of lovely food, but no bargains. Waitrose is the only part of the John Lewis Partnership where the famous "never knowingly undersold" slogan obviously does not apply, as this food can be undersold everywhere bar Harrods Food Hall.

5) Telephone, broadband and cable "bundles". Inordinately complicated with a mesmerising array of money-saving "tariffs" that look fantastic on a poster outside the shop – but once said bundle is bundled into your house, your bill is inexplicably larger than ever. How can this be? Could it be because you are daring to use your phone during the hours of daylight?

6) Wire baskets at Boots. Empty and stacked, they seem innocent enough. But, as an executive from Procter & Gamble told me at the Baftas (I know, my life!), these baskets have a purpose. Procter & Gamble call it something like "positive" shopping. I call it a drifting intent to buy, armed with basket. You simply wander up and down the aisles slinging in Procter & Gamble products such as Nicky Clarke hair gel and Vaseline lipsalve and that must-have Boots No 17 anti-wrinkle cream. Before you know it, you've racked up £30. Entering "best value" Boots with no list and a basket – fatal.

And so it's lists from now on. Lists, and better time-keeping, and close reading of the small print, and a determined vigilance to beat the shops, internet ticket providers, telephone companies and the rest of the wily bunch at their own game.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Guru Careers: Management Accountant

    £27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

    Guru Careers: Project Manager / Business Analyst

    £40-50k + Benefits.: Guru Careers: A Project Manager / Business Analyst is nee...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'