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Funny Money: Hidden Costs to Avoid at All Costs, Part One

screwDeal hunters pride themselves on being great with money, and conniving marketers exploit that pride by luring them into dark corners with low prices, only to mug them with a barrage of hidden costs. The more effective the mugger is at mugging, the more likely the victims are to be convinced that the mugger wasn’t a mugger at all, but an altruistic person who did them a favor by lightening their heavy wallets.

The practice of tacking on hidden fees is a particularly nasty subset of good deals disguised as bad ones — these buried fees typically pounce on consumers once they’ve already committed to a purchase. Sellers exploit the attachment as they pile on other necessities disguised as extras. In the ongoing battle between buyers and sellers, hidden costs cloud the comparison process like a fog of war, making it tough to make realistic comparisons when you’re deciding what to buy.

To guard against potential muggings, check out this list of hidden-cost landmines to approach with cautions:

Weddings

The cruelest and most exploitative of all industries, the industry thrives on bilking saps into emptying their bank accounts in the name of egotism and sentiment. Everything from cakes, flowers, rings, invitations and catering are disgustingly marked up to disgusting degrees, all just to throw one big party that everyone will have forgotten a week later. Venue renters are particular masterminds at making sure new couples test out the “for poorer” part of the “for richer and for poorer” thing, piling on silly, overpriced upgrades for decorations, catering, facilities fees and whatever other nonsense they can dream up. To keep from going overboard on wedding spending, stick to your budget and don’t let yourself be talked into anything.

Funerals

Funeral people are close cousins to weddings vampires, only with a more morbid exploitation of sentimentality. Sure, the thinking goes, you could honor granny’s minimalism by burying her in a pine box in a quiet ceremony with close friends, but if you really loved her, wouldn’t you spring for sealing her up in something shiny and holding a blowout gala for a reception? If the zombie apocalypse ever arrives, the shameless and exploitative industry will surely be thrilled that it will finally, like the wedding industry, get to enjoy the luxury of repeat customers. For now, though, every person is restricted to one funeral. To avoid negotiating when you’re mourning and vulnerable, talk to the elders you’ll be responsible for burying about the specifics of their going-away parties and nail down the details.

Cell phones

The pimp that dwells in your pocket is always shaking its cane at you, demanding more money. Smartphones are the worst offenders, dazzling you with promises that you can operate like a James Bond/Dick Tracy hybrid while you’re on the go. If you ever plan on watching video on your phone, the bargain-basement data plan won’t do it for you, so you’ll need to spring for a more expensive option while constantly checking your data usage after every YouTube cat video to make sure you won’t be charged for overages. Unless you’ve sprung for an unlimited plan, you’ll have to do the same babysitting with your minutes and text messages. And those are just the services you actually use. Your bill is also loaded with ridiculous, nonsensical fees. Before you sign a dreaded two-year contract, get the phone company rep to quote you the total, after-tax monthly bill, and get it in writing.

Everything to do with cars

Not only do mechanics have a tendency to discover non-existent, expensive-to-repair problems with your vehicle when you take it in for oil changes, but everyone else having anything whatsoever to do with vehicles also likes to violate you, without the benefit of lubrication. It starts when you’re buying your wheels, and you think you’ve settled on a price. Then comes your meeting with the finance dude, who scares you into buying an extended warranty and talks you into a lower monthly payment if you agree to an interest-flooded six-year loan instead of a standard five-year agreement. Brace for similar attacks all throughout your car’s life. There’s the tow truck guy who will rescue you from a freeway breakdown, taking the long way to the repair shop to stick you with heavier fees. And the tire salesman who will lure you in with a sale only to charge you insane amounts for wheel balancing, valve stems and other fictional fairy tales. Not to mention insurance salesmen who overcharge you so much that a gecko from a football game commercial will be able to cut you a cheaper deal in 15 minutes or less. To avoid the cruelties of cars, ignore them and go with public transportation.

We’re just getting started folks. Check back next week for part two. … If you’re willing to pay me an additional fee, of course.

About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.