Kiwis' wallets being siphoned daily by rorts and unjustified charges

Do you feel ripped off? Kiwis have their wallets siphoned day in, day out for goods and services that aren't value for money and every few years I'm driven to vent on the subject.

Since I first whinged publicly in 2005 about rip-offs, little has improved.

Real estate agents' fees have gone up, not down, and are more than twice what they are in comparable nations such as the UK. We're still hit with huge offshore service margins on our credit cards, unreasonably high honour and dishonour fees by banks, eye-watering dentistry bills and exorbitant fees on everything from hire cars to event tickets.

Add the word "European" to any product (even if made in China) and Kiwis will pay horrendous premiums.

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Putting a call out on Facebook for pet rip-off peeves elicited a stream of responses.

A Canadian friend who recently returned home after six months in New Zealand couldn't believe how much we pay for beauty products. "Example: Lancome Bi-Facil eye makeup remover is $69 in New Zealand but C$32.59 here. I understand New Zealand is far away, but double the price? That's a bit much."

It's rip-off necessities that annoy me more than the nice-to-haves such as eye makeup remover. Milk has traditionally been seen as a dietary staple. Yet we pay more than many overseas countries for this product that is produced in such abundance here. A Kiwi friend living in Brisbane pointed out on my Facebook thread that he pays $1 a litre for milk.

Trendy products ranging from induction cookers to smart watches carry huge premiums in New Zealand, thanks to something in the Kiwi psyche that I haven't quite put my finger on yet.

My Facebook thread turned to the question of menstrual cups (to the horror of some males), which are becoming trendy with yummy mummy types. In New Zealand, eco-style stores sell the DivaCup and other brands for as much $60 each, yet they can be manufactured for a few cents and sell for less than $5 on AliExpress.

Consumers are often held over a barrel when it comes to spare parts and sometimes the spare part we need costs half the price or more of the item we're repairing.

A painful example of the spare-parts heist relates to replacement small front wheels for a wheelchair. The tyres had disintegrated. "No problem," I told the owner, "I'll pop into the disability store and buy some more." I nearly fell over when I was told it would cost $196 to buy these very basic wheels. The words "daylight robbery" came to mind.

Fortunately for the wheelchair owner, I wasn't taking that and after an awful lot of legwork found Tauranga-based Wheelco, which sent me two replacements for $58 in total including GST and delivery. That was in keeping with the cost/current market value of the wheelchair.

I won't make any friends by highlighting the following, but farming the elderly for profit is a big money spinner in New Zealand.

What matters to me is the principle of not being ripped off and I feel duty bound to shop elsewhere.

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Another horrendously expensive "necessity" for older folk that has come to my attention is emergency alarms. They're a profitable business for providers. Elderly people are rented a small, cheap to produce box that plugs into their phone, emergency pendants to wear around their neck and a key box to let emergency services into their home if needed. The providers man a telephone line in case any clients' emergency buttons are activated.

The ongoing cost is $86.45 a month through New Zealand's leading provider. That's a lot of money for a superannuitant, as one pensioner pointed out to me quite vociferously. I checked and an equivalent service in the UK cost the equivalent of $34 a month, from which the provider was still making a profit.

Petrol prices are sure to get many Kiwis drivers foaming at the mouth. I'm a recent convert to the idea of boycotting expensive stations. It turns out that many Devonport locals drive right past the station on the peninsula, described by one person I know as having "everyone by the goolies" and able to "charge what it wants". The same story is repeated in other parts of Auckland, such as Whangaparaoa, where the petrol companies think they have a captive market and will cheerfully charge an extra 20c a litre than other stations.

Shopping around for petrol can pay dividends, especially for local businesses running fleets of vehicles. What matters to me is the principle of not being ripped off and I feel duty bound to shop elsewhere.

Trade Me is coming to the aid of the ripped-off, however, providing competition for high-street retailers. Printer ink is a classic example. I've heard of people who throw printers out when they run out of ink, because it's cheaper to buy a new one than buy replacement ink cartridges. That might not be the case if they bought their ink on Trade Me.

Shopping around for petrol can pay dividends, especially for local businesses running fleets of vehicles.

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I saved two-thirds of the cost of an HP-branded 61XL cartridge by buying it on Trade Me. Instead of $56.46 at a leading retailer, I got it for $20 plus postage.

Printer makers and high-street stores try to put the fear of God into consumers about using non-branded ink. But PC World magazine, in its report Cheap Ink: Will It Cost You, teamed up with the Rochester Institute of Technology and found that there wasn't much between the branded and non-branded varieties.

Airlines and travel agencies are good at loading on rip-off charges. One Facebook friend posted a furious message about a $120 credit-card surcharge on an international booking for four people with Qantas. In fairness to the Aussie airline, Air New Zealand's surcharge for return international flights for four people would be $140.

Don't kid me that this is simply cost recovery. One way around this is to pay direct from your bank account with POLi.

I've often wondered about KiwiSaver fees. The providers would have you think that a percentage point here or there means nothing. What's more, KiwiSaver fees are lower than the superannuation fund fees I complained about in 2005.

But they're not nearly low enough, says Sam Stubbs, former chief executive of Tower Investments. The average KiwiSaver fee amounts to 1.34 per cent, which is about double what you'd expect to pay overseas for similar funds, says Stubbs.

I've often pondered the fact that it costs virtually the same to manage a $10,000 KiwiSaver investment as a $100,000 one, yet we pay a percentage fee of the funds under management.

Economies of scale are kicking in for the KiwiSaver providers, says Stubbs, but there's no commercial pressure to drop fees -- in part because they're very difficult for consumers to quantify.

We owe it to each other to stand up to rorts such as uncompetitive petrol stations and outrageously priced spare parts. Vote with your feet -- shop elsewhere.

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