NEW YORK (MainStreet) You just bought a new flat screen, and now you're considering a fancy-looking $45 HDMI cable that promises the best picture. On the shelf near it are half dozen antivirus programs for $50 a pop, and you wonder if you need it for your MacBook, that needs some new memory, which will cost $200 at the Apple store. But that might all have to wait, because the extended warranty for your flat screen is $300.
The problem with all these options? They're some of the most unnecessarily expensive things you can waste your money on.
Understandably, shopping in the world of tech can be confusing. So below, we've listed 11 of the biggest rip-offs in the tech world and their alternatives so you can save some cash.
1. Computer Tune-Up Services
For $50, Best Buy's Geek Squad will walk you through problems already answered by numerous tutorials available everywhere online for free. These online-only "service options" are incredibly basic and include creating user accounts, installing Windows updates and creating shortcuts.
"Purchasing third party tech support services such as Best Buy's Geek Squad or Staples' EasyTech is like paying a stupidity tax for your tech ignorance," says Avram Piltch, online editorial director for LAPTOP magazine. "If something is truly broken, deal directly with the manufacturer."
But if you just want to speed up your PC, grab some free software. For example, CCleaner can spot and stop useless, system hogging programs that may be auto-running on startup.
2. Paying for Antivirus Software
Consumers spent $4.5 billion dollars on antivirus software in 2011, according to Gartner numbers crunched in a report by Imperva. However, paying for antivirus software doesn't mean you'll absolutely stay virus-free. Abbey Dieteman, co-founder of the company Dieteman Technology, which provides IT assistance to small businesses, had one customer who found all this out the hard way.
"We had one customer that had to have her computer reformatted due to a virus and lost her paid antivirus software in the process," says Dieteman. "They wouldn't refund her money she had paid for a year up front only give her a credit for software she didn't want."
Instead, free software like Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast! or AVG will give you free protection. Just don't download and install the entire Internet.
3. Xbox Live Gold
Unless you're a hardcore gamer, Xbox Live Gold is a terrible product. You can't access any streaming video apps from your Xbox, like Netflix, unless you pay the annual Gold fee of $49.95.
Don't pay more just to access apps you pay for from your Xbox 360. Get a Roku LT for a one-time fee of $40 instead.
4. Your Carrier's GPS App
Verizon wants you to pay $4.99 a month to use its abysmally rated GPS software. That's a bargain compared to AT&T, who wants to charge you $9.99 a month for its GPS app. But why on Earth would anyone want to pay AT&T $120 a year for something they could have for free in the form of Google Maps? Maybe they hope you don't know any better.
"These carriers install their own suite of software - commonly referred to as 'bloatware' - onto their devices before they ship, hoping users will choose the paid alternative to apps which are freely available," says Michael Hess, the product lead of electronics at FindTheBest.com.
5. HDMI cables
One of the most well-known perpetrators for selling over-priced HDMI cables is Monster Cable, which sells a four-foot HDMI cable for $50. But that pales in comparison to AudioQuest's 'Diamond' HDMI cable, which goes for...wait for it...$1,095.99. And it comes sans diamonds.
There's no reason to spend more than $10 on a HDMI cable. Researching the issue, CNET found "...there is absolutely no picture or sound quality difference between a $3.50 cable and a $1,000 cable" (emphasis theirs).
But that Monster cable does feature "updated packaging with speed badges" you can display on your mantelpiece.
6. In-store cords and adapters
If you've ever walked into a Best Buy looking for an inexpensive cord or adapter, you were probably shocked at the prices. One Belkin mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter available in Best Buy stores costs $45, and a basic VGA cable typically runs $25 or more. Either can be found online for $10 or less.
"Computers and mobile devices are so commoditized that there is no margin on hardware so all the profit is made on accessories," says Andy Walker, tech strategist at cyberwalkermedia.com. "Best Buy will stock pricey add-ons because that's how they stay alive."
To avoid inflated mark-ups, shop online for accessories.
7. Screen Protectors
While screen protectors can save your screen from scratches, they shouldn't be bought at your carrier's storefront: you can buy a pack of expensive, yet oddly non-descript screen protectors for $20 at Verizon, or you could get a pack of well-reviewed ones from Amazon for $8.
"With the typical cell phone user upgrading their device within a year, even if you buy a new $1 screen protector every month for your phone prior to the next upgrade, you'll still save money," says Jeffery To, editor-in-chief of Nihongogo.com.
8. Data Caps
Data caps by big Internet companies are just another way to get the most out of consumers. According to a study comparing Comcast's fourth quarter data between 2009 and 2010 by NewAmerica.net, delivering data became 17% cheaper, even though subscribers increased by 25%, yet the company imposes service-throttling data caps. Other companies, like AT&T, charge $10 more per 50 GB over the limit.
"It costs the companies very little to give you more but the extra you pay is gravy to them. And therein lies the profit margins," says Walker.
Some plans are really insulting: Comcast is testing out a plan that gives users a 12.5% discount, or $5, if they use only 5GB 15% of their paid-for 300GB plan. For every GB over, it's a buck less; if you use 9 GB, you'll save a dollar. Currently, this plan is only available in Fresno, California, but Comcast could roll it out nationwide if testing goes well.
Unfortunately, the only thing you can do about data caps is to shop around or look to alternative local providers, which depends on where you live.
9. Carrier store ring tones
The top ringtone at Verizon's store is Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" for $2.99, also on sale at T-Mobile's store for $2.99. The entire song can be had for $1.29 on iTunes, meaning you'll pay over double the price for a snippet of the song. If you need advice on how to make a ringtone, CNET has a guide.
10. Extended warranties
One way retailers can get more bang for your buck is pushing the extended warranty, which typically runs about 20% the product's purchase price. But experts say it's not worth it.
"Usually a problem after the initial warranty expires can be attributed to other causes, which means the extended warranty won't cover it anyway," says Dieteman.
Instead, check with your credit card provider and buy with plastic. Manylike Discover, Visa and MasterCardoffer free extended warranty programs. If it breaks, it might be a hoop-jumping hassle to fix, but it's free.
11. Apple RAM Upgrades
While Apple is known for being expensive, asking $200 for 8 gigs of laptop DDR3 RAM is one of the most ludicrous things on this list. There's no such thing as Apple-only RAM, and that hardware can be had for nearly a third of the price elsewhere. For example, a matching set from Crucial is only $62 at Amazon.
"The only risk in using a generic brand of RAM is that you void your MacBook's warranty by tinkering with its innards," says Hess. "But the performance boost from an Apple module vs. another name brand is the same."
--Written by Craig Donofrio for MainStreet