America is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Scam. With advertisers becoming increasingly savvy, algorithms targeting your vulnerabilities as a consumer, and money getting tighter and tighter, we're all vulnerable to a good scam.
1. Putting Your Money in the Bank
In their original form, banks were a hyper-secure vault where governments and citizens could store their money and valuables for safekeeping. Today, your bank can lend out 100% of your deposits, offers minuscule interest that does not come close to the inflation rate (meaning you're losing money when you put it in the bank), and may not have your money when you ask for it.
2. Multi-Level Marketing
When someone tells you to recruit ten people for their “business,” put your coffee down and leave the meeting. This is a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme, also called a pyramid scheme or Ponzi scheme. There is an astronomical likelihood that you will spend thousands of your own money and never break even, no matter what the smooth-talking, sharply dressed recruiter sitting across the table tells you.
MLM may as well stand for “Make Less Money” than you ever imagined.
3. Other Peoples' Social Media Profiles
Your co-worker's trip to Acapulco is probably paid for on a maxed-out credit card. Though your cousin posts only picturesque scenes of apple picking with their fiancée, they spend most of their time bickering together.
Don't let social media trap you into the misery of comparison: it's all an illusion. There's no such thing as a life that's better than yours.
4. Most Warranties
If your parents had any sense, they taught you to decline the warranty on 99% of the products you purchase. Why pay an extra $20 for a power tool only for the tool to break the day after the warranty expires? Warranties almost always come with fine print, which is chock full of loopholes that qualify the warranty as a scam.
5. Financing Vehicles
If you pay interest on anything, you want the value of that asset to appreciate over time. Yet, a vehicle begins losing value when you drive it off the lot (or have it delivered via a service like Carvana), and the value only craters further from there. How can you justify paying 10% interest – or more – over five years for an asset that loses value by the second?
6. The Annual Phone Upgrade
Refinement culture refers to “the smoothed-down sameness of contemporary aesthetics,” according to The New York Times. As time passes, things (including our phones) tend to become more and more similar. Therefore, each “new” iPhone model offers fewer and fewer improvements, yet countless shoppers shell out more than $1,000 for a new device every year.
7. Credit Cards
Before being approved for a credit card, you should have to recite and explain the phrase, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” There is also no such thing as free credit.
A 27% interest rate is nothing to trifle with, yet your parents can sign you up for a credit card as early as 13 years old. There are loan sharks who consider Visa and Mastercard predatory lenders.
8. Multi-Level Taxation
Federal income tax. State income tax. Sales tax. Property tax. Toll roads. Inheritance tax. Estate tax. The list goes on.
We tend to think about income tax alone eating into our paychecks, but the trust cost of taxation is far greater than your annual donation to Uncle Sam. At least you get many valuable services in exchange for a hefty portion of your hard-earned income!
9. Electric Vehicles
Before you flip your top, acknowledge that there are plenty of hidden costs to electric vehicles. There is the cost of the home charger, installation costs, electricity costs (which are admittedly modest), and the cost of finding charging stations when you are out and about.
Then, there is the hidden environmental cost of EVs, which includes forced labor and dirty mining for lithium, cobalt, and other materials required to develop electric vehicles. To top it off, much of the grid your EV gets energy from is powered by fossil fuels. Make it make sense.
10. Life Coaching
It's not that a life coach can't ever be helpful. The problem is that far too many life coaches lack credentials. If your “coach” has been divorced seven times, has eight maxed-out credit cards, and ends up in tears every time you meet, it's time to seek counsel elsewhere.
11. The Latest Health Food Labeling
Whether one of the major food manufacturers is hocking “keto,” “low-carb,” “organic,” or another buzzword meant to deceive health-conscious shoppers, you have to take a closer look at the ingredients. You need experience in dietary science to determine whether food is healthy, so don't fall for the large print on the front of the box.
12. Movie Theater Prices
At some point, we must start smuggling snacks into the movie theater like we would smuggle contraband into prison. The prices are outrageous, and we can't let AMC and Regal keep getting away with the shameless price gouging.
Ten bucks for a large popcorn and five dollars for bottled water? Somewhere along the line, we decided it was OK for movie theaters to rob us blind. At some point, cinephiles need to take a stand, and it starts with sneaking the store-bought Junior Mints in your back pocket.
Yes, you read that right. Many “charities” spend the majority of donations on their executives, employees' travel expenses, and administrative costs. Even sites like GoFundMe take a cut of funds (which is understandable, to some degree, but not how charity should work). Find a cause where the money goes directly to the needy recipient.
14. Food Delivery
Whenever you order DoorDash or Uber Eats, you end up scratching your head and cursing yourself, wondering how you spent $40 on two burritos. At the same time, delivery drivers lament the pittance they receive as their tires wear down and their gas tank empties.
Cut out the middleman, form a personal relationship with local drivers, and remove the scam from the delivery process.
15. Tipping When It Is Not Warranted
Some self-checkout machines dare to ask for a tip. You're a robot, fool! Being a generous tipper is a virtue, but being a discerning tipper is just as important.