Each year, consumer watchdog Choice runs the Shonky Awards, which highlight worst-case examples of companies and products that are marketed deceptively or don’t live up to their claims. Plenty of them are familiar, and they all underline the most important consumer principle of all: check the facts before you buy.
Of the eight companies awarded a Shonky by Choice this year, one example will be familiar to regular Lifehacker readers: Coles’ so-called $10 family meals. Back when I was doing the Mastercheap project, I noted that these represented a pretty massive cheat, since they often assume ingredients . Choice picked on the same example I did, and calculated that a family would actually have to spend $37.74 to produce the allegedly cheap “coq au vin” promoted by the supermarket chain.
Two of the other Shonky winners are worth bearing in mind the next time you’re in a supermarket as well. If you fancy some extra-virgin olive oil, choose very carefully: Choice’s testing suggests that many oils labelled as such age badly and lose flavour. Its advice is to stick with Australian-grown oils, since these are likely to be fresher.
If you’re buying painkillers, don’t be fooled into buying the various Nurofen products said to be for specific types of pain: despite the branding and the higher price tag, all have the same active ingredient (ibuprofen) and all will work in exactly the same way.
Another theme we often harp on is the importance of not becoming overly obsessed with reward schemes for credit card usage, since the amount of money you spend to gain the rewards often far outstrips the actual value you get. A Shonky went to a particularly telling example of this problem: if you spend $12,000 in a year on the Commonwealth Standard Awards card, you’ll get $20 in flight rewards. (Choice also calculates that using an average family’s grocery spend, it would take seven years to get a single Melbourne-Sydney flight — a tricky feat to pull off given that the points expire after three years.)
Some services are more obviously iffy. Choice highlights Babynamemeans.com, a site which purports to provide the “meaning” of selected names but uses concealed terms and conditions in its registration section to hit customers with a $144 subscription. I’m sceptical of the notion that personal names “mean” anything in the first place, but it’s a telling reminder to always look at the agreement before signing up.
Hit the link for the full story behind each of the Shonky winners, and share your own examples of dodgy products and dodgy marketing in the comments.
Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.