1 BUTT SERIOUSLY
If you could tone your derriere, hamstrings and calves just by walking in a certain kind of shoes, gyms would have to shut down. But that hasn’t stopped some sports companies from advertising the wonders their footwear can do for your gluteus maximus.
Toning shoes apparently mimic the gentle, heel-to-toe motion of walking on a soft, sandy beach. The instability built into them makes a wearer work harder to maintain his or her balance – effectively giving muscles a more rigorous workout, shoe companies say
But if you’re depending on your shoes for a workout, it’s time for a rethink. A 2010 study done by researchers at the University of Wisconsin concluded that toning shoes don’t deliver on their promise. Says the study: “Toning shoes appear to promise a quick-and-easy fitness solution, which we realise people are always looking for. Unfortunately, these shoes do not deliver the fitness or muscle-toning benefits they claim. ” However, the study does say that the shoes can act as a motivator for physical exertion or frequent movement, which is beneficial.
Last year, Reebok International Ltd agreed to pay $25 million (Rs 130 crore approx) in refunds to consumers to settle allegations made by the US Federal Trade Commission that the company falsely claimed that its toning shoes and other products strengthened muscles. The company though did not agree that its shoes, which are based on the concept of balance balls in the heels, were faulty. It said that even while it did not agree with the conclusions, the company was settling the case in order to avoid a protracted legal battle.
HOW TO BEAT IT |
Buy those luscious-bum-makers if you must but remember that many have walked in those shoes before but didn’t end up looking like Kim Kardashian.
2 CARD GAMES
Shweta Chauhan, a school teacher, diligently paid her credit card bills on time but just once she forgot till the day before the due date. She hurried to the nearest branch and dropped a cheque, thinking she was in time. What she didn’t know was that the amount needed to be credited by the due date. The next month, she was slapped with a late payment fee “It was a big shock, ” she says. Chauhan did get the charges reversed. “But it took a long time and several phone calls and visits to the bank, ” she says.
Most people just end up paying because they haven’t gone through the fine print behind the bill. It’s not just the due date clause. Many customers don’t know that if they don’t pay the total amount due, they don’t get an interest-free period for fresh purchases. In fact, they start paying interest from the day of the purchase.
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If you do end up in a debt trap, transfer your dues to another card. You will pay a much lower rate on the second card.
3 GOLF VILLA: BELOW PAR
A luxury villa facing a lush green golf course is the modern-day equivalent of real estate porn. For, it brings with it the lure of more status (golf being more premium than other sports). And then there is the promise of open space which is increasingly becoming a rare sight in these days of condominium living. So buyers are willing to cough up as much as 15 to 20 per cent extra for possessing a flat in a complex with a golf course, even if they don’t know which end of the club to clutch.
But beware. Most of these proposed courses don’t meet the requirements of a standard golf course. In many cases, it has been found that in the name of a golf course, the builder has simply left a small patch of green inside the so-called township. In some cases, the patch is so small that it does not even merit being called a putting course.
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If you want nine holes and not just a hole in your wallet, look at the detailed map of the entire project where every structure and area is drawn as per scale. Builders have been known to smartly insert a sprawling golf course in their maps with a clarification in small print: “Map is not as per scale. ”
4 STENT PER CENT OVERPRICED
With cases of coronary heart disease expected to nearly triple in India – from 2. 7 crore in 2000 to 6. 15 crore by 2015, cardiac device companies and hospitals using such devices are making a killing.
On an average, the most common and basic drug eluting stent (DES) used in over 95 per cent of patients for reopening blocked arteries costs anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 3. 5 lakh to make in India. Ironically, the same stent would cost around Rs 24, 500 in Germany and between Rs 42, 000 to Rs 49, 000 across other European countries. It is the same story with pacemakers – prices range from Rs 1 lakh to over Rs 8 lakh.
“Nearly 4 crore Indians at present suffer from CAD. A majority of them have to pay through their nose to buy cardiac devices. In some cases the patients don’t even need them, ” says a cardiologist from AIIMS. He adds that the manufacturing cost won’t even be one-fourth of the price the device is sold at.
According to experts, the price is jacked up by hospitals by inserting “handling charges”. Manufacturers keep pacemakers and stents in hospitals for use during emergency. The hospital charges a fee, which they say, is “substantially high” and could go up to Rs 70, 000. This, of course, finally falls on the hapless patient.
A recent report ‘Coronary Stents – Emerging Markets (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and South Korea), 2009-2015 ‘ forecasts that the coronary stent market will cross the Rs 7, 400 crore mark by 2015. India claims around 25 per cent of the market. This is why under the CSIR’s New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative (NTMLI), an indigenous stent is being developed that would cost as little as Rs 30, 000 besides boasting a highly advanced design. Says Dr Ashok Seth, chairman of the Escorts Heart Research Institute, who is the chief clinical coordinator of the project: “We have already created the platform by designing an all-new basic metal stent. We are starting animal testing next week. Hopefully, it should be available by 2014.”
According to Dr Seth a large portion of the price tag on a stent is actually the cost of research. Manufacturing a stent shouldn’t cost more than Rs 5, 260, a fraction of the Rs 1. 3 lakh (approx) that patients end up paying for one.
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When it comes to stents, and how many you need, you just have to go with what your doctor tells you because you cannot see the blockages in your body. However, if a pacemaker has been advised, ask your doctor whether you are a low-risk patient. If you are then you can go for a basic two-chamber device which costs much less than its higher models with a larger number of chambers in them.
5 MEGAPIXEL: MORE ISN’T MERRIER
You just got an 18-megapixel camera? Sweet! And when are you printing a billboard-sized image from your island vacation? Probably never. In which case, you may as well have taken along on your trip a plain old 8-MP camera and not one that cost you your entire bonus.
Think about it. What do you do most with photographs from holidays, parties, anniversaries and such nowadays? Click, share on Facebook and refresh the browser every 30 seconds to see who has “liked” the photos. And even if you are the kind to actually go to a photo lab to order prints for your grandma, you will probably do okay with a 7-MP camera.
Ken Rockwell, a well-known online photography advisor, says on his blog: “Camera makers use the number of megapixels a camera has to hoodwink you into thinking it has something to do with camera quality. This gimmick is used by sales people and manufacturers to make you feel as if your current camera is inadequate and needs to be replaced even if the new cameras each year are only slightly better. ” And he creatively calls the people who relentlessly pursue the unending pixel race, “equipment measurebators”, people who are interested solely in equipment for its own sake.
In reality, to make the pixel increase effective, camera manufacturers would have to simultaneously increase the camera sensor size. Instead, most camera makers tend to stuff more pixels on the same sensor, which ends in reduction in image detail or a less sharp image. Experts agree that for an average user, a camera with a 7 MP resolution should work just fine for print or processing quality and even less for email or web-only photos.
“When such high megapixels were not available I shot a full-fledged campaign for a big company with a 6-MP camera. It was published in all newspapers all over India. It was good enough even for a print campaign. It all comes down to the ‘Meri gaadi tumharey gaadi se badee kaisey? (how is your car bigger than mine)’ mindset? One should look for a big sensor on cameras. Even a 10-MP is good enough for commercial work if you really, really need it, ” says Sanjiv Kapoor, who has been shooting professionally in Delhi for 18 years.
Other more critical things to look for in a camera would include optical zoom, shutter lag, start-up time, frames per second, manual setting options, lens quality and features that you will practically use. Most uninitiated buyers, in fact, fall for the second biggest hype of cameras: digital zoom. This is nothing but zooming into a photo, as you would do to a photo on your computer, which means that any photo would zoom infinitely. What you really want to look for is optical zoom, which is what the lens does.
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More megapixels isn’t inherently a bad thing. But it can be. And don’t just focus on equipment. Most amateurs ignore the most critical aspect of good photos – lighting.
6 BUSINESS BUT NO CLASS
At 35, 000 feet things are no longer what they used to be, especially in the front of the aircraft cabin. About a year ago, a business-class air ticket on the domestic route cost about double an economy-class fare. For that price, one could get comfort, extra leg room, interesting menu options and an agreeable co-passenger. That was then.
These days, a business-class domestic air ticket on carriers like Jet Airways costs three to five times an economy one. Incidentally, four airlines in India offer business class seats on domestic flights. Kingfisher Airlines’ businessclass fare still is double the economy fare, but given the mood swings of the carrier’s flight schedule the airline is not really top choice for a typical business-class flyer. Air India business class fares are at least three times the cost of an economy-class ticket. Go Air offers business-class seats, but then again, in the mind of a business-class flyer lowcost carriers fall in a different category.
So while an economy-class ticket costs Rs 6, 000, you have to pay Rs 28, 000 for, say, flying Mumbai-Delhi business-class. And while you get extra leg room and a comfortable seat, the food has been downgraded a great deal, say frequent flyers. At times, the only option available in the inflight menu is a choice between veg and non-veg. And your co-passenger needn’t be from a rarefied circle – he or she could be a smart cookie who booked economy and then bought an upgrade voucher. These are the latest commodities being sold online by frequent flyers – for Rs 1, 000-Rs 2, 000 from portals like quikr. com and olx. in.
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Cattle class is the only way out if you’re willing to give up that legroom.
7 THERE’S A WRINKLE HERE
Youthful skin in a jar, freedom from wrinkles and fine lines…Just how effective are anti-ageing wonder creams? If you ask dermatologists they will ask you to take such promises with a pinch of salt. For instance, the claim that a topical cream can reduce existing fine lines and wrinkles is far fetched.
“Most ingredients like hyaluronic acid and peptides found in anti-ageing formulations have large molecules which cannot penetrate the skin deep enough to remove wrinkles. At best they are good moisturising agents and give a nice hydrated look to the skin. Such hydration you can get from any good moisturiser, too. In your early 30s, use of anti-ageing creams may delay the onset of wrinkles but they have very little effect on wrinkles and fine lines formed in the late 40s and ages beyond that, ” says Dr Gulshant Panesar, dermatologist at Moolchand Medcity, Delhi.
So, what’s the point of buying serums and creams that cost anything between Rs 1, 000 and Rs 6, 000? While some of the better known brands do back up their products with extensive research and lab tests, the efficacy of anti-ageing creams remains largely a scientific grey zone. There is hardly any peer reviewed research or studies on the subject and most ingredients used in such products fall under the vague classification of “cosmeceuticals” which are not drugs and hence escape the probing lens of monitoring agencies like the FDA.
However, in the West such magical concoctions have started to face the heat of scrutiny. Recently, the Obama administration made a proposal to raise about $19 million to upgrade the monitoring of the cosmetics industry. The National Advertising Division of Better Business Bureaus in the US found L’Oreal’s Lancome and J&J’s Neutrogena making un-substantiated claims – refilling wrinkles in about an hour or eliminating them in a week.
Retinol, a commercial derivative of Vitamin A, is the only antiageing ingredient which has been scientifically found to delay the formation of lines and wrinkles.
HOW TO BEAT IT
| Don’t start weeping into your fancy lotions and potions. Experts say the best advice for those worried about wrinkles around their eyes is to use sunscreen, wear UV-absorbing sunglasses and to not smoke.
8 OUR BREAD, THEIR BUTTER
Ever noticed how at a bar, the bartender never charges for the cola in your rum-n-coke but the moment you ask for a diet cola, the price jumps up by 100 bucks? You’re not the only one. Drinkers often pay more for a Bacardi Breezer than a pint. Though both cans are sourced at the same rate – Rs 20 – the diet cola is marked up five times. A 750 ml bottle of Old Monk is available for Rs 225 in the market and yields 23 small pegs. Many bars and restaurants charge anywhere from Rs 200-300, plus taxes for a 30-ml measure.
Simran Mulchandani, managing director of blueFROG (Mumbai and New Delhi), puts the pricing policy down to ‘deals and promotions’. “Each supplier will want to push his own brand, ” is Mulchandani’s simple explanation. “For example, if the price differential between a vodka and beer is too high, then even a habitual vodka drinker might drink beer. Liquor companies want to win beer drinkers over to spirits so vodka will be priced cheaper. In the case of Breezers, there’s no alternative so the brand isn’t interested in really pushing it so we can price it higher than a beer, ” he explains.
A family of four, eating at a mid-level Indian eatery, on an average, runs up a bill Rs 1, 800-2, 000. The predictable fare usually includes chicken tikka for starters, dal makhani, a chicken dish – the more adventurous ones go for mutton – maybe kadhai paneer along with the usual naan, roti and roomali. While it’s common for dishes to be marked between Rs 200-400, what really adds bulk to the bill – apart from the VAT and service tax – is the humble roti.
With a tandoori roti priced at Rs 40 and above and naan at Rs 65 and more, consumers, more often than not, end up paying as much as a serving of dal (Rs 250) for breaking bread. After eating at a newly opened and much acclaimed Delhi branch of a Mumbai brand, a diner on a Facebook forum wrote, “Rs 165 for a cheese naan, Rs 40 for a tandoori roti. . . Baap re baap! I felt as if they wanted to recover the money from me alone. ”
The diner isn’t the only one voicing such sentiments. A product that costs an establishment not more than Rs 2 is marked up 50 times and is perhaps one of the biggest – and most hurtful – cons pulled on a consumer. A Delhi chef, who has worked in fine-dining restaurants around the country, simply shrugs and says: “That’s the way it works. Most owners will try and inflate the price of a dish at least five times to recover the rent and salaries. And the roti is the easiest to manipulate. After all you have to eat your dal and chicken with something. ”
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Develop a taste for beer and remember that carbs are not good for you anyway
Cinephile Sanjana Sheth is only 28 but she is already on a nostalgia trip when it comes to the topic of movie-time munchies. When faced with an exorbitantly priced can of coke at a theatre, her inner voice begins to sound like her grandmother. It speaks longingly of the time popcorn came in an unremarkable orange packet, when carrying an apple in your handbag was legal, when coffee was only served hot and when no self-respecting Indian knew what “nachos” meant. It’s the kind of monologue that is inspired by a light pocket – a common movie interval consequence. Thanks to the tendency of multiplexes to charge exorbitantly for food, this nostalgia is now collective.
At a leading multiplex in south Mumbai, for instance, a pair of samosas that is otherwise available for Rs 10 costs Rs 40, a mineral water bottle is priced at Rs 50 and a pack of popcorn sets you back by Rs 200 a bucket. Many such debit card swipes have made media relations professional Amrita Hom Ray resolve to stop eating at multiplexes “unless I am on the verge of killing someone out of hunger”. Amrita has now taken to watching movies at single-screens in Bandra “where I don’t have to necessarily starve myself”.
Some valid comparisons are drawn. A patron of a leading multiplex from Thane, reasons, “Why should I shell out the price of three masala dosas (at an Udipi restaurant) for a small sandwich (at a multiplex)? ” Multiplex owners, however, point out that the cash they make from selling snacks makes up an important part of their revenue. Hence, their attempts to serve cine-goers in their seats and have longer intervals.
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It’s not just about the money. Cinema snacks are salty (hence the need to order soft drinks with them) and unhealthy. So it’s best to grab a bite to eat before you get into the cinema.
-SHARMILA GANESAN RAM
10 WHY HIGH YOUR WI-FI
In an age when the neighbourhood cafe offers free wifi, fivestar hotels in India can charge as much as Rs 900 for just over an hour’s worth of internet usage. For long the rant of travellers, the extortionate cost of internet access at most five-star hotels is a big rip-off. Routers and modems are hardly expensive equipment and if a broadband connection can come for as little as Rs 599 per month, why does internet access at a hotel cost so much?
Interestingly, this complaint is not heard just in India. Research has shown that around two-thirds of hotels worldwide are still charging guests for wi-fi access – with rates as high as $12 per hour and $30 per day. Amazingly, most lower-rung motels or guesthouses offer free wi-fi. If they can, then why can’t the big chains?
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If you’re travelling within India, it’s better to use your smartphone or laptop data card, but internationally, it’s a tough one to beat considering that international roaming costs the earth.
11 FOOLED BY COLOUR
Brown, red, purple or white…I don’t care what bread you have. Just make sure you don’t exceed two slices a day, ” dietician Pooja Makhija tells her clients. She says this because the only difference between the brown bread and regular white bread we get in the market is the colour. The manufacturers add caramel syrup, brown sugar or food colour to refined flour (maida) to make the bread brown and manage to fool customers who think the product is made with whole wheat flour. They happily fork out extra bucks to buy this bread thinking they are making a healthier choice.
A fairly reputed brand which offers variants like “atta bread” is a good example of how misleading such titles are. When you read the label carefully, you will learn that the bread has only five per cent atta. The rest of the ingredients are the same as the white bread and even contain hydrogenated vegetable oils or trans fat.
Ritika Samaddar, chief nutritionist at Max Hospitals, points out that ingredients are usually listed in decreasing proportion on bread packets. “So, if whole wheat is the last item, it means the bread contains very little of it, ” she says.
Local bakeries do often offer good whole wheat or multi-grain options, but this does not mean the bread has no refined flour. If you go to Open Oven at Greater Kailash 2 and ask for a wheat bread, the owner clarifies that the bread has 60 per cent wheat and 40 per cent refined flour. But few shop owners are so honest.
Breads that are truly made of whole wheat or multiple grains like oats, ragi do contain more nutrients and fibre than bread made with refined flour, but we are still better off eating rotis. “The moment any food is processed and preserved, it loses most of its nutritional value. So, I would still recommend traditional rotis or dalia, ” says Samaddar.
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Read the labels carefully. Also, you can tell a true whole wheat bread by its colour – it is not as brown as the ‘brown bread’ sold commercially, but rather a beige. Moreover, when coloured bread is toasted, it will have many more dark spots as the sugar gets further caramelised.
12 NO ROOM FOR TRUTH
Did you buy a flat because you fell for the sample apartment? Not only does the sample flat have better finish and fittings than what the builder is going to give you, your house may in fact be smaller. For example, in the sale document, a builder will specify a room size as 11 ft by 12 ft. This is actually so small that it can barely take a double-bed. But to persuade you that it is a roomy size, the builder will showcase a sample flat where the same room will actually measure say 12 ft by 14 ft. And he will also keep a double bed and a table and chair to prove that it is spacious. Remember, the builder will always maintain that movable furniture is not a part of the deal. As you are unlikely to ever measure this room, you are likely to be conned into accepting the deal. It is only when you take possession that you realise how much smaller the dimensions are. You might complain to the builder but he will counter that the measurements are exactly what he promised. And by then the sample flat will have been demolished so there is no evidence that you have been conned.
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Look carefully at the sizes marked in the brochure.
13 NOT IN YOUR INTEREST
If you have bought your dream home on a bank loan, keep an eye on the interest rate that the bank or housing finance company is charging every month. In most cases, it has been found that the bank increases the interest rates without informing the customer. The customer doesn’t come to know until much later because his or her EMI stays unchanged and the bank increases tenure. For instance, if you have taken a home loan, say at 9. 5 per cent per annum, if you check after six months, your interest rate is likely to have gone up by 1 or 1. 5 percentage points to 10. 5 per cent or 11 per cent.
Interestingly, the bank will still be giving fresh loans to new borrowers at 9. 5 per cent or if the rate has hardened, then at 10 per cent. In such a situation, you must act fast. If you have taken a loan of Rs 50 lakh, an increase of interest rate by one percentage point would lead to an increase in your annual payout by around Rs 50, 000. So, if the rate has gone up by 1. 5 percentage points, you would have been paying Rs 75, 000 extra to the bank every year.
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Currently, there is no charge for prepayment. So if you find that the rate has increased by one percentage point, you should immediately point it out to the bank and ask for it be reduced. If the bank refuses to respond, shift your loan to another. Loan approval charges are normally 2 per cent of the loan amount or Rs 5, 000, whichever is higher. So it makes sense to pay processing fees of Rs 5, 000 to save Rs 50, 000 on a Rs 50 lakh loan.
14 THE INSURANCE MIS-SELLERS
Insurance plays an important role in our lives these days but most often consumers end up buying the wrong policy or giving into the demands of a persistent agent. Most investors realise rather late that they have been saddled with the wrong policy.
Anuj Gupta (name changed) was sold an insurance policy on the promise that he could pull out his money whenever he needed it. Gupta, who runs a small business, did not care to go through the fine print and regularly paid his premium installments. A few years later, when he needed money, he tried to pull it out of his insurance scheme. He realised pretty quickly that he could not – the policy had a lock-in period and he would only get a small portion of the money invested. Gupta was furious but couldn’t do. Consumers buying insurance policies often tend to overlook the details and rarely ask if it suits their profile.
HOW TO BEAT IT
| It is essential before you buy an insurance policy to make sure that you know what you are getting into: how the policy works and whether it will serve your purpose when you need it. Don’t fall for the sales pitch given by agents. Mis-selling of insurance policies is rampant and you need to beware of lock-in rules.
15 VA VA NO VROOM
When petrol prices are already zooming, do you really need to shell out extra for premium fuel? Is the added cost really adding zip to the drive? The answer is unless you are driving a high performance car, your car really does not need those extra calories because it can’t burn them off. Premium fuel comes with a higher octane rating and high performance cars, that is ones which have higher horsepower and torque, need this fuel because they can compress the air and the fuel much better in the engine. In case such a car uses a normal fuel, it will produce a knocking sound. But if you are driving an average compact and not a luxury SUV, you don’t need it. Another common perception is that a more expensive brand will keep the engine clean because of additives. Experts say that it is okay to fill a tank with premium fuel once in a while but there is no need to use it every time. And as for performance, a higher rated fuel might give you marginally higher power when driving at high speeds but the difference is hardly noticeable. Moreover, the US Environmental Protection Agency also warns that any claims on improving fuel economy on the basis of fuel additives or higher grade fuel are erroneous.
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Read your owner’s manual. While some high-performance or luxury cars may need super fuel, your average car doesn’t.