Each time I see a "two-fer" ad, or the promise of a factory rebate, or a coupon that offers a big discount, the same thoughts go through my mind.

If they can afford to sell the car for $1,000 less, why don't they just reduce the price by that much? If selling two hamburgers for the price of one brings in a lot of business, why don't they just cut the price of hamburgers in half? If they can sell instant coffee for 50 cents off the advertised price and still make a nice profit, why don't they just reduce the price by 50 cents instead of wasting money on printing up millions of coupons, processing rebates, mailing out rebate checks -- and bearing the expense of fraud that always accompanies such merchandising?

The layman is not in a good position to figure out just how much is added to the cost of an item by gimmicky promotion schemes. He feels it in his bones that the item is vastly overpriced, but he doesn't have access to accurate cost figures for labor, raw materials or overhead.

A letter just in from Dominick Viccharelli of Silver Spring gives us a rare opportunity to look behind the scenes a bit. Dominick retired recently after having been in the meat business for 50 years. He wrote:

"It bugs me no end to see how the public is being ripped off while 'inflation' gets the blame.

"I would like to share an experience that occurred on Labor Day. While returning from a trip, we stopped on I-95 to get something to eat. The prices being charged completely flabbergasted us.

"For example, a chili hot dog with practically no chili on it, $1.30. A hamburger about the size of a 50-cent piece, $1.30; with a slice of cheese on it so thin you could see through it, $1.45. A fish sandwich, about 3 ounces, $2. A 3-ounce cup of ice cream, 53 cents. Canned sodas in a machine, 60 cents.

"I happen to know that most merchants are now selling chicken hot dogs that come 10 to the pound and cost approximately 79 cents a pound, or 8 cents each.

"Most ground beef has soybean added to reduce the amount of meat. It costs the merchant about $1.20 a pound. From that pound they usually make eight 2-ounce patties, with each patty costing them about 15 cents.

"The roll costs about 6 cents and employees are paid the minimum wage of $3.10 an hour.

"Including the cost of the dressing on the sandwich, the most it can cost to produce a hamburger or hot dog is 40 cents. The selling price of $1.30 is attributed to inflation, but I call it highway robbery."

I am inclined to agree. I am aware that food and gasoline vendors pay high rents to do business on I-95. Nevertheless, these food prices appear to be unreasonably inflated. And it grieves me to note that only a small portion of today's highway robbery takes place on highways. Overpricing now permeates our entire economy.

Dominick, I was pleased to learn that you walked out without buying. You and I may be the only two people left in America who remember that the only way to bring down prices is to stop buying until they come down.

Unfortunately, it doesn't even occur to the average person today to walk out without buying -- especially when food is involved. There would be scorn for a suggestion that the group wait until it leaves the expressway's monopolies behind.

What, wait a whole hour until better food and drink are available at lower prices? Oh, what intense suffering that would entail!

And possibly the most ironic thing about all this is that thirsty people will pass up the finest drink of all, water. It's free, so how can it be any good? And who wants to bother with taking along an insulated gallon jug of water or lemonade? It's so much easier to pay 5 cents an ounce ($6.40 a gallon) for canned sugar water.

What worries me is this: The longer we permit ourselves to be led along like sheep and pay whatever outrageous price is asked, the higher inflation will soar and the more severe the crash will be when people are finally forced to stop buying because they've run out of places to borrow. SWIFT COURIERS

A Pittsburgh company recently sent out an invoice addressed to: Servidyne Sac 11734 Parklusan Rd. Lockville, Md.

Without delay, the U.S. Postal Service delivered the bill to its correct destination: Servidyne, Inc., 11734 Parklawn Dr., Rockville, Md. Take a bow, Swift Couriers. DOING WITHOUT

Well, we have schools opening for the fall term without schoolteachers, ice cream that's made without cream, shoes made without shoeleather, and now the prospect of a presidential debate that may not include a president. I had a feeling we were heading in this direction the day they took the green out of Lucky Strike packages.