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10 huge retail rip-offs you can no longer afford to ignore, despite your cravings

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With times tight, everyone is looking for ways to save money. One way to do that is by making sure you get the most bang out of every hard-earned dollar you spend. So today we're going to reveal some retail rip-offs that give you less than your money's worth.

wineThese tips aren't about scrimping or cutting out life's little luxuries -- we just want to show you some places where you are paying big price mark ups and may not realize it. Once you see just how little you are getting for your money, you can save a lot with just a few simple changes. Like...

1. Wine in restaurants
The markup on wine in restaurants is outrageous -- 100 to 200% more than what you would pay at the store if you buy by the bottle. It's a whopping 300 to 400% markup if you buy wine by the glass! To make it even worse, the highest markups are on the lowest priced wines.

Here's one thing you can do to combat wine markups: If your state/restaurant allows it, bring your own bottle and pay a small fee for the restaurant to open and cork it for you. You'll normally pay about $10.

Option two: Find out if the restaurant has an "off premises" license that allows you to take open wine bottles home with you. If so, you'll save money when you buy the full bottle even if you don't plan to drink it all. Simply cork it at the end of your meal and bring it home to enjoy later.

2. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables didn't even exist 10 years ago, but Americans spent more than $600 million on prepared salads alone last year. According to Information Resources, Inc., pre-cut vegetables are the fastest-growing category of produce.

We understand that grabbing pre-cut fruit and vegetables can help cut down on your time in the kitchen, but that small convenience carries a big price. It's safe to say you are paying at least double the cost for pre-cut produce versus buying their whole counterparts. Another negative – you aren't getting all the vitamins you think. Tests have shown that pre-cut vegetables, for example, start losing their vitamin C once they are cut!

3. Popcorn
You don't need us to tell you that the price of popcorn at the movie theater amounts to highway robbery, but it might be even worse than you thought. According to a professor at the University of California-Irvine, you're paying a 1,300% markup on that tub of buttery popcorn!

When you do the math, $5.50 for that bucket makes an ounce of popcorn more expensive than fillet mignon!

4. Anything at eye level in the grocery store.
Here's a great inside tip that we got from a store manager: You'll pay more for items at eye level on the grocery store shelves.

Products with the highest markups get that prime shelf space because the store gets a share of those fat profits. Less profitable products get high and low shelf space at the supermarket, so that's where you are likely to find the best bargains.

5. Brand-name medication
Next time you are shopping for an over-the-counter medication (such as Tylenol or Nyquil), give a closer look to the generic versions next to them on the shelf. A general rule of thumb is that you'll pay 30 to 40% more for name brand medication versus generics.

Most of that cost difference is because of the money that brand name companies spend on marketing and packaging. As long as you are getting the same medication and the same results, why pay for their ad budget?

Check the active ingredients and dosages on each box or bottle to be sure they are the same. If so, save big with the generic. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor.

6. Bottled Water
Did you know that the two biggest brands of bottled water in America --Dasani and Aquafina -- are nothing more than purified tap water? In fact, estimates are that 40% of all bottled water is tap water. At close to $2 a bottle, bought alone, that makes bottled water one of the biggest retail rip-offs.

For the price of one bottle of Evian, a San Franciscan can receive 1,000 gallons of tap water. According to "Message in a Bottle" by Charles Fishman, bottled water can cost 10,000 times more than tap water -- about $10 per gallon for high-end brands. And more than 90% of that cost is in the bottle, lid and label -- NOT producing the water.

If you are concerned that your tap water is not as clean as bottled water, buy a water pitcher with a filter or install a filter on your faucet. Then buy re-usable bottles to fill and take with you when you are on the go.

7. Produce at organic groceries
The huge boom in buying organic produce has led to a huge boom in prices. You'll pay 30 to 50% more for organic produce -- sometimes more if something is not in season. Now, that may be completely worth it to you, but if you are looking for ways to save, here are a few ideas.

First, shop at your local farmers markets and look for farmers growing organically. They likely won't be charging big markups. Next, consider not buying organic when you are shopping for types of produce that use very little pesticide. The top 10 types of produce with the lowest pesticide levels are (starting with the lowest): onion, avocado, sweet corn (frozen), pineapples, mango, asparagus, sweet peas (frozen), kiwi and bananas.

8. Non-organic produce at organic groceries
Just because produce is being offered at an organic store, does not mean it's organic! Be sure to check the signs and labels before you buy. Non-organic produce often still carries a hefty mark-up at specialty stores.

You could end up paying 30 to 50% more for the same non-organic apples or tomatoes you could get at your regular grocery store. Buyer beware -- read the labels!

9. Coffee
Coffee mark-up is insane. And we're not just talking about the fancy "mocha grande latte with soy" kind of coffee. A plain ol' cup of joe can carry an absurd markup.

A plain 16 oz. cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts costs $1.75. You'll pay at least that for a much smaller cup at most restaurants. Consider that a plain 16 oz. cup at home will cost you about $.55.

We're not telling you not to enjoy that occasional coffee run. But just one cup of coffee a day at home rather than buying it could save you $438 a year.

10. French fries at restaurants
French fries are a big profit maker for restaurants. A 10 ounce potato makes about 90 french fries (that's about the serving size for large fries at a fast food restaurant). That potato costs about 30 cents, but brings the restaurant about $1.75.

Let personal finance experts Ken and Daria Dolan of Dolans.com help you and your family save money and get the most bang out of every buck you spend. Start now by learning a dozen easy ways to save money on life's necessities.

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