Trying to eat your cake and have it? We start out with good intentions. We pick magazine-pretty produce to cook for our families; we have a great idea for that bag of zucchini from the farmer’s market; both the surf and turf sound good on the menu, so we order the combo plate. But any time we pass over a funny-shaped eggplant or let the zucchini decompose into its ultimate slimy form in the bottom of the fridge or tell the server to take away the other half of the entrée we can’t finish, we’re contributing to a national epidemic of food waste. In fact,the average American throws out about $640 worth of food each year.

While we’re likely to pounce on an unauthorized $200 charge on our cell phone or credit card bill, there are lots of other ways money leaves our wallets without us even realizing it. Consumer spending expertAndrea Worochoutlined these spending areas prone to leaks, and how to stop them.

When we bite off more than we can chew -- and eat -- we're wasting money. (Photo: Fickr @ 욕망 시리즈)

When we bite off more than we can chew — and eat — we’re wasting money. (Photo: Fickr @ 욕망 시리즈)

Expired Food: “Overbuying at the grocery store can lead to waste if those fresh foods go bad before you have a chance to eat them. Always meal plan before shopping to help you eliminate excess grocery purchases and look for recipes that use overlapping ingredients,” Woroch says, adding that you shouldn’t get hung up on dates on the package. Sometimes items items can be safely consumed well past the “sell by” date. Bonus: When you shop only once a week, you save time and gas.

Not Comparing Prices or Missed Savings: “Some retailers inflate prices to make discounts look better than they actually are,” Woroch says. (Amazon iseliminating priceson some items, such as pet food.) She suggests comparing prices with a site such asPriceGrabber.com; you can also download coupons fromCouponSherpato get instant access to in-store savings from your device.Targetand Walmart also have savings apps;Paribustracks online purchases you make that may go on sale shortliste.

Paying Interest on Credit Card Purchases:The average American paid $2,630 in credit card interest last year, says aNerdWallet study. “Though it’s especially tempting to charge purchases with the ‘buy now, pay later’ mantra, refrain from throwing down the plastic and pay with cash instead. When you’re planning your budget for the new year, you’ll be happy you did,” Woroch says.

Useless Bank Fees: You’re chipping away at your net worth every time you use an out-of-network ATM ($4.35), and every time you overdraw your account ($32.74), and any time you dip below your minimum balance ($14.76), according to Bankrate’s annual checking survey. “Transferring your checking account to a local credit union will wipe away these useless fees,” Woroch suggests.

Name Brands: Generally, there’s zero to not much difference between a name-brand product and a generic one, except perhaps up to half the price. “The best products to buy generic include: prescription meds, over-the-counter meds, baby formula, cereal, baking products, herbs/spices, razors, body soap and lotion, and ink cartridges to name a few,” Woroch says.

Paying for Things You Don’t Use: Are you paying for full-spectrum cable but only watching a few shows? How about a gym membership you only use sometimes, if at all? And are you maxing out the data allotment in your phone plan (or paying foroverages)? If you’re not, then you’re giving away money.”Take the time to calculate what you actually use and do what you can to pay for just that,” Woroch says.

Spending Beyond Your Means: If you, like most Americans, have more credit card debt than savings, you’re living beyond your means“Using a credit card without rewards isn’t a smart move, but using them to live beyond your means is the most foolish mistake of all,” Woroch says. “If this sounds familiar, consider making a lifestyle change to get your finances back on track.”

Procrastinating: Don’t wait to buy plane tickets and book hotel rooms. Woroch says that there are last-minute deals to be had, but not as many as you might think.Whether you’re booking travel or considering opening an emergency savings, putting off planning can cost you dearly.”

Buying Everything Brand New: “ There’s something about the allure of a brand new product that’s hard to resist. Unfortunately, this is when they’re most expensive,”  Woroch says. She suggests looking for “open box” items at electronics and home-improvement stores for tools and refurbished computers, which usually come with a guarantee from the manufacturer. “You can save nearly 90% on used clothing from a local consignment shop or online at sites likethredup.com, Tradesy oreBay. Furniture is another item you should shop used first which you can find at garage sales, craigslist or a nearby furniture consigner,” she says.

Finally, it pays to take a wholesale look at how and where you and your family are spending to identify areas for improvement. “Apps like Mint can help you do this moving forward since it links all your financial accounts in one place to give you an overview of how you use your money in one place for easier analyzing,” Woroch says, adding that it doesn’t have to hurt to save money. “Cut back in one area instead of ripping apart your entire budget. And keep in mind, the key to effective goal-setting is being realistic about what you can accomplish. This will help you stay motivated and keep frustration at bay.”

And what to do with all the money you’ll save? “Pay yourself first. Determine how much you can save each month and look at it as a bill that you have to pay first. Otherwise, automate your savings so that a portion of your paycheck never goes into your checking account. What’s out of sight is out of mind, after all,” Woroch says.