One technique I like to use for getting my spending under control is to put my credit cards into a “time out”. It’s really helpful because sometimes I get into sort of a “binge spending” mode, and getting the credit cards out of my hands really helps to get me back on track. I’m betting it would help you too. Check out my post about spending with only cash. Super eye-opening!
Did Putting Away Your Credit Cards Give you a Little Panic Moment?
So, how did you feel to think about not having access to your credit cards? Did you panic? What’s that telling you? Maybe you’ve become a little too dependent on them or you’ve been using them to fuel your overspending habits.
Now stop and take a breath. If you reacted with a shrug and the thought that it might be a sensible thing to do, you probably don’t need to do it. But if you reacted with a racing heart and a feeling of “oh my gosh, what would I do?” You are probably in need of a time out for your credit cards.
Note that I didn’t say you couldn’t have your debit cards – I’m just talking about taking a few weeks off from CHARGING any purchases. ANY purchases – none, nada, zip, zilch! Debt can really mess you up over time, believe me I KNOW. Check out my post on Women Who Always Have Money.
How to Implement a Credit Card Time-Out
Here’s how it works – you take all your credit cards, remove them from your wallet and put them in a secure place – a drawer, safe deposit box, under your bed, etc. Some people even freeze them in ice, but I think that’s a little extreme. Then you pledge to yourself that you will not use them, barring a drastic emergency, for a period of time – typically a month or two.
It’s not like a no-spend challenge (which I’ve never done) because you can buy necessary things either with cash or your debit card, but you can’t buy all the crazy stuff that you can’t currently afford – yep Target, I’m looking at YOU. It just puts a natural boundary around your spending habits.
Is it hard? Yes, of course it is, especially if you are addicted to overspending and excess debt, but I think it is a worthwhile exercise. I’ve done it several times myself and currently my Discover card is in a time out while I’m working to pay off the $2,000 worth of car repairs I have on it. (See, not all credit card spending is frivolous) – and necessary car repairs would fall into the emergency category, although really you’d be smarter to have an emergency fund set up for these types of expenses.
The benefit to it, is just to put yourself into a different mindset that it is possible to live without your credit cards and to put yourself on a cash mentality. That is such a typical modern mindset, that we have just unlimited funds available from our credit cards. We’ve just forgotten that we have X amount of money on payday and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
That just isn’t a reality most of us are used to, but it’s a fact. When you charge things all the time, you are basically spending imaginary money that may or may not exist in the future. Shit happens – people lose jobs, get divorced, get hurt or sick, and sometimes that future paycheck isn’t really there.
It’s interesting, on a very basic level, we have a completely different relationship with plastic money than we do with paper money. I’ve read several books lately where they have done experiments that revolve around money. Fascinating stuff. People react completely differently with real money vs. checks, credit cards, or any other type of currency. That’s just the way our goofy little brains work.
So, the question is – would you commit to a credit card time out? If so, for how long? Even more interesting – if you wouldn’t be willing to put away your credit cards what’s your thinking on that and how is it going to affect your finances down the road?
Tips to Implement a Credit Card Time-Out
Regardless if you put them in a drawer, freeze them in ice, or hand them to a trusted family member, taking your credit cards out of the picture forces you to get realistic and creative about the things you want. Here are some tips that I find helpful:
- Ask yourself – do I really need this?
- Can I make it or find a used one online somewhere?
- Can I borrow one from someone? At least to see if I really am going to like it. I wish I’d done that before I bought an iPad. It didn’t do what I wanted to do and it seemed like just a larger version of my smartphone, so I gave it to my son after 6 months.
- How can I save up for it or earn extra money to pay for this extra purchase?
- Can I put it off until payday or a time when I have the cash for it? That’s a good strategy because sometimes you’ll forget about it or find something else you want more.
I used to have a rubber stamp/scrapbooking business and it taught me a lot of about women’s spending habits. I would see women buy hundreds of dollars worth of products that I knew perfectly well they were never going to use.
Even worse, I would see some women hide their purchases from their husband, or split them between cash and credit cards to obscure how much they were spending. I once saw a shirt that said “My husband lets me buy all the stamps I can HIDE”. Ouch!
Many of these women had a “have to have it all” school of thought that I thought was kind of fascinating. They would automatically buy ink pads or paper in every single color, or buy every accessory that came out in a certain style, even if they couldn’t afford it and probably wouldn’t use half of them. They were spending money they didn’t have for pretty things they didn’t actually need, and just creating extra clutter. It was sort of a “FOMO” situation – fear of missing out by not having every possible option.
Even if your family is well off, there are limits to your income. See my post on dealing with a shopping addiction
I’m pretty good about not doing that kind of “FOMO” shopping, but it’s the little stretch until payday spending that gets me in trouble. If I don’t have extra cash for a birthday gift, some groceries or a tank of gas, I’ll put it on a credit card, especially those last few days before payday. I always think it’s just a little thing and I really do need it, but if I’d been smarter with my spending earlier in the payday, I wouldn’t be in such a tight spot! And those few dollars add up over a month or two…
That’s the main reason why I started my side hustle. I used to HATE that broke feeling of waiting for payday. And with most side hustles, money comes in at all sorts of random intervals, sometimes daily. That’s what I love about it. Check out my post – Why everyone needs a side hustle. It not only stopped me from doing that random credit card spending, it also gave me extra money I needed to pay OFF my credit cards.
Great idea Adrian – this spoke to me. I am in a permanent time out until I can get my spending under control. My husband said I need to get rid of ALL the plastic (even debit cards) because he agrees you still spend more when paper is not involved.
I think people are in for a rude awakening next year with the expiration of the current tax breaks. I think the whole country needs a credit time out.