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Last week, I found myself at Barnes & Noble buying a book about yoga. Now, if you know me at all, you know that books and fitness are two of my weak spots. What made this otherwise predictable purchase notable was that I put it on my credit card—not for points or perks, but simply because I was tight on cash and wanted the book. Now.
In the past, I would have waited until payday. I mean, how urgent could a yoga book really be? But I justified it, thinking “Eh, I’ve already got a balance on my credit card, anyway. This’ll just add a little bit more.”
… not my finest budgeting moment.
As for that credit card balance? It was mostly the result of an unexpected move to a new city earlier this month which followed closely on the heels of a pricey emergency that depleted my funds. Plus, I wasn’t supposed to move until March 2019, so my ‘Moving’ category wasn’t fully cooked.
Then, my statement arrived.
Sure, there were legitimate ‘needs’ like my moving truck and gas. I’d also charged a few of my bills in order to free up cash for my first, last and security at the new place. And, of course, there was the tab for meals that I’d eaten at restaurants while my kitchen gear was still in boxes.
… but then there were purchases that I could’ve avoided, like the unnecessary meals out and stuff for the new place. And then there was the yoga book—a book that I haven’t even had time to read, yet! None of it was too pricey (and, actually, the shower curtain probably was crucial), but the rest of it? Completely postponable.
I spent years with zero credit card debt. In 2017, I gave many, many dollars the job to pay off debt. So, what happened?
There’s a sales technique known by some as the ‘Yes’ ladder. The first time I heard about it was about ten years ago, at a Dale Carnegie seminar titled How to Sell Like a Pro. The idea is that you’re more likely to say ‘yes’ to something if you’re already in the habit of saying ‘yes.’
In my case, I leaned on my credit card for help with my move—a necessary ‘yes.’ That made it easier to say ‘yes’ to subsequent purchases, like charging an aerator for my new kitchen faucet or buying a welcome mat … which turned into a few too many dinners out and, finally, that yoga book.
As I rehashed the events with a friend, she agreed. When your credit card balance is zero, you don’t want to charge anything. It feels good to keep debt at zero. But when you already have a balance on your credit card, anyway? It’s so much easier to justify another charge!
Not only is it easier to charge “one more thing,” it also puts you in a vulnerable position. Now, when payday comes, you’re forced to pay back that debt which means less money for the stuff that future you needs to buy. You might feel forced, again, to turn to credit.
So, why do we charge stuff to begin with? There’s the rare emergency, but I think a lot of it is tied to soothing ourselves. Eating out feels good if you’ve had a long day. Buying a welcome mat makes a new space feel more like home. If you have a big date, you want to wear something nice. If you join a friend for Thanksgiving, you want to bring a good hostess gift and a side dish.
We say ‘yes’ to things that feel like a one-off, and it weakens our ‘no’ muscle. So, do yourself a big favor …
The easiest way to be free of credit card debt is to avoid using a credit card in the first place! If, like me, you have a credit card balance hanging over your head, make a plan to pay it off, as soon as possible (because who loves paying interest to creditors?). If you have multiple debts, make a snowball or try an avalanche. And, if you need help, drop into our free, online class Master Credit Cards with Your Budget.
But, most importantly, start flexing your ‘not now’ muscle. Make a rule that will save you an enormous amount of stress and money: you can buy anything you want, as long as you budget for it first. If you’re tempted to splurge, stop. Add it to your wish list, and make a habit of avoiding your credit card—because there’s nothing that feels better than being in complete control of your cash!
Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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