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Kicking the Habit

Credit Wise (featured column)
by Jennifer Wallis

When I was 18, I should have listened to my mother. I went against her better judgment and started applying for credit cards. Before you could say "Charge!" I had a credit card for nearly every department store in North America. And before I knew it, I was drowning in debt.

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I finally realized that if I wanted to stay out of debt, I would have to change my thinking. I believe that the most important step in changing unwise spending habits is a desire to change. It took nasty phone calls from collectors and a lot of stress to finally make me realize that being in debt was no way to live.

When I was a "shop-a-holic" I was caught in a vicious cycle. I would get depressed because I was in debt, go shopping to make myself feel better, and then get depressed again because I was in debt. Credit cards made it even easier for a young girl with expensive taste and not a lot of income to get deep into debt.

Here are some of the ways I kicked the overspending habit:

Track Your Spending

Write down every dime that you spend and what you buy. When I started doing this, I even wrote down the days of the week that I spent the money to help me identify when I tended to spend more. Tracking will tell you where ALL of your money is going. It will identify your spending "black hole" so you will know what areas you need to work on the most. Being aware of your weaknesses is the best way to cut back.

Don’t Use Shopping as a Hobby

If you aren't shopping for something specific, go to the park instead. My friends and I used to go to the mall for fun, and this was a big mistake. I think there must be a law that says, "you can only find things you want to buy when you have no money to spend", thus encouraging you to charge it.

If you are easily tempted, stay out of the store where you spend the most. Go to a specialty store or discount store instead. If you must go to that store, don’t look around. Even if you find things on sale, they aren’t saving you money unless you had planned to buy them anyway.

Pay with Cash 

Decide how much you are going to allow yourself to spend before you go to the store. Take that amount with you in cash. Do not take your checkbook or a credit card. This will keep you from buying impulse items. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be embarrassed at the checkout by having to put things back because you don’t have enough money.

Make a List 

Write down everything that you need and stick to the list. I believe that a realistic budget is one that does not make you feel like you are suffering, but keeps you within your means. Since I felt that I could not stop shopping "cold turkey" I used to allow myself one small item not on my list. This allowed me the freedom I craved but still kept me within my budget.

Give Yourself a Three-Day Waiting Period 

If you see something that you want that you had not planned to buy, wait three days to buy it. This will give you time to really think about the purchase and if you really need it.

Do the Math

Figure up how many hours you had to work to buy that item. Is it really worth it?

Change the way you think. Instead of getting pleasure out of wearing a new outfit, get happy when you have money in savings. There is nothing more empowering than resisting your urges and being able to feel good about yourself!

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Copyright © 2001 by Jennifer Wallis. All rights reserved.

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