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7 steps to wean yourself from credit cards

Consumer indebtedness is a chronic condition for many. Here's how to break free.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 16, 2013 11:17AM

This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner site Money Talks News. 

MTN logoI always have to chuckle whenever I catch one of those money makeover TV shows that feature debt-laden folks chopping up their credit cards to thunderous applause and cheers.

Worried Man (© David Buffington/Corbis)As it does with most situations, popular media tends to oversimplify debt and people's response to it, as if responsible credit card use is always an either/or proposition: Folks either handle their credit responsibly or they go nuts and have to resort to a ceremonial card-cutting.

I'm no fan of credit card debt, mind you, but I think most adults can move toward a healthier relationship with credit and still keep the cards.

If you're ready to slay those credit card balances and avoid future debt by phasing out the daily use of plastic, here's how to get started (scissors not required):

1. Decide

It may seem obvious, but it's the first and most important step. Deciding to live differently and spend differently is an achievement all its own. If you're already a fan of this site and have read this far, no doubt you're considering making a change in your relationship with credit and how you spend. So far, so good. Commit to the idea of phasing out daily credit card use from your life and realize that some tough adjustments lie ahead -- and some sweet rewards.

2. Take a look at the numbers

Credit card statements include the amount of interest a cardholder has paid year-to-date. They also tell you how long it will take to pay off the debt and how much interest you'll be charged if only minimum payments are made. Trust me: The numbers can be startling and eye-opening. Use the data as part of your own mini-intervention to motivate a change in your behavior.

3. Keep the cards at home

If you have some basic self-discipline, there's no need for a dramatic credit card-cutting scene. As long as you're not paying a steep annual fee, keeping a couple of major credit cards on hand for emergencies is smart fiscal strategy. The challenge is knowing when to use them (seldom) and when to keep them safely tucked away (most of the time). If it helps, consider keeping the cards out of sight to avoid the temptation to grab them on your way out the door.

4. Go green

I'm a big fan of cash, but I have to admit, it's seldom seen in the wild anymore. To help avoid the pull toward convenient credit, reacquaint yourself with the green stuff (they still make it). That may mean visiting the bank more often or making larger withdrawals each time you use an in-network ATM. Again, self-control and discipline rule the day. Keep enough cash on hand for your daily needs, but budget your spending. If cash inevitably burns a hole in your pocket, use a debit card for day-to-day needs and track your expenditures and your balance online or with an account register (they still make those, too).

5. Go public

You don't have to share the details of your entire financial picture, but it does help to declare your intentions to turn over a new financial leaf. When you're trying to change any habit, getting close friends and family on board helps avoid awkward situations, motivates you toward your goal, and gives you a support network that you can be accountable to. Besides the encouragement they offer, your friends and family just may be inspired to make some financial changes of their own.

6. Track your success

Monitoring your efforts to phase out daily credit card use and taking a moment to reflect on your success is the ultimate motivator. Take a look at your dwindling credit card balances as each shrinks from a combination of bigger payments and fewer new charges. Understand exactly what that means -- less money wasted in interest charges and fees, less stress, movement toward a healthier credit score, and greater financial freedom.

7. Reward your progress

Rewarding yourself along the way not only reinforces the changes you've made, but also the wisdom of your decision. As you reach each marker that you've set for yourself -- seven days without using a card, 30 days card-free, an old balance paid off, etc. -- celebrate your success with a small reward. Enjoy a lunch out (cash only, remember), a small splurge, or just bask in the enjoyment of achieving what you set out to do.

Easy credit, the tendency to overspend, and the overwhelming acceptance of plastic as a means to pay for everything from home repairs to hamburgers have helped make consumer indebtedness a chronic condition for many in this country. Any movement against the tide is nearly a subversive act, but one that's essential for genuine financial stability.

As you chart a new course for yourself with spending and credit, stay focused on the reasons that first inspired you and the future savings that will propel you toward your next financial goals.

More on Money Talks News:

Sep 16, 2013 3:40PM
There's no big secret here, it's simple. Quit spending money you don't have and you won't need CREDIT cards.
Sep 16, 2013 3:38PM
Incinerate the bastards and tell the credit card companies (banks) to kiss your A$$.
Sep 16, 2013 4:17PM

This is some good advice, but Dave Ramsey has the best advice, money strategies and budgeting info.  He has some great books, his Financial Peace seminar and his talk show on Fox News.  Thanks to him we are out of debt except the mortgage and are saving for college for the kids and retirement for ourselves!

Sep 19, 2013 10:48AM
What they don't tell you is that if you don't have at least 2 credit cards, and each one carries an amount of debt, doing this will destroy your credit score and make it impossible, especially in today's market, to obtain things like a mortgage. We just tried to re-fi to tak advantage of lower rates and they basically told us that we were screwed because we had no credit cards only debit cards (this way we 'borrow' from ourselves and can't overspend our means) so we had bad credit and it was a no go. They recommended that we get 3 credit cards and build up debt to rebuild our credit.
Sep 19, 2013 3:15PM
Sep 19, 2013 7:32PM

How to wean yourself off credit cards?  How about how I did it?  Go bankrupt, then you will not be able to get credit, and will from then on only pay cash for what you need.  And if you need it and don't have the cash, oh well, so I have to live without running water in my kitchen for awhile.  At least I have a kitchen!!

Sep 19, 2013 8:17PM

One Step to "Wean" Yourself From Credit Cards:


(1) Cut the mutherf*cker up.


Credit card free since that very process.



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