Useful Tips To Get Your Credit Card Spending Under Control

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Note:  This is a guest article from Timothy Ng.  Matt’s advice on controlling credit card spending is to not use them at all and choose instead to simply save money and use debit cards.  That said, many people do use credit cards and can benefit from the advice Timothy gives below.  God bless.

Unfortunately, most Americans have some sort of credit card debt. Credit cards are just so easy to use and the debt really adds up quickly, especially as interest rates rise. Credit card companies are not on your side. Their programs are certainly not designed to help you save appropriately and spend wisely.

As a credit card consumer, it is up to you to understand how credit works and how the credit card companies make money off of giving you credit cards. This may sound like common sense, and that’s because it is common sense. Most people know how credit card debt builds up, but it is the lesser known and hidden features of credit cards that get the average consumer into trouble. What you don’t know can hurt you.

Think About How You Spend

The best way to get your credit card spending under control is condition yourself to think wisely about how you manage your cards. First off, don’t let debt blindside you. It is so easy to swipe your card and worry about paying it off later, but if you don’t see how much you are spending each day, then the true amount can really blindside you. So in your mind you probably spent $50 this past week on groceries, but in reality it was closer to $100. By the end of the month, all these little ‘miscalculations’ in your brain add up to serious credit card debt. Avoid this by keeping a close eye on your credit card spending. Look at your account balance every two days. This will help keep you from accidentally spending too much because you know how much you have spent in just the last two days.

Next, take a hard look at your debt. Figure out how much of your monthly income goes towards paying off your credit card debt. If the percent is higher than 15%, then you have a really serious problem with spending too much money. This kind of spending may require professional help. Also, are you paying off the debt on your cards or are you paying only the minimum amount? If you are not paying off the full balance of your credit card each month, then odds are you are losing a lot of money to interest fees. This is how credit card companies sneak up on you. Your monthly spending should not require that you use a large portion of debt to get by. If you are using credit cards as more than just a convenience and credit building tool, then you need to take a hard look at how and when you spend money. You make have to cut some spending out of your budget or figure out how to add more income to your budget.

Pay Stuff Back

Not only do you have to pay the money back to the company by the end of each month, you need to condition your brain to think of credit cards as ‘loan cards’. You have to remember that you are only borrowing this money for a month and then it has to be paid back. If you are not paying the money back within thirty days, you are spending more money than the original amount you borrowed. This is always bad, as it causes your debt to grow and grow.

Smart credit card users have fewer credit cards and keep a close eye on each of these cards. They don’t use their cards for many purchases, but instead set up cards for purchasing gas or groceries or specific monthly expenses. They don’t consider credit cards to be a tool for buying clothes or DVDs. At least not on a regular basis.

Watch Out For Rewards

Credit card rewards are great. Getting free airline flights because you used a credit card is awesome. But again, it is necessary that you pay close attention to if these points are really worth it. If you have to buy more stuff each month in order to earn points, are the points worth all this extra cash by the end? Or did you just buy really expensive plane tickets? Also, if you are losing money in interest because you haven’t paid off the complete balance this month, then those reward savings just flew out the window. Rewards can be great, but make sure you are the one being rewarded, not the credit card companies.

The Benefits Of Using Your Credit Card Less

Developing a habit of using less credit cards in your everyday life can have many positive benefits. Credit cards are very useful for making large purchases, paying off an unexpected bill and developing a positive line of credit, but too many credit cards added to too much credit card use will negatively affect your life. Make your life simple by reducing the amount that you use your credit card. This will reduce the likelihood of identity theft, will make tracking your financial situation a lot easier, will reduce the amount of your hard earned money lost to hidden fees and penalties and will let you see what your monthly spending habits really look like. This will translate into less debt incurring on your card and you will have a better record of paying off this debt.

Focus On Your Spending

You will want to teach yourself how to focus on your spending habits each month, in an effort to condition yourself to think about using credit cards the correct way. For a lot of people, having  something visual to look at everyday can really help them to condition their brains to focus on their spending. By breaking down how you spend money on your credit cards each week, you will notice which purchases were useful and which were, maybe less useful. The goal is to teach yourself not to spend money that you don’t have. By doing so, you can specifically choose which purchases you want to put on your card each month and you will already have a plan for paying these charges off by the end of the month.

Timothy Ng is a personal finance writer, and has a real passion for encouraging people to compare credit cards to ensure they get the best deal. Check out his comprehensive guide to low interest credit cards where he provides an in-depth overview and analysis, to help you find a better deal.

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1 D R at Motivating Minutes

Nice advice,

I’d have to agree with Matt in the long run though. I feel there are too many catches in the small print to allow credit card companies to win and you, the consumer to lose.

2 Dr. Timothy Lawler

Great article with some awesome advice. I agree with the rewards programs. Those seem to lure people in more than anything else in my opinion. Once you can see that most are crap, things usually end up being better. If you do have to gain access to a rewards card though, try to keep it to the cash back rewards programs. They are the only ones that are worth it. Keep the good posts coming!

3 Matt Jabs

And the problem is… most people do get lured in and snared. Also, I agree that even for those still looking to play the credit card rewards game, cash rewards are your best option.

4 Austerity Bill

Although I agree that using credit cards less would be a great idea, and a better thing for society in general. Its not feasible. Also, its worth bearing in mind that you need to build up a good credit score if you ever want to loan money in the future.

5 Matt Jabs

Why isn’t it feasible? I don’t use them, haven’t for years, and have had zero problems. Also, whether or not your credit score is important is a debatable topic.

6 Emily

DH and I have quit using credit cards. Our debit card works just as well, and we can never overspend. Also, a credit score of “0” will enable you to take out loans if you deal with community banks/the right mortgage companies.

7 Matt Jabs

Hi Emily,
Betsy and I have been on the same path for a few years now and share your view. God bless.

8 Jonathan Elder

It’s critical that people don’t abuse reward credit cards! I get wierd looks all the time because of all my credit cards but I always explain that I have never paid a cent of interest to the respective banks. If you are irresponsible with your credit cards, cut them up and pay them off immediately, and don’t use them again until you have a good streak of responsible behavior. However, if you are responsible with them, these cards are HUGE for the benefits. For example, my last two flights to Mississippi to see my gf have been free thanks to these cards. But, I end up closing them once the bonuses are used up. Just my 2 cents!

9 Matt Jabs

Awesome stuff Jonathan, glad you can keep all the rewards/accounts/programs working for you. Whether or not we can and should use them is definitely an individual decision and I’m glad some people are drawing benefits from the banks!

10 Jenna

I keep a list of things I actually need, work clothes, a sweater in a certain color, something for a particular event. That why when the “shopping bug” hits me. I will actually buy something I need rather than just something random that I saw and wanted. Plus there is a whole thrill of the hunt to find the right thing.

11 Matt Jabs

The hunt is the best part… especially when you have ammo (saved money.) 🙂

12 Bill

Sometimes things are easier said than done. However having gone through things before going all cash or virtually all cash is doable and quite liberating to say the least. I felt more in control and better about myself.

When I was going through the transition to cash this really helped me out. Just common sense stuff…

13 Matt Jabs

Thanks for the link Bill.

14 Chris

If you do have a credit card, get one from a federal credit union. They offer lower interest rates than chase discover etc, I think mine is a 9 percent interest rate, instead of 19 percent that is offered by chase and most of the other terrible credit card companies and for profit banks (non local or community banks). This is probably the best card for someone with a low income like me that MUST have a credit card in case of an emergency. It is nearly impossible for me to rely on a debit card when i cant have more than 2k or 3k in the bank in savings. But i do make sure that the card limit is reasonable on the credit card, so i can only spend 1.5k if i max out the credit card, thus both encouraging me to pay off the balance each month and also limit what i can charge to it and have to pay interest on.

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