Create a tracking system that works for you. Setting up spending alerts on a credit card account can notify you if purchases exceed a certain amount. Tracking spending with a spreadsheet, bullet journal, or budgeting app, for instance, can also help with mental accounting.
“I would not open up credit cards if you do not have a system in place where you track spending every month,” Kramer says. “It has to be something that appeals to you that you know you’re going to do.”
For Bell, a cash envelope tracking system helps her manage spending in different categories, including her credit card bill payment.
“When you look in a cash envelope and you see you only have $50, it’s very clear that once that money runs out there’s nothing else I can do,” she says.
Ease your way back into credit cards with small planned purchases, like a subscription service payment.
After paying off debt, Bell only uses credit cards for in-budget purchases, and she pays them off in full each month to avoid interest charges. Initially, she left her credit card at home to avoid relying on it.
An emergency fund of even $500 for a car or home repair may keep debt off of your credit cards. Start small and aim, eventually, to cast a wider safety net over time — ideally, three to six months of living expenses stowed in a high-yield savings account.
If you previously got used to budgeting a certain amount each month to pay creditors, keep that momentum going, but direct funds toward savings instead.
Convenient payment options can sometimes lead to mindless spending. By entering payment information into forms for every online purchase, you’ll have more time to think through a purchase.
As motivations and priorities change, your stay-out-of-debt plan should follow. Continue revisiting credit card statements to identify the needs that are being met by purchases and which are most important.
If in this process you continue having frequent run-ins with debt, consider closing credit card accounts even if it can negatively impact credit scores.
“A big thing about this is knowing yourself and knowing what your challenge areas are and finding ways that work around them,” Bell says. “Five years from now it might look different, but for right now that’s what works.”