Switch to Only Using Cash and Checks for a Year (123/365)

One of the biggest mental tricks that credit cards (and debit cards, for that matter) plays on our minds is that they make the use of money very abstract. It is incredibly easy to forget that the plastic you’re using when making a purchase actually represents money that you’ve had to work very hard to earn.

Even if you manage to get past the disconnect between plastic and money, credit cards still offer a crutch that enables you to spend more than you have on hand.

The end result of both? Debt.

Credit cards often result in patterns of buying that aren’t sustainable over a long period. The easiest way to break that pattern? Ditch the credit cards for a while.

Switch to Only Using Cash and Checks for a Year (123/365)

One common technique for doing just that is to freeze your credit cards in a block of ice. That way, it’s pretty inconvenient to get at those cards, but they are still accessible if such a situation demands it.

All you have to do is find a container a bit bigger than your cards, fill it about halfway with water, then freeze it. Pull out the container when there’s a big chunk of ice on the bottom, lay your cards on top, then fill the container with water. Return it to the freezer. After a while, you’ll have a giant ice cube with your credit cards in the middle.

When I was in financial trouble, I took all of our credit cards and put them in a locked box in our closet, buried underneath several items. I knew where they were, of course, but they were difficult to get to in any situation where I might actually want them to buy something I didn’t really need.

If you find yourself sneaking into your hiding place or breaking open that big ice cube to get at your plastic, more drastic measures are needed. Cut them up. You can always order replacement cards if needed.

Also, delete your credit card numbers from online stores. Many websites make it very easy to order new items if your credit card number is stored there. Just remove them and eliminate that option.

Why do this? The reason is simple. Going without credit cards forces you to reset your buying patterns. If you don’t have access to your credit cards, you simply have to live within your means.

Don’t get me wrong, I think credit cards are certainly useful and do serve a purpose for people who have healthy shopping patterns. However, if you’re consistently racking up credit card debt, you’re engaged in an unhealthy shopping pattern and a break can do you a lot of good.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.