Updated on 05.03.12

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

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. Sam says:

    How is freezing my AAA card going to help me reset my buying pattern?

  2. Josh says:

    Checks are archaic and should not be used.

  3. Bill in NC says:

    Do people really have so little self-discipline in their lives that they need to freeze their credit cards in a block of ice?

  4. Misha says:

    Bill, Trent seems to believe that his self-control problems are universal, and that everyone is just one splurge away from inconquerable debt.

  5. Misha says:

    Also, Trent, some people have credit limits that are lower – much lower – than their available discretionary cash.

  6. Evita says:

    Unfortunately, I know my CC card number by heart….

  7. Evita says:

    Paypal ! paypal ! direct wire ! so many ways to pay !

  8. Mister E says:

    That’s an excellent step by step on how to freeze a credit card. Container must be slightly larger than card, got it!

  9. kc says:

    Brittany’s photography is the perfect complement to Trent’s writing.

  10. Emma says:

    Low level of self – discipline, agree. Childish.

  11. lurker carl says:

    If you freeze your credit cards in High Fructose Corn Syrup, the container size doesn’t matter.

  12. lurker carl says:

    Best of all, corn syrup prevents replacement credit cards from being ordered.

  13. Josh says:

    to buy another freezer….

  14. Josh says:

    Buy more house

  15. Josh says:

    To buy another freezer

  16. Josh says:

    to have space to freeze your credit cards

  17. Gillian says:

    Nobody uses cheques in the UK anymore. In fact, 90% of transactions are done with debit cards.

  18. Johanna says:

    It’s not childish to feel that you need to do this with your credit cards…

  19. Johanna says:

    …knowing yourself and your limitations is actually the opposite of childish…

  20. Johanna says:

    …what’s childish is a$$uming that everyone else is just like you.

  21. prodgod says:

    As for me, having cash on hand actually tends to make me spend more. Credit cards keep me accountable.

  22. jim says:

    like prodg0d,I think I’m the opposite. I spend worse with cash.

  23. lurker carl says:

    Perhaps the credit card should be cancelled, rather than frozen in a block of ice, if self control is lacking.

  24. Johanna says:

    @lurker carl: Perhaps you should do what works for you, and not concern-troll other people’s decisions.

  25. Jak says:

    This article must fall into the entertainment side of this site…

  26. Emma says:

    I can only imagine what is in Johanna’s freezer!

  27. Bren says:

    That is just the most awful picture.

  28. Bren says:

    How hard would it be to freeze an actual credit card

  29. Bren says:

    (because this isn’t one)

  30. Bren says:

    in a nice,

  31. Bren says:

    square container?

  32. Bren says:

    then take the block of ice out of the container

  33. Bren says:

    (some warm water will do the trick),

  34. Bren says:

    positioning it somewhere where there’s natural light, and taking a picture?

  35. Refugio says:

    Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.

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