Life is like a box of chocolates. And a credit card is like an open bag of potato chips.
I love chips. Potato chips, nacho chips, corn chips. It doesn't matter. Like the ad says, I can't stop at eating just one.
And I've learned something about the way I inhale chips that also can apply to spending money: We need boundaries. In fact, boundaries can be very good.
Eating more than my fill
Here's what I mean. In the past--more often than I care to admit--I've sat down in front of the TV with a half or full bag of chips at my side. I'll begin munching, and before I know it, I'm shoveling the shards at the bottom of the bag into my mouth and feeling a little queasy to my stomach.
However, on occasion, I've caught myself heading to the couch with a chip bag tucked under my arm and stopped dead in my tracks. I then go over to the kitchen cabinet, pull out a medium-sized bowl, fill it to the rim with chips, and put the bag safely back in the pantry. Usually after the bowl is empty, I've satisfied my chip craving, I have a pleasant feeling in my stomach, and have no desire for a refill. (Besides, the kitchen is waaayyy over there...)
What does this have to do with money? In October, M and I stopped using a credit card to pay for everything. My theory (supported by academic research and financial experts a lot smarter than me) was that making purchases with cash--especially for discretionary expenses, like videos, household stuff, even groceries--would help us stay within our spending plan and manage our money better.
I haven't tallied the final numbers yet but it looks like the theory held true. M and I went over our spending plan at the beginning of the month, paid cash (or used our debit card) for the majority of our non-fixed expenses, and ended up with a modest surplus. We were even able to pay an unexpected $127 for my stepdaughter's tumbling lessons that I forgot to account for in our plan.
What was the difference? Our behavior. With an $18,000 limit, our credit card was the equivalent of a huge, seemingly bottomless bag of potato chips. We never came close to using all of that credit each month, but with such a large boundary, we naturally tended to "consume" more than was really good for us.
Spending within the boundaries of our cash limit--which really, by comparison with our credit limit, is equivalent to a small bowl of chips--made us more focused on how we spent our dollars and used what we purchased. For example, when we ran out of ice cream--another food which, for me, is best served in a bowl--M made up the brownie mix in the cupboard instead of adding it to the weekly grocery list. Thus, we stayed within our shopping budget but still had a tasty dessert.
Many people argue that boundaries are bad. And they can be, if they are unreasonable or too stringent. But use them well and they can save you from feeling a lot of discomfort.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's November 1. There's a bowl of ice cream with my name on it.
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