Personal Finance 

Curb Spending By Writing Goals on Credit Cards

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Some of my friends put a rubber band around their wrist if they’re supposed to remember something, like getting milk on the way home. Some of my friends send themselves email or schedule events in Outlook. Some of my friends draw treasure maps and hide them behind paintings in their attics (okay no they don’t, that was from Goonies). The point is, we all have little hacks we use to remind us about things we are supposed or not supposed to do in the future.

Here’s a hack: Write on your credit cards. If you’re saving for a new television, write “New Television” on your credit cards. If you’re saving for your kid’s 529 plan, write “College Education” on the front of your credit cards. If you are $10,000 in credit card debt and devoted to busting that monkey on your back, write down $10,000 on the front of your credit cards. This simple act alone has the potential to change your behavior for the better and, if nothing else, help you achieve your cash flow-related goals much sooner.

It’s a reminder. Every time you go to pull out that credit card to buy something, you are reminded about your goals. You are reminded you are saving towards a television, your child’s education, or cutting down that monster of a debt to Uncle Citi (or Uncle Discover, or Uncle American Express…). Do you really need what you’re about the buy? Do you really need it more than the television/education/debt? You may decide you do need it more, but at least you’ll have made a conscious decision.

Other people will see it (but not truly know!). When I recommend that you write $10,000 on your card because you owe that much, I don’t mean to embarrass you in front of others. That $10,000 could mean anything, however it will mean $10,000 in credit card a debt to you and that’s all it needs to mean. You merely need to remember how long and hard you’ll have to work to pay off that debt and decide whether that purchase is worth it.

It’s also a conversation starter that might net you some positive benefits. For example, did you know that the cashiers at Bed Bath & Beyond have a little binder of bar codes for competitor coupons? If you mention that you’re saving towards your kid’s education or paying off debt (or ask nicely, which my wife did once), maybe you get a discount on your purchase. (for those curious about the binder, cashiers scan a particular code to indicate a customer brought in a competitor’s 10% or 20% off coupon or something, I believe it’s a matter of convenience and tracking since they can’t actually scan the other store’s coupon)

Indicates its importance to you. By virtue of it appearing, in Sharpie, on your credit cards, you’re essentially declaring that to be the single most important cash flow-related financial goal that you have. It also forces you to think about what you will write down and in what order. Is the television more important than the $10,000 debt? If so, why? If not, why not? Is saving for a Roth IRA important enough to put down on your credit card? Why or why not? These are all questions you are forced to ask if you’re willing to take this simple step of writing down your goals on the one thing you are likely to see each day.

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “Curb Spending By Writing Goals on Credit Cards”

  1. fred@opc says:

    Really like this article. I could probably stand to write my goal weight on my credit card so I’m not tempted to buy fast food while I’m out 🙂

  2. Nice idea! I’ve heard about wrapping your card in some sort of reminder note. However, boldly putting it directly on the card seems like an even stronger commitment!

  3. Trent Hamm says:

    I do a very similar thing. I keep my credit card in a little paper sleeve and on that sleeve is a picture of my children. That means I have to look at their faces each time I bust out the card.

  4. jim says:

    Trent – That is even better than what I recommend, it’s one thing to see writing and ignore it, it’s a wholly different thing to look at a picture of your kids.

  5. squawkfox says:

    Why not just leave the credit card at home? 😉

  6. manuvns says:

    Not sure if this is going to work . When we buy stuff let’s say in grocery store we are dumping it in our shopping cart and we are not looking at our credit card . And when we see the card (checkout counter ) the purchase decision is already made .

  7. Movingonup says:

    Good Idea. I put a post-it note with my next credit card repayment goal in mine. Keeps my priorities in check.

  8. Sarah says:

    I love this idea. I have been using little post it notes on the back of my credit cards and my atm card for the past year so I don’t have to guess “do I have enough for this or not?” I’ve also gone a step further an wrote messages such as, “Don’t use me, I’ll take 3 years to pay off!!!!”

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