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Two Lists That Will Help You Stop Using Credit Cards

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It’s all about thinking ahead.

I’m a big fan of a running list.

That’s just a list that I constantly add to and take away from. I have a couple of running lists that have been very helpful to me on my ongoing quest to be Not Poor.

I’ve found that these two lists work together to keep me from reaching for a credit card every time something comes up.

List One: Things I Need

I translate ‘need’ very broadly. It includes a lot of things I want, but have done fine without all my life.

For instance pressure canner was on my list for ages. Years. I’ve never pressure canned a thing in my life, but I love to can things with a water bath and I wanted to try pressure canning.

New pressure canners cost something in the ballpark of $200 and there was no way I was paying that.

So, I put it on my list and I waited. Finally, this past spring, I found one at a local auction for $20. I have visions of making soup out of Farmer’s Market veggies later in the summer and canning it up for winter. Yummy.

This list is sort of a slow shopping list. Nothing I head out to the store and fill my cart with. It’s more things that I want to keep an eye out for, so that when I see them cheap (usually secondhand, but not always), I don’t miss out.

My Things I Need list also keeps me from going off on a spending tangent. If something’s not on my list, I’m likely to at least slow down and make sure it’s something I really want to buy.

It’s crazy how, as soon as you list something, you start to see it everywhere. When we moved to our new house in Pennsylvania, we found ourselves with about a thousand windows and zero curtains. Curtains went on my list, and suddenly I was noticing them every time I went into a thrift shop.

Using a Things I Need list will keep you from running right out and charging something on a credit card the instant you decide you need it.

You can put aside a small ‘Things I Need’ budget so that when your list and life come together and what you need is right in front of you, you can actually buy it. I’ve found that $100 works for me now, but in the past my budget for this list was $20.

List Two: Randomly Acts of Spending

This list is no where near as fun, but it is super important.

It’s (relatively) easy to pay bills that come up every month. You know, month in and month out, your rent is due. You have to buy groceries. You have to pay the electric bill and for your cell phone.

But what about getting your dog groomed every ninety days? Or what about the completely random times when your dog needs to see a vet?

What about birthdays (which do come every year, but still manage to take us by surprise)?

What about getting your teeth cleaned twice a year?

Those things aren’t all actually random, but they feel like they are. When you’re scrambling in mid-November to come up with the extra money to pull together a big family Thanksgiving meal, for instance.

And you know, maybe you don’t know when you’re going to need to come up with an urgent care co-pay, but you can be pretty sure that at some point you will need to.

A running list of the randomly recurring spending that you know you can count on is a lifesaver for me.

Start with all of the things you know will come up: holidays, vacation, insurance payments, regular medical appointments, school supplies, winter coats, etc.

Then add in the things that really are random: urgent care visits, vet bills, car repairs, etc.

The good news is that you’re not going to have to pay all of those things all at once. They’ll be spread out over the year.

Try to estimate how much you’ll need in the next twelve months for each one. Start a new savings account at your bank called Random Acts of Spending and start adding to it.

I’ve found that having a thousand dollars in my Random Acts of Spending account is enough. It’s enough for even a fairly major car repair or emergency vet visit. When I’ve used some money out of that account, I funnel my savings into it until it’s built up again.

This account keeps me from having to turn to a credit card for every emergency. I borrow the money from myself, instead. Interest free. And knowing I have a cushion to manage things as they come up is such a good feeling.

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