When it comes to credit cards, you might think of yourself as a low-key rock star: You always pay on time and in full and maintain excellent credit. Compared with others, you’ve mastered the basics. And yet you — yes, you — might be using credit cards to spend too much.
Don’t let your good credit card habits lull you into complacency.
“It’s kind of like going to the doctor and having your cholesterol tested and seeing that it’s normal … and then saying, ‘Hey, I’m in great health!’” says Brad Klontz, a certified financial planner and associate professor of financial psychology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. “Financial health has many elements.”
Here are some signs that your credit card balances are becoming bloated and ways to rein in your spending.
You’re falling behind on savings goals
When you’re overspending, your savings goals — such as an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses or a retirement fund — are often the first to suffer. Neglecting them long term could put you in a precarious financial position.
“You just want to make sure you’re first putting money aside or paying for things that matter the most to you,” Klontz says.
You’re buying out of boredom
When you’re bored, hitting the mall or browsing online stores regularly can be hard to resist — but it can also get expensive.
In 2010, Ruth Soukup had just moved to Punta Gorda, Florida, with her husband and two children. They had saved and budgeted to redecorate their house, but afterward, Soukup found it hard to return to her usual spending habits.
“I kind of got into this mode of spending, spending, spending,” says Soukup, who now sticks to a budget. She’s the author of “Living Well Spending Less” and runs a lifestyle and personal finance blog by the same name. “My husband was going to work, and I was kind of bored being a stay-at-home mom. That was kind of my excuse to go to Target, or wherever, and just kind of wander around the stores.
“I was overspending, even though I wasn’t spending more money than we had,” she says.
You’re breaking your own spending rules
Chances are, you have some personal spending rules when shopping, even if you don’t maintain a strict budget. One might be, “I’m not going to spend more than $50 on a pair of jeans.” Or, “I’m only here to buy a new vacuum cleaner. I’m not going to buy anything else.”
And if you break those self-imposed rules? “There’s almost … this twinge you get in your stomach, where you kind of know you shouldn’t be spending [that money],” Soukup says.
A one-time splurge generally won’t derail your savings goals. But splurging again and again can throw them off track — or land you in credit card debt.
How to break the cycle
If you’re stuck in a cycle of overspending, here’s how to find your way out.
Build a better budget. A complicated budget isn’t necessarily more effective. A weekly credit card spending limit can be enough to control your cash flow. If you want to get fancy, create a 50/30/20 budget, where 50% of your take-home pay goes to needs, 30% goes to wants and 20% goes to saving or paying off debt.
Read your credit card statements. “Look over these last three months and see if you can find a pattern to this overspending,” Klontz says. Then he recommends making purchases with cash or a debit card. That makes the financial impact more immediate.
Try a temporary spending freeze. If you need to reset your shopping habits, swear off spending on nonessential items for a time — even just a week. These days, Soukup and her husband implement regular, monthlong spending freezes. “We’d mostly eat from our freezer and pantry when possible, only buy the bare minimum of groceries, no other extraneous things,” Soukup says.
Replace your old habits with new ones. Instead of getting takeout regularly, make cooking part of your evening routine. Next time your friends want to go to the movies, invite them over for a potluck and stream a show at your place. By replacing your spending habits with saving habits, you’ll reach your big-picture financial goals sooner.
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by Forbes.