Those little purchases may seem harmless, but they add up to a dangerous amount.

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If you’ve ever looked at your credit card statement or bank account wondering where the money went, you’re not alone. Even high earners can find themselves in debt without realizing how they got there.

Plastic makes it easy to separate yourself from your spending. The average credit card balance in the U.S. is $6,270, according to data from Value Penguin. When it comes to controlling spending, some tricks work better than others.

Sometimes it takes more than willpower to get back on the right financial track. And if you have debt you’re trying to repay, the seven tips below can help you bring down those balances.

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1. Do a no-spend day challenge

All my money with me all the time

One of the best ways to control your spending is by not spending. While this sounds simple, it’s anything but. Instead of going all out trying to curb your spending, start small by doing a no-spend challenge.

Pick a day and only buy necessities. Gas for your car, groceries, bills, etc. all fall under this label. What doesn’t qualify? Your morning latte, lunches out, or a quick pick-me-up afternoon treat. Instead, make coffee at home, pack a lunch, and bring snacks.

Challenge yourself to do more than one no-spend day every week. You’ll start to notice the savings quickly adding up as you have more money in your account every month. Add up how much you’ve saved at the end of each no-spend day and put that money toward paying down your debt.

Find out: 10 Steps to Take Control of Your Finances

2. Shop with cash only

Using a credit or debit card for all of your purchases can separate you from the pain of spending. Shopping with cash means physically handing over dollar bills with every purchase. It also means watching your wallet grow lighter every time you buy something.

Paying with cash can help you stay within budget. Forking over your hard-earned money makes you feel the pinch of spending. The downside of cash is that it can be difficult to track what you spend. To solve this, try using envelopes for each budget line item where you’re planning to use it.

Put the weekly or monthly budgeted amount in the envelope and use only what’s inside for your spending. When it’s gone, it’s gone. To get started, pick one or two categories where you keep going over budget and use cash. This will give you an idea of where your money is going and help curb your spending.

Find out: 9 Budget Hacks to Free Up Extra Cash

3. Know your budget

Monthly Budget Plan for Expenses and Money

Don’t think of a budget as something you put together and maybe check once a week. Doing so is a sure recipe for going over and spending too much. Instead, look at your budget regularly – once a week or every few days.

If it’s hard to keep track of expenses against a monthly budget, divide it up into weekly mini-budgets. This will make it easier to check if you’re going over what you planned to spend and make adjustments. If you have a significant other, make sure to involve them in the process as well.

Find out: Do-It-Yourself Budgeting Tools.

4. Stick to your list

Another trick to help you control spending is to make a shopping list. Before you head to the grocery store to stock up, make a list of everything you need to buy. Go through your fridge and pantry and check if you’re running low on anything.

When planning out your meals, make sure you have all of the ingredients. Add any missing ones to your list. As an added bonus, do a rough estimate of how much the shopping trip will cost you based on what you plan to buy. Keep an eye on the total when checking out and stay under your estimated amount.

Grab your list when you head to the store – and stick to it. This means not buying anything that is not written down. What if you pass by the dairy section and realize you’re out of yogurt but forgot to write it down? Tough luck, keep moving. This will teach you to get better at writing out your shopping lists and estimating your budget.

Find out: How to Create a Budget and Stick to It

5. Institute a cooling off period for items over $50

Young cheerful freelancer is resting at a workplace

If you struggle with impulse purchases, designating a cooling off period can help you avoid unnecessary purchases. How many times have you bought something then regretted the purchase a few days or months later?

Impulse purchases can quickly add up over time, putting a dent in your budget. Consumers cough up $5,400 a year on impulse purchases, says a study by That’s $450 extra a month that can go toward paying down debt, your retirement, or padding your savings account.

To help curb unnecessary spending, institute a 72-hour cooling off period for any purchase over $50. This will give you time to consider if you really need the item. Sometimes you may see something that’s on sale or looks cool and you want to have it now.

Taking some time to think about the purchase will give you the chance to decide if you really need it after all. You’ll be surprised how many times the urge passes once you leave the store or click out of the browser.

Find out: 6 Tips for Putting a Stop to Anxiety Shopping

6. Unsubscribe from sale alerts

Unsubscribe written under torn paper

There’s nothing that makes you want to whip out your credit card faster than checking your inbox to find an email about a sale at your favorite retailer. How about those emails offering an extra 30 percent off or free shipping for the next six hours? All trying to entice you to click over and spend money on things you don’t need.

The best way to save your budget – and your inbox – is by hitting ‘unsubscribe.’ Go through your inbox and unsubscribe from all sales emails. Every single last one.

If you’re an iOS user, Apple added a quick ‘unsubscribe’ shortcut at the top of the message. Google’s Gmail app for Android has a similar feature in the top right corner. Alternatively, you can manually unsubscribe from each mailing list. It’ll take some time, but it’ll be totally worth getting back your inbox.

Find out: 6 Red Flags of “Going-Out-of-Business” Online Scammers

7. Freeze your credit cards

Trying all the tricks but still failing to see savings? Freezing your credit cards may be just what you need to get back on track. This means literally freezing your cards in water in your freezer. Grab a plastic container, fill it up with water and drop your credit cards in there. Stick it in your freezer and let it harden.

Now, every time you have to use your credit card, you’ll need to let it the ice melt. This will give you enough time to consider whether you really do need to make that purchase after all. The forced thawing out period and added pain each time you need to use your card can be enough to curb your spending.

For this to truly be effective, you’ll need to delete all credit card information from any online retailers such as Amazon or Target that have it stored in your profile. This will prevent you from cheating by going online to make a purchase.

Find out: How to Place a Credit Freeze

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About the Author

Veneta Lusk

Veneta Lusk

Veneta Lusk is a freelance writer who loves empowering people to get smart about their finances. After becoming debt free, she and her husband created a flexible lifestyle so they can travel more, focus on fun projects, and spend time with family.

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