Taming My Financial Beast

A very cool thing happened today; I was quoted in a New York Times article! A few months ago I spoke with writer Sally French about how credit cards can tempt people into spending more money than they should, and some behavioral science-based tips to mitigate the damage.  I hadn’t known exactly when the article would come out, so it was a nice little surprise.

Aside from the thrill of seeing my name in the freaking New York Times, and for non-criminal reasons to boot, I am proud to have contributed to this article because credit card debt was a problem for me in the past. In college I got my first credit card (it was a Yale-branded Mastercard that I signed up for at a Harvard-Yale game in New Haven. Even though I had the appropriate requisite hatred for Yale, it tickled my subversive nature to use a Yale card around Cambridge.), and boy was that a bad idea. I was working 10 plus hours per week in low paying student jobs, not making nearly enough to pay off the balances I was racking up.

I never got into really bad trouble, fortunately, but it wasn’t great either. I ended up with quite a lot of interest owed on the card (and subsequent others), without that much value to show for it. After college I got a low-interest loan from my credit union to pay off the cards, and from then on I’ve promised myself to pay off balances in full each month. It makes me pay attention to larger purchases and delay or forgo them if I won’t have the cash on hand.

I have my own set of bad behaviors that I still struggle with despite my professional expertise. But, I did manage to conquer my credit card habits. I’m really proud of that. It feels meaningful to have arrived at a place where I can talk credibly to someone like Sally about tactics other people can use to avoid the type of debt situation I was in. I also like that I can leverage my neuroticism about my inbox to keep my financial house in order. It really speaks to how the right solutions are going to be individual to each person. Trying stuff out, thinking about what has worked for you in other realms, and not being afraid to mix and match tactics are all helpful.

Finally, I am afraid I got a little too autobiographical in my interview. Behold:

“If you’re sitting on your couch, you’ve had two glasses of wine, you see rain boots on sale, and your credit card information auto-populates, you’re probably going to buy it, because you really only needed to hit two buttons to make that purchase,” Ms. Bucher said.



**It’s been on my mind that I should acknowledge all of this advice comes from a place of privilege. I can afford to cover my most basic needs without relying on credit. That’s not the case for everyone. I’m not suggesting people who do need to use credit to make ends meet are “misbehaving.”