UNITED STATES—Credit cards can be dangerous. It’s that piece of plastic that many of us go to in an effort to reserve cash that we might not have at a particular time. I believe in the notion of having at least 2-3 major credit cards. Anything beyond that number can get you into trouble fairly quickly. As Americans, we attempt to keep our credit card balances at a certain limit.

I think that is a super important rule to preventing yourself from falling deeper into debt. If you don’t have a cut-off on what you want to payback, it opens the door for trouble to ensue. I’m a believer that a credit card should be used for big purchases, but lately I’ve found myself using my credit card more and more for smaller purchases. Guess what it hit me: you’ve got to keep a tally on what you’re spending.

I’m good at managing money, but if I’m spending way more than I’m bringing in it’s a problem. So for the past 3 months I have been keeping an envelope with my three credit cards each labeled and placing receipts into the envelopes every time I use one of the credit cards. What have I come to discover? I’m spending way too much money on unnecessary things that I really don’t need, just picking them up to pick them up.

This is something many Americans have an issue with. Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you have to buy it. If there is no legitimate reason for purchasing the item, don’t buy it. I can easily save about $75-$100 a month by doing so.

Next, the cost of food is constantly on the rise. I actually hate grocery shopping because for the strangest reason I always seem to spend much more than I care to spend. I’ve now figured out why that is. I’m shopping way too many times during the month. I need to just pick one time during the month to shop and get all the items I need. I see myself spending more than I should at the local farmer’s market, a lot of the time purchasing fruits and veggies that I don’t eat. Well, not anymore.

If I know I won’t consume those items within a week, I’m not buying. Nothing bugs me more than wasting or throwing out food. We already have an epidemic of so many people not having enough to eat, what does it look like for me to be throwing out food because I allowed it to spoil? Another important facet when it comes to grocery shopping: don’t be afraid to shop around. We live in this bubble where many people think you should do all your grocery shopping at one place. No you don’t. It might be convenient, but that convenience will end up costing you more money in the long run. Why spend an extra $50 bucks when you can slice that in half by shopping somewhere else? Remember money that is saved is funds that can be used on something else: paying a bill, gas in the car, a night on the town, etc.

The most important thing I have learned in my adult life is that a credit card is MONEY YOU DON”T HAVE! People forget that, it’s not your money, it has to be paid back and interest can kill you if you allow it to. Be careful what you buy. A department store credit card is the worst thing you can do. That whole notion of open an account and save 20-30 percent on your purchase is baloney. It really isn’t worth it in the long run.

The APR on retail store credit cards can range anywhere from 22-30 percent. That is much costlier than what you’d pay if you used a Visa, MasterCard, American Express or your Discover charge. Remember these are card that are accepted everywhere so utilize their purpose.

The most important thing to remember with a credit card is pay as much on your bill each month as possible. Paying the minimum amount doesn’t help knock down the debt. You’ll likely end up paying more in interest than you’d like. Think of it this way each time you are about to pull out that piece of plastic. Is this something I need or is it something I want? More importantly, is this something I can afford to pay back by the end of the month or within 3-6 months before interest begins to kick in? If the answer to either of those questions is NO, you already know the decision that has to be made, even though it may pain you do to so. Trust me you’ll thank me later.