Sleeve Your Credit/Debit Cards To Fight Impulse Spending

in Money Basics

Sleeve on my Debit Card

Sleeving your credit/debit cards is a quick, easy-to-implement strategy to help curb the occasional impulse purchase. I first heard of this concept in a Real Estate Investing book I read several years ago.  Although I forget the specific book, I do remember the author’s suggestion of creating a sleeve for all of your credit cards on which you write the simple phrase, “I am a Real Estate Investor.” The concept wasn’t meant to be complex, rather every time you went to make a purchase, you would simply be reminded of your goals.  In this case you would relate spending frivolous money to less overall money you could use to follow your real estate dreams.

My first experience with this had positives and negatives. I remember going through my wallet, creating several sleeves with computer paper and scotch tape, and writing the slogan down for each card.  At first, I saw an immediate impact, most notably with small petty expenses throughout the day and the occasional random shopping spree online.

The sleeves made me stop, just for a split second and force myself to either stay with my commitment or to create an excuse I could live with. The majority of the time I couldn’t justify it to myself, and therefore simply didn’t make the purchase or spent far less than normal.

Eventually, the first trial didn’t last. I think the real reason why I didn’t stick to the system long-term was not an issue with the sleeving of the cards, after all it look little time to set-up and was only a minor inconvenience at most.  More realistically I came to realize I didn’t attach enough emotional value to “I am a Real Estate Investor” to create lasting change.  Because of this, my credit cards eventually found their way out of their sleeves and returned to my wallet, naked and exposed.

Over a year later, my wife and I decided to take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  It was there where I was introduced to sleeves again.  Along with several other neat tools, we were provided with two sleeves which are featured in the picture above.  On the front of the sleeves under the FPU logo comes the messages, “WARNING:  USING THIS CARD MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR FINANCIAL HEALTH!”

Now here was a message to which I could attach emotional value.  First, even before FPU my wife and I were big Ramsey fans.  I passionately agree with his overall message and 95% of all the principles he preaches.  The key here is that because of my belief system and history with Dave Ramsey this message really connected with me emotionally.  I know for a fact that this has helped me avoid small purchases here and there  directly because this sleeve made me connect the purchase with a longer time period of being in debt.  For me getting out of debt more quickly was more important than making that specific purchase.

You need to locate something with emotional impact in your life and leverage it to help you eliminate debt. I’ve heard of some people taping wallet-sized picture of their kids to the front of sleeves or putting a picture of their dream house for which they are saving.  Would you like to start a non-profit, travel around the world, or just fund your kids college?  Companies have been leveraging your dreams against you to attract your business for years now, isn’t it about time you used them to motivate yourself?

You need to find something that:

  1. Will cause your brain to stop, at least for a second to evaluate the purchase, before you swipe your card. Our brains are set-up to filter out unnecessary information and distractions and to only pass through essential information for decision-making.  Give your brain a polite reminder…  “Dear Brain, please stop me unless I’m able to come up with a good excuse…”
  2. Will constantly remind you of your goals. If you are a big picture type of goal setter, then make sure you are constantly reminding yourself of your 5-10 year goals.  If you benefit from the encouragement of knocking out smaller goals, you might choose specific loans you want to pay off, or a specific amount you’d like to save as an emergency fund.  “Payoff Sallie Mae once and for all…”

Be creative, be bold, and do whatever works for you. Most importantly make your sleeves today. A simple search for Credit Card Sleeves will turn-up several generic options, but this is nothing that scissors, computer paper, and scotch tape can’t also reproduce.  I recently saw a fantastic video on how to glue several sleeves together to make a simplistic wallet.

Have you tried using credit/debit card sleeves?  Have you been able to leverage your long-term goals or curb your frivolous spending?  Comment below and let us know!

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

kosmo @ The Casual Observer May 7, 2009 at 8:44 AM

Huh. That’s interesting. I’m not sure that it would change my usage, though (which, admittedly, is not problematic). I have my ATM card in a sleeve (because ATM magnetic stripes tend to not take the physical abuse as well as credit cards, for whatever reason), and it never makes me ponder the withdrawal – I just see it as physical protection for the card.

Different strokes for different folks, though.

kosmo @ The Casual Observer’s last blog post..Profile: Ryne Sandberg


Baker May 7, 2009 at 10:03 PM

Even if you didn’t have a change in spending, it could be beneficial to use it to remind yourself of your goals. It probably wouldn’t hurt! And your right. Protections the bar, as well.


Jeff@StretchyDollar May 7, 2009 at 10:46 AM

I like the mental aspect of this idea. I don’t know if I’ll actually put it into practice, since my credit card usage is low, but I’ve always been a fan of having a whole mental mindset to go along with whatever kind of budget/other financial tools you are using. I think it makes it a more complete solution.

Jeff@StretchyDollar’s last blog post..Sticking to a Budget


Baker May 7, 2009 at 10:03 PM

Yeah, for me it’s just another simple hurdle. Not life changing, but takes very little time and could make a difference.


SaveBuyLive May 7, 2009 at 11:31 AM

I’ve never done this but I do remember hearing a neat idea related to it sometime ago.

Instead of just using a generic “dangerous to your financial health” sleeve, wrap your credit card up in a sleeve that reminds you why are you saving money. Like Debt free by 20xx or a trip to Australia.

I like this idea because it forces you to think about your larger goals.

SaveBuyLive’s last blog post..How to make and use a budget in 6 easy steps: Step 4


Baker May 7, 2009 at 10:04 PM

I touched on this towards the end of the article. That would work really well for us too. Right now though, “getting out of debt” is still pretty passionate motivation for us. To us, no debt = freedom to travel be mobile.


Ian W. Parker May 7, 2009 at 2:16 PM

I have not tried credit card sleeves, but I do keep a slip of paper in my wallet that sits right in front of my cards. It says, “Today, I decide to be wealthy.” This serves as a very good reminder of what I want in my life. Monetary wealth to get and stay out of debt, but also wealth in other areas of my life.

I have found that as I have been paying off my credit cards, I have become more and more excited about paying them off. Each time a paycheck comes, I am itching to get any extra money sent in as additional payments to become debt-free that much faster. It’s ironic how the addiction can be reversed with just a little effort.

Now, I am addicted to trying to save money and optimize my investments so I can enjoy life. I think I will give the sleeves a try, though, because I like the immediate wake up call that Dave’s wording gives. A little “WARNING!” could be handy now and then on those days when I am feeling weak and craving a purchase.


Baker May 7, 2009 at 10:05 PM

That’s a great idea, too! Even a strip of paper can go a long way. I’m in the same boat you are. Each time we pay more of our student loans it just kind of builds and builds. It’s actually fun in a sick kind of way.


Steven@hundredgoals.com May 7, 2009 at 2:22 PM

I have an idea (though I should keep it secret until I blog about it) similar to this idea, which basically involves “wrapping” your credit card in a photo which is linked to a future goal or something that reminds you of how you are affecting your finances by using that card. I’ll share more in the future :)

Steven@hundredgoals.com’s last blog post..Pay Down Debt or Build an Emergency Fund?


Baker May 7, 2009 at 10:06 PM

I touched on that a little towards the end of the article. I think that would be a fantastic way of utilizing this strategy!


ben May 7, 2009 at 2:54 PM

I, too, agree with most of Ramsey’s philosophies. My wife and I don’t use cc’s regularly, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still own them. We are hoping to purchase a home in the next few years and are trying to create impeccable credit while also paying down our debt. (keeping our cc’s will help establish positive, long term credit.)

Here’s how we use cc’s.:
1- We route as many bills as possible to our American Express card. Our AmEx card is also our Costco membership card. We get an annual kickback to Costco which cover’s about one month’s trip to the warehouse. These bills are also part of our monthly budget so we know exactly what’s put on the card. Instead of paying multiple bills, we pay one to AmEx. This helps build a solid credit history, an annual kickback, and reduce our hassle with bills. Not exactly Ramseyesque, but it works — for us.

2 – We keep our cc’s in our home safe. That way, if we are going to use them, we need to open the safe and get them. We don’t have them handy in our wallet/purse to make impulse buys. Anytime I open the safe, I know I’m affecting my financial health. And, even though small, the hassle of having to open the safe has actually deterred my impulse to use them on occasion.

Great post. Thanks. I’m new to the blog and will most likely be a frequent visitor.


Baker May 7, 2009 at 10:07 PM

Welcome, Ben. Glad to have you around. There are a lot of articles on the site (and links to others around the web) that continue on with that discussion you’ve outlined. It’s a very interesting one to say the least.

Whether you use credit or debit, I’d still recommend taking these little steps to help you achieve your goals. Rock on!


MLR May 7, 2009 at 7:38 PM

I have never heard of this idea… but I think I will send this post to my sister.

She could use a nice sleeve that says “I will put my children through college.”

How’s that for a spending buzz kill?


Baker May 7, 2009 at 10:08 PM

That’s awesome. Sounds like that’s exactly what she needs. Won’t keep her from making essential purchases or even those within her budget, but should buzzkill her enough to prevent some of the frivolous ones!


KC May 7, 2009 at 11:15 PM

This is a great idea – one I hadn’t heard previously.

I will have a think about what wording will work for myself and my husband. It may be that the wording will be different as our financial personalities are quite different.

Maybe something like “STOP! Do you really need it?” would work for us. Or “What budget line is this coming out of?”. The second phrase is used often when I am asked “Can I spend money on …..?” by my husband.

KC’s last blog post..Quick after-work meals


Baker May 8, 2009 at 5:49 PM

Yeah, use whatever works for you! Some people are more motivated by pictures, in that case you could slap one of those babies on there, too.


Heidi May 8, 2009 at 12:31 PM

I’ve been utilizing techniques similar to both Ian and ben… A few months ago I was able to pay down a large portion of my cc debt. Knowing that I have a tendency to spend all that “available credit” if I’m not careful, I chose to simply take my cc’s out of my wallet and leave them at home. I put them in a box, in a safe place; just in case I get the shopping bug while at home (the internet is a dangerous place for impulse shopping!), I’ve written on the front of the box “Will this make me happy?”

I have the same thing written on the inside of my wallet, where I’ll see it every time I reach for a check or my debit card. I like the use of a question, because it isn’t just reminding me of my goals, it’s actively forcing me to think about the consequences of my actions.


Baker May 8, 2009 at 5:50 PM

Awesome! The point isn’t to have it be a specific “sleeve.” The point is to have those barriers. You sound like you’ve done a great job of putting up some of those for yourself!


James May 9, 2009 at 11:16 PM

Wow, that is a great idea. I should try that myself! Even though I am down to one single card now.

James’s last blog post..Fun Day: Computer Humor


Matt @ My Financial Recovery May 13, 2009 at 11:46 AM

Interesting idea and a powerful one as well. It reminds me of people putting pictures of their kids into cigarette packs while trying to quit smoking. Finding a strong emotional tie will help you overcome anything. I never thought of applying the idea to credit and debit cards though!

Thanks for sharing.

Matt @ My Financial Recovery’s last blog post..Allowance And Chore System For The Kids


ktmadeblog August 8, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Such a great post. I just posted about how to make your own credit card sleeves and created a little pattern and tutorial! I think it’s really working for me. http://ktmade.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-i-was-kid-i-lived-for-gift-shops.html


Ashton September 3, 2011 at 8:29 PM

There are times I see myself buying items by impulse. That why I do not get a credit card.


Leave a Comment

{ 7 trackbacks }