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As the cost of living rises and the economy continues to weaken, many find themselves hard-pressed to make ends meet each month.

In some dire cases, financially burdened consumers are relying on credit cards to purchase necessities such as food and gas, driving up card balances and compounding the issue of higher food and energy prices – with interest.

Whether you’re using credit for splurges, or for necessities, it can be an expensive habit. Consider the following tips to help wean you from dependence on credit cards:

  • Shelve your credit cards. Consider carrying cash or your debit card for daily use. Leave credit cards at home and only carry one when you plan to use it for a larger purchase or something that you have already reserved for your credit card.
  • Tighten up your budget. Create a real budget and include even the smallest expenses. Maybe filling up at the station or picking up a few things at the grocery store were once expenses that would previously go unnoticed in your checkbook. However, with much higher prices in gas and food today, even smaller ticket items add up.
  • Cut back on non-essentials. The easiest way to free up extra cash is to know the difference between needs and wants, and make a conscious effort to do without those things that you don’t need such as eating out, vacationing, and shopping for discretionary items such as furniture and electronics.
  • Create a plan to pay down debt. Sometimes it’s easier to break a habit when you have a goal you are trying to accomplish. Make a commitment to pay down a portion of your debt within a certain timeframe, and get your family involved in working towards a shared goal.

Finally, if your financial obligations become overwhelming and you find yourself losing control, seek help. Your human resource or employee services department may have options available. Community service and counseling agencies are also available and can offer a number of services to assist you with gaining control over your finances.