If you’re struggling with credit card debt, you’ve probably run across the suggestion to “freeze credit cards in ice”. Freezing your credit cards is old advice, and it sounds like a good idea, but is it really? And what happens if you do it?
Let’s talk how-to first
The general idea is that you put your credit cards in a bowl or baggie filled with water and then put it in the back of the freezer so that you don’t see them every time you get a bowl of ice cream (and so that you can’t use them on impulse.) You’d have to defrost them first, since you can’t read the numbers through a block of ice or physically use the card.
Waiting for your cards to thaw would take time — time that you’d presumably use to think about how important the purchase really was.
The whole idea of freeze credit cards in ice is based on the notion that the only reason you use them is because you make impulse purchases, and that you wouldn’t be in debt if only you thought first.
Generally speaking, I don’t think that’s true. For example, while I did (and still do!) have trouble with impulsivity, impulse spending was not the real cause of my debt problems. But back to freezing credit cards.
What happens if you need to use them?
First, do you really not have your credit card information written down or stored anywhere else? With the advent of online purchases, chances of that are small. Physically using a credit card isn’t nearly as common as it used to be, so you can probably still use them without even waiting for the ice to melt. And you know that. Freeze the cards is super old advice. I did it in the early 90s.
Second, if you do freeze credit cards in ice and later defrost them, the cards themselves get kind of wonky, especially if they’ve been frozen for quite a while. Mine were a little misshapen and brittle. The jury is still out on whether the new chip cards will even still work afterward. (One experiment said yes, but the cards were only frozen for a few hours.) And you darn well don’t want to microwave chip cards to defrost them in a hurry. (Sparks, you know.)
Technicalities aside, there are worse issues.
Freezing the cards gives you a false sense of security
I get it. It’s hard to cut up your credit cards, and even harder to cancel them. Emotionally, that is! We’re so used to thinking of debt as a safety net that the thought of that net being gone is just plain scary.
What if there’s an emergency? What if we need something?
Questions like that plague you, but instead of doing something about them, you hold onto your security blanket, safe in the knowledge that your credit cards are waiting for you there in the freezer “just in case”.
Money makes a MUCH better security blanket, so I suggest using that instead of trying to freeze credit cards in ice. (Here are some ideas on how to build a thousand dollar emergency fund in 90 days or less.)
Your security blanket turns into temptation
You may have seen those “break in case of emergency” cigarettes encased in glass. Putting a credit card on ice is no different. Putting your credit cards into a block of ice just sets you up for temptation. It’s like keeping a six pack in the fridge if you’re an alcoholic. So don’t do it. Cut them up & destroy all copies of the numbers (or cancel those cards!) instead. You can do it.
The worst part is, you’ll feel like a loser if you use them
Putting your cards in the freezer has a certain appeal, and so chances are you may try it anyway. I did long ago, and you know what happened?
I waited for the ice to melt, peered through it to get the expiration date so I could use it over the phone, and microwaved the block of ice when I was too impatient to wait for it to melt. (Obviously it wasn’t a chip card with metal.)
I have no idea what “emergency” could have resulted in any of that. None!
Seriously, what kind of emergency is there that you need to use a credit card within the 3-minute microwave time? I know there were zero hospital trips involved.
And I felt like a loser for doing so. It confirmed to me that I had no self-control, so why bother trying to change? I still get an icky feeling now thinking back to those days.
Freezing your cards masks the (surprising) truth
The truth was, I DID have plenty of self-control. I just wasn’t using it. I was afraid of losing my “safety net”. Of course, credit cards aren’t really a safety net. They’re a trap. And fear can absolutely be a sign of something that you actually would benefit from doing.
Once I committed, for real, to getting out of credit card debt, it happened. And cutting up my cards and canceling my accounts confirmed that commitment.
I didn’t need to freeze credit cards in ice, leaving them hanging around “just in case”. Once I got rid of the cards, I saw the truth about myself. I could do this. I could handle life without them, and plan ahead for those emergencies by building an emergency fund. It took time, and was a bit of a bumpy road, but I did it.
YOU can rely on yourself too.