Don't let your brain fool you into making this credit mistake this fall

Human beings are wired for new starts. We set resolutions for January 1, we look forward to "things getting back to normal" when the kids return to school; we also anticipate the beginning of the week, the beginning of the month, and the day we return from vacation.

Looking forward to these new starts can make us very productive... But it can lead to a negative impact on our credit scores as well.

Here's why:

We tend to have a very narrow definition of what's normal. This fall, "normal" is typically defined by those few weeks in September and October when the kids are in school 5 days a week and we're back to work 5 days a week and all the regular commitments of sports and music lessons are starting back up. During this time of the year, it's easier for us to embed new and improved credit habits into our daily routines: We check our credit reports, we follow a budget, we pay off our credit cards, and we make sure our bills are all paid on time.

It's easy to do those things when life is in a routine and things are predictable and moving at an average pace - when things are "normal". But when things vary from our definition of normal, it's possible for us to put aside our good credit habits and wait for things to return to normal before we pick up those credit habits again.

So you might spend the next couple of weeks of September expertly managing your credit. But then the kids get sick, or they get a day off of school, or there's a family crisis, or an out-of-state wedding to attend. Before you know it, you're busy getting ready for Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas.

These "non-normal" events give us permission to pause our credit habits. It's not unlike the habit of dieting. When life fits into our definition of "normal", dieting is easier. But then we give ourselves permission to go back for seconds "because it's Thanksgiving" or splurge on some sweet treat at the Cheesecake Café "because it's our anniversary" or eat a calorie-infused take-out meal "because the kids are sick and I don't feel like cooking".

If you truly want to make a major change in your credit this fall, the very first thing you need to do is to decide to stick to good credit habits through thick and thin, regardless of what life throws at you this fall. In other words, don't just stick to your credit habits when things are within your narrow definition of "normal" but rather adopt the idea that everything between now and December 31 is normal life. As strange as that sentence is to read, it's a mindset change to make in your life that will inspire you to continue practicing good credit habits even when life gets busy.