You Might Shop Healthier if You Pay in Cash

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I rarely pay for things with cash these days, mostly because it’s so convenient to use my debit card. There aren’t many places that don’t take cards, although I’ll admit that I’m a little embarrassed when I have to charge a $2.00 roll of paper towels because I’ve only got $0.50 in my wallet. Paying with a card is so easy that I know I don’t always think as much about what I’m putting in my cart. If I had to pay with cash, I have a feeling I’d be more careful. Research shows I’m not the only one.

The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, assessed the shopping habits of 1,000 consumers over a 6-month period. It found that when shoppers paid with a credit card, they were more likely to make the impulsive junk food purchases, compared to those who paid with cash. Researchers theorize that it’s more painful for people to part with their cash, so they might think twice about the extra bag of potato chips if they know it’s going to take a few more bills out of their wallet. According to the study, only 14% of American shoppers pay for their groceries with cash.

The study also found that consumers were less likely to buy impulsively if they did their shopping on the weekend, versus during the week. That makes sense, since you’re more likely to run into the store after work to pick up an ingredient for dinner (and grab a bag of M&M’s in the checkout if you’re hungry),versus taking a planned weekend trip to the store with grocery list in-hand.

Results showed "that participants regret impulsively spending money on unhealthy food products. Impulsive purchases of unhealthy food products seem to be made on momentary feelings rather than on deliberative consideration of consequences of the consumption." If you’re often tempted by the aisles of candy, cookies and salty snacks, try making a grocery list and paying with cash. Also check out 7 Secrets to Outsmart Your Supermarket for more tips to stay on track at the store!

Do you pay for groceries with cash or credit? Do you take a list with you when you shop? Do you feel like either of those things influence your purchases?

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LEANJEAN6 12/14/2017
for sure good info! Report
One of the reasons to use credit cards is grocery bills get so high. Now that I'm buying healthy food only, I've noticed the cost has gone down a lot. It's interesting. It may seem like a bag of figs is expensive, but so is a box of cheese crackers, and which lasts longer? Report
We use a cash envelope system for the last year and have saved lots of money! It has cut our wasteful grocery spending in half. It's has been proven that when you use cash it actually registers as to the brain as pain. It is also proven that with credit/debit cards, you spend 18% more than with cash. So with 5% rewards, that's still 13% more money you are spending. Next time you use your card, when you get out to your car, ask yourself how much was the actually total? With cash you always remember! :) Report
I usually take a sorted list with me. I'm in the habit of paying cash, but my credit card is offering 5% cash back on grocery purchases right now, so I plan to take advantage of that until the quarter is over. Then I'll go back to cash. It isn't worth it to me to use a credit card for 1% cash back on groceries, which is the normal rate. As the study suggests, I suspect I'm spending more when I pay with the credit card. I'll be checking Quicken from time to time to see how that is trending out. Report
I definitely shop with a list. I have become "dependent" on my debit card for convenience but I do think I buy a few more impulse items that way. I know that if I go to the store I will probably pick up at least one impulse buy (though at least it has been bagels or a plant, not doughnuts lately) so I limit my trips to save money. We are fine financially but when counseling people having problems I always recommend the envelope system especially for food and entertainment and eating out. Report
I prefer to pay with a check. I start my grocery shopping with checking out the sale adds that come with our free weekend paper. I have learned certain items go on sale certain times of the year.Like flour,sugar,cake mixes,etc. go on sale before Thanksgiving and Christmas.Hotdogs are in the summer. I do make a list but usually forget to take it along.I use coupons when I remember them. I found alot of store brands will work over name brand on most items.I usually find alot of items on sale not listed in the ads. I treat myself with something for going shopping.It used to be a snack food. Now I get myself a bottle of tea.I know I overspend when I have to do grocery shopping when hungry.I like to do store samples. I sample but usually don't buy and it cuts down of spending when hungry. Report
I prefer to pay with a check. I start my grocery shopping with checking out the sale adds that come with our free weekend paper. I have learned certain items go on sale certain times of the year.Like flour,sugar,cake mixes, etc. go on sale before Thanksgiving and Christmas.Hotdogs are in the summer. I do make a list but usually forget to take it along.I use coupons when I remember them. I found alot of store brands will work over name brand on most items.I usually find alot of items on sale on listed in the ads. I treat myself with something for going shopping.It used to be a snack food. Now I get myself a bottle of tea.I know I overspend when I have to do grocery shopping when hungry.I like to do store samples. I sample but usually don't buy and it cuts down of spending when hungry. Report
I've been told over and over to use cash in the grocery, but it scares me to death that I might put more in the cart than I have money to pay for! Report
write a check , have a list and my coupons ready too Report
i guess i'm an odd ball because i write a check for my groceries. but i do go with a list. Report
I have been following the Dave Ramsey theory of debt paying and cash control. One of those things is using only cash. It REALLY makes a difference! The first month I had money left in the bank! By the spring I will be debt free and still using cash. Going to check into Spark People's budgeting website as well......oh yeah and always with a list! Report
I live on a fixed income.......getting paid once a month. I put 4 big bills on the side strictly for groceries, which I buy weekly. If I go over the big bill I will use my debit card for the remainder of the grocery bill. I always shop off of a list. If my DH wants something he knows he needs to put it on this list......NOT on list.......NO purchase. Report
I shop on the weekend with a list and pay in cash. Report
I shop with a list, my mom always did it and it is just "normal" for me. My hubby thinks I'm strange cause his parents never shopped with a list but it is how I learned. I am also pretty good at shopping the sales and getting the most for my money. One thing that I also do is on my list I write an amount I will spend for each ance every item I add. It isn't that hard cause a lot of what we buy is to replace things we regularly buy. Then I drive through the ATM on my way to the store and withdraw ONLY enough for my list + 5/10 for anything I might have forgotten OR anything that has gone up in price or is on sale that I didn't know about. I never buy things that are not on my list and if I see something that I think "wow I want that" I remind myself that it is not on the list and that I can add it to my future list....Usually the thing that I looked at isn't something that I actually need and I don't end up adding it to my future list :o)

Helps save on calories and money in the fact that my list is all I get and I can ONLY use my cash to get it Report
Sometimes I make a list to make sure I don't forget something. I'm very frugal, so I know how much money I can spend & I don't go over that. Report
I always use a debit card, to pay for groceries, which is cash. I do take a list of the things I need, and also wander the aisles to see if there is anything I want. I don't shop with coupons, mainly due to laziness. I love grocery shopping, it is the "putting away" I'm not crazy for. lol. Report
I always have a list otherwise I forget what I need. And if I dont have a list I go through all the aisles, making more tempting to buy stuff I dont need. Report
Buy groceries online, you are never tempted by "specials" you do not need to go to the store, you can even save you shopping list and come back to it later. You save money (yes even if you include the delivery charge), time and calories, stress. Order in and have delivered at your convenience. Report
I never go in without a list. Using a debit gives me better cash management Report
It is insane to think of going to the bank to get enough cash for groceries or all the other necessities we need during a week. I do not buy just because I am swiping my debit card. It is still my money! I am careful. Any one who thinks other wise is deluding themselves and probably do not handle anything carefully. Report
I pay for groceries with my Discover Card and accumulate my cash back rewards but pay IN FULL every month so I have no finance charge. I actually make money on them!! :- ) I do, however, understand that I might spend a little more than if I used cash as in the past. In the end, Discover has Reward Partners where I get all my Christmas gift cards with the money I saved. There are many of them such as JC Penney, Outback, LLBean..etc and each one has a different offer but usually a one hundred dollar gift card for 80 reward dollars, or 10 for 50, etc....a little off topic but thought good information if you are disciplined and pay the balance every time. Great Blog! Report
I hate using the debit card! I hate it when my husband uses the debit card!
There have been so many times when I go to the store and the debit machine is down. I find it such an inconvenience.
I carry cash. If I have the money then I will buy. If I don't. I guess I don't need it that bad. It sure does cut the impulsive spending. Report
I would rather use my American Express Black Card to get the points. Report
Ever since my supermarket introduced self-service checkout machines, it has been easier to pay with a card. It doesn't bother me to pay small amounts by card when using these machines, so I'm not tempted to overshop. Report
I have to take cash only when I go to bookstores, but at grocery stores, I've learned selective blindness, as long as I don't go when I'm hungry (or when the stores are tempting customers with free samples...although most of those aren't things I'd buy anyway). Report
I think i may actually try to go to the bank and getting out some money to go to the store this week instead of paying with the card. Also I will have to remember to take the card out of the wallet or that will be more tempting to spend. Report
I generally shop with a list and almost always pay with a credit card. When you pay the card off each month, you earn points for your purchases and aren't saddled with interest payments. Report
Great article! I regularly make purchases with my debit card. If it is a bigger purchase (car repair) I will use my credit card.A disadvantage of regularly using plastic is that it is easy to loss track of small purchases ($5 or less) using my debit card.

In a month I shall be without a job so I think now more than ever it will be important to spend cash based on a pre-determined weekly allowance. It will allow me to track my money more closely and not go over budget.
Great blog! I try to use cash when I can for more than just these reasons. I take a list but there is always something I forget. Not only can using cash help curb useless spending but it also cuts the risk of identity theft. When I worked for company in the identity theft recovery unit I always suggested to use cash for everything if possible. Retailors get charged a certain amount every time you use your card and those costs will soon be passed on the consumer--just a matter of time especially if H.R 4646 passes in congress. Cash is the only way to go. Report
i make a list, calculate the costs, stick to my list and ALWAYS pay in cash!..this means NO IMPULSE buys AND money saved. Report
I use cash and find that I can control our budget better when I know I have a firm limit. Report
I am going to try the cash thing and see what it does. I used to always shop with a list but now that I am shopping for one, I tend to wander and I buy what looks good at the moment. I am spending more than I want and finding I sometimes waste because I am still buying for my kids who are at college now. This post is helpful because it made me realize that I need to curb the grocery spending and go back to planning! Report
I agree with most of the commenters, making a list is a helpful tool for me. It helps me plan, and not forget things. Of course, if an item doesn't make it on the list... Report
I always shop with a list. Problem is, even with a list, I end up spending a lot of money and after a few days, it seems like we have to go shopping again. It seems like the cost of food has gone way, way up. My family is not big: just me, my husband and 16-month-old daughter. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to slash our grocery costs. I might try the cash strategy. Take out only the amount I want to spend on groceries, leave the cards at home and when the money is spent, that's it! Report
I use a budget, cash and a list. It does help limit those impulse purchases. Getting what is needed rather than wanted is also a mindset that I use. Thankfully the ATM is in the store so grocery $$ and weekly petty cash is accessed there.
Lately there has been a fundraiser with grocery store gift cards. Although I abhor gift cards.... buying enough for a month highlights the costs. It makes me spend on healthy foods. Report
What an interesting idea! I almost never carry cash and probably won't for grocery shopping, but I'm fascinated by this thought. I do shop w/ cash at farmers' market, where most of my produce shopping is done.... Report
I use a credit card for all purchases, and am blessed to pay it off each month even tho I am a single mom. I get all different kinds of gift cards as my rewards and give those as gifts, particularly for Christmas.

Since I rarely eat out now, I am cooking for about the first time in my 50+ years of eating, and just started using a list about 2 weeks ago. Only problem, I keep forgetting to bring the list! Report
You are right pay cash does make one more careful. I always have a list like to know where I am going. Only if I am going for one item then dont take a list. Report
By the way, paying attention to how much things cost in the grocery store makes me want to eat out less, too. I mean, if I can make a low-sodium, healthy Egg Breakfast Sandwich for $0.50, then why would I pay $2.00 or more at fast food?! The same with the "healthy" salad choices - It makes me want to avoid fast food altogether if their salad costs $4.00, and I can get a huge BOX of salad for the same price (worth 4 or 5 meals) at the grocery store!

Jocelyn Report
When I have cash in my pocket, I'm much MORE likely to stop for fast food and buy impulse junky foods at the grocery store, or whatever store I'm in.

The best thing that I've come up with is taking a calculator to the store with me and adding up my purchases as I go. It makes me realize how much I'm spending along the way, and the value (or not) of junk food. It also makes me stick to my grocery list better.

Jocelyn Report
I pay with a debit card. I set a limit on what I spend and use a calculator to keep me on mark. Basic's come first, then extra's if I have enough. Always the basic lean meat and veggies. Report
In order to limit my spemding I tend to withdraw a certain amount of cash each week, which I try to stick to.
When it comes to shopping I have though to admit, that I rarely use a shopping list. Mostly because I want to get inspired by the vegetables in store that seems to be of good quality. (I hate to make a plan for a nice meal, but then I can't get all the ingredients I need). In addition I am also beeing influenced by offers and special promotions. One sideeffect is though that I am not only emotionally buying vegetables and fruits but unfortunately also rather unhealthy items like cookies or chocolate. If I don't have them at home I won't eat them, but if I bought them they are quite quickly gone again.... Report
I only pay with cash, I pay my bills with checks and haven't used credit cards since 1997. I don't even have a debit card. Report
I rarely carry cash in my wallet. I agree that when you buy with cash, you are least likely to stray from your list. Report
I buy groceries with cash but that isn't what makes me careful. I know what I need before I go and what I have in my monthly budget. I tend to buy in bulk and try to have enough variety for spontaneous meal decisions. I never know what my farmers market friends are going to have for me each week so I need to be flexible about meal plans. I shop on Saturdays when the mark and pack is open. I almost never shop for a single item at the local grocery but that's more a matter of not having time and energy. Report
Hmm.. Very helpful blog. Report
My husband and I use cash as often as possible. I think it makes you stop and consider your purchases and the prices more. It also limits the amounts so you feel more accountable for each penny you spend! Report
I have been using debit cards (or even credit cards) I think it might be worth it to use cash! Thanks! Report
I usually buy my groceries in cash, with a spending limit, using coupons and sale offers. You have to be careful, however, not to buy stuff because it is on sale or you have a good coupon. Report
I now use only credit cards for the rewards, BUT I am an avid couponer, would never dream of shopping unless I had at least $40-80 in savings and BOGO's..
I batch shop for teh season, bying things that are difficult to transport in blizzards(TP, paper towels, detergent,etc) in summer, never buy an labeled brands without a coupon or markdown,, same on meat and fish..
shop at bread store, reclaimed grocery store for many staples,,

I never carry a balance and have never paid interest or finance charges on a card,, but have the highest level of a credit score possible..
This is essential for retirement, when income drops and needs are greater for big items!! Report
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