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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I agree with using Cash to buy things, very rarely use my debit card. My Husband and I are worried about Idenity theft - so we limit using our debit card and credit cards willy nilly. We use them at the Banking Machine to get the cash out - and pay cash for most of our purchases. We both find that we don't spend in access if we do this. It makes us think of the purchases we are making. "Is it neccessary?" or "Do I want this?" - We also don't carry a balance on our Credit Cards as well - if we are making a purchase with our Credit Card - it's usually only to keep the credit card up to date and useable. We will also save for something that we want. We make a goal, save the money and when we have enough money for that item - we will purchase it. Report
We pay for nearly everything with a credit card ( which gives back 1%) and pay it off each and every month. Report
I use my card. I don't walk around with cash . . . and I don't keep a lot of cash.
I always make a list but I buy mostly the same things every week, anyway. The list is mainly for the less frequent purchases like cleaning products and household things.
So I don't spend any more than if I'd used cash. Report
I don't pay with cash, it's too much to carry around. I use my debit card. But I always, always have a list and I don't stray from it, and most importantly I don't take my husband, the impulse buyer! Report
When I find myself in such a situation i try to add known needs to my quick stop. I rarely keep cash in my pocket. I no longer shop without a list to shop against. I still budget what I spend for groceries and consumables. Instead of a credit card I use a debit card which would be the same as writing a check. I do have a funny story about having to write a check for $0.16 when I was short on gas money! Report
This is true only if you are solvent. While I have been on both sides of the solvency divide, I certainly found that when I was solvent (and quite obese), those impulse grocery store purchases added up, even with a DEBIT card, which accessed my account right away. I use a credit card most of the time, and any expenditure hurts. Report
I rarely use cash for anything. Report
This is interesting. I'll definitely have to try it out. Though I'm not big on carrying cash around with me. I usually use my debit card to pay for groceries. I also have a list as well, this helps me avoid any unplanned purchases. Report
Recently I have started paying for my groceries with cash. Some times I will use my debit card but I limit myself on the amount I am spending. I don't always take a list with me but I just go down the aisles that I need to make purchases from. If I make a list I usually don't stray from it. Limiting the amount of money I am going to spend when I go grocery shopping is more of what keeps me in my budget. Report
I think I agree with the study. I'm a pretty frugal person, so when I got married and started taking care of the house budget, I decided to set a limit on how much money we spend on groceries. And I've found that the easiest way to do that is by using cash instead of a card.

When you're using cash, you simply can't buy whatever impulse junk food you want, because there's usually no easy way of getting more cash right away. Report
I pay for groceries mostly with my credit card because I receive cash back bonuses. Although, I don't use grocery lists everytime I shop, I am aware of what I'm putting in my cart. Whether paying by cash, debit or credit: I believe that it must be a mindset change that you really do choose to eat healthier. Report
I write a check, but I have a definite budget, and never go over the allotted amount. Having a busy schedule, I find myself grocery shopping twice a month, and so I HAVE to plan for meals for 14 days for 4 people. It's tough, but I do OK most of the time. Report
I try to only use cash, as I am more aware of it than I am when I only use plastic. Also, since I prefer to do my shopping at farmer's markets, many vendors will only take cash (or cash just seems easier for those instances). Report
We try to stick to a cash-only budget for local spending and I think we really do pay more attention to the cash flow that way (and the effort is in the budgeting and planning, not the catch-up recording.) And I've always shopped with a list -- with estimated prices -- and a calculator, which can make for annoyingly long grocery trips, but prevents unpleasant surprises at the checkout counter.

But I think the absolute BEST thing I've done to control grocery-store spending (both money AND calories) is to plan my general menu ahead for the week, and only buy what I need for THAT week. It's hard to resist stocking the pantry on each trip, but with a menu planned, it's much easier to tell myself, "Not this week. That's not on the menu this week. I'll buy that extra bag of chips -- or cereal -- or fancy frozen dinner -- next week." But of course the impulse is gone by next week's menu-planning session. (Although I do have to get that extra bag occasionally, if I'm under-budget, so those little Jedi mind-tricks really work. LOL) Report
I usually show with a debit card so it is basically cash but still not as noticeable as paying with bills. I always take a list and usually exceed it like crazy. All the things that are not food items that tempt me in the store. But it has always been that way. I remember as a child in the grocery store around Christmas they always had big toy items like the four foot dolls or the big trucks. Report
A coupon organizer holds all my cash for the month. On the first of the month, I get cash & put it into the compartments. I spend the money as needed, and when the money is gone, I don't spend any more. It's just that easy. The compartments are labeled:

I also follow Dave Ramsey! Report
I think any way that makes you stop and think about what you are purchasing and how much it really costs is great. Some can pay with their credit/debit card and can be perfectly fine with not overspending. Some have to have that "hurt" associated with handing over your finite cash. I have switched to cash envelopes and this month has worked out beautifully. I usually have no grocery money left by now with about a week to go before the next paycheck, but I still have $30. Report
My hubby and I started using cash for everything we could a few years ago and it has made it so much easier for us to stick to a budget. Kind of hard to spend something you don't have. We also don't carry our credit cards anymore either they are locked up at home. Report
I do in fact take a list and I write a check for my purchases. Report
If we don't have the cash to pay for it, we don't need it! That's the way we live and it has saved us tons of money over the years :) We pay cash for everything... with the exception of some bills and buying stuff online. Report
Mine is a standard case of mixed input. I use a list and buy only what I need, with the occasional "Oh, I forgot that!" in the produce aisle. My wife goes with a list and, in addition to the list, buys all sorts of things for the kids. We pay cash for groceries either way. Report
I rarely carry cash, but when I do I am more likely to spend it on vending machines and snack purchases that don't show up on our bank statement. It is also a lot harder to keep track of where all our cash is going unless we save all our receipts. Always seems like it's gone, suddenly, before it should be. I think I spend less with my debit card because our vending machines don't take cards and i feel silly running into the store to buy $3 worth of junk food on a card. Report
I always pay with debit unless it is just a quick trip for one or two ingredients, then I use cash (and a talking to on the way to the store). I have started making lists and try to use coupons whenever I can. I do not always stick to my list especially if there is a sale on something and I have a coupon for it. Once my pantry is full I cut way back and use everything up. I get coupons off the internet. They are generally better than printed ones. Report
Due to security issues, I feel much safer shopping with credit card than parading with cash...and unfortunately, yes, it does at times contribute to impulsive shopping. I am very guilty of that. I do beg to defer on the point of being less impuslive if shopping on week-end vs on week-days after work.
As I don't work on week-ends, I have more time and can leisurely walk down each aisle and go supermarket-hopping so that more contributes to impulsive shopping than on week-days where I have a set list of items to pick up and dash out of the supermarket. Report
We are also a Dave ramsey family. We have noticed how we earmark every dollar now that each dollar has a label. It helps having the envelope system in place so we stay within budget. Report
We are a Dave Ramsey family!! We use cash and envelopes!! It really works for us. I find that we do spend less when we pay with cash. Report
I prefer to use my credit card & pay it off at the end of the month. That way I have a record of were all my money is going. Report
I use credit for everything and pay it off every month. I get hundreds of dollars of rewards a year and use them for gift cards for home expenses and gifts. I also like the protection that I have with a credit card - if it is lost or stolen, my money is not gone forever, like cash. My card also doubles my warranty on many of my purchases so I won't use anything other than credit for big purchases.

I am actually much more likely to buy junk food when I have cash. I can't use my credit card at the vending machine! Report
This study, to my mind at least, and the associated advice, fails to take into consideration the correlation verses causation question. The conclusion is that using cash and less impulse buys are correlated. Does that mean that shopping with cash will result in less impulse buys? That would be an entirely different study. My conclusion would be that folks shopping with cash are more mindful of their spending, which results in less impulse buys. But the way to be mindful of spending is not to shop with cash. It's to be mindful of what you put in your cart and how much it costs. As such, a calculator might be a good shopping tool. A list is definitely a good shopping tool. Cash could be a good shopping tool. But the secret is really to know how much you're willing to spend and what you need to buy and how much what you're buying costs. Report
I generally pay with my debit card; however, I know how much I have to spend and I have to stay within that amount whether it's debit or cash.Oh the joys of being a single mom on a limited budget :) My son's "treat" at the grocery store is a box of whales (wal-mart knock off of fishes)

I almost never buy cookies, candy, chips, etc...I don't keep it in my house on a regular basis- whether I pay with cash or card.

I do usually go on the weekend and have a list of things to get...and sometimes during the week will have to run to the grocery store (instead of wal-mart super center) for a last minute ingredient...but whether cash or card I dont usually buy impulse buys...just cant afford it. Report
I will admit, I pay with debit. But since I work for a non-profit, I follow a careful budget and try not to make impulsive purchases. I always plan out 2-3 recipes and make a list of the ingredients I will need. Usually, my impulse purchase will be strawberries when they're on sale (I freeze them and use them later in smoothies) or a live basil plant, but I have been known to hit the ice cream aisle or buy nachos and pizza rolls before. The safest thing, for me, is to only have 2 aisles that I use; for me, it's produce and the healthy living section, and sometimes the international aisle. To keep myself on track, I've started cooking almost everything from scratch and making my own ready-made meals (instead of buying Lean Cuisines, which are right next to the pizza rolls!) Having a list that does not include any frozen foods helps keep me away from that stuff! Report
For the last 3-4 years I have used cash, a calculator and a list at the grocery store (and for all other discretionary spending such as clothing.) I began doing this for financial reasons and in the beginning I would leave my wallet in the car and only take in the amount of cash I had budgeted for that grocery run. Occasionally I have to make a decision about what to put back, even if it is on the list, if I find that I am over budget. I would say that I have definitely made better purchasing decisions in terms of nutritional value, even though the point of using cash is for financial reasons. When I'm $8 over budget and I'm looking at the list and deciding what to put back, it is not going to be produce! Report
I have found that I spend less money when using cash - I now use cash to buy groceries and it helps a lot - kudos for this blog ! Report
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