How to Stop Buying Junk Food: Pay in Cash

Using your credit or debit card can lead to unhealthy purchases

Having trouble keeping junk food out of your house? If you always seem to stock up on chips and cookies every time you go to the grocery store, there may be a simple way to stop your splurges. Pay in cash. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people are more likely to make unhealthy food purchases when they pay with plastic.

Compiling the results of four different studies, the researchers analyzed the shopping habits of 1,000 households for six months and found that people bought a more junk food when they paid with a credit or debit card instead of cash. Past research has shown that it’s more painful to spend cash than use a credit card. Because it is harder to part with dollar bills than swipe a piece of plastic, consumers paying with cash will usually make fewer impulsive purchases. At the grocery store, this often translates into buying less junk food and more healthful food items. People who are more sensitive to spending cash tend to splurge the least.

Of course, using cash won’t suddenly make you stock up on salad fixings if meals at your house are of the boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and hotdog variety. You’ll simply be less likely to buy the foods that you consider bad for you and leave you guilt-ridden after eating them. Which, in my case these days would be Sea Salt & Vinegar Joe Chips and Newman’s Own Ginger-O’s.

Unfortunately for me, I make all of my splurge purchases in cash, so this study won’t do me much good. I never buy junk food at the grocery store; as someone with no impulse control, I won’t even go down the junk food aisles anymore. The trouble comes when I’m walking home from the subway station and I pop into the corner deli to grab a bottle of water or some other small purchase. I have to walk by the chips and cookies and ice cream and salted chocolate bars to get to the refrigerator -- and past them again on my way to the register. I’m usually in a hurry and will grab them impetuously, without giving myself time to second-guess it. By the time I walk into my apartment, though, I’m already regretting it. The entire bag of whatever it is I bought will be gone by the end of the night. If I’m lucky, it’s because I came to my senses long enough to dump half of it into the trash before I could eat it all. At least it’s one impulsive urge that works in my favor.

Would buying your groceries with cash help curb your unhealthy purchases? Chime in below.

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