Cash Payers Buy Healthier Foods

November 24, 2010

People who “pay as they go” tend to live within their means – and buy healthier foods.

People who “pay as they go” tend to live within their means – and buy healthier foods. Their discipline of paying cash for groceries correlates with fewer impulse purchases of unhealthy foods, a new Journal of Consumer Research study shows.

Examining the shopping behavior of 1,000 households over a six-month period, three New York-based academicians concluded that “the notion that mode of payment can curb impulsive purchase of unhealthy food products is substantially important. The epidemic increase in obesity suggests that regulating impulsive purchases and consumption of unhealthy food products is a steep challenge for many consumers.”

Shoppers do themselves in when they pay with credit or debit cards, and also when they shop with larger carts, the study authors suggest. 

In How Credit Card Payments Increase Unhealthy Food Purchases: Visceral Regulation of Vices, Manoj Thomas of Cornell University, Kalpesh Kaushik Desai of SUNY Binghamton, and Satheeshkumar Seenivasan of SUNY Buffalo noted the “correlation between unhealthiness and impulsiveness of food items. Unhealthy food items also tend to elicit impulsive responsives. Cash payments are psychologically more painful than card payments, and this pain of payment can curb the impulsive responses to buy unhealthy food items.”

Is there a link between rising obesity rates and the shift to plastic payments? The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 34% of U.S. adults are obese, while nearly 40% of U.S. grocery purchases in 2009 were made with a credit or debit card, reports Time magazine.

The Lempert Report has long recognized both the annoyances of grocery shopping and the pain of paying for purchases. A valuable insight of this study is that paying with plastic may ease the transactional pain in the store, but it evokes other enduring pains in the household – the pain of paying the electronic tab, the pain of having bowed to temptation and being unable to resist products that counter a family’s good health.