How Can a Credit Card Make You Unhealthy?

Libby Kane

Credit cards can make you fat? Hold up. According to studies over the past three decades, shoppers buy more when paying with credit cards. And in the case of groceries, this “more” tends to be of the processed sugar variety.

Impulse Purchases Are Rarely Admirable

SmartMoney tells us that researchers recently set out to prove that the credit-inspired excess groceries that add to a shopper’s total are impulse purchases, like the candy bars and sodas that lurk next to the register. After compiling shopping data (the data is from an unnamed Northeastern chain), researchers asked groups of students to rate food items “on healthiness and on whether the items were typically bought on impulse; scores for the two were closely correlated, suggesting junk food items are often impulse purchases.”

More Money, More Junk Food

The students then participated in their own test, where they were shown computer screens with both traditionally healthy and unhealthy foods. One group of students was asked to select groceries as though they would pay in cash, and the other as though they would pay with credit. Guess who bought more junk food?

Cash Is Limiting

There were more tests and more conclusions (here’s one: Conservative spenders, “tightwads” if you will, are much more affected by the credit/cash situation), but we were more interested in the shock value of the article. The experiment with food just solidifies what we already know. People tend to spend less when they are limited by the cash they carry, and they must physically give it away. With credit cards, they feel a greater freedom, as though the card will cover whatever they wish to purchase. By preying on the American fear of fat, this experiment gained relevance, if not a revelation.

Do You Trust Yourself With a Card?

This is why we always recommend that LearnVesters only carry their cards with them if they can be trusted not to go overboard with the spending. (Don’t lie, you know how trustworthy you are.) Credit card use is important to build a credit history and establish a credit score, as well as to track your purchases and dispute charge discrepancies. But if carrying plastic means that you’ll give yourself free rein in the checkout line, consider regulating your credit card use more carefully. If you bring a set $50 to the store, you might be saving on the total—and the calories.

Tell us in the comments: What’s your usual impulse purchase? What can’t you resist?

  • porcupines

    wow, this is pretty offensive. i think maybe the title should read “unhealthy”, not fat. plenty of people who eat junk food and are skinny, but still unhealthy. also there are fat people who eat healthy and exercise.

    • Anonymous

      Porcupines, you are absolutely correct. Thank you for pointing that out. Changing the title now. nCaroline

  • Sitch907

    “By preying on the American fear of fat, this experiment gained relevance, if not a revelation.”nnLike the article it references, I bet this one was originally titled for shock value. Like the above sentence says, any mention of fat piques interest, anger, and fear.

  • Ashley Burton

    I really mess up when it comes to tipping, I will be in budget at a restaurant or at the spa. But I feel bad if the tip doesn’t look for great on the recipe…The tip at an eating establishment starts at $5.00 but at a spa it starts at $20…I know they say do not charge food. I really know I am living above my means, but I go through periods of “withdrawal” and I have been trying to simulate those feelings for less. At home spa treatments, and cooking and hosting a party with friends within my means…not to impress but to relax…okay so I am still working on that last one.