Editorial Policy

Buying with Cash Could be Good for You

Kristin McGrath

March 2, 2012

This week, my debit card information got compromised, and a thief used it to buy nearly $800 worth of stuff at Walmart. The bank shut my card down, and I’m still waiting for the replacement to arrive. So I’ve been living on cash for the week. The good news: It’s been a miracle cure for my bad spending habits.
When I was on the phone with customer service, the rep remarked, "I can see you use your debit card a lot." Guilty as charged. I use it for nearly everything. Small purchases. Big ones. Automatic bill payments. When it dawned on me I’d be without it for five to seven business days, I first considered using my credit card for day-to-day shopping. But seeing $800 drained from my account by a stranger made me skittish — I decided to stop using plastic for awhile and keep an eye on my accounts.
So, four days ago, I went into my bank and withdrew $150 in cash to get me through the week. Since then, I’ve noticed changes in how I spend my money. When I went to the grocery store, for example, I bought the necessities and nothing else. Spending $30 on cookies, chips, chocolate and wine would mean my cash would run out sooner. And that would mean I’d have to stand in line at the bank again. I’ve also been turning down invitations for dinners out, so that I can finish the food in my fridge that I’d already paid cold, hard cash for.
So, it turns out, cash has been good for me. That’s not surprising, according to a recent study from Cornell University, which suggests that using cash is literally healthier. That’s because those who shop with cash are less likely to buy junk food. Paying with cash is painful, the researchers found. You have to stop, look into Abe Lincoln’s eyes and really think about plunking that $5 bill on the counter.
Paying with plastic, on the other hand, lets you load up the cart with junk you never planned to buy and swipe the card guilt-free.
That’s one habit I hope I’ve kicked for good.
With cultivating healthier habits in mind, here are some of the best personal finance blog posts of the week:
I Will Teach You to be Rich describes which techniques really convince people to change their behavior.
Bargaineering shares some tips for building an affordable home gym.
Bucksome Boomer proposes a way to retire sooner — get a part-time job.
Enemy of Debt encourages parents to sneak money lessons for kids into everyday activities.
Cheapism tells you how to stock your pantry with ingredients for healthy and affordable meals.
Debt Free Adventure gives some advice on how to become a one-car family.