Avoiding the Freshman 15? Put Down the Plastic

Paying with cash instead of credit could mean a smaller waistline, says a report released earlier this month by three New York-based economists in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Manoj Thomas (Cornell University), Kalpesh Kaushik Desai (SUNY Binghamton), and Satheeshkumar Seenivasan (SUNY Buffalo) conducted four independent experiments that found a positive correlation between credit card use and impulsive food buying habits. The study, titled “How Credit Card Payments Increase Unhealthy Food Purchases: Visceral Regulation of Vices,” says that the reduced “pain of payment” associated with paying with credit can increase impusive and unhealthy choices at the checkout counter.

“Consumers experience less pain when they use less vivid and emotionally more inert modes of payment [like credit cards] and succumb to their impulsive urges,” the authors say. “Some consumers might be able to curb their impulsive urges by paying in cash.”

But will college students forgo simpler transactions and credit card rewards to avoid putting on the pounds? A study released in August by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston says that because of merchant fees and credit card rewards, the average cash-using household implicitly pays $149 to card-using households every year. Plus, credit cards appeal to busy, technology-savvy students.

What do you think? Will you leave your credit card at home to keep the Ben & Jerry’s out of your shopping cart?