Are your credit and debit cards making you fat?

I've heard a lot of things blamed for a person's weight, but what about credit and debit cards? This is a new theory to me, and one reported on that does seem to have some weight if you think about it carefully.

Now that credit and debit card payments are accepted at restaurants, coffee shops, diners, Door Dash, and every fast food and restaurant app on the planet, what started as convenience has become super convenient and, for some, super secure – than carrying cash, I find this argument almost funny.

Carrying a debit card equals everything you need to have a checking account with its overdraft savings account, and you can spend as much as you want. But I digress. Let's get back to the current topic.

The authors concluded that paying by card encourages us to eat junk food. The link between debt and being overweight is impulsive. People are more likely to impulse buy unhealthy food and are more likely to continue buying if they use plastic rather than cash.

Research shows there are two main reasons for this. First, studies show that using a debit or credit card feels more comfortable than using cash. When we hand over cash in person, it feels more tangible and real than simply swiping a card. Therefore, using plastic payment methods increases the likelihood of impulse purchases, including junk food.

I believe there's another message here, which is that cash is slow, outdated, and not cool. But brushing plastic is easy, fast and far superior.

Apparently, we Americans have largely accepted this theory. RBC Capital Markets reports that you'll spend 20%-30% more if you pay with plastic. This is human nature. Plastic is a substitute for money. It's not a real thing, so we don't take it as seriously as we take currency. Paying $9.50 in plastic is nothing compared to handing over a $10 bill, which at least gives us pause for thought. In fact, most people don't even pay attention to the total amount when brushing plastic. This is where the consumer credit industry has deceived an entire generation.

It's a pain to dig $10 out of your pocket to pay for a fast food meal. But what about swiping a card? simple. In fact, you don't even have to pay close attention to that tab. Who cares if it's $5 or $15 when you can just swipe your card and go?

According to this article, when paying with plastic, we are more inclined to continue to increase the combination – oh, and how about Apple turnover? After all, you don’t have to worry about the total because it magically disappears throughout the entire process of paying with plastic.

You know, I think this theory does have merit. I bet this applies to grocery shopping and dining at fancy restaurants as well. This is where the weight issue really comes into play.

A few years ago, I was the guest of a reader who at the time happened to own one of the highest-rated restaurants in America, Tavern on the Green in New York City. Yes, I'm lucky.

I'm sure I ate more than I should have because I had a feeling I could order whatever I wanted. I am a guest. I accept such a generous gift with great enthusiasm!

If I were someone paying my bill with cash, I can guarantee you that I would be a lot more picky about what I order. But I have the same sense of freedom as when I paid with plastic, and push the pain of paying into the future. I can enjoy the best fares.

I highly recommend an all-cash diet to readers who are struggling to make ends meet. Now I can confidently promise them an added benefit – not only will you lose debt, but there’s a good chance you’ll lose weight too!

Mary invites you to visit her, a complete archive of links and resources for recommended products and services. Mary welcomes questions and comments “Ask Mary” at This column will answer questions of general interest but cannot answer letters individually. Mary Hunter is the founder of the frugal living blog and the author of Debt-Proof Living.

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