What A School Lunch Can Teach You About Spending

classic school lunch

[Photo Credit: Flickr/Ben+Sam]

A recent study done by Cornell University on the eating habits of grade school children revealed a surprising insight beyond the eating habits of our kids.

It turns out that children who pay for their lunches using cash instead of a debit card typically ate less and ate better than those kids who used plastic.

There’s an interesting psychology at work that goes beyond picking something healthy over something that has more calories and added salt, sugar, and a higher fat content. The same thought process that kids go through when it comes to buying their lunch occurs with adults when using the same sort of payment.

For example, researchers found that while there isn’t much difference between cash or credit cards when it comes to making a purchase, they are perceived differently.

In other words, when you use cash, the expense and the impact of it is more immediate. It’s at the forefront of your thinking. Using plastic (either a debit or credit card) makes the consequences seem distant, so there isn’t the same value attached. If you were to walk into a retailer and make a big ticket purchase — like that of a new television — you’ll think differently about spending the money if you were to use cash instead of credit.

In Cornell University’s research on the way kids buy their school lunches, the study found that this sort of psychological bias could be used to improve eating habits by making healthier items for sale using debit card and less healthy items (like desserts) cash-only.

If adults were to take this approach with their personal finances (using cash for larger purchases, making saving the money necessary in order to afford it), how much money could be saved in the long term? How much debt do you think you could eliminate by using cash wherever possible and your credit and debit cards more sparingly? Cornell’s research on student lunches offers a lot of food for thought.

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