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People subconsciously spend twice as much with plastic than cash.

2 minute read

College students are willing to pay more than double to go to a Celtics game if they’re using a credit card.

Why? We’re not sure, but it may be due to the fact that they don’t notice how much they’re spending.

Consumer spending research company ValuePenguin asked business students to bid on tickets to Celtics and Red Sox games to see how credit cards affected those bids…

  • They bid $29 on Celtics tickets using cash
  • But with credit cards, their bids rose to $61.

And seeing a Red Sox game is apparently worth much less…

  • Students were willing to shell out $9 for a ticket with cash
  • Yet up to $16 with credit.

What is it about credit cards that are so enabling? ValuePenguin’s research provides several theories.

We like logos

And when a credit card logo is present, research shows it affects our spending.

With one around, we’re willing to pay “an average of 10 percent more,” the study found.

“One possible explanation for this is that we are preconditioned to have positive associations with spending and credit cards,” ValuePenguin explains. “This makes sense when you consider that credit cards heavily market their rewards.”

However, cybercriminals use logos to trick people into phishing scams. It takes more than the right image to determine a financial institution’s legitimacy. Check out 5 credit card scams and how to avoid them for more.

We prioritize benefits over price

And when we focus on what a product does, we’re not focusing on its costs…

  • Credit card users were 28 percent better at “recalling aspects related to a product’s benefits than cash users.”
  • On the other hand, people using cash were 82 percent better at “recalling aspects related to an item’s cost than credit card users.”

The psychological effect hard money has on us doesn’t end there…

Objects in statements seem smaller than they are

ValuePenguin says a concept called coupling presents another explanation.

When the things we buy are listed on a statement, “the individual transactions are perceived as smaller,” the study found. “For example, a $50 purchase on a $600 credit card statement does not seem as large as it does on its own.”

On top of that, there’s a significant delay between the moment we buy the thing and the moment we actually pay for it. Credit allows you to distance “the pain of spending money when you are weighing the benefits of a transaction,” ValuePenguin reports.

We pay less attention to charges

A third explanation might correlate to a concept called the “salience theory,” which examines how much we notice transactions.

According to ValuePenguin:

  • Electronic toll booths are correlated with tolls that are 20 to 40 percent higher than manual booths.
  • And it might be caused by drivers accepting increasing rates from transit authorities because they’re not paying attention to those transactions.

Whatever the reason, if you’re using credit more than cash, you’re at least technically more at risk of increasing your credit card debt. Paying your statements on time and in full will keep you from falling into a pit that’s hard to overcome. has resources to both help and educate you, like an interactive map on getting out card debt through minimum payments and an Education Center for credit card debt.

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About the Author

Gideon Grudo

Gideon Grudo

Grudo is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist based in Brooklyn, NY. Previously he was the digital editor of Air Force Magazine and the managing editor of South Florida Gay News.

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