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You already know that dropping a few dollars at the fast-food drive-through every day will take its toll on your health — but you might be surprised to learn about other spending habits that could be harming your health and well-being. Before you whip out your credit card to pay for groceries one more time, read the following danger signs.

You Carry a Credit Card Balance

Having relationship troubles? Your unpaid credit card balances could be to blame. A poll conducted by the UK-based Consumer Credit Counselling Service found that 37 percent of respondents cited debt, including credit card balances, for problems in their relationships. “When people are stressed out about their debt, they go from being happy-go-lucky to unpleasant to be around, and that has a negative impact on their relationships,” says Una Farrell, media relations manager for CCCS.

Solution: Be honest with loved ones about your debt, and work together to create a plan to pay off credit card bills and other unpaid balances.

Your Wallet Is Stuffed With Cash And Receipts

You already know that money is rife with germs. A new study has also found that receipts contain high levels of bisphenol A, or BPA — a chemical that has been linked to heart disease, cancer and infertility. BPA migrates to your money when the receipts in your wallet rub against your paper bills, and ends up on your skin when you’re reaching for cash.

Solution: Stash your receipts in an envelope, away from your bills — and always wash your hands after handling money and receipts.

You Shop At Warehouse Club

Supersized packaging could cause a supersized waistline, according to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam, 2010). In one study, participants ate up to 25 percent more food when they served themselves from oversized packages, like the ones sold at warehouse clubs such as Costco or Sam’s Club. “You can save tremendous amounts of money by buying huge packages but there is a tremendous risk of overeating,” he explains.

Solution: Never, ever eat from the package. Control your portions by doling out servings in small bowls. Keep manageable amounts in smaller, stay-fresh containers, and store the big packages out of reach.

You Buy Groceries With A Credit Card

You’re more likely to give in to the impulse to fill your shopping cart with cookies, cakes and other unhealthy foods if you pay with plastic. “We tend to be much less rational in evaluating our purchases when we pay with a credit card,” notes Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that consumers who paid for food with credit cards were more likely to choose unhealthy foods and consume more than those who paid with cash.

Solution: At the grocery store, carry cash — and a shopping list. And of course, never shop when hungry.

You Don’t Make Enough Money

Money lowers the risk of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease, at least for women. A 2008 study sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute followed women for five years and found that all of the women whose household incomes were more than $100,000 were still free of heart disease, compared with just 78 percent of those who earned less than $20,000 — leading researchers to proclaim that socioeconomic status had the greatest impact on heart health. What that extra money really buys, it turns out, is better health care: “Women with limited financial means have less [health insurance] coverage, less continuity of care and are less likely to be able to afford medications to prevent heart disease,” explains Leslee Shaw, Ph.D., lead author and professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Solution: Female and falling short of six figures? Don’t be shy about seeking out affordable health programs, even those that provide health-care screenings and treatment for low-income women. And take advantage of pharmaceutical company initiatives that offer free or low-cost medications to patients who need them.

You’re Stingy With Gifts 

If you refuse to chip in for a retirement gift for a co-worker and “forget” to buy a birthday gift for your best friend, it could impact your mental health. “There are negative health consequences [associated with] being stingy,” notes Lara Aknin, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia. Aknin’s research, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that people who spent money on themselves reported lower levels of happiness than those who spent money on others.

Solution: Generosity doesn’t have to break the bank. Loosen the purse strings a little bit to treat a co-worker to a cup of coffee, or pick up the tab next time you meet a friend for drinks.

You’re A Regular At The Casino

Losing money in Vegas doesn’t just sting; it can cause actual emotional pain, according to British researchers. Study author Ben Seymour, Ph.D., recorded activity in the striatum, the area of the brain that records pain, in participants who suffered gambling losses. You may not feel sharp pains in your stomach if you lose $30 in the slot machine; instead, losing money triggers “a sense of loss, the inherent unpleasantness of hurt or pain,” Seymour explains.

Solution: For starters, steer clear of the slot machines and roulette wheels. If you’re in Vegas and want to gamble, learn blackjack, which has the best odds. Decide ahead of time how much you are willing to spend (ahem, “lose”) — and write it off as entertainment cost.

You Blow Your Bonuses on HDTVs

Several studies have shown that people who buy material goods, such as big-screen TVs and designer handbags, experience less happiness than people who spend their money on experiences like whitewater rafting tours and theater tickets. There’s a catch, though: New research published in theJournal of Consumer Research found that a negative experience — poor service or long travel delays during a vacation, for example — may lead to lasting unhappiness about an experience.

Solution: Spend on experiences instead of things. But be sure to do your research — reading reviews or asking for recommendations — before spending big bucks.

You Own A House You Can’t Afford

The number of foreclosures across the country isn’t just bad for the economy; it’s taking its toll on the nation’s mental health, too. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine interviewed 250 homeowners who were going through foreclosure proceedings, and found that 37 percent had symptoms associated with major depression, including difficulty sleeping, feelings of hopelessness, irritability and thoughts of suicide. “The foreclosure crisis is also a health crisis.” declared lead author Craig E. Pollack.

Solution: Needless to say, if you are house shopping, put at least 10 percent down — 20 is better — and don’t buy a house that will require you to spend more than 30 percent of your salary. If you’re already facing foreclosure, seek help; a therapist can treat depression and help you improve your mood.

About The Author: JODI HELMER

“I never set out to become a freelance writer. The path I took to get here was long and filled with speed bumps. The short – and more amusing – explanation involves a book about a locket-stealing transvestite, a lighthearted memoir in the form of a popup book, a series of unfulfilling jobs and several long-distance moves.

Now that I’m here, I cannot imagine having any other job.

I have written about the shortage of male teachers in public school classrooms, tips for maintaining weight loss, the best wildflower hikes in the U.S., eco-friendly cruises, creating a non-toxic nursery for your newborn and the best places to meet singles – all while wearing my pajamas and drinking copious amounts of Diet Coke.

My work has appeared in magazines like Backpacker, American Way, Shape, Women’s Health, Arthritis Today, Family Circle, Parenting, Hemispheres, ReadyMade, Porthole Cruise, Midwest Living, Parents, AAA Living, Plenty, Chatelaine and I write a column on green living for gaiam.com. I’m the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference and co-author of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Careers. I also teach writing classes at Central Piedmont Community College and speak on topics ranging from freelance writing to eco-friendly living at conferences and community events.

During the hours I’m not at work, I can be found hiking with my dachshunds, Molly, Milo, and Roxie, attempting to score points for my broomball team, fostering dogs for a local rescue organization, reading memoirs and planning my next travel adventure.”


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