Spending Money on “Junk Food” not Only Isn’t Good For You, But it’s also Tough on Your Budget.

So how did you spend your money today? My oldest son started listing off the items he had purchased.

  • 3 sodas
  • 1 bottle of water
  • brownies
  • 2 bags of M&Ms
  • 1 donut
  • 1 bag of chips

“So . . . what did you eat for lunch?” I asked.

“I just told you, Dad.” he said matter-of-factly. *facepalm*

Our Boys Love to Spend on Junk food.

That conversation happened on the day of an annual auction that my wife and I always attend. It’s a benefit auction for a local Christian school. It’s always well attended, and it’s always fun bidding on numerous items both small and large. And of course they have a well-stocked concession stand which my boys love to frequent.

I previously wrote an article on public auctions and I gave a few tips to maximize the fun. Don’t worry. I don’t plan on re-hashing auction tips. What I do want to talk about is a small experiment that my wife and I ran with our two boys.

Before we left for the auction, each of the boys asked for money from their banks. This money has been given to them for birthdays, Christmas, or other holidays. And sometimes when they do odd jobs, they also receive money that is then deposited in their banks. And of course, on days like today, they always ask to take some out to spend. We figured it would be a good lesson to let them take some, and spend it on whatever they wanted. We kinda knew what would happen, but we let it play out anyway.

One of their favorite ways to use their money is to spend on junk food. Maybe it’s because they don’t get much at home normally? Or maybe it’s because it’s their money, and they can exercise some control over what they buy? Either way, they seem to always go crazy when it comes to spending their money on junk food.

Our oldest son had $11 with him when we left the house, while his younger brother had about $5. I’m sure in their minds they were dreaming of all the sweets they could buy.

My younger son ended up spending all his money on 3 sodas, 2 bags of candy, and 1 bag of chips. So on the way home, we discussed what they bought, and how much money they had left over. Of course, my younger son had nothing left. He spent it all, while his older brother had a little under $3 left, though he spent money on the items listed at the beginning of this article.

The Principle of Spending Based on Percentages

And while spending $14 or so between the two of them on junk food isn’t a big deal, the principle of them spending almost all they had is a little more important. Just to be clear, the apple probably doesn’t fall far from the tree. I have a sweet tooth just as strong as theirs.

I, on the other hand, have a good job with a modest income. Spending $14 on junk food is a much smaller portion of my budget and income. And if you want to discuss the health ramifications of buying junk food, I’ll concede. I know it’s not good for me. But my point is: it (junk food) doesn’t make a dent in my budget.

My boys income is probably around $100 per year – give or take. They’re still young, and they also don’t have to buy anything. All their needs are met, and their money is solely for their entertainment. However, we’ve been trying to teach them to save and give with their money as well as spend it. The giving part they understand, and my younger son is very generous – more so than I am. He just has a kind heart. The saving part is more difficult. They both have a savings account, but they don’t have a whole lot of money in there. And when they learn that they earned $0.50 each month in interest, it just doesn’t set off fireworks in their brains and generate excitement for them.

So, of course, they’ve gravitated towards the last thing you can do with money – spend it. And in their minds, they would rather blow it in one day on stuff that will make them sick, rather than buying something that will last longer. So they both spent a little under 10% of their annual income on junk food! It seems high, but I would bet that you and I spend a similar percentage on different kinds of “junk food”.

What is Your “Junk Food”?

Now, I’m sure none of you take 10% of your annual income and spend on junk food specifically. But, are there other “junk foods” that you waste money on? Do you spend a large percentage of your money going out to eat? How about on cable or internet? What about on a ridiculous vehicle payment? There are more frugal alternatives to each of these things.

And if these things truly make you happy, then by all means, do it. Though, I sincerely doubt that a large vehicle payment makes you happy. Maybe the vehicle itself does? My point is not to eliminate all forms of entertainment and happiness from your life. But rather to evaluate your spending and look at it closer to see if perhaps you can cut back in specific areas. If you find that you can cut back, you’ll be able to create extra margin in your budget that you can use to further your financial goals. And that is a win in my book.

Final Thoughts.

“Junk food” isn’t necessarily bad. But just like real sweets and treats, moderation is key. If you only ate junk food all day, it would become normal and no longer special or a treat. Not to mention the damage it would do to your body.

Your entertainment, and excesses in your finances are the same way. Learn to do with less, and create some margin in your life.

What do you think? Am I way off here?

Let me know what you think in the comments, and thanks for reading and sharing!


Chris is the original Cash Dad. He's a father of 3 and a mechanical engineer by trade.

1 Comment

  1. Megan Bonnevie Reply

    I’m trying to figure out how much cash spending I do with myself and two pre-teens per week? What’s a realistic amount for these purchases to budget for ourselves?

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