Valdosta Daily Times


September 1, 2013

The Bad Habit Breakdown

SAVANNAH — Perusing the web this week for column inspiration, I came across a really interesting article on Yahoo! Finance. It broke down the monetary cost of bad habits that included smoking and drinking alcohol. Our country being in the financial crisis that (despite some news reports) large parts of the lower and middle class are still in, it made me wonder if some of these bad habits contributed to the financial turmoil of some individual households.

Let's start with smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 43.8 million U.S. adults were cigarette smokers in 2011 (the most recent year for which numbers are available). This is 19 percent of all adults in the country. The yearly cost of smoking was estimated at $2,555. That doesn't seem like a lot, but Yahoo! took it one step further and showed that if you were to put that money into savings, interest would grow it to $201,994 after 20 years of compounding interest. Yeah, that's a house.

Never mind the yearly or decades implications of smoking, let's just get down to the daily or weekly cost. Cigarettes retail for about $5-$12 per pack. At the height of the habit, smoking a pack a day will cost you $35-$60 per week, which can be a hefty chunk of change for someone just barely scraping by. Smoking also drives up your life insurance costs by 20 percent and increases health insurance expenses.

Say you don't smoke, but you drink heavily or even moderately. That too is costing you some money. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you drop $50 every weekend on your bar tab, that's money that could really be put to more use. You say you’re “buying experiences”; I say you’re buying a hangover.

Yahoo! broke down the yearly cost of drinking alcohol to $1,560. Putting that money into a savings account with 30 years of compounding interest takes that to $123,331. Stop smoking and drinking and now you have a house and a luxury car.

You’re probably saying to yourself: Well, I don't drink that much so this doesn't apply to me. However, drinking even in moderation racks up some expenses. That $1,560 figure comes from a person who drinks only five drinks per week at the cost of $6 per drink.

When we talk about bad habits, our minds immediately go to smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, but we always seem to forget about the bad habit that makes America the second most obese country in the world . . . bad eating habits. While we all rejoiced when Mexico surpassed our not so glowing status at a whopping 32.8 percent obesity rate this year, it was really no cause for celebration. Especially considering 32 percent of America's population is still classified as obese.

Aside from the physical implications of poor eating habits, there are actually some really startling financial setbacks. Yahoo! weighed in and averaged the yearly cost of poor eating habits to be between $432 and $4,879. If you're on the high end of this spectrum, that means your eating habits are costing you more than smoking and drinking. That realization took me down a few notches. Even if you are at the $432 mark, that's still $34,153 you could have had in savings after 30 years of compounded interest. You don't even want to know what $4,879 in savings could have gotten you after 30 years . . . I'll tell you anyway, $385,725!

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, because as Americans we don't seem to think in the long-term. It's all about having that new car now, having that big house now, having that designer purse now. This article really made me step back and think about how I spend my money. So I went into my handy, dandy spending app on my iPhone (where I input everything I make and everything I spend) and I looked at how much money I have spent on eating this year. From January 2013 to August 2013, I have spent $2,136.09! I almost fainted, especially considering during that same time period, I have only spent $2,008.71 on groceries.

Knowing my bad habits and the cost of them has already made me reevaluate what I'm doing. I've been so busy cutting money in other places that I was missing something incredibly easy to remedy. If you want to know where your money is going, I advise you to get the spending app on your smart phone, or some sort of app or program where you categorize your spending. I was starting to freak out about where I was going to get my Christmas presents money from, and now I know that all I have to do is sit my butt at home and eat.

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