Great Savings 7: Cut The Cost Of Habit And Addiction


Cut the cost of an addiction.

Are you a smoker?  Drinker?  Drug user? Uncontrolled shopper? Collector? Sometimes the obvious way to save money is also the toughest. What we’re really talking about here is the cost of an addiction. Addictions come in all forms—everything from out-and-out drug and alcohol abuse to seemingly harmless habits like a daily visit to the local coffee stand or buying yet another pair of shoes.


Bad or otherwise, the common thread between addictions is they’re expensive—especially as we go to consider the larger issues of health and wealth. And until we’re willing to examine whether the daily habit we feed is really an addiction or not, it may end up placing a heavier toll on our long-term happiness than we realize.


Long Term Costs Add Up In A Big Way


Let’s take quick look at the cost of a typical smoking addiction to see how it adds up. According to CampaignForTobaccoFreeKids.Org the average cost of a pack of cigarettes in the U.S. as of August 1, 2011 was $5.95. This means a pack-a-day smoker will shell out (365 days per year x $5.95 per pack or) $2172 per year. Now, let’s dig a little deeper and see how that addiction really adds up over the long-term:


The cost of an addiction.

Even if the cost per pack is a little more or less, we’re still talking thousands of dollars to support a smoking habit over a lifetime.


The  figures above don’t account for smokers who jump from one to two or even three packs a day. Thus, if you support a bigger habit, you may have to multiple the numbers above to get a better idea what a smoking habit really costs you. The chart also doesn’t show the added health costs smokers face. The CampaignForTobaccoFreeKids.Org tallies that total at an astonishing $96 billion per year in the U.S alone! This includes public and private spending on all health care costs related to smoking. Since the same group reports that roughly 50 million people smoke in the U.S. you could assume each smoker has an added $1920 per year to account for (96 billion divided by 50 million is $1920). That’s another $57,600 over 30 years.



What do you think of all these numbers? Are you surprised at how such a small amount per day can make such a huge impact over the years?  Would you rather have all that money to pay off your mortgage and go into retirement debt-free? Don’t forget that if you’re married or in a long-term relationship your partner’s bad habit will also impact your lifestyle.


I'd like to order a tall, nonfat mocha please...unleaded.

My daily coffee habit does cost a pretty penny over the long haul, but my mornings just feel brighter with a little caffeine.

It’s Not All Bad


Not every habit  is an addiction. Nor should we make blanket assertions that one person’s habit has the same destructive potential as it does for others. The issue of saving money isn’t simply about judging whether a particular habit is ultimately good, bad, or otherwise. It’s about making conscious choices in the way we decide to live.


Here’s the thing: If I (a) really enjoy my morning Cup of Joe from the local coffee stand and (b) it really helps me get going in the morning, then who’s to say it costs me anything in terms of my health or wealth. Maybe I’m more alert and productive on the job because of it. On the other hand, buying my coffee at a stand versus making it at home is another issue worth considering in terms of the overall dollars I spend. If I made it at home, I might save one or more dollars a cup. That certainly adds up. Thus, it’s worth considering both the basic cost of an addiction and what goes into our buying decisions surrounding it when we’re talking about trying to save money.


Unforeseen and Hidden Costs Associated With Addiction


There are other costs worth examining as we go to talk our serious addictions and decide whether or not to quit. Here are just a few examples: (1) We may need one-on-one professional counseling to quit drinking. Examples might include hypnotherapy or aversion therapy. (2) We may need smoking aids like nicotine patches to quit smoking. (3) We may need to enter an addiction recovery program—this can apply to a wide range of addictions, everything from drugs and alcohol to gambling or other compulsive behaviors like shopping or sexual addiction. Recovery programs like these can end up costing thousands. That’s thousands on top of all the money spent supporting the addiction in the first place.


Hopefully, the costs associated with treating an addiction will come about because an individual voluntarily chooses to quit. However, when addictions become destructive—for example, when an addict drives under the influence and injuries another party—the judge may impose penalties including forced attendance in a recovery program at the addict’s expense, plus the victims involved in an incident may be awarded damages for liability. These judgments can be astronomical—potentially running in the millions.


There are other potential costs associated with addiction. One example is the cost of divorce or loss of assets that come when an addiction spirals out of control. Yet addiction can also involve less tangible costs like irreparably broken trust. This comes from the constant lying or even stealing that addicts typically engage in to support their habit. In many cases, family members also end up paying to get relief from an addiction. Sadly, some repeatedly shell out funds for a recovery program for their addict to get clean.


Parents can make a difference by encouraging the right behaviors.

Are you in a position to help someone overcome a bad habit or addiction? Maybe it’s worth trying to point out all the long term costs involved.


Is It A Habit Or An Addiction?


How do you know if a “bad” habit is really an addiction? While there’s no set formula, if you notice a habit has become an unthinking and automatic routine chances are it’s worth looking at. Even a seemingly innocent daily ritual of serving up a big bowl of ice cream after an evening meal can signal something’s up. Maybe you just like ice cream so it’s really no big deal. On the other hand, if you’re overweight, under a lot of stress, know you’d probably feel better by skipping it, know you’ve been avoiding bringing up an issue with your significant other, or know you’re depressed, then your ice cream habit may be worth looking at.


Making Changes


Facing up to a serious addiction may turn out tougher than examining a habit, yet either can cost big time over the long haul. If you’d like to break free from the grip of a habit, good for you! If you’re an addict or have to live with one, hopefully you’re in a good enough place you can do something about it. Either way, take the time to examine your options. Make conscious decisions to stay healthy and build wealth. It can mean the difference between living a life of despair and poverty or building a much brighter, more prosperous future.


Action Item: Grab a piece of paper and identify one or more “habits” or addictions affecting you. These don’t just have to be alcohol or drug related, either. They could be anything. For example, say you’ve noticed you can’t seem to turn off one of the shopper’s network shows on television and end up buying far too often. Or maybe, you’re taking frequent trips to the local casino to play the slots. Or maybe you’ve just can’t seem to avoid buying a candy bar every afternoon from a vending machine at work.


Next, try to calculate how much you spend as a result of your habit or addiction. Multiple the unit cost times the number of days in a week, month and year. Once you see the annual cost, multiple it by 10 to see how much you’ll spend on this habit over the course of the next decade.


Now, make a list of the benefits you get as well as other potential costs for continuing on in your habit or addiction. This is can feel hard. Some costs aren’t easy to quantify. Just do the best you can. When you finish ask yourself whether the benefits outweigh the continued costs. If you decide they don’t and want to quit, make a pact with a close family member or friend to swear off your habit or addiction. Better yet, once a week deposit the money you would have spent supporting your old habit into a savings account. You’ll be amazed how quickly it adds up.


If you enjoyed this tip, you might want to read our post:
Slash Spending: Try The Annualizing Trick


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