Kick the Tobacco Habit And Stop Sending Your Money Up in Smoke

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, February 1, 2007

When I sat down with Carl Chandler and his wife to help them get their finances straight for 2007, I had them create a budget.

I asked the couple, who are participating in the Color of Money Challenge, to list all the expenses they could eliminate. The Chandlers have agreed to follow my recommendations throughout the year in an effort to accomplish their New Year's resolutions of getting rid of credit card debt and building an emergency fund of at least three months' living expenses.

Most important, as part of this financial plan, I asked Carl Chandler to quit smoking.

Yes, in our discussion about their personal finances I got real personal. I asked this father of two young children whether he had calculated the cost of smoking a pack of cigars every day.

"No, I never have," he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that more deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by AIDS, illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined. Oh and so you know, cigars contain the same toxic and carcinogenic compounds found in cigarettes, says the CDC. In fact, depending on the brand, a single cigar can have as much tobacco as a whole pack of cigarettes.

The CDC estimates that national productivity losses because of smoking total $92 billion annually. That's in addition to the $75.5 billion annually in medical expenditures because of smoking. On average, smoking reduces a person's life expectancy by about 14 years.

But if the personal health benefits are not enough to motivate you to quit smoking, then perhaps the personal financial costs are.

People who smoke cigars or cigarettes can spend as much as $2,500 a year on them, according to Saul Shiffman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Chandler spent about $1,000 last year on his smoking habit.

What if he saved that money?

If Chandler, who is 38, stopped smoking and invested that $1,000 every year in a 401(k), with a rate of return of 8 percent, he would have more than $100,000 by age 65.

"You think this is just pocket money," Chandler said. "But it's a good savings that you can put aside."

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