smart spending

Are your vices foiling your finances?

Highlights
  • Alcohol, long reviled as "demon rum," has been enjoying a new respectability lately.
  • If you were to put your bar tab into a tax-free 529 college savings plan ...
  • The biggest threat is going to be smoking, without a doubt.

Most of us are well aware of the costs of the seven deadly sins. We may even know the downside of ignoring the five basic food groups.

But we probably have never stopped to do the math on our three favorite vices: alcohol, cigarettes and coffee.

Talk about a buzz kill, right? These are the personal indulgences we hold near and dear. They provide the moments of sheer visceral pleasure that get us through the heavy slogging of daily life.

Not only are we willing to pay the oh-so-affordable retail price for these self-rewards, we actually bundle them into our cost of living without a second thought, as if they were necessities like groceries, toothpaste or gas for the road.

Granted, each is addictive and has physiological side effects we'd rather not dwell on, ranging from hypertension to lung cancer, sleep disorders to emphysema, halitosis to heart attacks. Hey, everything can kill you if you look at it hard enough.

But when we consider the daily tab from starting each morning with a Starbucks double-tall latte, inhaling a pack of cigarettes throughout the day and capping the old 8-to-5 with a couple of drinks at the local watering hole, it can sometimes feel like we're working to support our crutches.

No one is suggesting that you heartlessly kick your three amigos to the curb and get thee to the nearest yoga class (which can also be pricey!). But if sizable expenses are beginning to appear on your radar, perhaps a larger house or college for the twins, you may be surprised at how much you can save by sacrificing one or more of your favorite vices.

To aid in calculating the cost of our three most popular vices, Bankrate obtained retail pricing in Seattle, Austin, Texas, and Orlando, Fla., at Applebee's (domestic bottle beer and call liquor), 7-Eleven (cigarettes) and Starbucks (double-tall latte), then averaged each unit price. On cigarettes and coffee, we rounded up to the nearest dollar to account for tax. On alcohol, we factored in a 20 percent tip on the average cost, then rounded up to the nearest dollar to account for tax.

Light up a cigarette and grab your beverage of choice because here comes a real eye-opener.

Alcohol: Sobering savings

Alcohol, long reviled as "demon rum," has been enjoying a new respectability lately thanks to medical studies that show that a little tippling can be good for the heart.

"Ethanol in and of itself makes platelets, the clotting factors in blood, less sticky, so you decrease the possibility they will clog arteries," says Dr. Ruth Kava, director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health.

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Dr. Kava says the operative word is moderation.

"I don't see a health reason to quit if you are drinking one to two drinks a day for a man or one drink a day for a woman," she says. "You're doing something there that could actually reduce your health care costs down the line, as long as you don't go overboard."

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