smart spending

Are your vices foiling your finances?

Gregory Bloss, public health analyst for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Rockville, Md., says that while one or two drinks may not kill you, the amounts consumed by over-drinkers cost society as a whole in the neighborhood of $185 billion annually. In addition to traffic injuries and other accidents, alcohol abuse is statistically tied to a host of major diseases, including cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, pancreatitis, alcoholic cardiomyopathy and a host of cancers.

Bloss says the true costs of prolonged and excessive alcohol use can also be measured in nonphysiological ways. For instance, alcohol-dependent individuals who took their first drink by age 15 earn roughly 13.1 percent less than their peers. And given the recent federal mandate lowering the blood alcohol level for driving while intoxicated from 0.1 to 0.08, they have an increased risk of receiving a costly DUI and having their insurance premiums skyrocket.

Speaking of insurance, though it's not generally known, insurers in 28 states (as of Jan. 1, 2009) can include a provision in your policy that exempts them from paying for damages or losses you sustained while intoxicated. Though this escape clause in the Uniform Accident and Sickness Policy Provision Law (or UPPL) is most often included in health care coverage, some jurisdictions allow it in accident, long-term care and disability policies, too.

"For the majority of people who say they drink, probably the most direct economic effect would just be the expenditure on beverages," Bloss says. "But for the smaller portion of people who drink heavily, either on a consistent or episodic basis, there are substantial potential additional costs they might avoid by not drinking."

Based on our three-city survey, Bankrate found that a domestic bottle of beer plus tip on average will run you $4, while a call drink (lowest price name brands) will run you $6 a pop. If you have two beers or drinks each day, here's your bar tab:

Weekly: $56 for beer; $70 for call drinks
Monthly: $240 beer, $300 for call drinks
Annually: $2,920 beer; $3,650 for call drinks

If you're a two-beers-a-day guy and go on the wagon, the money you would save could pay for books and a full year's tuition at a public community college, which averages $2,076 according to the American Association of Community Colleges. If you prefer mixed drinks, you can cut your daily consumption in half and still afford a year's tuition. Eliminate both postwork highballs and you can spring for a big-screen TV as well.


If you were to put your bar tab into a tax-free 529 college savings plan earning 7 percent for your newborn, by the time she's ready for college you would have accumulated $104,897 (beer drinker) or $131,121 (call drinks), before taxes.

Cigarettes: Big bucks up in smoke
By now, no rational human would put a cigarette between his lips, so comprehensive are the health arguments against it. Among our three vices, Dr. Kava says, "The biggest threat is going to be smoking, without a doubt."


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