smart spending

Are your vices foiling your finances?

While the morbidity rates for cigarettes and cancer grab most of the headlines, Dr. Kava says they only scratch the surface of the toll tobacco takes on the populace.

"The area of concern that I think is not played up enough are the chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases like emphysema," she says. "That's sort of hideous, people don't really have enough breath to do much of anything. As a society, we seem to pay a lot more attention to cancer, but in terms of debilitating diseases, emphysema ranks way up there."

The problem isn't the nicotine, she says, although it is addictive and can increase the heart rate and slightly elevate blood pressure; the bigger threats are in the tars and toxins, including carbon monoxide, that get inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream.

"I would rather see somebody with a lifelong addiction to nicotine use something like the patch or lozenges or nasal sprays with nicotine for the rest of their lives if they can just quit smoking," she says. "That's a much better tradeoff for reducing the risk of these very serious diseases. Just about anything is better than smoking tobacco."

OK, Mr. or Ms. Pack-a-day, here's your money going up in smoke:

Bankrate average price of a pack of cigarettes: $7

Daily pack: $7
Weekly: $49
Monthly: $210
Annually: $2,555

That puts that annual community college tuition just $251 away. Put that into a tax-free 529 college savings plan earning 7 percent for your newborn and by the time he turns 18, you'll have stashed away $91,784 before taxes for college.

Morning buzz: Let's count the beans

OK, enough with the ear beating: We're not about to argue that your morning self-defibrillation with Colombia's legal cash crop is a bad thing. Indeed, according to the National Coffee Association, the average American consumes more than three cups of hot brown bean water daily. Heck, if it weren't for coffee, even might be little more than a blank screen!

"I don't really see any health consequences down the road from a reasonable intake of caffeine," admits Dr. Kava. "If you can afford Starbucks and that's your favorite caffeinated choice, I don't see any reason not to have one in the morning, although you might consider nonfat milk in place of whole."

Ah, yes -- if you can afford it. Cue the froth-maker please!

Bankrate average price for a Starbucks double tall latte: $4.

Daily double tall latte: $4
Weekly: $28
Monthly: $120
Annually: $1,460

You know what? When you consider the wi-fi access, the social and business contacts, the career advancement you can expect for all your buzzed-out hard work and the free chocolate-covered espresso bean that comes with it, that morning 'Bucks bump is one luxury you can definitely afford. Enjoy!

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