Are your vices foiling your finances?

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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.

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.”

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.”

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!