Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em … or Not

Smoking, and its impact on physical and fiscal fitness, has been addressed multiple times here at RetirementSavvy. I noted in Manage Your Fiscal and Physical Fitness that not only are there numerous health consequences associated with smoking, it is an expensive habit. Money used to buy cigarettes cannot be used to build an emergency fund or contribute to retirement plans such as 401(k)s or IRAs. To be certain, smoking is a sure-fire way to negatively impact your physical and fiscal well-being with one habit.

A couple of recent occurrences, well actually an occurrence and a dinner, have brought smoking back into focus for me. First the occurrence. I recently stopped by a Walgreens to pick up some items for my wife and was approaching the cashier when a young lady, perhaps 22 – 25, entered the store and noticing my approach to the counter, quickened her pace to beat me to the punch as it were. Getting past my slight irritation that she had ungraciously “cut me off” to ensure she was helped first, I was immediately struck by the fact that while she did not appear to be homeless, her clothes were somewhat tattered and her personal hygiene could have used some work.

I became even more intrigued by her appearance, as I would associate it with a person lacking a significant amount of cash in their pocket, when she requested a carton of cigarettes, and after retrieving them from the case behind the counter, the clerk informed her the cost was $67. Let me say that again, $67 for a carton of cigarettes! Pulling four $20 bills from her front pocket, she scooped up the carton – and her change – and was off, back through the door she had walked through just two minutes before.

To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. While I knew that cigarettes are expensive, I can’t remember the last time someone I was with bought cigarettes and apparently this was the first time in a very long time I was in close proximity to anyone who was buying cigarettes. I had no idea people pay nearly $70 for cigarettes. Of course I was even more dumbfounded as it appeared to me there were a lot of other things the young lady should have been spending that $67 on. But hey, it’s her money.

Flash forward a few days and the wife and I were at a friend’s house for dinner. A great dinner by the way. The chicken flautas, homemade green chili sauce, spicy guacamole and fajita beef were sublime! Anyhoot, these friends, Brad and Leah, are both [recently] former smokers. Sitting out on the back patio after dinner, enjoying a cold beer, I recounted my experience at Walgreens to Brad. I should note that Brad and I – annoying our wives at times – frequently discuss money, investing and retirement planning. I informed him that while I knew cigarettes were an expensive habit, I had no idea they were that expensive.

We talked for a bit about the costs associated with smoking but moved on to other topics once our wives joined us outside. However, before we left, I asked Brad would it be okay to email him some questions – to get a first person perspective about smoking and its impacts – to use in a post I was considering about my experience at Walgreens … he readily agreed. My first couple of questions pertained to the age at which he and Leah first began smoking and the cost.

“Leah and I both started smoking at about 15-years old. When we started smoking the cost was less than $1.00 per pack, when we quit 10 months ago, after about 35 years, the monthly cost was $600 – $700.”

Food for thought. What would the money spent on cigarettes over the last 35 years be worth today if invested and a modest gain of 3 – 5% was realized annually?

Since they both recently quit, I was curious to know the factors that contributed to their decision and the financial impact since that time.

“We both quit after Leah was diagnosed with and treated for lung cancer. The financial impact was both immediate and noticeable. We have used that excess money to whittle away at the medical expenses associated with the lung cancer and will focus on our emergency fund after those bills are paid.”

Brad was gracious enough to include some thoughts and observations now that he and Leah have given up the smoking habit.

1. Ray Charles once noted that quitting smoking was tougher than quitting heroin. I have sympathy and respect for any one making the effort to quit.

2. Socially we feel far more accepted.

3. I never realized how much, until I quit, but smokers stink.

4. In our family, smoking has been accepted generation to generation. Following our lead, my daughter has quit smoking and my son has quit chewing tobacco. Perhaps that generational chain is broken.

5. Quitting cold turkey (no patches, gum, vapors, etc.) is the only thing that worked for us.

6. After 10 months we still have the urge but it is getting easier.

7. Quitters gain weight because food tastes so much better.

8. The ‘Quit Smoking’ ad campaigns had no influence on us. You just have to make up your mind to quit.

9. We really do feel better mentally and physically.

And I would add to Brad’s last point, I imagine they are ‘feeling’ fiscally better. Six to seven hundred dollars a month is nothing to sneeze at!

James
 

James retired in 2005 after serving 21 years in the United States Army. During the latter part of his career, James' interest in personal finance was piqued based on his own experiences and observations of the way most Americans plan – or more accurately, fail to plan – for retirement and the difficulty many face in starting the process. His most valued education has been lessons learned from personal experience and through conversations with smart, savvy friends.

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