What's the Price of Your Vice?



NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- What’s your biggest vice?

If the question makes you uneasy, it just might mean you have a bad habit or two that you can’t seem to kick. Luckily, the start of the new year could give you the motivation you need to finally give it up.

And if you need any extra motivation in these times of austerity, consider the toll your vice takes on your wallet. To find out just how much Americans pay for their bad habits, MainStreet researched the economic impact of five common vices: smoking, buying on credit, overeating, alcohol and cosmetic procedures.

Read on for our calculations, plus some affordable tips for starting anew in 2012.


Despite countless public service campaigns and school education programs warning of the dangers of smoking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 19.3% of Americans age 18 and older still smoke cigarettes.

If the adverse health effects from lighting up aren’t enough to scare you – cigarette smoking causes nearly one in five deaths each year in the U.S. and increases your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and other life-threatening diseases – consider the damage it does to your bank account.

To find out how much you’re personally paying for cigarettes in a year, check out this calculator on the American Cancer Society website. If you pay $6 per pack and smoke 10 cigarettes a day, for instance, you pay about $1,095 each year.

But that’s not all. Smokers often face high doctor’s bills for maladies caused by tobacco use, and some companies even charge higher insurance costs for smokers. Global professional services company Towers Watson recently surveyed 248 mid- to large-size American companies about their employee health management programs, including smoking cessation, and found that 19% of the companies enforced penalties (such as increasing premiums and/or deductibles) on workers in 2011 for not completing the requirements of such health programs. According to the survey, that percentage is expected to double this year.

If you’re looking for ways to finally kick the habit in 2012, consider calling the national hotline 1-800-QUIT-NOW, which provides access to free services such as advice from a cessation counselor, a personalized quit plan and self-help materials. You can also get help via your smartphone with apps such as Quit Smoking Pro on the iPhone (99 cents) and QuitNow!, which is free on Android phones.


Buying on Credit

When it comes to spending, what’s your weakness – shoes, clothes, gadgets, dinners out? Whatever it may be, using plastic is a problem if you’re spending more than you have. As MainStreet reported last month, credit card review site CardHub found that consumers took on $16.8 billion in credit card debt in the third quarter of 2011 alone, an increase of 154% from the same quarter in 2010.

On the individual level, credit card debt per borrower stood at $4,762 as of the third quarter of 2011, according to credit monitoring agency TransUnion.

If you’re looking to stop racking up credit card debt in the new year, it’s time to make a plan. For starters, keep your spending in check and cut back on unneeded expenses (you’ll find tips in MainStreet’s “12 Things You Should Stop Paying for in 2012”). You can also consider opening a balance transfer card, which allows you to move high interest debt you carry on an existing credit card to a new one that charges little to no interest, at least for an introductory period.

You should also be wary of signing up for store credit cards. Even though they may lure you with attractive discounts, they can prevent you from comparison shopping and you could acquire significant interest charges if you don’t stay on top of payments.


That platter of buffalo wings and oozing plate of nachos can be hard to resist, but poor eating habits can wreak havoc on your waistline – and your savings.

A study from the CDC and research insititute RTI International found that obese people paid $1,429 (42%) more for medical care in 2006 than healthy-weight individuals. And obesity is no longer just a problem of the few: According to the CDC, about one in three (33.8%) adults 20 years and older is obese.

If you’re looking to turn over a new leaf with your health in 2012, there are several resources out there to help you achieve your goals, including a variety of smartphone apps focused on healthy eating. For instance, the Fast Food Calorie Counter, which is offered on the iPhone (99 cents) and Android ($2.99) phones, tells you how many calories each dish has at the major fast food restaurants. Another option is Fooducate, a free app on the iPhone and Android phones that allows you to scan the barcode of an item, then gives each product a grade based on how healthy it is. The app also tells you a food’s sugar content and provides information about any potentially harmful preservatives it may contain.



Whether you’re at the bar or dining out, ordering just a few drinks each week can cost you.

To estimate how much you’re personally spending on alcohol on a monthly and yearly basis, check out this cost calculator, then type in the average number of drinks you consume in one setting, the price you pay per drink and the number of times you drink per week. For instance, if you have two drinks twice a week at $7 apiece, you spend $112 per month and $1,344 per year.

To save money, consider buying your own bottles of wine or spirits rather than buying overpriced drinks out on the town, or cut back on your drinking altogether.

Cosmetic Procedures

These days it looks like consumers are willing to pay a hefty price for beauty: The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that Americans spent more than $10 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2010.

Which procedures are Americans shelling out big bucks for? The organization says the average surgeon/physician fees for a variety of common cosmetic procedures can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, such as rhinoplasty ($4,306), breast augmentation ($3,351), facelifts ($6,231) and Botox ($375).

Before spending so much on a cosmetic procedure, ask yourself if it’s really necessary and if that money can be better spent.

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