Vices That Blow Your Money

By AnnaMaria Andriotis,

WE ALL HAVE OUR vices, and many of them are part of our everyday routines. Whether you indulge in smoking or gambling, or harder-to-recognize vices, like texting too much or excessive shopping, chances are you don't realize just how much money you're squandering.

Here are five habits that drain your wallet -- fast.

1. Smoking

Sure, a pack of smokes isn't cheap (especially in areas like New York City, where they cost about $7.) But a lifelong smoking habit will cost you significantly more than that. Consider this: A 24-year-old male and female who smoke for 60 years will spend $220,000 and $106,000, respectively, not only on cigarettes but also on higher life and property insurance premiums, medical care, and lost earnings due to disability, according to 2004 research conducted by Dr. Frank Sloan, Duke University professor and co-author of 'The Price of Smoking.'

Smokers get hit especially hard with their life insurance premiums. When a smoker is 60 years old, he or she will pay $5,360 per year in premiums for a 10-year term, $500,000 standard policy, according to the Insurance Information Institute's 2006 figures. A nonsmoker would pay $2,275, a 57.5 percent difference.

The effects of smoking are also felt in the workplace. Smokers earn $26,000 less than nonsmokers over their lifetime, according to Sloan. "They're less likely to be promoted because they're away from their desks often taking smoking breaks, and they tend to be sick and miss work more often than nonsmokers," says Sloan.

The financial hit even follows a smoker to his or her final resting place. Nonsmokers see an extra $5,127 in Social Security payments that smokers miss out on because of their reduced life expectancy, according to Sloan.

See our story Get Rich: Quit Smoking for more ways that smoking is costing you.

2. Shopping

Compulsive buying disorder is estimated to affect up to 16 percent of the U.S. population, according to a 2006 report co-authored by Dr. Lorrin Koran, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University's School of Medicine, and its financial strains are felt by both the shopper and his or her family.

"Often, the financial damage is discovered by a spouse or family member only after the shopper has accumulated a large debt," says Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack, assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at McLean Hospital. The average compulsive shopper has debts totaling around $20,000, according to Terrence Shulman, director of The Shulman Center, which provides treatments for overspending disorders. And many have tabs much higher than that.

Those suffering from serious addiction should seek the help of a psychiatrist. But for those who have simply developed a bad habit of overindulgence, there are simple strategies to keep spending in check (such as shopping with a friend and using cash whenever possible) and to pay down bills. Click here for advice on how to dig out of debt.

3. Texting

So compared with smoking and compulsive shopping, a texting addiction probably sounds pretty tame. But it can be very costly -- particularly if you've got teenage kids. If your child wields a cell phone, chances are you've been paying for his or her relentless text-messaging habits. Last year, 158 billion texts were sent in the U.S., up 95 percent from 2005, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association. Many of them were sent by cell phone users in their early teens to their mid-20s, according to Roger Etner, senior vice president of communication sector at IAG Research.

"This generation is texting away at a fanatical rate," says Etner. "It's typical to hear of children racking up 5,000 to 6,000 texts in a month." Sound crazy? A teen can easily reach 200 texts in just a few days. Typically, he or she will send and receive 10 messages in just one conversation, and this can happen in a minute, Etner notes. If your child sends 5,000 text messages in a month, you could easily pay $480 or more.

Parents looking to safeguard themselves from skyrocketing bills should pass on the 200 messages-a-month plans. Once the kid has passed 200 texts, the register moves very quickly. After that, most text messages range from 10 to 15 cents.

Instead, for a few more dollars, choose an unlimited text-messaging plan, which is offered by most phone services. Make sure it includes texting to all networks, not just your own. For example, AT&T offers 200 in-network messages a month for only $5, but for $15 extra, you can get unlimited texting to anyone on any network.

4. Being a Night Owl

Do you often find yourself trying to sneak in an afternoon nap at your cubicle? Chances are you're getting less than the eight to 8.5 hours of sleep recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Around 29 percent of men and 28 percent of women get six hours or less of sleep each night, according to a 2006 report by the National Center for Health Statistics at the Center for Disease Control.

"People who sleep less than six hours are less motivated than those who get a full night of sleep," says Dr. Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. "They experience lapses in vigilance, their motivation is undermined and their ability to make decisions is affected."

According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2002 poll, between 50-60 percent of workers said it's difficult to produce quality work and to follow instructions when they lack sleep. "We all operate on a biological clock," says Twery. "Once its rhythm is disturbed, we're likely to see negative effects not only at work but in our health and our personal lives."

5. Lottery

Known by some as a "tax on the poor," the lottery can wreak havoc on people's finances, especially those in lower-income groups across the country, says Gerald Busald, professor of mathematics and statistics at San Antonio College. In Syracuse, N.Y., 46 percent of residents with a median household income of $22,000 spend $595 on lottery tickets per year, according to a 2002 study conducted by Dr. Sandra Lane, chair and professor of health and wellness at Syracuse University. "This is an inverse relationship," says Lane. "The poorer the people, the more money they spend on the lottery."

The most popular games among the poor are the scratch-offs. "They offer instant gratification and return around 65 percent of the money that you put into them," says Busald. "But rather than keeping that money, most players use it to buy more scratch-offs until they've lost all their cash. It's the poor person's casino."

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