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Quitting Bad Habits to Save Money

Bad habits of smoking and drinkingWhat is a habit? According to Wikipedia, a habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. They also add that old habits are hard to break, and new habits are hard to form because behavioral patterns are imprinted on our neural pathways. Before your eyes glaze over at the thought of neurology, let’s take a look to determine if we have any habits. If we do, are they causing problems? Quitting bad habits can be a sure way to save money, and it can also improve your quality of life.

Good vs Bad Habits

As an adult, we likely have habits that are so common that we don’t put much thought into them. If you get up an hour early to exercise every morning, or always put money into your savings account as soon as you get paid, those are great habits.

If you can’t get through a day without cigarettes, a stop at the local bar, or buying a lottery ticket, it might be a good idea to examine those behaviors or potential “bad” habits to see if they are derailing your long term goals.

Financial Impact of Bad Habits

Some common statistics about habits:

  •  Americans spend about $44 billion on tobacco products each year. If you pay $5/pack and smoke two packs a day, that’s $3650 per year!
  • Americans spend about $50 billion on alcohol annually, and the cost of a DUI in the US is around $10,000 in fines, court costs, and mandatory classes.
  • The soda industry in the US brings in around $76 billion each year, and obesity related health costs topped $147 billion dollars in 2008.
  •  Excessive alcohol consumption (more than 4 drinks for women and 5 for men per occasion) cost the US economy $226.5 billion in 2006. 72% of that was in loss of workplace productivity. 11% was in health care costs.

Health Impacts of Bad Habits

If all those zeros spent on unnecessary things isn’t enough to convince you, let’s take a look at health impacts of our bad habits. According to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • On average, smokers die 14 years younger than non-smokers
  •  443,000 people die each year in the US from smoking related illnesses
  • 49,400 deaths in the US are caused annually from secondhand smoke

How Do We Determine if a Habit is Bad?

Ultimately, it depends on your goals and where you are in the journey toward those goals. Is your habit affecting your health in a negative way? Is your habit affecting your finances in a negative way? Is your habit causing problems in your personal relationships? Does your habit interfere with your ability to be productive at work?

If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, that probably means you have a bad habit. If you want to change, it might take some work and sacrifice, but you can do it.

How Do I Quit a Bad Habit?

I think many people fail at changing their habits because they look at the big picture, can’t imagine how to get there, and just give up. The first step is to set some goals. What do you want to achieve in the next month, six months, or a year. Start small. If your goal is to have some money in savings so you don’t feel broke all the time, aim to save $50 at first and see what you can go to find the extra money.

Next look at all of your outgoing expenses. Track everything you spend. See how much your habits are costing you. If you are spending $100 a week on cigarettes, this is a great place to start cutting back.

Maybe you don’t smoke or drink, but you still are hemorrhaging money each month. Maybe it is your habit to stop by the drive thru for coffee and a square egg sandwich every morning. The $5 this costs might not seem like much until you add it all up to find you are spending $150 a month on breakfast sandwiches. Could you buy a bag of English muffins for $1, a carton of eggs for $2, and pack of cheese for $2 to get a similar result for about $.67 per serving? Small change adds up.
Plan a budget based on your income minus necessary expenses like rent and utilities. If there is anything left, you need to decide if you want to use this for saving or investing in your goals or if you want to continue to fund your habits.

I Can’t Stop My Habit

If you want to quit your bad habit and you physically can’t, you might need to look for help. I would first tell my friends and family that you want to quit. Most likely, they want you to be healthy and will support your decision to stop smoking, drinking, or whatever the habit is. Positive encouragement goes a long way. If you know others are expecting good things from you, you are less likely to let them down. On the other hand, if you have friends who don’t support you and want to join in your habit, it might be time to distance yourself from those negative influences. If that doesn’t work, you may need to visit your doctor or seek professional guidance to get the help needed to quit for good. It isn’t weak to ask for help.

Final Thoughts

Life is short. We have limited time to make the best possible use of our resources. If you are letting a bad habit dictate how you spend your money or, worse, your health or relationships, it is time to take a hard look the path you are on. Obviously, saving money is a great reason to quit a bad habit, but sometimes, you can get much more out of changing your behavior. If your habits don’t support your values, financially or otherwise, make steps today to change. Otherwise, you might end up a statistic

This is an extract from the eBook – The A-Z Of Saving Money which is no longer available for sale.

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

42 comments

  1. I quit smoking a long time ago but I don’t really see myself giving up drinking in the near future. Sure, I could put my drinking money into a retirement account and plan for the future, but I prefer to keep that money liquid.

    • You have to have a little personal spending money to spend on things you enjoy. Otherwise, it’s easy to burn out and go on a spending binge.

  2. I find it easy to replace a habit, for example when I want to limit my drinking, I have sparkling water with lemon instead. It is still a nice drink and I don’t mind if it has no alcohol. I can drink a few glasses of it, whereas soda I would be filled with sugar and could only have a glass or two. Without the habit replacement I would miss my drink more.

    • As long as the replacement is a better one. I’ve know lots of people who quit smoking only to replace the oral fixation with snacks, then they put on weight. I do think people who have habits for the social benefit would be good candidates for finding a less expensive replacement.

  3. Wow, those are some crazy statistics…though not really surprising after you think about it. I think part of it comes down to wanting to make that change in habits, otherwise you’re less likely to own it and thus less likely to make that change. For me it always helps to see numbers and if I see that changing X will result in Y then I start to want it and will thus start to implement some changes to reach that.

  4. I like to go cold turkey on habits like this. I used to drink coffee with a bunch of fake sugar. I decided to stop it, so now I only put a little milk in. It was tough for a week or so but now I don’t know the difference.

    • Sometimes I wish I liked coffee because it seems like so many people enjoy it, but maybe it’s good I never developed a taste.

  5. Bad habits can really cramp your finances as well as your health. The thing that I want to reduce personally is the amount of alcohol I drink. To be fair I don’t drink much, but it is still something that is not doing me any good in the health department.

  6. That was our bad habit – hemorrhaging money. I can’t even tell you what finally led us to quit, but I’m sure glad we did.

  7. I try to get W to stop smoking all the time. My father passed away partially due to lung cancer, so there are multiple reasons for why smoking is bad!

    • I can see how that would make you nervous after you’ve seen it affect a family member. I’ve certainly seen my share of smoking related health problems. I made it a rule a long time ago to never date a smoker, but you can’t help who you love.

  8. I’ve been thinking a lot about habits because there are also some good habits I want to break that are just costing me too much money. I switched from drinking coffee to drinking eboost, which is a packet of natural ingredients you add to water and it give me just a tiny boost in the morning without making me jittery like coffee did. Trouble is it’s $1-$2 per packet that I drink ever day. Do I absolutely need it and would it help reduce my grocery budget each month? Absolutely. But it’s a hard habit to break because I like it. I could go back to decaf but I hesitate because I only like sweet n low in my coffee and artificial sweeteners are not healthy. So I wonder what to do. Anyway, at least it’s not THAT bad…I’m glad I never picked up any really bad habits like smoking and drinking because a lot of close family members (mom, brother) have a problem with both.

    • I used to go get a salad from the salad bar at the grocery store every day. It probably was healthy, but costed way more than just making one at home. I think we use healthy as a good excuse to buy things we don’t necessarily need in some instances.

  9. I feel like just about everyone has a bad habit that costs them some money. The key is to not let it cost or hurt you too much. I have managed to stay away from many of the nasty habits you listed above, but I know that I can get better in a few other areas.

    • I think we all have our things we spend on, even if it’s just a fountain Diet Pepsi that I buy too often. If you have a set amount of personal money you allow yourself each month, I think you can fit it into that. Going overboard is what gets you in trouble.

  10. I think I replaced or stopped all my bad habits or at least I should have by now! I used to get candy from the machines at work when I was under stress. It wasn’t the money as much as the candy just added weight. I replaced it with a better habit some 35 years ago.

  11. I had a bad habit of spending money unnecessarily, in college. Stupid things that I can’t even remember what I bought. That was definitely a bad habit!

  12. I honestly can’t believe that people still smoke in this day and age? They’re practically begging to die and actually forking over their hard-earned cash to do so. Crazy!

  13. Bad habits do cost money, and I think some habits may not be as “bad” financially as for other people. For example, a billionaire could travel every weekend without much financial impact on their bottom line, but this would be a terrible habit for someone making minimum wage.

    • Right for sure. I know a retired engineer who is pretty well off who stops at the same place for breakfast every morning. I would say this has become his habit, but he can well afford it. If he worked for minimum wage and ate out for breakfast every morning that would be a huge dent in the salary.

  14. I had a bad habit for many years and that was smoking. I think I did it just to keep my hands busy and it relaxed me. It wasn’t easy to quit smoking but as you can read in the posts about my journey to quit smoking I did it for me and no one else. Health was my priority. Cheers

  15. Luckily, I don’t smoke, but I do have the occasional alcoholic drink here and there, but I wouldn’t consider it a bad habit. I don’t go out all of the time to bars and if I drink, it is usually one or two beers. I enjoy beer, so I wouldn’t change it.

    • That certainly sounds more like an occasional indulgence instead of a habit. I think you have to have one or two of those or what fun is life?

  16. What I find is people make unrealistic goals to quit their bad habits. I’m going to stop smoking right now or lose 10 pounds this week! It is possible, maybe, but not for most. So they fail and then quit trying. I find that people who are truly serious about changing a bad habit, take it slow and make a plan. It’s not glamours but it works! 🙂

    • I’ve known a few people who have been able to go cold turkey, but you’re right, it usually takes many attempts and some planning. I think like many things, hitting rock bottom or having a real motivation, like having a child, can be the jolt some people need.

  17. Smoking is a huge expenditure, as you point out, for both money and health. There are few reasons not to quit, although it is quite hard.

  18. Pauline’s comment on replacing the habit is a really good one. It’s hard to quit something cold turkey, but if you can recognize your trigger and replace it with something more positive, you’ve made a big step forward. Bad habits cost us in all areas of life, but it can be just as important to focus on good habits. It can be much easier to develop good habits that to quit bad ones and can lead to results that are just as positive.

  19. What you do repeatedly is who you are. And when it comes to excellence, if you make it a habit as well, you’ll be successful.

  20. I quit smoking so many times, it almost became a habit. I tried programs, patches, and anything else you could think of but nothing worked long term. During my break at the office, I would go outside but walk 2 blocks before returning to work. Believe me, after walking at a fast clip, you don’t want to smoke! This is the only thing that’s worked for me for the past 10 years.

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