Holy Smokes! Some People Spend 25% of Their Income on What?!

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25% of income goes to cigarettes?!As far as money-draining (and life-shortening) habits go, smoking is a popular example of one to give up. Now there's a new report that makes an even more dramatic financial case for quitting: In New York State, which levies some hefty taxes on tobacco, low-income smokers are spending roughly one-quarter of their income on cigarettes.

If you're feeling relieved that you live in one of America's 49 other states, don't rest so easy. The national average is about 14% of smokers' incomes spent on cigarettes -- that's about one-seventh of total income, and still a whopping percentage.

Even if you don't smoke, keep reading -- because these shocking statistics can help all of us rethink and improve our spending habits.

How Much We Shell Out for Smokes

Let's get a little more precise now. In New York State, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes recently was $10.14, the highest in the nation. The lowest average price per pack was $4.02, in Missouri. Nineteen states -- plus the District of Columbia -- sported average prices above $6.

New York is certainly not alone in taxing cigarettes heavily. The total taxes per pack in New York average about $4.74, and 17 states (including D.C.) levy taxes of $2 or more. (Remember that these are average numbers. In some spots in New York, cigarettes can cost more than $12 a pack!)

A little simple math shows us that a one-pack-a-day habit in New York can cost $3,701 a year. Those who smoke two packs a day are coughing up more than $7,000 annually. Even if you only pay $6 per pack, that amounts to more than $2,000 per year for a daily pack.

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What a Smoker's Budget Could Purchase
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Holy Smokes! Some People Spend 25% of Their Income on What?!

The average smoker spends between $1,500 and $3,300 a year on cigarettes, depending on where they live. Here are a dozen other things you could buy for that kind of money. (Or, alternatively, you could save it for an emergency). 

A few thousand dollars will go a long way in a room remodel, which not only updates your crib but could also boost its resale value.

The world's most affordable car is the Tata Nano: Its base model retails for around $2,825. Of course, you can only get that model in India, but still -- it's a whole car for the price of a year's worth of smokes.

Buy some bling for that special someone (or for yourself). Depending on cut, color, and clarity, you can buy a ring with a .5 - .75 carat diamond.

With ticket prices starting at $1,500, you could buy an around-the-world airplane ticket. Depending on the type of ticket, you could have up to a year to stop at up to 16 airports!

OK, so you won't be able to create your own Gold's, but you could definitely spring for some good cardio and strength-training equipment. (Quitting smoking and investing the savings in your health = a doubly smart move.)

If you're gambling with money that otherwise was sure to go up in smoke, you can afford to take a few risks, and also buy for the long term to ride out the ups and downs of the market. 

For $2,640 you could buy that Monogram Denim Sunrise Blue Louis Vuitton Handbag you've been secretly coveting, or another equally fantastic bag.

Believe it or not, you can get a Vespa for $3,199. The stylish motorbikes meet worldwide environmental standards for cleaner engines, not to mention they make parallel parking a breeze.

These days, gold is selling near its all-time high -- your smoke money will only buy you a couple of ounces. Still, you can start building your hoard now.

At a starting price of $1,799, who wouldn't want an authentic Fender?

Imagine having your own little getaway spot on your balcony, deck or in your own backyard. Prices start at about $2,800.

Priceless!

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Here's the biggest problem with these numbers: Taxes and the price of tobacco have clearly been rising in recent years -- yet the typical household's income has not. In fact, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income slipped 1.5% between 2010 and 2011, and remained lower than (inflation-adjusted) 1989 levels. Thus, the cost of cigarettes has been taking up a bigger and bigger slice of the typical household's budgetary pie in recent years. Ouch.

How Much Should Smokers Spend?

It can be helpful to look at the big picture, to see how much average Americans spend on major budgetary categories -- and how much they're advised to spend on them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics can help with that. Here are some interesting stats, revealing the percentage of after-tax income the average household in America spends on various categories, as of 2010:

27% Housing (including mortgage, rent, utilities, furnishings, and upkeep)
13% Transportation
10% Food
5% Health care
4% Entertainment
3% Clothing
1% Alcohol
1% Tobacco

(The tobacco percentage is low because it's averaged across smokers and nonsmokers alike.)

It's very valuable for us to keep tabs on our own spending, to see how much of our hard-earned assets we're devoting to various items. It's also good to compare that data to an ideal -- to how we should be spending our money.

Spending Guidelines From the Experts

The 50-30-20 Rule:
This has been advocated by, among others, Elizabeth Warren, Harvard professor, creator of the new and vital Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Senate candidate in Massachusetts. It suggests that you take your after-tax income and devote no more than 50% of it to your "needs" -- such as food, housing, transportation, medications, insurance, and so on. Then spend no more than 30% on your "wants" -- which would include items such as most clothing, cable television, entertainment, eating at restaurants, travel, etc. Finally, devote at least 20% of your after-tax income to your financial security, by paying off debts, maintaining an emergency fund, and contributing aggressively to retirement savings.

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The '60% Solution': This comes from author Richard Jenkins, who suggests you devote up to 60% of your income to "committed expenses" (such as housing, food, car payments, utilities, and the like). Then spend 10% on fun (eating at restaurants, hobbies, concerts, and so on), 10% on irregular expenses (vacations, unexpected repairs, and big-ticket purchases such as appliances), 10% on your retirement savings, and 10% on paying down debt, saving long-term for big purchases such as cars or home remodeling, or adding to your long-term savings and investments.

Cut Everything in Half: Suze Orman offers an even bigger challenge: Try to live on just 50% of your income, at least for six months, while banking or investing the other 50%. During this period, you'll figure out how much you really do need to live on, and which expenses you might be able to cut back on. You'll also learn how you'll be able to manage if you or your partner loses your job for a while.

If we want to position ourselves for the greatest financial security, we need to know how much we're spending on various items and we need to make sure the sums are sensible. Spending a quarter of your income on cigarettes is a recipe for disaster, and even spending less than that can wreak havoc with your financial future.

Don't let your dreams of a comfortable retirement go up in smoke -- or in lottery tickets, or lavish vacations.

15 PHOTOS
What a Smoker's Budget Could Purchase
See Gallery
Holy Smokes! Some People Spend 25% of Their Income on What?!

The average smoker spends between $1,500 and $3,300 a year on cigarettes, depending on where they live. Here are a dozen other things you could buy for that kind of money. (Or, alternatively, you could save it for an emergency). 

A few thousand dollars will go a long way in a room remodel, which not only updates your crib but could also boost its resale value.

The world's most affordable car is the Tata Nano: Its base model retails for around $2,825. Of course, you can only get that model in India, but still -- it's a whole car for the price of a year's worth of smokes.

Buy some bling for that special someone (or for yourself). Depending on cut, color, and clarity, you can buy a ring with a .5 - .75 carat diamond.

With ticket prices starting at $1,500, you could buy an around-the-world airplane ticket. Depending on the type of ticket, you could have up to a year to stop at up to 16 airports!

OK, so you won't be able to create your own Gold's, but you could definitely spring for some good cardio and strength-training equipment. (Quitting smoking and investing the savings in your health = a doubly smart move.)

If you're gambling with money that otherwise was sure to go up in smoke, you can afford to take a few risks, and also buy for the long term to ride out the ups and downs of the market. 

For $2,640 you could buy that Monogram Denim Sunrise Blue Louis Vuitton Handbag you've been secretly coveting, or another equally fantastic bag.

Believe it or not, you can get a Vespa for $3,199. The stylish motorbikes meet worldwide environmental standards for cleaner engines, not to mention they make parallel parking a breeze.

These days, gold is selling near its all-time high -- your smoke money will only buy you a couple of ounces. Still, you can start building your hoard now.

At a starting price of $1,799, who wouldn't want an authentic Fender?

Imagine having your own little getaway spot on your balcony, deck or in your own backyard. Prices start at about $2,800.

Priceless!

of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


Motley Fool contributor Selena Maranjian holds no position in any company mentioned. For more on securing a comfortable retirement, click here.
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