Is Your Pack-a-Day Habit a Vice, or an Opportunity?

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Vices. We've all got them, or at least been tempted by them from time to time.

Whether your poison is a pack of smokes, a six-pack of Bud, a cup of coffee, or an ice-cold Coca-Cola, succumbing to your vices -- or succumbing to the temptation to start one -- can cost you.

How much? That's the question that a new micro-site that recently popped up on the eBay (EBAY) Deals Blog proposes to answer.

Titled simply, it poses visitors a series of six questions:

  • How many cigarettes do you smoke?

  • How much coffee do you drink?

  • How often do you drink alcohol?

  • How often do you eat fast food?

  • Do you buy Lotto tickets?

  • How many sodas do you drink in a week?

Tallying up the answers, and assuming the reader isn't fibbing, COYV then proceeds to crunch some numbers and break the bad news to the respondent.

"The true cost of your vices is ... X." (In the case of yours truly, for example, it's $4,521 annually, with the dread coffee bean bearing most of the blame.)

But that's really just the beginning of the story.

Beware the 'Secondhand Smoke' of Vice

COYV doesn't simply calculate your vice-oriented checkout receipt. At the bottom of each page of COYV's online questionnaire you'll also find a small infographic explaining the cost of that vice on society at large.

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For example, according to COYV (and varying, one presumes, with state and local taxes), smoking a pack of cigarettes a day is likely to cost you $511 a year. But the cost of smoking to the nation as a whole approaches $196 billion annually in unnecessary health-related expenditures. And believe it or not, the effect of alcohol consumption on the economy is even higher, with COYV postulating total costs of $223 billion annually.

To put those numbers in perspective, COYV calculates that college students in America spend only $22 billion annually on tuition, room, and board. The implication being that if we, collectively and as a nation, suddenly all quit drinking and smoking, we'd save enough money to put about 470,000 students through college.

We'd also finally know the answer to the question Adam Ant posed: "Don't drink, don't smoke -- what do you do?" Apparently, you pay to educate every young person in America.

There's Money to Be Made in Vices

Of course, there's another way you could spend all that loot saved from quitting your vices: You could invest the money in companies that sell to folks who don't quit. What could that get you? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Quitting a $511-a-year tobacco habit could buy you almost 14 shares of Altria (MO) -- every year.

  • $503 saved from switching from coffee to water could get you eight shares of Starbucks (SBUX).

  • More partial to burgers than java? Trading in a twice-a-week McDonald's habit could save $860 -- more than enough to buy eight shares of McDonalds (MCD) common stock.

  • Going cold turkey on even an occasional Coke habit ($165 a year) could pay for nearly four shares of Coca-Cola (KO).

  • Putting the brakes on your weekly beer run ($234 annually) could buy a couple of shares of Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD).

  • And should you decide to stop throwing away money on a daily $1 lottery habit, you could save $365 annually.

On that last one, you should just hold on to that cash you save. I can't countenance investing that in lottery companies -- some vices are just too heinous to endorse.

Though he's afflicted by many of the vices covered in the COYV poll, there's at least one evil Fool contributor Rich Smith does not succumb to: the lottery. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola, eBay, McDonald's, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of eBay, McDonald's, and Starbucks.