20 Better Ways to Spend the Cash You’re Wasting on Cigarettes Every Year

Updated January 18, 2017
by Jamie Cattanach
Staff Writer
cost of cigarettes

You already know smoking is ruining your health. And while the habit might not send you into a complete financial meltdown, it’s no secret that cigarettes are expensive.

But once you find out exactly what you might be able to do with the money you’re literally burning, you might think twice the next time you pick up your lighter.

The Price of Cigarettes is Too Damn High

cost of cigarettes
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

The Awl’s Rebecca McCarthy crafted this this slightly-less-than-scientific “State of Cigarettes in America” report, listing a somewhat-representative price of a pack of cigs in each state in the year 2016.

(I say “somewhat” representative because the of the report’s questionable data-gathering methodology. As McCarthy writes, “we called a random gas station or convenience store in each state’s most populous city and asked for the price of a pack of Marlboro Reds.” This is not exactly rigorous enough to be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal.)

I went on to extrapolate the data further, taking the average of all McCarthy’s numbers to come to an approximate price of $7.46 per pack.

So the number’s certainly not completely accurate, and it might not seem like much.

But if you smoke about a pack a day — which is a pretty fair estimate, according to several ex- and current smokers on the TPH staff and also this 2012 report based on collected excise tax per state — that adds up to an annual cost of $2,722.90.

That’s before sales and any unincluded excise taxes, which, in many states, are punitively high.

But let’s give you even more benefit of the doubt and ignore all that completely. Heck, I’ll even knock that number in half if a pack a day sounds a little heavy to you.

That leaves us with $1,361.45 a year to save, spend or otherwise squander. What could you do with it?

1. Get a nice start on your emergency fund.

While experts usually say your emergency fund should equal three to six months of your living expenses, $1,300 certainly isn’t a bad start.

2. Chip away at your student loans.

That total might be so intimidatingly large you think you’ll never be out from under it…

… but wasteful bad habits like smoking cigarettes are definitely part of what’s slowing you down.

3. Or your car payment.

Why yes, I would like to pay additional principal!

4. Put it in your retirement fund.

cost of cigarettes
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

Retirement ain’t free, baby. And most of us have literally nothing saved up for it.

Bonus? If you see Warren Buffett’s famous 7% estimated return on that $1,300 over the course of the next 40 years, you’ll have earned an additional $100 — actually, a little more than that — without doing even a moment’s work.  

Free money is way better than a smoke break, am I right?

5. Start a Business

OK, you’re not gonna open a restaurant on $1,300.

But there are lots of businesses you totally could pull off on that amount. For example, this woman started her advertising company on just $50.

(Psst: There are even some businesses with no startup costs at all… but you should still quit smoking.)

6. Buy at least a month’s worth of groceries.

According to the most recent numbers from the USDA, even the most liberal family of four only spends $1,200 per month on groceries — and if you’re single and thrifty, the cash you save on cigarettes could feed you for six whole months.

7. Take a vacation.

cost of cigarettes
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

Round-trip flights from Orlando to Paris — in springtime! — are currently selling for less than $700.

You could also purchase almost four tickets to Bonnaroo, even once they reach their most expensive sales tier.

And if you go cheap and take a road trip, that $1,300 would cover everythingpossibly four times over.

Adventure is out there. Why are you smoking?

8. Start every single workday of the year with a $4 latte.

cost of cigarettes
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

Which, one could point out, is also a superfluous and possibly detrimental habit — but assuredly not as bad as cigarettes.

9. Buy a new computer…

(Even a pricy Macbook!)

10. …. or a new wardrobe…

Or, let’s be real, like two pieces from Anthropologie.

11.  … or a year of yoga classes…

Namaste healthy!

12. … or a tiny, designer dog that fits in your purse…

(Please don’t actually do this. If you’re in the market for a dog, adopt!)

13. … or a significant-ish portion of the Crate and Barrel catalog…

The “ish” factor scales with proportion to how much Le Creuset you want in your kitchen.

14. … or a genuine designer handbag…

You could buy two and a half of these Coach hobos, or like a hundred knock-offs.

15. … or a new mattress…

I’ll take good sleep over bad lungs, every single time.

16. … or a fancy whatever-you’ve-been-needing for your hobby.

cost of cigarettes
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

Need a new lens? Print block? Calligraphy pen? Pair of pointe shoes? Microphone?

Even if $1,300 won’t totally cover it, it’ll definitely make a hefty dent.

Our editor Caitlin Constantine, being the totally badass Iron(wo)man she is, said she’d put that cash toward buying a new bike. And our visual editor and photographer Heather Comparetto would put on an art show.

As for me? Well, I’d have to forego two hypothetical years of smoking to splurge on this fancy wine preserver.  

And it would be totally worth it.

17. Get pretty.

cost of cigarettes
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

Two ex-smokers on the staff said they’d use the extra cash to get their spider veins lasered away or fill in their wrinkles with Botox…  

… which is ironic, since smoking causes those problems in the first place. If they hadn’t spent the money on the cigarettes, they wouldn’t need to spend the imaginary windfall on those cosmetic fixes!

Other staffers said they’d put the money toward tattoos (or tattoo removal); a couple would happily blow it all on makeup.

“I could blow $1,300 in one trip to Sephora, no problem,” said our Facebook copywriter Kelsey Buxton. “That would probably be one of the best days of my life.”

The cash would also keep your hands and feet neat for a whole year — you could get $50 mani/pedis twice a month.

18. Have dinner at one of the most expensive restaurants in the country.

Even at the priciest New York eatery on this list, you’d have a little bit of money left over — but you might as well pay it toward the tip.

19. Not have to worry about how you’ll scrounge up the money for your holiday shopping.

According to American Research Group’s 2016 findings, the average American will spend a little over $900 on Christmas shopping this year.

What to do with the extra $400? Please see the rest of the list.

20. Literally just stick it under your mattress.

Come on. Anything is better than spending such a ridiculous amount of money on a habit that’s making you tired, unwell and worse-looking.

Your Turn: What would YOU do with an extra $1,300 to spend this year?

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. If she had a $1,300 windfall, she would almost definitely spend it on plane tickets. Or wine. Or both.

by Jamie Cattanach
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

Share Your Thoughts

Top Articles