Mounting cost of having vices

RICHARD MEADOWS
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2013
CASH UP IN SMOKE: A pack of 20 ciggies already costs $12 to $15, and will surpass the $20 mark in a few years once a series of new excises are introduced.
Fairfax NZ
CASH UP IN SMOKE: A pack of 20 ciggies already costs $12 to $15, and will surpass the $20 mark in a few years once a series of new excises are introduced.

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Do you ever indulge in the odd drink, smoke, expensive coffee, flutter on the races, visit a brothel, or treat yourself to designer shoes you really can't afford?

If you answered "No", you're either a liar, a puritan or legally dead.

We all have our vices. For some, nothing is so satisfying as an evening tipple after a long day at work, or enjoying a morning ritual of coffee and cigarettes.

But at what cost?

Though the social and health costs of the little pleasures in life have long been drilled into us, the impact on your bank account can be equally offputting.

Being confronted with the real damage to your wallet might just be enough of a wake-up call to go cold turkey once and for all.

Here we list some of the most expensive vices, from a daily cup of coffee all the way through to gambling, hard drugs and sex.

FOOTWEAR FETISH

A recent survey by British insurance company GoCompare.com found that women spend an average of NZ$450 a year on shoes.

One-third of those surveyed said shoes were the one thing they couldn't resist buying, regardless of whether they had the cash to afford them.

Tellingly, 25 per cent kept their purchases secret from their blokes, who "wouldn't understand".

It appears antipodean women are equally well-heeled. One co-worker confessed to spending $500 or so on a single pair (for those interested, a pair of Italian-made, New York-branded Tibi high heels), and other female friends said they would typically buy at least three or four pairs of new shoes each year.

At some point shoe enthusiasm ends and a footwear fetish begins straying into Imelda Marcos territory.

The widow of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos reportedly left behind a blister-inducing 1220 pairs of shoes when she fled the country.

CAFFEINE CRAVINGS

Buying a daily coffee hardly seems like a splurge. But shelling out a few bucks every time you get your daily fix of caffeine adds up fast.

Coffee fiends who can't function without their morning latte guzzle through about $1500 worth of the brown stuff a year.

The innocuous daily coffee is the perfect example of small spending adding up over time - so much so, that it has inspired a plethora of personal finance strategies.

Mortgage broker David Tillman's "latte mortgage", for example, calculates that you could knock more than $100,000 off a standard home loan by forgoing the coffee and putting $4.50 towards the debt each day.

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HEAVY BOOZING Getting loaded on cheap booze in New Zealand is as easy as strolling down to your friendly neighbourhood supermarket or liquor store.

At the bottom end of the scale, a 3 litre cask of wine can be had for as little as $25.

Heavy alcohol use causes a smaller financial burden than many other drugs, says New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell.

Someone who has a glass of wine before dinner and perhaps a nightcap before bed could expect to be spending $1000 to $1500 a year on booze - nothing too outlandish.

But if you work your way through a bottle of wine every night, the bill is going to be closer to $3000 or $4000.

SMOKING

As if you didn't need another reason to quit smoking, coffin nails are only getting more and more expensive.

A pack of 20 ciggies already costs $12 to $15, and will surpass the $20 mark in a few years once a series of new excises are introduced.

If you're a casual smoker having the odd puff here or there - say, a pack a week - then you're sending about $800 up in smoke each year.

But for those pack-a-day smokers with a ciggie permanently curled between yellowed fingers, the annual bill comes out at a whopping $5500.

SEXUAL SERVICES

How much does it cost to seek comfort in the arms of someone paid to do so?

Sex workers all charge differently, so there's no standard rate, says Annah Pickering of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective.

But a ballpark figure of $150 to $350 an hour means a casual client could expect to spend $1000 or so a year on sex, if they visited a brothel every couple of months.

Pickering says some sex workers have regulars who come in every week.

She says they budget out part of their pay cheque for sex, in much the same way as they would for a gym membership or any other service.

These regulars probably spend as much as $8000 to $10,000 or more a year.

But Pickering says for most of the workers, business is slow. Sex is seen as a luxury that people can't afford right now - meaning the only steady trade in this particular vice comes from corporate high-fliers and tourists.

DRUG DEPENDENCY

The financial toll of a drug habit can vary hugely depending on the substance.

"Often the cost is linked to the level of dependence formed. Not all substances are physically or psychologically addictive," says Bell.

Cannabis use, for example, doesn't always carry a big price tag. It's often socially traded, and was selling for $20 for a 1.5 gram tinny in 2011.

Recreational drug users who party it up on the weekend might be splashing out $50 a week for an ecstasy pill, or $20 on marijuana.

Research shows that most drug-taking New Zealanders use such softer substances, which are less likely to cause a dependence than harder drugs.

True drug addicts are much more likely to be financially ruined - methamphetamine sold for $800 a gram or $100 for a 0.1g "point bag" in 2011.

An addict getting through a point bag every day would rack up a staggering annual bill of $36,000.

"You're going to get into debt pretty quick," says Bell - and drug debts are enforced by violence.

GAMBLING

What's the average financial cost of gambling for an individual?

"It's really a difficult one to put a number around," says Graeme Ramsey, chief executive of the Problem Gambling Foundation.

Buying a weekly Lotto ticket is a harmless flutter for some, adding up to a relatively paltry $600 a year.

For others, that might mean there's less food on the table to feed the family.

"The simple definition of problem gambling is gambling which creates harm either for yourself or for others," says Ramsey. "So if you can afford it - it ain't a problem."

As a rule of thumb, the more instantaneous the gamble is, the greater the likelihood of addiction and financial burden.

Pokie machines are far and away the worst, says Ramsey. Kiwis spent a whopping $849 million on the pokies in 2010 out of a total $1.9 billion spent on gambling.

"A lottery ticket where you're waiting a week to get a result is not in the same category as hitting the spin button on the pokie machine and getting a result almost instantaneously."

From a purely financial perspective, gambling is the deadliest of our seven sins. That's because in the worst cases, people gamble their houses and life savings away.

THE WORKS

You may have ticked one or two of these boxes, and perhaps been given pause for thought.

But what about the sinner who does it all?

The coffee-swilling, chain-smoking, permanently sozzled boozehound with a penchant for patent leather shoes and hoovering lines of coke from prostitutes' navels in the casino toilet block?

The pricetag for the full rock'n'roller lifestyle runs to at least $30,000 a year - but at that point, you've probably got other things to worry about.

NEED HELP?

If you're concerned about the cost – financial or otherwise – of a bad habit, contact the following organisations:

Federation of Family Budgeting Services: familybudgeting.org.nz/find-a-budgeting-service/

Quitline: quit.org.nz, 0800 778 778 Alcohol and Drugs helpline: alcoholdrughelp.org.nz, 0800 787 797

Problem Gambling Foundation: pgfnz.org.nz, 0800 664 262

Sex Addicts Anonymous (Auckland): 12steps.co.nz/Sex—Addicts—Anonymous.php, 09 377 1800

- © Fairfax NZ News

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