Stub out the smokes and blow away debt

Last updated 05:00 13/07/2014

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Back in my high school days, the black market rate for a sneaky cigarette out on the rugby field was a standard $1.

For the young entrepreneurs plying their fellow students with tobacco, there was a decent profit margin to be made.

These days the risk of getting hauled into the principal's office wouldn't be worth the reward, unless the going rate has been hiked dramatically.

Smoking has always been an expensive habit. Government tax increases mean that in a couple of years, cigarettes will cost at least $1 each, if they don't already. By the time you've smoked a pack, you might as well have rolled up a $20 note and set fire to it.

Most smokers try to kick the habit for health reasons, rather than money. But it's becoming more and more difficult to turn a blind eye to the financial cost.

Rewind to the start of the year, when most of us were bursting both with holiday food and New Year's resolutions.

January is always Quitline's busiest month, and this year it was a double whammy, as the usual resolutioners were joined by the cost-conscious.

Those who signed up for the patches, joined the support groups, and stuck it out have now sworn off the durries for six months. That's a long enough time for even the heaviest smokers to wave goodbye to all their withdrawal symptoms.

How much would they have saved so far? A pack-a-day smoker burns their way though about $140 a week, $600 a month and $7200 a year. For those who haven't touched tobacco for six months, that's a $3600 saving.

That's more than enough to take a decent overseas holiday, or find some other way to reward yourself for your commitment.

But if you choose to turn your money towards more productive purposes, the upfront savings are only the start.

Coincidentally, $3600 is also roughly the same amount the average New Zealander owes on their credit card. With interest rates as high as 18-20 per cent, it would take more than four years to get rid of that sum by making the minimum repayments.

But if you'd added all your smoking savings onto that minimum rate since the start of the year, two amazing things would have happened by now.

First off, you'd be totally debt-free right now. You could cut up your credit card and throw it away, and never have to worry about another mini heart-attack when opening your statement.

Secondly, you would have saved a whopping $1428 in interest payments, compared to paying the minimum over several years.

That means your total savings are more like $5000 - and all in the space of six months.

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Apply the same sort of money magic to kicking the habit for life, and the numbers start to get ridiculously huge.

One simple change can truly make all the difference between financial success and failure.

Hardened smokers don't often tend to be swayed by the money argument. But next time you're lighting up, it's definitely something to think about.

- Sunday News

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