This is a guest post from Kim at Eyes on the Dollar, where she blogs about her family’s journey to control spending and focus on the future. Kim is helping me out while I’m gone to Denver, so please show her some love and go visit her site!
Today, I’m in search of the perfect person. It won’t be me. I’m unable to keep the dog hair off my couch. I cook frozen pizza for my family at least once every two weeks. I sometimes take my daughter to McDonalds, and we watch way too much mindless TV (Texas Storage Wars is on right now). I do see in the blogosphere that certain vices tend to evoke more ire than others. If someone is brave enough to admit that they eat out too much or gamble or heaven forbid, smoke, the wrath of the scathing comments begin.
So let’s look at the smokers. If you smoke a pack a day, we’ll conservatively say that costs $5 a day. While we all know that smoking is bad for your health, let’s also look at the person who eats lunch out every day. You could also bet that person is spending at least $5 each day. While neither would win saver of the year, can you guess who would be pummeled the most? I’m certainly not advocating smoking. It does horrible things your body, and I’ve seen tons of people lose vision to early macular degeneration related to smoking. Before we crucify someone, though, we need to look at their circumstances.
Take for instance the story of two brothers born less than a year apart. Both grew up in rural Kentucky and attended high school in the 1960’s. Both started smoking in high school. Most people did. Tobacco was the number one cash crop at the time, so you were supporting the local economy.
Fast forward to 30 years later. Both brothers are in their 40’s, and both still smoke. One has become a successful business owner in the same small town. The other left as soon as he could and lives in New Orleans, rarely coming home. He’s thrice divorced, making him the black sheep of this very religious family.
A call comes in one day. The prodigal son is coming home. He has advanced throat cancer, is unable to work anymore, and needs someone to take care of him. Southern families are very forgiving, so he goes home to live with his parents. By this time, he has had surgery on his throat and is no longer able to eat or drink by swallowing. Meals consist of liquids that go through a feeding tube cut into his stomach. His 60-something mother has to keep the tube clean make sure the correct amount of nutrients is dispensed each day. He lasts about a year and passes away at the age of 47.
The other brother stops smoking for a while, but as in all the other failed attempts to quit in the past, he’s just unable to kick the habit. Presently at age 64, he still goes to work every day and is in moderately good health. He has had to endure two aneurism surgeries, two carotid artery surgeries, and a mild stroke within the past ten years. After every procedure, he stops smoking for a few weeks, but always starts again. You could also argue that eating too much good Southern cooking has contributed to his health issues. Some people have more than one vice.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the two brothers are my dad and my deceased uncle. It used to drive me crazy that my dad couldn’t or wouldn’t stop smoking. He is an educated man and has obviously seen the other side of the coin. He got the winning lottery ticket, while his brother picked the wrong numbers.
Recently, though, I’ve had a reversal in my opinion. He is a grown man. He has no debt. He has savings and insurance to support my mother if something happens to him. His children are grown. My dad is a workaholic. He has always left the house before six A.M. and returned at seven or eight P.M. He has started, managed, and sold three successful businesses throughout his career. Currently he is working as a contractor, having sold his last business for more than enough to have a comfortable retirement.
However, he can’t imagine golden years of shuffle board and golf. I was talking to him on my last visit home, trying to plant some seeds that maybe it’s time to slow down and find some hobbies. His answer to me was that he never intends to stop working. Although he didn’t say it, it was implied that he will work until he drops. If he were to have an illness that caused him to be disabled, I don’t suspect he would last that long. He has a pretty strong will when he has his head set on something.
The long meandering point I’m trying to make is why not? Why can’t a man who can afford his vices, is aware of the risk, and has no one relying on him continue to do what makes him happy? If smoking gives him joy, I think he is entitled to it.
Now, I don’t think it is OK to spend $200 a month on cigarettes and draw public assistance. I don’t think you should complain about your child having severe asthma while you drive down the road with your cigarettes burning and the windows rolled up. I think we all have our vices. I also think it is very easy to get on our high horse and tell others what they should and shouldn’t do. Show me someone perfect who eats only for nutrition, exercises 30-60 minutes a day, has no debt, maxes out their retirement, and has a fully funded 539 plan for their children, and I’ll listen. Otherwise, it’s fine to offer encouragement in a nice way, but let’s don’t beat someone up because they have a different breed of monkey on their back than yours.
Andrea’s note: As a smoker, I’ve been on the receiving end of more death stares and rude comments than I care to count. I’m aware that smoking costs me $90 or so a month and that it’s bad for me. That said, I have never understood why my habit is any worse than spending $90 a month on fast food, alcohol, boxing pay-per-views, or anything else. It’s a choice, but it’s my money so it’s my choice to make. Until I ask others to pay my bills, it’s really none of their business!