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In Search of Perfect

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!


  1. I agree, everyone has their vices. The main problem that I have with others smoking is mainly because my father passed away partly from lung cancer due to smoking. So I know first hand what it does to a family. However, I have my own vices so I don't judge.

  2. Cannot agree more. I tolerate it when people who actually care about me (i.e. my parents, my oldest son) scold me about smoking – they love me and worry about me. I say, 'Eventually, something will kill me.' I smoke the cheapest ultra-lights, didn't smoke when I was pregnant, don't smoke around my kids, and I don't get any kind of pubic assistance, so GTFO. I never get fast food, I cook all my meals and try to eat all the super-foods (I'm a spinach-aholic). I think you can choose one or two vices, but you can't have ALL of the vices. So tired of the judgment.

  3. Why isolate the pros (?) and cons of smoking within just a money issue? I agree $5/day on a vice is a "want" and virtually everyone indulges wants. Well, for most smoking is an addiction in a different way than other spending habits are addictions so it may be more difficult to cut that want if it proves necessary. But come on! Smoking is all downsides – it's smelly/offensive, it damages your and others' health in myriad ways (for many, to death), it's time-consuming, it isolates you from society. I agree the health damage is comparable to that of bad nutrition, but while the country still remains hopelessly confused about what to eat, we at least have figured out just how terrible smoking is.

    • Smoking really disgusts me, but most people know how bad it is and know they should quit. I don't know that we have to keep telling them. In my case, it causes friction to keep bringing it up. I have accepted that my dad wil never quit smoking and have moved on. It's not worth spending the few visits I get with my family family dwelling on the negative.

      • Kudos, to you, Kim, for writing this article! I think we know what to eat, we just don't want to change our habits. The same with drinking. We know it's bad for us (at least in excess,) but it remains a socially acceptable habit, especially among young adults. At least considerably moreso than smoking. I don't know that it necessarily isolates you from society. I know one girl who met her future boss during a cigarette break. Ultimately, that break landed her a job. I'm not promoting smoking either, but personal finance decisions are just that: personal.

  4. Don't move to Canada where a pack of smokes costs $12 and a pack-day-smoker's habit approaches $400 per month… My partner's "habit" drives me crazy – I can't believe all the money that is (in my opinion) wasted!!

  5. When I moved in with my previous roommate, my boyfriend had quit smoking… then he started up again. One day he went out to smoke and she said, "You're gonna let him do that?" I said, "Let him? He's a grown man. He's allowed to smoke." Of course I wish he would quit, because I want him around as long as possible. When he was unemployed, I hated that he spent money on cigarettes but we had to skip going out. But he probably doesn't love it when I eat french fries and skip workouts, or buy $22 lipstick when I still have debt, and he never says a thing.

  6. I guess I have to be the black sheep as always. I am the eat right, exercise regularly, don't have cable or eat fast food (except if I can't make it home or special occasions), I don't even like cake for my birthday, so I don't see a difference between smoking, drinking, gambling, watching pay-per-view, satellite dish, or anything else that is a money suck and isn't a need. BUT I do see that everyone has priorities and they can spend their money where they want.

    If they want the full on sports package (OK that might be cool lol) or to put their daughters in pageants, or god forbid smoke, then let them. My father is an alcoholic/workaholic and there is no changing his mind. He is just like anyone else out there when dealing with money and says he works hard and can have a beer at home after work, because he has earned it.

    I completely disagree with the mind set, but I don't have cable or smoke or drink or even eat out. I don't do it because it wouldn't be fun, but because I will do anything to finish college and pay for it while being debt free. Some might disagree with me and put me down, but I don't see the point of putting anyone down. Who the f cares what they do or don't do with their money. I have been reading financial blogs long enough to love all the DIFFERENT sides of managing money. I know how to not use a credit card, be debt free, and follow the rules, but instead I would rather be given some rule breakers so I can see how other people live and then I can make myself feel better with my personal choices rather than putting someone else down. Maybe, just maybe someone (myself included) might learn something new from these different/black sheep people.

  7. I give smokers the death stare and make comments for one reason: they’re smoking near me where I am being hurt by THEIR secondhand smoke.

    If you want to do it at home in your own time, whatever. But don’t risk MY lungs (especially because I have asthma) when I want to go outside for some fresh air or sit outside because it’s a nice night out. I hate going outside and being greeted instantly by a cloud of smoke, where I begin needing to rummage through my purse for an inhaler. Or I’m trying to have dinner and smokers come out and smoke right over your table. Ugh.

    THAT is my problem with smokers and their vice. It’s fine if it harms you but don’t harm my lungs. Your vice should never put others in danger. Go smoke in your own apartment and stink that up.

    • I don't think that was the point of the post. It is more about people's choices and their ideas on how they spend money. I don't see how being mean to people on forums about smoking would make any difference, only cause people to dislike you.

      I too have asthma, but I don't blast people online about their vices. Who the hell cares, but if they come around me and sit and smoke, then I understand your side and how it could affect you. Then I too would come unglued and tell them to get the hell away from me.

    • I agree with you Jan. People who eat junk food don't harm my body, so while it's not something I would do myself, I say to each their own. However, when it comes to smoking, I don't care how much money people waste buying their disgusting death sticks, I don't care how much they pollute their own lungs. I do care when it affects me, and I have no choice but to breathe the air around me. When you pollute MY lungs, I'm gonna judge.

  8. Veronica Hill says

    Life is mysterious in it's own ways in deciding who lives and who dies. Although I typically avoid smokers (even a small conversation is a no-can do for me), I don't tell them that smoking is bad for them. Hey, it's your life, live it the way you want to. I don't care if you die at 45, I don't care if you have cancer, I don't care that you don't care that I do. But what I do care about is your smoke getting into my lungs. If this is not an issue then I won't insult you or give you any advice. A grown person should can treat their body any way they like and nobody (unless you're family) should be able to tell you what to do with it. Kim, such a great post… you had me going to the end. You should be really proud of your dad (and it seems you are). Do what makes you happy and don't let others' stares put a stain on your happiness.

  9. plantingourpennies says

    I'm okay with your vice as long as you aren't hurting anyone other than yourself. And smoking around non-smokers can have some pretty adverse effects – my brother had really bad asthma as a kid that virtually stopped when my dad stopped smoking. I don't give death stares, but I do get up and walk away if someone lights up near me. No offense, I just like breathing.

  10. I guess my question would be is smoking really honestly enjoyable or does it just get rid of the need for nicotine? It is an honest question because I have never smoked and don't intend to try. So I guess do smokers aactually enjoy smoking or is it just a habit to feed the chemical dependency?

  11. bluecollarworkman says

    Well, I certainly agree that as a society we can harshly judge people, and this harsh judgment shifts with time. Judgment and fingerpointing now is at smokers and at parents who aren't over-involved in their kids' lives… I think in times past people were harshly judged for divorce, for not smoking… we're always judging eachother and our judgments shift with time. It all sorta sucks. I think people should stay in their own cookie jar, their own sandbox, their own arena…which is to say, mind your own business. Everytime you want to judge someone for smoking, being overweight, being poor or whatever, think about yourself and everything you coudl improve upon instead.

    • It is human nature to judge for whatever reason. If I see a grossly overweight person, I tend to think they are lazy, but then maybe find out they have been working hard and have already lost 100lbs. You just never quite know a persons' reasons. I am very judgmental for those who use the system to their advantage and continue endulging in their bad habits. That just seems wrong.

  12. Newlyweds ona Budget says

    I don't think you can even compare smoking to pay per view.

    honestly, i simply kinda look down at people who smoke because i feel like they're uneducated. Knowing everything we know about smoking–it doesn't supply ONE good trait. At least red wine has its benefits in moderation, and fast food is still nourishment in some form–but there is no such positive for smoking. Not a single one. The bottom line is I really don't care if you smoke or where you spend your money, but I have every right to look down on it. I mean, it's not like you really care what anyone else thinks though or else you would have stopped doing it.

    • My dad certainly has never cared what people think. I do think if you get hooked on something when you are very young, you may not know or have the capability to reason that this is bad for your future. That's why, as parents, it is our job to educate our kids and not stick our heads in the sand and assume they will always make the right choice.

  13. I have a lot of opinions (surprise surprise). I'll sum it up with one phrase:

    "Health: The slowest possible way to die."

  14. My biggest annoyance with smokers is that many of them think they have a right to smoke wherever and that "no smoking" laws are infringing on their rights. When I eat fast food, it doesn't cause affect anyone else's health. But when someone is smoking near me, it does make me cough. Even the smell is unpleasant. I hope that all smokers are aware that everyone has a right to clean air and that they keep smoking to their own private spaces.

  15. kimateyesonthedollar says

    Thanks, Andrea for letting me guest post. It looks like I stirred up some opinions, which is always a good thing. Hope your trip to Denver is great.

  16. Interesting… but I still disagree. Smoking — and other vices — place an unnecessary burden on the healthcare system, and that is expensive for a country which is in turn expensive for its citizens. Obviously this is a little different in the US vs. Canada and other countries, but I really think its a waste of resources to treat preventable illnesses. Obesity is a much bigger problem than smoking, but its all in the same vein. It takes a ridiculous number of dollars, doctors, and equipment to treat heart disease, lung cancer, strokes, pre-mature births, etc. that are all side effects of smoking.

    Smoking provides absolutely NO tangible benefit, to the smoker and especially to those around him/her. In fact, it hurts EVERYBODY.

    As already pointed out by another commenter, in Canada smoking will cost you $300-$400/mo. This is to account for the ridiculous burden they put on the healthcare system, which the citizens of the entire country pay for.

  17. Great debate and i agree that smoking is probably no better than over eating, or participating in extreme sports where you are more likely to get injured. The truth is that we all do things that place our health at risk. The only major issue I have with smoking is that the smoke itself doesn't just damage the smoker but also those around them. Excellent post

  18. I think their are some smokers who give others a bad name as with any group (like those who abuse the welfare system vs. those who have a real need) it's one's who smoke in front of other people not caring that it could bother them or those who always leave their cigeratte butts littering up the beachs, highways, walkways and more. I think every person is entitled to their vices i agree but not everyone is as smart as your dad to have some kind of health plan & insurance in place. It hurts us when we see someone we love hurting from diseases that could have been prevented.

  19. I think why smoking is more than just another annoying habit is the fact that it is harmful to others who are around you or will be going through that space even if the smoker isn't there.. it's like saying why are people upset about my nuclear waste I'm dumping it's my yard.. why don't smokers smoke without the filter and keep the smoke in there mouth the whole time that the cig is lit? just venting a little.. a bad habit becomes an addiction problem when it starts to affect others around that person..

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