Thursday, July 31

Cutting back

The next few days are going to be intense: Tim is quitting smoking.

He was a smoker when we met, but since he has asthma he wanted to stop. Fall of 2006 he quit and stayed a non-smoker until right before the wedding. The stress of being unemployed and getting married apparently combined to form a new smoking habit. Then, at the end of the honeymoon, we found out his grandmother had died. So I didn't push the quitting issue when we first got back.

He's been trying off and on again for about a month, to increasing frustration on my part. When he started lying about smoking, it was the last straw and we had it out. I told him that if he was going to be a smoker, be a smoker. But that he needed to decide and the excuse that it's too hard and "now's not a good time" wouldn't work any more. There never will be a good time, I told him.

So he started again on the cold-turkey plan... and smoked a cigarette around 11 p.m. that same night. But, in his defense, he did the adult thing and made a doctor's appointment to see about medications.

Turns out there are two, besides the patch (which wouldn't stick to Tim's skin because of all the lotion he uses for his eczema): Wellbutrin and Chantix.

Wellbutrin is actually an anti-depressant that targets anxiety, and obviously there's plenty of anxiety when you're quitting any bad habit. Interestingly, though, the stop-smoking program is called "Zyban." It's exactly the same as Wellbutrin used for depression, except that it's often not covered by insurance companies (or barely covered). So the doctor told us to be quite sure we didn't so much as breathe a word about nicotine. Otherwise, pharmacists literally have to give you Zyban instead of Wellbutrin.

Chantix, the doctor warned us, was far more expensive and barely covered by most insurance plans. This drug takes away the actual nicotine cravings but not the anxiety.

The third option, the doctor said, was to take some mild tranquilizers for three days -- which is how long it takes nicotine to work its way out of your system.

Miser that I am, I prayed Tim would want the Wellbutrin; but I told him whichever he thought would help him better was worth any amount. Luckily, he chose Wellbutrin (yay!)

I've agreed to give up candy/desserts in solidarity. He said part of the problem is he feels alone when he quits. I offered to give up sugar altogether, but since he's the cook he really didn't want that hassle. So, I'm okay to eat fruit and drink juices. But anything that can be construed as a dessert -- even sugar-free stuff -- is nixed. I've been trying to wean myself off junk food more anyway. So, as I pointed out to him, we're both doing something we don't like in order to help our health. My only caveat is that I get sugar on my birthday, no matter what. But as that's 18 days away, I'm none too worried.

So why am I posting this on a frugal blog? Well, firstly because I sometimes forget that others don't find minutae of my life as fascinating as I do.

But more because I think this is a good time to stop and think about how much vices cost. For me, it's junk food. That's expensive stuff. Yes, it can cost a lot to eat healthily, and fruit is often not cheap. But when it comes to desserts, the prices are getting ludicrous. Relatively small bags of mini-Snickers cost upwards of $5 in the grocery store. I don't care how badly I'm craving chocolate/peanut/nougat goodness, I'm not paying that for a fix! Combine that with the shrinking product packaging (and no corresponding price-shrinkage) and it's just too expensive to be a junk-foodie.

My hope is that after a few weeks of no sugary snacks, I'll realize that I can be perfectly satisfied without them, and so can buy less. So assuming I spend, say, $10 a week on junk food (and I'm sure it's often been significantly more), if I can cut down to junk food just once or twice a week I can spend probably just $5. Over the course of a year, that's $260 that I've saved -- and countless calories!

And Tim's cigarettes? A $5 pack every two days means more than $900 a year! So these changes could have a huge impact on our debt. Granted, we have to figure out a way to save the money, and not fritter it away on other things...

What luxury or vice do you spend too much on? How much could you stand to cut back and how much would it save?

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