The 9 Most Expensive Vices We’re All Spending Too Much Money On

We all have our vices, but do we ever stop to think about what they cost us? Spending money on them might be impacting our financial lives in ways we aren’t even aware.
Last updated May 25, 2023 | By Kate Daugherty Edited By Becca Borawski Jenkins
The 9 Most Expensive Vices We’re All Spending Too Much Money On

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We all have indulgences we know aren’t good for us. Visits to coffee shops or fast-food places aren’t the end of the world, but they can cost us in ways we don’t always notice. In addition to affecting our health, our bad habits can take a toll on our savings accounts and budgets.

Having vices is normal, but they can turn into big money mistakes when we let them control our lives. Although most things in moderation are absolutely fine, becoming aware of their effects on your life and budget can be eye-opening.

Below are some of the most expensive vices we encounter in our everyday lives and the incredible amounts we spend on them.

In this article

The 9 most expensive vices (and how much they’re costing us)

1. Smoking

Smoking has been on the decline for several years but is still a vice for many Americans. Although cigarette sales declined in 2019, we still spent about $6 billion in the U.S., and e-cigarette use grew by 122%.

According to the CDC, in 2017 packs of cigarettes ranged in price from $4.62 in Missouri to $10.67 in New York. If you only purchase a pack a week at $4.62, it still amounts to more than $200 a year, and if you smoke a pack a day, that’s more than $1,686.30 every year.

Meanwhile, vaping is growing in popularity, and so is the amount we spend on it each month. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that some people spend around $250 a month on vaping, with $50 to $75 being average. That amounts to $600 to $900 every year.

Potential cost of this vice: $1,686.30 per year

2. Alcohol

A few adult beverages with friends now and then or to celebrate a significant milestone with your partner isn’t a bad thing, but some of us take our happy hours a little too far.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 we spent an average of $549 per person on alcoholic beverages. Additionally, according to a CDC report, excessive drinking costs taxpayers $249 billion every year in lost productivity, health care costs, and legal fees. It’s also responsible for up to 95,000 deaths annually.

Even having a moderate two drinks a week can cost anywhere between $10 and $25, depending on what you order. That becomes $40 to $100 a month, or up to $1,200 per year. Instead of spending that money on drinking, that amount would give you a nice head start on your emergency fund or help put a dent in your student loan or credit card debt.

Potential cost of this vice: $1,200 per year

3. Gambling and lottery tickets

When we think of gambling, many of us probably think of slot machines, Las Vegas, and card games. But gambling comes in many forms, including lottery tickets, sports betting, raffles, or even bingo games.

Not all gambling is a night at a casino, but it can be just as costly. Americans spent an average of $69.52 per person on lottery tickets in 2018, while people between the ages of 65 and 74 spent almost double that ($132.43).

According to Wonderopolis, a department of the National Center for Families Learning, the standard odds of winning the lottery is 1 in 14 million, so you’d be better off saving or learning how to invest money.

Potential cost of this vice: $132.43 per year on lottery tickets alone

4. Retail therapy

Indulging in a bit of retail therapy can be a fun distraction when you’re having a tough day, but all those stress purchases can quickly add up.

As of April 2020, Americans were spending $182.98 a month on average on impulse shopping. Although we (probably) don’t do that every month, if we did, we’d be spending $2,195.76 a year that could be added to our emergency funds or debt reduction.

As you think about how to manage your money better, try sticking to a shopping list or removing your credit card information from online shopping portals so you have to type it in manually to make a purchase. These could both be easy ways to bypass emotion-based shopping.

Potential cost of this vice: $2,195.76 per year

5. Fast food

Approximately 36% percent of Americans eat fast food on any given day, and we eat out one to three times per week. When we go to fast-food restaurants, we also probably spend more than the average cost of $6 per meal.

That may not seem like very much, but when you multiply out all those drive-through visits, you could be paying up to $936 a year even at the average meal cost.

If we’re looking for how to save money and improve our health, cutting down on dining out, especially at fast-food establishments, can be a great way to make some changes.

Potential cost of this vice: $936 per year

6. Soda

Soda seems relatively harmless in the financial sense of things, but it can take a significant toll, both on our health and our wallets.

Using myself as an example, last year I was drinking three to four 12-ounce sodas a day, almost every day. My local grocery store has an eight-pack of 12-ounce bottles of my preferred brand for $4.49 plus tax, or roughly 57 cents a bottle.

Three of those a day is only $1.71, but that meant that every month I spent $51.30 just on sodas. That comes out to me spending $615.60 every year on something that’s not doing anything for my health or my wallet.

Now, did I give up all soda forever after working out the math? No, but I did cut back, and both my waistline and savings account are much happier.

Potential cost of this vice: $615.60

7. Speeding

Speeding can be tempting when we’re in a hurry, but having a lead foot can cost you a lot of money.

The cost of a speeding ticket varies based on the state you live in and how fast you were going, but it could range anywhere from $20 in Oklahoma to $135 in Colorado for going up to 15 mph over the posted speed limit. And not only do you have to pay the cost of the ticket, and any relevant court costs, but your auto insurance rate is also likely to increase.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, speeding is also the leading behavior associated with fatal crashes (17.2%).

So the best way to save money on car insurance might just be to slow down.

Potential cost of this vice: $135 per ticket

8. Coffee

Daily coffee can be a fun treat on your way to work or a needed pick-me-up on a rough day.

At Starbucks, a medium Cafe Americano costs $3.35 to $3.95, depending on the part of the country you’re in. If you make that purchase every workday, you’re looking at $16.75 to $19.75 per week coming out of your budget. That’s $871 to $1,027 a year for your plain cup of joe or even more for the fancy seasonal drinks.

If you need a pick-me-up, consider making your coffee at home and bringing it with you. It’s much less expensive, and you also get to control what you put in it.

Potential cost of this vice: $871-$1,027

9. Beauty and hair care

Although looking as good as we feel is important to many of us, it’s also essential to remember that beauty tends to come with a hefty price tag. In 2019, Americans spent $786 on salon visits, manicures, and grooming supplies, and some of us spent much more than that.

If you’re someone who feels compelled to get a manicure or pedicure every couple weeks, you could be looking at spending $50 to $100 per month (the broad price range of a basic manicure is $20 to $50, and $35 to $40 for a pedicure) and that expense can go up based on the services requested. With that kind of cost, you’re looking at spending $600 to $1,200 per year on just your nails alone.

Potential cost of this vice: $1,200

How to live healthier without spending a ton

So after seeing how much you could be saving by giving up or cutting back on your favorite vices, how about a bit of good news? Living healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. Below are some tips to help you offset the cost of some of the habits above and help you start developing the habit of saving.

Use a credit card that earns rewards

A rewards credit card allows you to earn on your routine purchases, such as groceries, gas, or other essentials, and that puts money back in your wallet or earns you points toward travel. Make sure you pay off your balance in full every month; otherwise, the interest will negate any cashback or travel benefits.

If you make a conscious decision to continue spending on one of your vices, consider using one of these credit cards to help you earn cash back or travel rewards:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: This card is one of the most recommended travel cards out there, with a great welcome offer and generous rewards points on various everyday spending categories, as well as perks on a Peloton digital membership or equipment purchase to help you get a jump on your healthier habits.
  • Citi® Double Cash Card: This card earns you 2% on every purchase with unlimited 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. So whether you're spending on a gym membership or healthier food options, you get cash back on every purchase you make.

Use a cashback shopping app

Easy-to-use-apps such as Ibotta or Drop help you find the best prices available and earn some cash. Check out our list of the best money saving apps to learn more, or read our Ibotta review and Drop review.

Challenge yourself to abstain

Try not partaking in one of the vices listed above for a month (or longer). Open a high-yield savings account and put all the money you save into that account. Check out our list of the best savings accounts to get an idea of the perks and interest rates these accounts offer.

Try putting an indulgence tax on your purchases

Instead of abstaining completely from your favorite vice, you could put the same amount that you spend on your purchase into your savings account. For example, if I buy a cup of coffee for $5, I would put $5 into my savings account as well, essentially taxing myself for indulging. If your budget can handle it, you can enjoy your habit on occasion while still building up your savings.

Bottom line

None of these habits are inherently wrong (except maybe speeding) but doing them to the point that they severely impact your financial life and/or health may have them crossing over into vice territory.

You might find that an experiment where you go 30 days without your favorite coping mechanism leads you to healthier options, or at the very least, makes you more mindful when you choose to indulge.

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Author Details

Kate Daugherty Kate Daugherty is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in personal finance, grant writing, and senior health.