When I started smoking in my teen years, I could buy a pack of cigarettes with the change I found tucked under the couch cushions in our living room or in the bottom of my mother’s purse. But when a pack of cigarettes hit $1.25, I decided it was time to quit. As a reinforcement to help me break the habit, I decided I would place the $1.25 I would have spent on each pack of cigarettes each day into a coffee can. At the end of the month I had $37.50. I “rewarded” myself by buying a sweater with the money. Not only is the reinforcement reward system a great way to help break a bad habit, I also taught myself something about savings.

By not smoking, I had $37.50 at the end of one month. Continuing on that path, I had $75 at the end of two months, and $450 at the end of the year. If I were putting that $37.50 in an average investment fund with an 8% annual return on investment, at the end of the first year I would have had $467. Continuing to save, in 5 years my kicked smoking habit would have resulted in an investment account of $2,755.

Now let’s shift into today’s numbers. If you happen to currently be a smoker, let’s say you’re spending $7 for your pack a day habit. If you quit, your one-year return on your savings in our hypothetical investment fund would be $2,614. The five-year return would be $15,430. That’s a great deal of money that would have literally gone up in smoke.

There are a number of points that could be made here, but I think the one I’d like to close with is simple … that is, we make choices. We forgo one choice in exchange for another all of the time. Is it worth an extra dollar or two for the ‘organic” option at the grocery store? Do we mow our own lawn or pay for lawn care? When you say to yourself that a certain restaurant is too expensive, or a full price piece of clothing is too expensive, you are making choices about how you will spend your money. Now, I understand that some choices aren’t always perceived as choices (smoking, for example, is addictive). But if you think about it, you’ll come to realize that there is choice involved in all of our financial decisions.