What I’d Spend My Money On If I Quit Smoking Cigarettes

by Megan Reynolds

I started smoking cigarettes like the rest of us did, in the back alley of a candy shop in the center of my hometown with my friends on break from their jobs, gamely inhaling and hiding my coughs, and then quietly slipping into addiction. I quit once. It was my senior year of college, during a horrible breakup. I weaned myself off by drinking lots of water, eating frozen grapes, and crying silently while watching the Food Network. When I quit smoking that time, cigarettes were still cheap — under $10 where I lived in Boston and even less in California, where I eventually moved. I started smoking again, naturally, after the move, claiming that the stress of graduating from college and moving across country was too much for me to bear.

It’s not a healthy habit. It’s not a good habit. It’s one that I know is bad for me, but I’ve been smoking for so long that it seems a part of me. Giving that up feels tantamount to surrendering a part of myself, which is a terrible way to look at an activity that is horrible for my body. The idea of quitting sits in the back of my mind, holding a boot to the throat of my craving, doing everything in its power to prevent me from buying another pack. There’s always a reason not to quit, but there’s one very sold reason to do so: money.

I think about money more than I think about smoking. At this point in my life, I’ve managed to compartmentalize my emotions and financial anxiety about this filthy habit. I’m acutely aware of the balance in my checking account. Cigarettes in New York cost, on average, $13 a pack. When I share this fact with out of town guests, they guffaw and slap the table. “How do you do it here?” they’ll say, shaking their heads and taking a deep, satisfying drag off a cigarette purchased for a cute $5.50 in their state. “I’d quit if it cost that much!”

Thirteen dollars is the reason that when people bum a cigarette from you on the street, they shuffle slowly towards you, head down, a lighter in one hand and a dollar bill in the other. I’ve seen people reject the proffered dollar. I always take it.

Smoking costs a lot of money. The idea of sifting through my bank statements and assessing the damage done by just one year’s worth of money spent on being a smoker in New York makes me want a cigarette. I know how much money it is, roughly. I don’t need to see the actual, real amount. I prefer to live in a state of blissful semi-ignorance.

“It’s crazy to me that you smoke,” a friend said to me one day. “You’re so worried about money! How do you do this and still feel okay about it?”

Sometimes it seems easier to stay in thrall of your addiction instead of facing yourself free of its grasp. The money itself doesn’t feel noticeable, and it isn’t, really. My spending patterns indicate that I am much more comfortable frittering away the money I make in tiny increments: a $10 magazine-candy-bar-seltzer purchase here; a $24 three-shirts-on-sale purchase there. Spending big money on one thing feels worse. I’m much happier spreading the money out, blanketing my life with my stupid purchases, than I am gathering $200 or $300 and throwing it with reckless abandon at something. Thirteen dollars for an item that doesn’t last me that long and needs to be constantly replenished is actually the biggest waste of money I can think of. On days when I think about quitting, there are a lot of things I know that money could buy:

  • A solo trip to Amsterdam during which I acquire a taste for speculoos, smoke a lot of pot and get over my fear of bicycling in cities.
  • A Crock-pot.
  • Bedding that falls somewhere between Ikea and Frette.
  • My student loans, my credit card and that dentist bill, paid on time every month.
  • A two-week trip to Taiwan where I could eat a lot of food, see some family and learn how to ride a motor scooter.
  • Whatever you need to do to get a license as a 33-year-old adult.
  • An apartment that isn’t shared with three other people. Just one would suffice.
  • Bath towels, winter gloves and lipstick of a higher quality than I currently own.
  • Taking Amtrak instead of Metro-North when I go visit my father.
  • Tights that are actually warm.
  • Forty-two dollar leggings that wouldn’t fall apart after a week.
  • Cab rides, without feeling guilty about it.
  • Salmon — a big, hulking slab — cooked in the oven, on Sundays, with a glass of white wine.
  • Eyelash extensions.
  • Absolved guilt after going to the grocery store and spending more than $35 in one go.
  • Dance classes and more of those little rings that I always lose.
  • A robust supply of the chia pudding that costs an inexplicable $3 a cup, and, is, therefore, a treat.
  • Perfume.
  • Peace of mind-ish about my health.
  • A false peace of mind about my checking account.
  • The same shit I bought before, just in greater quantities.

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.