The Financial Benefits of Giving up Alcohol

In my youth, I liked to live life well and, admittedly, to excess. My friends and I ate out often and we did not limit ourselves to salad and sparkling water. We enjoyed fine meals that we could not afford and the full range of alcoholic beverages that the world’s distilleries, wineries and breweries had to offer.

By the time I was in my early twenties, I had gone from drinking Riunite on ice (That’s Nice!) and Schlitz with my high school friends on the beach to building a wine cellar full of bottles that I had identified in Wine Spectator magazine. The beers and ales that I enjoyed came from microbreweries and I was spending as much on a six pack as I previously had spent on a case. When I wanted to relax at the end of the day, I would decant a bottle of Macallan’s Scotch or enjoy a cocktail with a high end vodka or gin. I had become a student of alcohol and its consumption and, although I rarely drank to excess (perhaps three times in my life, all of which I painfully remember and regret), I was hurting myself in more ways than I realized.

By the time I was in my thirties, my wife and I had a substantial liquor closet. I was also significantly overweight, had high blood sugar and no muscle tone. When my wife and I looked at our weekly expenditures, we realized that we were spending more than $100 per week on alcohol, and much more if we went out to dinner and ordered a bottle of wine.

My wife and I realized that we could live much more healthily and put our money to much better use if we just stopped drinking. Neither of us enjoyed being around people who drank to excess and neither of us felt particularly good about ourselves when we drank “empty” calories. We also wanted to buy a new car and giving up wine and other alcoholic beverages seemed like a good trade.

So instantly and completely, we gave up wine and spirits. We agreed that when we went out to eat, we would not order from the bar. When we were at home, we would not drink any more alcohol. We would only purchase alcohol when we needed it for a recipe that called for it. The transition was easy for us and the benefits were substantial.

As soon as I gave up alcohol, I saw immediate benefits. Even on days when I previously might have had a single glass of wine, I would feel less than wonderful when I got up the next day. After I stopped unwinding with a drink at night, I began to feel great each day when I woke up and I became much less reliant on my alarm clock to get me out of bed. I also dropped several pounds in the following two years without any real effort (although I needed to make other dietary changes in order to get back to the weight that I needed to reach).

From the perspective of sensible spending, giving up alcohol had significant benefits. We immediately saved the $100 or more per week that we had been spending on alcohol. That more than covered the monthly car payment plus insurance for the car that we purchased at the time. There were unexpected financial (and health) benefits as well. For example, because we were not ordering “drinks” when we went out to eat, we found that we really did not feel the need to order appetizers, either. We realized that we had been ordering appetizers primarily because we were hungry and did not want to finish our food before we had finished our wine. Without wine, we could move right on to the main course!

We also found it interesting that our social opportunities declined a great deal after we gave up alcohol because, it seemed, that for most of the people we knew, “going out” usually meant going out for drinks or dinner and drinks. Our invitations declined and our social costs decreased materially. (Of course, we found that we enjoyed having more time for “us” so this was also the beginning of our non-social way of life).

Being teetotalers does not make us prohibitionists, of course. If you enjoy the responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages, I do not stand in judgment of you. That said, have you really taken the time to consider the cost of drinking beer, wine and spirits? Do you find that such beverages are really worth the cost and the empty calories? Have you ever tried to give up alcohol for a day? A week? A month?

Where does alcohol fit in your budget? Do you think you are a moderate drinker? A casual drinker? A heavy drinker? A prohibitionist? Where do you fit on the spectrum and how much do you think is reasonable. Would you rather enjoy a fine aged Scotch or a case of cheap beer? Does quality matter?

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6 Responses to The Financial Benefits of Giving up Alcohol

  1. baselle says:

    I seem to remember a creepy fact from the National Geographic about 15 years ago:

    The average American male gets about 20% of his daily calories via alcohol.

    For me: maybe a glass or two of wine per month. I don’t avoid it, but I don’t seek it out as part of my routine.

  2. Mr. GoTo says:

    That is an impressive and radical lifestyle change. Most people who give up alchohol are motivated primarily because they or a family member have alcoholism. You did it primarily for money and general health. My congratulations.

  3. eden says:

    While I haven’t given up alchohol per se – I very much dislike the taste of almost all alcoholic beverages so it’s practically the same.

  4. Ann says:

    In my youth I drank to excess more than once …. and regretted it! But I found three factors led to an extreme drop in alcohol consumption.

    First, being single, I was frequently my own designated driver! In high school, I remembered two students from our school being severely mutilated because a drunk driver came over a hill in their lane and crashed into them head on. He walked away with barely scratches; their beautiful faces would never be the same. (This was before seatbelts.) I never wanted to be the cause of something like that.

    Second, my ex- drank to excess. I saw what he was like when he drank and didn’t like it. I saw the toll on our limited funds and didn’t like that. I saw how he became all talk and no action and REALLY didn’t like that! When I divorced him, I found myself automatically suspicious of anyone who drank to excess in my company.

    And, third, I don’t like the lack of control. I did things when I was young and drank that I’d never do when I was sober. Boy, could I be talked into things easily after a couple of drinks!

    When I moved back to the midwest, I had quite a few private chuckles over my mom’s confusion when we’d go out to dinner and I wouldn’t have a cocktail before dinner. She didn’t drink to excess but grew up in an age where that was the norm. I don’t think I ever did explain why I wasn’t into that! LOL

    Recently I noticed that I have a significant number of bottles of hard liquor that I’ve now moved twice. I decided that the next time I head back to where I used to live, I’ll be taking them with me and giving them to a friend. That will still leave me with a number of bottles of liqueurs — I was collecting them at one time — which I’ll (about 2-3 times in a winter season) sip a glass of in front of the fire, but I won’t replace them as they empty — which will probably take me the rest of my life! LOL

    Saving money was just an added bonus that I discovered along the way.

    It’s not the same in this day and age, but, by the end of January, I’ll have quit smoking. Money is one of my reasons and health is another, but, I admit that, if I could hold the smoking to five or less per day, I wouldn’t quit. I don’t like the cost. Not just in terms of the cigarettes themselves, but also the cleaning bills! Curtains and drapes need to be cleaned more frequently and walls repainted more frequently. I actually hate the residual smell, so air freshener costs for things that actually absorb the odor, rather than just mask it, are rather high. I know I can do it ’cause, when I needed the money to pay for the train when I started to grad school, I quit for 3 1/2 years! Won’t be easy, but this time it will be for good!

  5. Sheila Joyce Gibbs says:

    Smart move David !!!
    Very very smart indeed !!
    You’ve possibly saved yourself & your wife, a great deal of heartache.
    A healthy happy drinker for 30 yrs, career minded, sports active, both my late husband & I, thought we had the world in our hands.
    When suddenly we were each hit with severe permanent health affliction, with no cure & the sole cause was Alcohol.
    No….Don’t worry about your previous drinking friends, please !
    Just keep on with this change in your beautiful lives !!!
    Very very smart move !!
    God Bless you both !

  6. Persephone says:

    I gave up alcohol several years ago after I started exercising seriously. Money wasn’t a factor.
    After reading your article, though, I thought about how much I have saved over the years — Wow! Thanks.

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