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?