Two weeks after turning 30, I quit drinking. My birthday is at the end of the year, which easily provides the mental framework to reflect on the previous 12 months. 2018 was a year of excessive spending that included both large, unexpected expenses and frivolous spending. My bank account was in a sorry state, and it came down to one major culprit: alcohol.
I’d heard that saving money was just one of the many benefits of abstaining, but it wasn’t until after I quit that I realized just how much. After just one month, the difference in my credit card bill compared to the previous month was shocking. I thought perhaps it was a result of my heavy birthday spending the previous month. But after three months, it’s obvious. I am saving an average of $400 a month by not drinking — and the alcohol itself is only a piece of the puzzle.
I live in New York, and my drink of choice was craft beer, which usually cost no less than $8. Rarely did I ever have just one. And if I was out and drinking, I usually ordered food. Sometimes I’d leave happy hour and realize on my way home that I didn’t have much in my fridge, so I’d pull out my Seamless app and order a pizza or a burrito. This was responsible, I’d tell myself. The carbs will soak up the alcohol.
Some nights, happy hours would last a little longer than they should. Unless it’s a route I’m familiar with, I prefer not to take the subway home after I have had too much to drink. So, I opt for an Uber, but even using the Uberpool feature is not an inexpensive way to get around. And after those particularly hard nights, I would have to turn to hangover remedies to revive myself the next day. I love a good bagel sandwich with egg, extra cheese, avocado, and tomato. In my purse, I’d make sure to keep a supply of ibuprofen to fight off the pounding headache.
Out of curiosity, I looked back on an old credit card statement and tracked the spending in one night that resulted from my choice to drink alcohol:
- $37 beers + tip
- $23 veggie burger and fries
- $29 Uber home
- $8 egg sandwich the next morning
- $15 restock my supply of ibuprofen
That’s $112. If that was an occasional “treat,” it could be justified. But this wasn’t just a treat. I was doing this damage to my wallet — and to my body — frequently. It needed to stop.
In my first month of sobriety, I attended a holiday party in Manhattan, and it was my first test of willpower. When the evening finally started winding down at 1 a.m., party guests began to pull out their phones and order rides. I opted to take the Subway back to my apartment in Brooklyn. It took me well over an hour, but I had a good book to get me through and saved no less than $40. Now, I reserve Ubers for moments of desperation or a special treat.
When I go out to eat, my bill is less than everyone else’s. When I go to book club, I stock up on snacks rather than my usual bottle of wine and snacks. When I go to a concert or a movie that serves food and drink, my bill is half of what it used to be. I’m saving money unintentionally.
Typically, I am successful at avoiding excessive spending on material items. I frequent thrift stores, find sales, and opt for generic brands. But when it came to alcohol, it’s as if I convinced myself that I needed to drink in order to have a social life. Learning to navigate a sober social life has been a new experience — and one that has been more emotionally taxing than I could have ever imagined. I now have to convince people that yes I do want to go out for happy hour, but my drink will be a Diet Coke.
The money I am saving is now allocated for more productive things, like more aggressively paying down my student loan debt and treating myself to fitness classes. But even more than that, by choosing not to drink, I am creating more time and energy to invest in other things, like my freelance writing. Any time I drank, I was making the choice to not write. It wasn’t like I was going to get a little buzzed at happy hour and then head home to work on an essay. I was going to order french fries and watch The Office.
If nothing else, abstaining from alcohol has forced me to reflect on my priorities. For too long, I prioritized alcohol as a stress reliever and a social lubricant. Now, I see it as a drain on my financial and personal goals.
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