There’s a poster on Reddit who says he was able to afford a down payment on a pickup truck with the money he saved from not drinking for a month. Another guy said he saved $1,000 a month by not drinking alcohol or coffee.
While we couldn’t verify those claims, we aren’t surprised by them. And we do know this: Many people ― even casual or non-binge drinkers ― would be shocked to figure out how much they’re actually spending on alcohol. And like the two Redditors, drinking could be coming between you and your ability to live within your budget or save money for goals.
“If you have three drinks a day, five days a week, at an average of $10 a pop, you're spending about $150 a week, $650 a month or $7,800 a year just on alcohol.”
Two groups of people may be especially at risk of drinking up their budgets: millennials and baby boomers. For one thing, both demographics drink a lot. Although millennials represent only a quarter of all adults over 21, they buy 35 percent of all the beer and 42 percent of all the wine sold in the United States, according to a Nielsen report. There are slightly more millennials than baby boomers, but more boomers than millennials are heavy wine drinkers. Boomers account for a greater total volume of wine consumption, though the gap between these two groups is not great and is closing each year, according to the Wine Market Council.
Each group has unique financial concerns and considerations and could risk their budgets by spending too much on alcohol. Millennials may be worrying about paying off student loans or saving for a first house, among other critical money issues, while boomers might be trying to live on fixed retirement incomes.
So how much is drinking actually costing you? If you have three drinks a day, five days a week, at an average of $10 a pop, you’re spending $150 a week, $650 a month or $7,800 a year just on alcohol ― not including any additional costs, like server tips or taking a taxi instead of driving. Even if you drink only on weekends, at two drinks per day you are spending about $2,500 a year.
Prefer wine at home? According to online wine retailer Vivino, the cost of a bottle of white wine averages $14.41, while an average bottle of red wine costs $15.66. If you drink one each per week for a year, that’s more than $1,563.
If your budget is tight, see if you’re spending a disproportionate amount of your income on alcohol. Here are some suggestions:
Start by finding out just how much you are actually drinking and spending. Write down all the wine you have with dinner in a restaurant, drinks ordered with friends after work, the alcohol you consume at home alone and six-packs you bring to parties ― for at least a week and ideally longer. You can even print out tracking cards to help.
Chances are, you will be surprised at how much you are spending. Here’s a calculator to get you started with a quick estimate.
Don’t guzzle, nurse.
Many of us gulp our way through those first cocktails. Instead, pace yourself and sip slowly with the goal of drinking less alcohol over the course of a night. Note the time your first drink is poured and then don’t allow yourself to order the next one for at least an hour. Have “drink spacers”— make every other drink a non-alcoholic one, such as water, soda or juice. Remember, beer-chugging contests are for college kids.
Prepare yourself for the social pressure or temptation to drink.
Find other ways to socialize that involve less alcohol. When your friends suggest getting a drink after a stressful day at work, suggest taking a walk or a yoga class instead. You don’t need alcohol to have fun, hang out or de-stress.
If people you know don’t seem to accept that you’d prefer to not to drink on a given day, script your “no,” says the Rethinking Drinking program of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The site has tips that will help everyone recognize and handle the pressure to drink from friends and co-workers.
One example: Have a polite, convincing “No, thanks” ready. Escalate your responses as the drink-offerer persists. Here is a worksheet and some suggested language.
Consider hidden and indirect costs, too.
Of millennials who drink wine, more than half talk about it on Facebook, and 33 percent do so on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, according to the Wine Market Council. If prospective employers are watching, this may have financial costs in and of itself. A CareerBuilder survey found that 70 percent of recruiters review the social media postings of job candidates. Are you losing out on higher-paying opportunities? Would your current boss promote you but for a concern about your drinking?
Other hidden costs can include health care and taxi or rideshare fares, not to mention that the average bill for a shopping spree under the influence is more than $400.
Think we aren’t talking about you?
Then take the NIAAA’s test to find out if you are a low-risk or high-risk drinker. And for the sake of your budget ― if not your health ― you might want to start tracking things.