The True Cost of Wasting Money on Getting Wasted

Pint of beer and dollar bills
Pint of beer and dollar bills

It's been a year since I last wrote a post about my sobriety. When I read that post now, I can see how uncomfortable I still was with parts of it -- namely, the social aspect. I knew life was better without alcohol, and I was a better person when not consuming it, but I still hated some of the questions that came up in social situations.

"Are you really never going to drink again?" made me feel like people didn't believe in me. And "don't you miss it?" made me feel like people thought I'd made the wrong choice, and then I worried about what they thought of me. Rather than just answer the questions, I felt hurt by them. And after being asked repeatedly for two years, I turned that hurt into a blog post.

Today, I'm happy to report I have a much healthier mindset about it all. I still stand by the message in that post, which was to be mindful about what you say to people who are giving up something they once relied on (whether it's alcohol, smoking, drugs, even food). But if you asked me those questions today, I wouldn't be mad. In fact, I've even gone from feeling insecure about being able to find a guy who would date a girl who doesn't drink, to proudly saying upfront with them that "it's the best decision I've ever made". It's taken three years for me to get here -- and there were some ups and downs in that time -- but I'm confident in my decision to live a life without alcohol. There's no going back now.


"Life is too short to waste money on anything that doesn't add value to it."

I've always said that I didn't quit drinking to save money and that is certainly true. I never cared about the numbers back then and, if I had, it would've been the wrong reason to quit. Recently, however, I've found myself wondering how much money I wasted on getting wasted. It's a sunk cost, at this point -- not worth worrying about, as I can't get it back -- but I'm still curious, so I ran some numbers.

High School for Five Years = $3,000

I started drinking when I was 13 years old. In grades 8 through 10, I spent at least $7/week to split a 2L of cider with a girlfriend on the weekend. At some point, I know I graduated to drinking the whole 2L myself ($14-15/week). And I definitely drank more in summer months, and over holiday weekends and Christmas vacations. But let's say I spent $7/week for the first three years of high school.

$7 x 52 weeks x 3 years = $1,092

By grade 11, I'd upgraded to rum and typically drank a "mickey" (this might be a Canadian term but it's a 375mL bottle -- nearly 13 liquid ounces or shots of alcohol) every weekend, to the tune of at least $12. Again, I know I drank more in summer months and over holidays. But let's say I spent $12/week for the last two years of high school.

$12 x 52 x 2 years = $1,248

There is no part of me that believes I only spent $2,340 on partying in high school. After I started working (age 15), I know I drank more, gave it as gifts to friends on birthdays, etc. I'd also love to tell you I've never touched a drug in my life, but I'd be lying if I said that -- or that I never paid for them. Let's set the total at $3,000. I'm sure I spent more, but we can start with that.

Two Years Off = $6,240

That takes us to 2003 -- the summer I graduated and turned 18. I would say that's also the summer I started to care a lot more about boys and partying than anything else. I went to college in the fall, but put more effort into socializing than studying and, for the first time, nearly failed two of my six classes. Rather than flunk out, I decided to drop out and take time off instead.

In the two years I was out of school, I probably drank at least three nights/week. At 18, I moved out with my boyfriend (who was 19 and could legally buy us alcohol). We'd have nights where we'd try to spend as little as possible on cheap beer to drink at home, and nights where we'd go out and drop all our cash at the bar (granted, you could still get $3 drinks back then -- but we had lots of them). We lived within walking distance from downtown, so we didn't need to cab anywhere. But on a cheap week, I'd say we each spent at least $40 each on alcohol, and an expensive week was more like $80.

Let's say I spent $60/week for the first two years I was out of high school.

$60 x 52 weeks x 2 years = $6,240

College for Two Years = $6,240

I turned 20 in July 2005, moved home and went back to school that September. I don't think most people who have gone to college will be surprised when I say drinking was our social pastime. We'd go to the school's pub for cheap drinks on Thursday, go to karaoke on the weekends and have parties at anyone's house who would host one. Sometimes I'd take it easy, if I had a lot of projects and deadlines, but I was generally out at least two nights/week. I'd say some weeks I was spending as little as $40 on a couple drinks + a cab, but there were many more where I'd spend $80+.

For simplicity's sake, let's stick with the average and say I spent $60/week on partying while in college.

$60 x 52 weeks x 2 years = $6,240

So now we're at the summer of 2007. I'm 22 and have already spent approx. $15,480 on partying. That's $1,720/year if we average it out over nine years, which isn't far off from the averages reported in various studies. Stats Canada says the average household spent $1,222 on tobacco/alcohol in 2014. And British Columbians spent an average of $754 each on beer alone that same year. Tack on cab rides, bar covers and takeout food eaten while drunk, and $1,720/year seems cheap -- even normal. But let's remember that for the first five of these nine years, I was an underage high school student.

The amount of money I was spending on partying wasn't normal then, and it got worse after college.

Three Years Off = $13,520

If I'm being honest, the next few years are a bit of a blur -- not that I don't remember them, but there's a lot I've chosen to forget about. For the first year, I was in an extremely toxic relationship. We lived together, so I wasn't out at the bar every weekend with my girlfriends, but we still partied a lot. Some weeks, we'd be good and stay at home -- maybe have a few friends over for drinks. Other weeks, I'd easily drop $100 on a night out. We also drank a lot when we went away, and I have no idea how much I spent then. I'll lowball and say it was still $60/week for the year we were together.

$60 x 52 weeks = $3,120

After we broke up, I binged - on both drinking and spending. I've written about that a few times before, but essentially I tried to buy a new life. I moved into a one-bedroom apartment by myself and filled it with all brand new furniture (that I put on credit). I also financed a brand new car. I thought that if things looked like they were pieced together, that's how I would feel. Of course, it didn't work.

Living alone also gave me the freedom to drink as much as I wanted without anyone watching over me. I had friends over every weekend, and we'd split a few bottles of wine or packs of Strongbow, before heading downtown for the night. It was common for me to start a tab at a club and tell my friends to put all their drinks on it because I wanted to make sure the party never ended.

I can't say for sure how much money I spent on partying during the two years I lived alone, because this is when I started racking up my credit card debt, ignoring my statements and making only the minimum payments. I know there were nights where I'd drink nothing more than a $10 bottle of wine at home. But there were also nights where I'd say to my server, "whenever my wine glass is empty, that means I want another". On those nights, I do remember that my bill was typically in the $80-120 range -- and that almost never included food. I'm lowballing again, but let's say I spent $100/week on partying then.

$100 x 52 weeks x 2 years = $10,400

University for Two Years + Maxed Out = $3,787

When I turned 25, I decided to go back to school and turn my diploma into a degree -- and it was one of the best decisions I could've made for myself. Because I was so busy working full-time during the day and doing homework at night, I literally had no time to party. I still went out maybe once/month and would have wine at home with friends, but I wasn't spending nearly as much money as before.

The one time I blew through a ton of cash was my first attempt to move to Toronto in 2011. I brought $5,600 cash with me, looked for work but couldn't find a job in the field I wanted and blew through every last penny in just eight weeks. Considering I was living with a friend and my expenses were low, I can only guess that at least one-third of the money went towards partying.

8 weeks in Toronto = $1,867

I was maxed out, when I came back home from that little adventure, and had no option but to spend less on going out. I still had a year of university to complete, so I used homework as an excuse for why I couldn't party with friends. I'd occasionally get a $10 bottle of wine or a pack of Strongbow, but truly didn't party much during the two years I was in school (other than those eight weeks in Toronto).

If we average out the eight weeks I partied more with the months I barely drank at all, I'd say I spent $20/week during that time.

$20 x 48 weeks x 2 years = $1,920

The Last Six Months = $2,925

When I finished school in July 2012, I went on a bender. I was living alone again, seeing someone new and felt like celebrating my freedom. I went back to drinking at least three nights/week, like when I was 19, and loved being able to see all the friends I'd been too busy to party with during school. This continued when the relationship ended in late July. I used drinking as a way to cope in August, and that same breakup is one of the reasons I accepted the full-time job offer I got in Toronto that took me out there again in September 2012. I would've done anything to get away.

I drank fairly steadily until the last week of September, when I realized I wasn't happy with the person I was becoming. In October, I announced that I was going to quit drinking. And I had every intention of sticking to that but it only lasted 45 days (6.5 weeks). When I started drinking again mid-November, I went hard. I was used to blacking out, but this was on another level. My first Christmas party with the new team? I don't remember anything after 10 p.m. and somehow lost my pants and came home in a dress.

The last time I got drunk in Toronto? My tab was $240 and I woke up covered in bruises. And my first trip to NYC? I got so drunk that I left my friends and somehow managed to get myself back to our Airbnb. I don't remember how any of it happened. But after drinking more in Victoria that Christmas, and continually finding myself in sticky situations, I knew enough was enough. Minus the 6.5 weeks I was sober, I'd estimate I spent close to $3,000 on partying in those final few months.

$150 x 19.5 weeks = $2,925

The True Cost of Wasting Money on Getting Wasted

When you add up all these numbers, I've spent approx. $35,712 on partying; that's $2,463/year for 14.5 years -- and this is a lowball estimate. Writing this post and looking at that number is terrifying. Again, I know it's a sunk cost, but I still can't help but wonder what else I could've done with $36,000. I could've put an extra $2,463/year aside for retirement and been tens of thousands of dollars ahead with my goal. Or I could've put $1,500/year aside for retirement and gone on one more vacation each year. Or I could've saved it all for a future down payment. Instead, I spent $36,000 masking my feelings and doing things I can barely remember (and am left with some nights I wish I could forget).

The worst part about wasting so much money on getting wasted wasn't the fact that I wasted money at all -- it was losing pieces of my life and not being able to grow emotionally during all those years. One of the things I've learned and had to deal with is that your emotional age gets stuck at the age your addiction kicks in. For me, I would guess that was around age 19 -- with the worst of it setting in around age 23. I certainly didn't love myself at age 19, and felt worse at 23, so it makes sense that it's taken a few years of being sober for me to get to a place where I can say I love and value myself now.

One of the reasons I think I've been able to let go of 75 percent of my belongings, quit my job and embrace the life I want, is because I finally believe in myself. I know what I want and that I'm capable of having it, if I just do the work; I couldn't have said the same five years ago, but I'm grateful I can today.

And while I didn't quit drinking to save money, I'm also grateful I'll never add to that $36,000 grand total; that, in the future, my money can go to far better things. But I still think this exercise has been a powerful lesson in how quickly a weekly expense can add up over time.

If you spend $25/week on something, that's $1,300/year.

$50/week = $2,600/year
$75/week = $3,900/year
$100/week = $5,200/year
$150/week = $7,800/year

If you spend $25/week on something for 5 years, that's $6,500.

$50/week for 5 years = $13,000
$75/week for 5 years = $19,500
$100/week for 5 years = $26,000
$150/week for 5 years = $39,000

When it's a small expense, it seems like it makes no difference at all -- but it adds up fast. And if those small expenses are a result of mindless spending, or they don't align with your goals or values, they can hurt you and your future in more ways than one.

Life is too short to waste money on anything that doesn't add value to it.

This post originally appeared on Blonde on a Budget.

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