In many ways, alcohol seems like a part of life.
It’s always present—family reunions, kids’ birthday parties, weddings, dinners with friends. Sure, the alcohol at weddings might be free, but more often than not, a cold beer or cocktail comes with a hefty price tag.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ calculator, even seemingly small drinking habits can add up. If you have five drinks a week at $7 each, you’ll spend more than $1,800 a year on alcohol.
Over the course of tens years, you’ll spend upwards of $18,000 on booze. Yikes.
For these three interviewees, the price (both financially and emotionally) of drinking became too high.
If you’re looking to cut back on alcohol, cut it out altogether, or simply get a better idea of how much to budget, these stories will help.
The saver who went cold turkey.
When Lauren Greutman, 38-year-old consumer savings expert and author of The Recovering Spender from Oswego, New York, decided to stop drinking, she had no idea that she would end up saving nearly $7,200 in two years. In fact, money wasn’t even the reason she stopped.
“[Drinking] became a problem for me. I was having problems with my personal life. I was using alcohol to numb my feelings…It was my escape from life. I wanted to get help and deal with what was going in my life instead of avoiding it,” Greutman explains.
She started therapy and it was a game-changer for her health, well-being, and finances.
Greutman began to experiment with other hobbies to replace the alcohol. It took some time but she eventually found activities that genuinely bring her joy (and save her money).
“When I initially stopped drinking, I started replacing that urge with shopping. Since I am a recovering spender as well, I recognized what was going on and was able to stop.
“I no longer impulse buy. I don’t spend money on alcohol or have a wine category built into my budget. I used to shop when I was drunk, and that has stopped as well. Instead, I’ve started kayaking, doing puzzles, and learning how to meditate and do yoga.”
The social drinker who found a middle ground
Even though Ashleigh B, a 31-year-old from North Carolina was never a heavy-drinker, she was surprised by how hard it was to stop.
“I initially stopped drinking last year because of a medication I was taking. I didn’t want to have any adverse side effects. At first, it was tough. But as time went on, I noticed I didn’t think about it as much. It was only an issue if I was out with friends or at an event, and even then, I covered it up by drinking seltzer with lime or having a half a glass of wine mixed with seltzer so no one knew. Since then, I have drank on and off, but I’ve truly become a ‘one and done’ kind of gal,” Bergh says.
Even though Ashleigh was never a heavy drinker, she still noticed that she was saving about $100 a month (or $1,200 a year), once she stopped drinking.
Since then, she’s seen some other considerable changes in her life as well.
“I found that I needed to have an alternative relaxing habit when alcohol was out of the question, so I got back into reading and got really into bubble baths. Now when I am looking for some release, a bubble bath is my immediate knee-jerk go-to.
“I won’t lie, I definitely have some ‘friends’ who no longer call me to hang out, but I also found that I enjoy my time with other friends who are totally cool with getting coffee or going for a hike instead of hitting up a bar. People who truly care about you won’t question your decision and you may even find that others are intrigued and consider following suit.”
The military man who prioritized health
Doug Nordman, 58-year-old author of The Military Guide To Financial Independence & Retirement, from Honolulu, Hawaii, began drinking early in life and then quit abruptly in 2011.
Nordman explains, “My parents were typical social drinkers. I secretly joined that drinking club in the 1970s at age 13. I majored in it at college and during my U.S. Navy career. (You’ve probably heard the term ‘drinks like a sailor.’) I eventually got it under control, but by age 45, I’d drunk more than my lifetime quota of alcohol.
“On February 27, 2011 my father unexpectedly ended up in the hospital. His Alzheimer’s meant that he was no longer able to live independently, and he spent the rest of his life in a care facility. When I got the call from the emergency room, I knew I was finally done with alcohol. His medical emergency gave my good intentions the motivation to build [a new habit].”
Once Nordman stopped drinking, the first thing he noticed was how much better he felt.
Within the first six months, he lost ten pounds and noticed big improvements in his sleep, fitness, energy levels, reflexes, and recovery time. In fact, it wasn’t until later that he thought about the money he was saving.
“Let’s see, [I was drinking] 12 craft beers a week, which would cost at least $40 a week for 52 weeks a year over 8 years means that I’ve saved over $16,000,” Nordman says.
If you want to stop drinking or just cut back, Nordman has some simple (yet effective) advice:
“Build a new habit. Tell your friends that your drinking days are behind you. The new person you want to become doesn’t do that anymore. Of course, anyone who feels they can’t stop alcohol should talk with a doctor and consider Alcoholics Anonymous. Whether or not you’re actually addicted, AA can help with peer mentoring and new habits.”
Here’s the deal—if you’re looking to cut down on alcohol or cut it out entirely, it’s important to have a strong motivation for doing so.
If the reason is health, money, family or happiness, the first step is to get clear on why.
Next, you’ll want to build a support network and plan fun activities that don’t involve alcohol. (After all, nothing is worse than sitting at home on a Friday night and watching your friends’ Instagram stories).
After that, you can watch the savings grow in your bank account.
Taylor Milam-Samuel is a San Diego based personal finance writer and educator who recently paid off $14,000 of student loans in less than a year. She’s passionate about helping people take control of their finances and create a life they love. When she’s not researching financial terms and conditions, she can be found reading on the beach or hiking with her dog.