Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Alcohol and Frugal Finances

The author of Fit Wallet recently inspired me with their post about Booze and the Budget. It was a hard post for them to write and I commend them for doing it! Interestingly, my friend Catie and I were just having a conversation on this subject.

Not that long ago I had a similar relationship as Fit Wallet with alcohol. My ex husband and I drank quite a bit. At the time, it didn't seem like that much - it is only in retrospect that I realize how much we must have spent! Most evenings we would have a glass of wine with dinner. Our favorite bottles usually ranged from $8-$12. We'd buy a couple each week with groceries. In the summer if we were cooking something that seemed like a "beer dish" (hamburgers, chili, that kind of thing) we'd drink beer - high end beer. Plus, we'd often had a nightcap of some kind of spirit - he'd have scotch and I'd have Baileys or something similar. This is not including all the times we went out, either just the two of us for dinner, or with friends. When I start adding all that up... my mind reels.

When I moved out I found I didn't drink. You might think that being separated, facing divorce, trying to put my life back together, that I might drink more, but that just wasn't the case...

Living in my tiny apartment I went out and bought alcohol specifically for my own consumption twice. Once was a blazing hot day in July when I spent the evening laying in front of my window air unit watching movies and having a cold beer and the other was a blustery cold winter night when I was craving a glass of port. Other than that, my consumption was always with friends - hanging out with the girls or dinner with a friend.

I really enjoy wine and spirits; I almost always have a bottle of wine in the house and at Christmas time a friend of mine purchased a bottle of Kahlua for me at my request. The thing is that the wine bottle can sit for months without being opened and the Kahlua has only been cracked once so far. So what is the difference between now and when I was married?

I think there are two things. One is money. When I was married, money wasn't such a large issue, but my grocery budget now doesn't allow for it. I am okay with that. In fact, I prefer adding it into my "dining out budget" instead and having a glass or two when I am out. The second, is that I don't feel the urge as much when I was alone. When I lived with someone, we both enabled each other. If he was having a glass of wine - I had one, simple as that.

Unless someone has issues with alcohol, which is entirely a different matter all together, I don't think it is necessary to cut it completely from the budget in order to be frugal. Frugal isn't about depriving yourself, it is about making smart choices. For me it is about finding ways to enjoy the things you love while still making good financial decisions. For each person those choices are going to be different whether it is splurging on food, alcohol, electronics, music... pretty much anything at all.

It is all about finding the right level.

Photo by: Thomas Ormston


Miss M said...

We're the opposite, Mr M doesn't really drink while I'm more inclined to have a beer or drink when I come home. I drink a lot less since we've been together, better for the wallet and the waist. I'll have to go read Fit Wallet's post. My grandma died of alcoholism when I was 3.

Bouncing Back said...

Great post! My last two wine purchases were "cheap and cheerful". A $5 bottle of adequate pinot grigio (not totally offensive to the taste buds) and I fully admit a $14.99 five liter bottle of Gallo Hearty Red Burgundy. I've been making a couple dishes that call for red wine. That 5 liter bottle last almost two weeks between the cooking and having a glass or two with my meals. I could have spent $12 on a "single" bottle of wine which would have been used up that night or the cheap and cheerful which lasted through the cooking with red wine phase of two weeks ago.

Again, great post!

Saver Queen said...

I agree. We've really cut back our alcohol consumption. Neither of us were massive drinkers but we did have at least one glass of wine or beer every day. Since cutting back our budget, we rarely buy alcohol anymore. We occasionally buy a bottle of wine or 6 pack - when we are having a nice meal or having something a little special, maybe once a week tops, and once when we are out for dinner.

I do think that cutting back alcohol consumption is a fast way to save money because it adds up sooo fast. Another good one to give up is pop, which is something we have also done.

Save it for treats, rather than something that is habitual, and you will enjoy it more.

Fit Wallet said...

Thanks for the shout out, Dawn, and I'm glad my post inspired you to write this. I wish I had as much success cutting back as you have. It's funny--I would never say I have a problem with alcohol or that I need to quit drinking, but I definitely find myself making excuses about how much we have spent on booze. Moderation (financially speaking here) can be a tough thing to achieve.

You are absolutely right that living with someone who drinks changes the game. L and I are notoriously bad about enabling one another. One of us has a bad day and just wants to unwind with a beer, and next thing you know, we've both had TWO beers!

Anonymous said...

Alchohol costs can add up quickly. Good post! They are especially expensive at restaurant.s.

Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

"Frugal isn't about depriving yourself, it's about making smart choices."

I love that! I talk to people at work about this all the time. Whenever someone sits down and wants to make a frugal lifestyle change, they immediately cut the fun stuff out. You can't do that. First of all, life is not a prison sentence so don't make it into one. Secondly, you are less likely to stick to your changes if you don't allow yourself a little fun. So, I always recommend indulging just a little. The trick, as you've mentioned, is making smarter financial choices even when you do indulge.

For myself, I'm not much of a drinker. I have a bottle of Kahlua in the house and that's it. Occasionally I'll splurge for a six pack of beer, but that's not often at all. I understand how alcohol can get expensive, though. Once, when I was dating a bartender, I was drinking a lot more than I normally did and realized I was spending at least $100 a month when I went out to the bar to be with the guy. I was having fun with my friends, but I was also spending a lot of money...most of which went into his pocket. Go figure.

Great post!

Dawn said...

Miss M - That is one of the reasons I rarely have beer in the house. It is easy for me to have one beer, but hard for me to open a bottle of wine "just for me." The exception is in the summer after a long day doing yard work. My father had some alcoholic tenancies, so I have always been aware of my drinking.

Bouncing Back - Thanks!! It sounds like you are finding frugal wine deals! I also love finding bottles on sale.

Saver Queen - I'm with you! I almost never have pop, although I do like having sparkling water in the house and once and awhile a ginger ale.

Dawn said...

Fit Wallet - you are most welcome! I think part of the problem is the weird ethos around booze, you know? I mean it is simultaneously sexy to drink and shameful to over consume. I doubt we'd be having this conversation about plain old grape juice. I'm really glad you wrote about it!

Moving on Up - Amen. Although, I don't mind having a glass or two out, if I am with friends. Though it is far more than at home, I enjoy the social aspect. I think of it as my entertainment budget. of course, the better thing to do is enjoy it with friends at home!

Kristy - Thanks!! You know, the quickest way (in my opinion) to set yourself up for frugal-failure is to cut out all the good and fun things. Just like going on a diet and eating only foods you hate, it is bound to make you depressed - and want to rebel!

Andy @ Retire at 40 said...

I am the same. I find I just don't drink that much. In fact, I know lots of couples who drink all the time and you know what, it just doesn't interest me.

It's also great for the purse/wallet!

Dawn said...

Andy - you are right! I enjoy a drinking with friends socially, but don't do a lot on my own.

Robin said...

It is amazing how much alcohol can add up when you think of it in an extensive time frame. A 12 pack here, a bottle of wine there can equal big dollars by years end. I have cut back drastically, I just can't justify spending on it anymore.

Dawn said...

Robin - Amen! Even inexpensive bottles add up. I enjoy wine, beer and spirits, but I can't afford them as much as I used to. And as Fit Wallet points out, it is a whole lot of empty calories too.