Something I don’t often write about is how much alcohol costs us.
I tend not to focus on the money side of sobriety, because saving cash isn’t the main reason why people quit.
For most of us, it’s the opportunity cost that really hurts: it’s the missed life experiences and broken promises. The morning-after shame spirals. The physical consequences.
And yet, I can’t deny that having extra money in the bank is a very welcome (and often unexpected) side effect of sobriety.
In fact, when you start adding it all up, the numbers can be staggering.
If you’re looking for a little extra motivation – at an expensive time of year – then let’s talk about the true cost of drinking…
A very conservative estimate
Earlier this year I celebrated six years sober. I used to drink, on average, two large glasses of wine a night. (Obviously there were days when I drank much more than that. But there were also nights when I didn’t drink at all.)
Two large glasses of wine a night is 730 glasses a year. At 250mls each, that works out at 243 bottles a year. If a fairly average bottle of supermarket wine costs £6, then I’ve saved £8,748 in six years (about $11,300 USD).
Why the true cost is much higher
My calculations above do not take into account the money I spent going out and drinking with friends. When you’re buying expensive cocktails in bars, or drinking over-priced pints at a gig, you burn through your money fast.
It’s also hard to account for the times when I bought big rounds of drinks, or spontaneously ordered double measures instead of singles, or paid for someone else because it was their birthday. It’s really easy to lose track.
As well as paying for the alcohol itself, there are other costs to consider e.g. missing the last train and having to get a taxi. When I was drinking, I had a terrible habit of losing things like credit cards, phones, keys, my purse… replacing that stuff was a hassle and not cheap.
You might also need to pay for a cheeky takeaway on the way home, dry cleaning for the dress you spilt wine on, drunk purchases made late at night and the cost of that gym membership you hardly ever use.
(Side note: I’m focusing purely on the cash cost of alcohol here. However, it’d be silly not to mention this study, which says every bottle of wine costs you a whopping £2,400 in lost quality of life.)
What are your numbers?
Whether you’re newly sober or thinking about quitting drinking, it can be very motivating to keep track of the financial numbers. An easy way to do this is to download an app like I’m Done Drinking which will help you calculate averages over time.
An eye-opening (but more time consuming) exercise is to track every penny spent on alcohol over a month. Keep your supermarket receipts so you can account for the bottles of wine you buy with your weekly shop. Trawl through your bank statements to work out what you’ve spent on cocktails, Ubers and restaurant ‘meals’ that are more booze than food.
When the money really adds up…
I took these snapshots from my secret Facebook group, which is just for graduates of my Getting Unstuck course. They’re pretty impressive, right?
Here’s what my students have to say about saving money in sobriety:
– “At a conservative guess I’ve saved £3,500 in the past year and if I’d taken a pay cut of that amount, I’d be struggling financially. However, I’d been spending that year on year buying ethanol that gave me nothing but heartache – shocking.” Joanne
– “Just checking my sober app today and this immediately stood out – saving £5000 over 14 months. Included in this is taxis, drunk purchases, takeaways, going out and alcohol, of course. We’ve just come on our 3rd holiday for this year… totally unheard of in previous years.” Beth
– “I have saved £4923 on booze so far … that was an average of £360 per month! It shocks me to think that I wasted so much money on pouring poison down my neck and making myself feel so bad. Nowadays I have more money (and time) to spend on great holidays, seeing bands and actually remembering everything.” Janice
I’m going to guess about $3000/year savings.
That is a nice amount of money to save! 🙂
I drank a small bottle of chardonnay 5 days per week. On Saturday night, I drank a large bottle. Never drank on Sundays, still not sure why. Anyhow, I calculated the savings at the time (been sober 20 months) and drinking was costing me 2,200.00 per year. I drank alone and never went out to a bar to drink.
Thanks Renee. The cost of drinking at home can still add up over time, for sure!
According to my app I have saved $10,280 since Jan 2 of 2018. Of course I don’t have that all in the bank. But I do find that I do not run my bank account down like I did in drinking days. I spend more on treats for myself and my family now. New clothes, updates around the house, fun experiences and adventures. And still I always seem to have more money left over than I used to.
This was an unexpected bonus of living AF. 🙂
That’s great Suzy! Perhaps I should’ve mentioned this in the blog – I think spending your booze savings on you and your family is a great idea, the money doesn’t need to stay in the bank. You totally deserve to treat yourself. Well done 🙂
What I realized is that I was often going out to eat.. not actually for the meal, but because it was an excuse to drink more. So when I quit drinking, we quit going out to eat all the time. I also got clear-headed and motivated enough to take a personal finance course, so we actually ended up saving about $50,000 as a couple.
That’s brilliant – it sounds like you both made some big changes. I love how many good things can come out of the decision to quit drinking!
I’m finding the same thing to be true in my situation about going out to eat as a means to drink more on the weekends especially!
Absolutely – that thought “just sit and watch the world go by at the local wine bar”. Had nothing to do with watching anything – just another excuse to absorb more alcohol.
I have been AF 6 weeks and estimate that I have saved $70 Australian dollars per week. Amazing! No more paying the evil alcohol industry to slowly kill me and not adding to their bank account!! Yipee I am so happy.
Love this! Go Vineta 🙂
I’m only 7 weeks in but I did an honest calculation of money spent including the whiskey snifter(s), the wine at home and meals out and the double gin in the pub after work and I’m saving £25 a day !! And I thought I didn’t have a problem…
It’s eye opening when you sit down and do the maths! But that’s also a brilliant amount of cash to be saving 🙂
My 18 months of sobriety has enabled me to have the energy for a second job, pay off my car, build a deck on my house and have significant savings. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Thank you Kate and happy sober holidays.!
Wow, wow, wow! Those are some major achievements Holly. I’m so impressed – well done! 🙂
Love this, Kate. The numbers are…erm…sobering. They are also not the stuff of fiction. When I got sober this year I took the decision to put aside £5 per day for every day I didn’t drink – that’s a very conservative figure but £35 per week is manageable. This has helped me to amass enough for regular expensive haircuts! I feel I’ve earned them and because the money goes into a separate account I feel no pain when I dip into it.
I love this idea of putting £5 aside each day. Give me a lovely haircut over booze any day!
I’m almost 6 months AF… the first month was the worst . I now feel so free , like I got rid of the monkey on my back . I only planned to go for 6 months but I now don’t want it miss it or think I will ever bother with it again .
Congratulations on your sobriety Josey!
I spend $16- $20 a day on alcohol (a bottle plus two small cans…).
That’s my “normal”.
If I calculated even just the lowest amount $16 x 365 days that’s $5840!
The TRUE cost though must be SO much higher (takeaways, sick days, missed opportunities, nights out at bars / restaurants… etc etc!)
Staggering and hardly surprising that I never have any new clothes, struggle to keep up with bills and have Zero savings!
So ashamed but yet Still I cant seem to stop…
I hit rock bottom 2 night’s ago, finally sobbing & realising that in need to quit forever, not just ‘cut down’. I am starting to see alcohol as my worst enemy, aswell as myself. Wish me luck & well done to everyone, some inspiring comments.
Reading thru some sober sites today I came across this
“Just remember even your worst days only has 24hrs”
Hope it helps.