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Uploaded:2020-03-19
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In this episode of Making It Work, one woman illustrates what her life is like after deciding to stop drinking — and the surprising ways sobriety changed her spending habits. For more inspiration for changing habits and saving money, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qy7z80O0CKw

Video narration by Allyson Briggs

Video by Grace Lee
https://www.youtube.com/c/WhatsSoGreatAboutThat
https://twitter.com/whatssograce

Written by Helena Fitzgerald

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[PAPER FLIPPING] There is no big story about why I stopped drinking or about the last drink I had.

A lot of friends have been talking about drinking less or taking months off drinking. A semi sobriety had been a trend for a while.

With articles written about it and fancy minimalism non-alcoholic bars opening in Brooklyn, I thought I would see if I could stop for a while to sort out the relationship between what I actually wanted and what I was just in the habit of doing. I thought it would be a month or two maybe. It's now been almost a year and a half.

I am lucky that my relationship with alcohol is not a serious addiction and that I have been able to approach this as a casual experiment as opposed to the profound battle that many people fight every day. Nevertheless, making this change has had major effects on many areas of my life. Often, in ways I didn't expect.

Many of the friends whom I thought would be judgmental have been supportive or found it to be no big deal, while others have seemed to take it surprisingly personally. It made me realize how much my parents and I depended on drinking as a relational language and reminded me of the generational differences in our attitudes. It helped me to value certain friendships more deeply, while also making me cognizant of situations in which I had depended on a few drinks as a way to ward off awkwardness.

I admit there were some benefits I thought about before I made the choice. I'm in my 30s and wanted to slow down on the physical aging process, and it is true that my skin got better and my overall physical health improved. I got annoyingly enthusiastic about high intensity exercise, I slept better, and got up earlier.

I generally had more energy, and I felt less anxious, but strangely enough, when I made this choice, I didn't think about how it would affect my finances. Drinking was, of course, something I spent money on, but I had never quite considered it on its own. In my budget spreadsheets, it was lumped in with food or going out.

While I've often had success cutting out specific expenses for a period of months, dining out, ordering in, buying new clothes, and yes, buying coffee instead of making my own, this experiment with not drinking was never intentionally a financial one, and I didn't immediately consider that it might also be about money. Although, I don't believe I ever quite had a serious addictive relationship with alcohol. I have certainly made many poor, impulsive financial decisions while under its influence.

One of the things I enjoyed most about drinking was the permission it offered. The way in which silenced my internal doubts. It was wonderful in the moment to get a little drunk and order extravagantly at a restaurant, to have a few drinks at brunch and then go shopping for unnecessary luxuries like pricey skincare or to have a bunch of wine and lie on my couch and buy things on my phone that were on sale but that I didn't actually need.

Of course, purchasing alcohol itself was one of these choices, and each drink made it easier to not really think about the expense of the next drink. I don't know exactly how much money I saved when I stopped drinking or how much it came from not buy an alcohol versus how much of it came from not being enabled by alcohol to make other irresponsible purchases, but I do know that I had more money left at the end of the first month of this experiment than I usually did. Enough to increase my weekly contributions to my savings account by about $150 a week or $600 a month, an amount that seemed embarrassingly large to have come only from drinking, but that, when I thought about how drinks add up, didn't really surprised me.

The amount wasn't enormous, but it made a difference, and the difference, like all financial choices, went from seemingly small to pretty big and a surprisingly short amount of time. The effects weren't all savings though, as much as it might be easy to assume the simple equation of drinking less equals spending less money. When I went to my favorite bars now, I then ordered more food than I needed to with the idea that, since I'm not drinking, I can afford to eat whatever I want and need to justify my presence at the bar by buying something.

Most of us are motivated by treats and like rewards for sticking to a plan. I going out budget was reduced, but not as much as it might have been, because sometimes my reward for not having a drink was to order an expensive entree. And although I no longer made stupid financial decisions when under the influence of alcohol, the money I had freed up from not drinking sometimes got spent on the same kinds of things I would have bought on a drunken whim.

Look how much money I saved not drinking, I told myself. I guess I can buy these shoes if I want to. It fit into my budget because I wasn't spending the money on drinking, but I would have saved more money if I hadn't bought either drinks or shoes.

In general, neither the positive outcomes nor the difficulties of choosing to not drink alcohol have been at all what I expected. I went into this choice not thinking about money and ended up with a suddenly but significantly changed relationship to it. At the same time, it's made me aware of my tendency to just find a different way to spend extra money and that some of these ways, tipping 30% as a rule to bartenders who serve me soda water all night, are better than others.

Overpriced mocktails at mocktail concept bars. The financial aspect of cutting out booze was a surprise, and much like a life without booze as a social mechanism, it's something I'm still learning to navigate, both easier and harder than I expected.