(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, Sept 12 Would you give up alcohol to
help balance the family budget?
I posed that very question on social media recently. These
were some of the answers I got:
"Gosh no - it's what gets us through the week."
"As if that would ever happen."
And so on, in the same vein. Most responses ranged from
sarcastic to outright incredulous.
But one other answer stood out, which got to the heart of
"I quit drinking - and it was like we won the lottery!"
And there's the rub. We all tend to complain, in an era of
stagnant incomes and rising prices, about how we just can't make
ends meet. There is just no place we could possibly find more
But is that really true? Consider this: The average U.S.
household spent $445 on wine, beer and spirits in 2013,
according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That
amounts to roughly 1 percent of our household expenditures, and
it compares with an average household figure of $268 in 1993.
That is more than we spend on all nonalcoholic beverages
combined, by the way. Keep in mind those averages include
nondrinkers, too. That means some households are spending much,
much more than that already-hefty average on alcohol.
So let's be honest with ourselves. It is not always the case
that we can't squeeze any more savings out of our budgets. It is
that we choose not to, because we just don't want to give up the
When New York City's Jenna Hollenstein sat down one day and
calculated what her drinking was costing her, she was shocked.
The 39-year-old dietician used to enjoy a nice bottle of
wine or some gin after work, and it was starting to add up.
"Even if it was only a $15 bottle of wine, three times a week,
that was $45," she remembers. "That's $180 a month, or over
$2,000 a year.
"That's a significant amount of money - and that's not even
including going out for cocktails with friends."
Hollenstein finally decided to give up her pricey habit, and
even wrote a book on her experiences, "Drinking to Distraction."
But she is hardly alone in having a taste for a nip after work.
After all, 64 percent of American adults report drinking
occasionally, according to Gallup's most recent poll on
consumption habits. Through boom times and bust, one of our most
consistent national traits is that we enjoy our booze, and are
not willing to give it up.
"We've been asking this question since the 1930s, and the
numbers are remarkably constant," says Frank Newport, Gallup's
editor in chief. "Even in an era of huge demographic changes,
the percentage of drinkers just doesn't seem to budge."
BEER OR WINE?
Beer is America's beverage of choice, by the way, followed
by wine and then spirits. The average drinker enjoys a shade
over four alcoholic beverages a week, according to the Gallup
But 9 percent of people have more than eight drinks over the
same period, and 5 percent of folks are guzzling more than 20.
And that can get very expensive indeed - especially if you do
your drinking in restaurants or bars with high markups.
We might not even realize how much we are spending on this
habit, since it drips out in relatively small increments - a
beer or two here, a carafe of wine there. Personal-finance
expert Tiffany Aliche, author of "The One Week Budget," suggests
forcing yourself to do the math - just as Hollenstein did -
before tossing back yet another nightcap.
"Let's say you drink three nights a week and spend $30 each
time," she says. "That's over $4,000 a year, or as much as a
trip to Paris or Rome."
It is not an all-or-nothing proposition, notes Aliche, who
is not a drinker herself. You don't have to become a teetotaler
in order to realize massive savings. "Instead of drinking three
times a week, just drink twice - and then go on your vacation,
too," she advises.
As for Hollenstein, who had a long and complex relationship
with alcohol, she thought it was best to give up drinking
altogether. She did not necessarily do it for the money - but
when she did, she noticed that her finances changed overnight.
"As soon as I gave it up, the money thing became so clear,"
she says. "Drinking was just a mindless, habitual thing I did on
a daily basis. And I didn't really notice it - until I got my
credit card bill or looked at my bank account."
(Editing by Lauren Young and Matthew Lewis; Follow us
@ReutersMoney or here)