NEW YORK (Reuters) - (The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Next time you go out for a drink with friends, take a look around and see what people are sipping. Instead of Merlot or Rum-and-Coke, you might find a lot more sparkling water.
Welcome to Dry January.
Originally conceived as a public health campaign in the United Kingdom, Dry January asks participants to skip alcohol in the first month of the year. It has gone from 4,000 participants in 2012 to four million in 2018 in the U.K. alone. Now there is a worldwide reach and you can follow along on Twitter (@dryjanuary).
Research by the University of Sussex in England found lots of benefits: 71 percent of respondents slept better, 70 percent reported improved health, 67 percent had more energy, 58 percent lost weight, 57 percent had better concentration, and 54 percent developed better skin.
But the biggest advantage might be the positive change to bank accounts. The study found that 88 percent of those who participated in Dry January reported saving money as a result.
Just ask Divya Sangam. The 35-year-old New York city public relations rep was living in Singapore when she decided to give Dry January a try in 2012. In a country where all wines are imported and alcohol taxes were high, she could easily drop $150 on booze every time she went out with friends.
She liked the savings so much, that she has not touched booze since. The extra dollars helped pay for her wedding. “That’s how much I was saving,” she marveled.
The no-booze prescription works even if you are not totally successful. Trying and failing still led to positive benefits, University of Sussex researchers found, even though the differences were not as large.
That is what personal finance expert Kristin Wong, author of the new book “Get Money,” found out with her husband. When they gave Dry January a try last year, and went out to dinners in LA, they always asked themselves the exact same thing when the check came: “Why is it so cheap?”
The answer, of course, was the lack of alcohol. “We saved the difference in a small savings account, and then used it to contribute to a road trip to Yosemite later in the year,” Wong said.
Some advice from others who have gone through Dry January, about how to pull it off successfully – and what comes next:
* Watch out for increased spending in other areas.
For sure Dry January means you will be spending less on boozy nights out. But if you replace that with shopping or other activities, you will be missing out on potential savings.
New York City’s Megha Desai, president of the nonprofit Desai Foundation, points out that when she paired Dry January with healthier eating habits, the pricier organic food canceled out the financial benefits. So while her health is definitely noticing the difference, her pocketbook is not. “My ginseng tea, that I am replacing alcohol with, is $10 a bottle!” she lamented.
Realize there may be social ramifications. The harsh reality is that not everybody in your social circle may be on board with your choices. That means your usual drinking night might have to be nixed, and your circle may have to change.
“The biggest challenge came with being cut out of some circles, and losing some friendships, because I felt suddenly out of place,” said Sangam. “You are going to have to work through those issues. I suggest finding other activities that don’t involve drinking copious amounts of alcohol, like book clubs or running clubs.”
* Do the math.
When there are alcohol cravings involved, sticking to a plan like Dry January can be challenging. One trick that can help: Figure how much you are saving, and extrapolate that for an entire year. The whopping figure should supply the extra motivation you need.
That is what Kristin Wong did. “At eight meals out a month, saving $25 a meal on alcohol, that is $2,400 we could save for the year,” she said. “I love having a drink with dinner - but do I really love it $2,400 worth?”
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Phil Berlowitz