What You Lose to Booze

Annalisa Lafayette didn’t realize how expensive her drinking habit was until she got a DUI last March. The incident ended up costing her close to $5,000 in fees and expenditures (and that was before she factored in the increase to her auto insurance).

“It was very expensive and continues to be so,” Lafayette tells MainStreet. “I spent around $30 on alcohol, over $200 traveling to and from court, $100 to get the car out of impound, $2,000 to my lawyer and $1,500 in fees.” Lafayette says that, prior to the DUI, she was spending more than $100 a month on alcohol. This may seem high to some, but it’s actually fairly common.  

According to Mint.com, an online money management Web site, the average American spends $93.96 on alcohol and bars in a month. This figure was obtained by aggregating money data from Mint’s full user base, which comprises more than 1 million people. Incidentally, if you were to not drink for a year and instead put the $1,127.52 into a retirement plan, you will  have saved close to $35,000 by the time you retired at age 65 (assuming you’re 25 right now).

Of course, Mint’s statistic only covers what you spend on booze; it doesn’t factor in the often-disregarded costs associated with a night on the town, such as cab rides home, Taco Bell at 3 a.m., your lost cell phone or even the costs of a DUI. One Bundle.com blogger, Logan Sachon, even wrote about her struggle to cut back on alcohol costs every month.

Of course, Sachon isn’t the only one trying to hold back on booze purchases. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that alcohol consumption in the U.S. has been declining for decades. Additionally, late last month, a study by SymphonyIRI revealed that beer sales for all but four of 30 major beer brands had declined. (Industry shipments, in total, were down by 4%.) However, four brands of beer - Pabst Blue Ribbon, Modelo Especial, Yuengling and Keystone Light - had an increase in sales. The relatively low costs of these brands seems to indicate that Americans aren’t necessarily interested in drinking less beer, they just don’t want to spend as much.  

Either way, if you are looking to cut back on your booze consumption, Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint.com, offers the following suggestions.

“Start with knowing how much you normally spend,” Patzer says. “Once you know, try cutting 15%-20% each month, to make sure the change is sustainable.” He adds that you should look for happy hour specials, avoid cover charges and alternate buying rounds with friends to prevent one person from getting stuck with the whole bill. You can also drink draft beer, which is cheaper than bottled beer and fancy cocktails.

“In many bars you actually get more beer in a draft than you do in a bottle,” Patzer says. “If you are with friends, buy it by the pitcher instead of by the glass for more money savings.“

You also can follow Lafayette’s suggestion.“To save money and to drink safely,” she says. “Go to the liquor store and stay home.” Or just quit drinking entirely.

Want some suggestions for what to buy at your liquor store? Check out MainStreet’s article The Best Booze Values for some ideas.

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