When I was forced to quit alcohol because of long-term medication, I was not very impressed.
Neither, honestly, was anyone else. Very few people were not surprised, uncomfortable, or occasionally argumentative – I definitely heard "just the one will be fine!" more than once. But I did not really have a choice.
After a few dry months, I realised there was a benefit I hadn't considered – I had a lot more money.
I knew I would save calories when I stopped drinking, but I had not really thought about saving money. I regularly read (and ignore) advice to give up my $3.50 coffee, but cutting back on alcoholic beverages? Surely that's just un-Australian?
I still went out, just not as often (or for as long). The people I saw the most were supportive about compromises, splitting the tab differently or requesting I bring desserts to dinner instead of wine.
I felt more comfortable when I realised I could drink soda and lime in a short glass, and no one would know it didn't contain vodka. Occasionally I'd buy a mocktail, which, sadly, is never the same.
Drinking is an expected part of life in Australia, and we consume a lot of it. The Bureau of Statistics estimates Australians drank more than 1.74 billion litres of beer and 543 million litres of wine in 2014. In 2012 Australians spent $14.1 billion on alcohol, meaning the average spend for a single person under 35 was $24 a week or $1248 a year. Given that's averaged across the whole population and more than one in five people do not drink at all, it means the typical drinker is spending far more.
Let's say in a typical week you buy two $15 bottles of wine for home, and spend $50 on Friday nights after work. If you go out for a meal, you might spend another $40 for a cocktail and half a bottle of wine. Every two months you have one big night out and spend $150. That's $7140 in a year. Then think about how much that might skew for celebrations and holidays.
Natasha Janssens, founder of financial education business Women with Cents, says "when it comes to saving, most of us make the common mistake of looking for one big ticket item we are spending our money on.
"The reality for most, however, is that we underestimate how much all our little expenses add up."
It is obviously easy to lose track of money spent on alcohol, especially with late nights or bar tabs. It is just as easy to forget about that one quick $8 beer after work, or picking up a $20 six-pack of cider on the way to a friend's house. Janssens says it's a common trap to try to make a mental note of spending but it doesn't work, because people always under-estimate.
Personal wealth coach Lisa Barber estimates nine out of 10 clients don't know their cost of living and where all their money goes, and says alcohol is a big part of that. Barber has advised a client who spent just over $2000 in a year on alcohol, as well as a couple who enjoyed premium wines and spent over $14,000 annually. She has found that tracking this spending "often leads to a change in their lifestyle choices".
In one year of not drinking, I saved about $4000. This is not including the terrible food I used to order at the end of the night and the next morning to combat the hangover.
It took me more than three months to realise why I had this leftover cash, so I really wasn't tracking my spending very well. This made me more aware of my finances and a more active saver overall.
I might not have made the choice to stop drinking, but at least I know it's an enforced saving plan.