The Hidden Financial Costs of Drinking

Your beer goggles are draining your bank account.


Being hammered can make you suddenly find otherwise unremarkable people hot enough to sleep with, but less discussed is the fact that it also makes you suddenly find otherwise unremarkable goods and services desirable enough to drop good money on. I’m not just talking about the new and troubling trend of drunk Amazon shopping, where allegedly normal people get soused and buy a dead bat. I’m talking about the entire culture around drinking lubricated by money — the ride shares, the eating out, the drunken late-night fourth meal, and various and sundry other bad things we partake in when we get loose on the sauce.

It’s “Drynuary,” and while the practice of nixing the devil’s water for 31 days straight has been touted for the last handful of years as the solution to many a booze-related health ailment, it’s also really good for your bank account. Booze doesn’t just loosen our lips and our hips, but our wallets, too.

Quitting drinking, even for a little while, won’t just save you the cost per drink. You’ll also see a number of other expenses that suddenly add up faster than shot glasses at a hen party.

Let’s not underestimate the cost of the libations alone, though. The average UK household spends £16.70 on alcoholic drinks per week, or £868 per year, and consumes an average of 9.7 litres of pure alcohol a year, which is equivalent to 108 bottles of wine annually or 427 pints of 4 per cent strength beer.

Your savings calculation will vary widely depending on what and where you drink and how much you knock back. If I drink 10 beers a week at home, and I’ve purchased those beers at an off licence in multipacks, I’m saving around £20 a week or a little over £80 for the month. That may not sound like much alone, but that’s easily a mobile phone payment.

If I drink out most nights, we’re now looking at a cost of to three times greater per beer. At most bars in the UK my £1 per beer from that six-pack just became a £4 beer. Suddenly I’ve saved around £100 a week, or £400 a month. That’s a car or student loan payment, or it easily covers nearly all utilities. Of course, bigger drinkers, or drinkers of more premium booze, like fancy wines and liquors, will see much bigger savings.

I could go all day not even thinking about smoking a cigarette, and the second a drop of beer hits my lips, I would kill an innocent man to get one whiff of secondhand smoke. That’s because drinking and smoking are the peanut butter and chocolate of vices: If you do one, you usually want to do the other.

This is even true of longtime quitters of cigarettes, who will find that whatever systems in place they had to manage the intense cravings of nicotine vanish the second they have a drink.

But some evidence suggests Dry January will also help people quit smoking, which means added savings. Research out of the University of Oregon found that this is because each person has something called a nicotine metabolite ratio, or how quickly we can metabolise nicotine. If that biomarker is high, meaning we can burn up that nicotine more quickly, we’ll crave nicotine more and therefore smoke more frequently to keep getting that fix. Cutting out booze also cuts down that nicotine ratio, making it easier to quit or reduce smoking.

Of course, how much you smoke and how much you’re able to cut back on during one month of booze abstinence will depend on your habit and cigarette costs, but, using a quitting smoking calculator, if you are a 20-a-day type then simply cutting back by half would save you over two grand per year.

Just as drinking makes you want to smoke, it also makes you crave salty, fatty foods. So even though you may have even eaten dinner to soak up all that booze you’re about to drink, come midnight, you suddenly need to hit the nearest drive-thru or order up Chinese food. Eliminating booze eliminates the blotter of the fourth meal, which, at even say two nights a week, could easily net you another £20 a week, or £80 a month.

Additional savings: If you eat out while doing all that drinking, calculate both the cost of the meal and the drinks. If you order your late-night kebabs via food delivery services even once or twice a week, you’re easily dropping hundreds of pounds a month on a drunk-related purchase.

And don’t forget the costs of binge-eating that hangover brunch fit for a king so you can roll up to work. After a night of drinking, I need not just the usual coffee, but a fancy cold-pressed juice with ginger to soothe my stomach as well as a giant breakfast burrito — all told, an additional £20 I wouldn’t normally need to spend.

Drunk Purchases
Hopefully no one is hitting up Amazon every time they get hammered, but people who do seem to not only buy random stuff they don’t really need, but at prices they’d normally reject sober. Some research has measured the average drunk spending spree by the beverage.

Ride Shares
If you’re an urban dweller and you drinking is your social outing, you’ll hopefully call a ride share to cart you around as you become increasingly more sloshed. While the research on average ride share spending doesn’t detail the purpose of every ride hailed, on average, people spend £20 to £30 a month in mid-sized cities on Uber, and closer to £60 to £80 or more a month in larger cities such as London and Manchester. That’s a worthwhile chunk of change to avoid drunk driving and DUIs, but not drinking obviously eliminates some of that cost.

Drinking more often means more hangovers, and more hangovers means more money spent on hangover cures and symptom relievers like Alka-Seltzer and ibuprofen or whatever your specific panacea may be.

Health Costs
It’s impossible to calculate the general cost of what we might spend to address the consequences of regular drinking. But we can reverse engineer it by understanding what improves when we stop drinking. Cutting out drinking for a mere 31 days leads to weight loss, better sleep, brighter skin and more energy.

This means that generally speaking, we’d miss less work and probably do more productive things with that better sleep and more energy, but moneywise, we’d need less caffeine to bounce back and, at least for anyone using product to cover up bloodshot eyes or splotchy skin, there are some cumulative costs in self-care that could be easily reduced.

None of this is to suggest everyone should cut out booze this month. Some liver specialists debate the practice, suggesting that it can actually justify and encourage binge-drinking once the month is up and find yourself going hog wild again. They argue that it’s far better to simply cut down a few days a week every month if you want to reduce booze and see the benefits year-round.

What’s more, while quitting booze for a month might mean you suddenly have the drive or energy to exercise more or write that novel, others simply transfer their boozing impulses to something else, such as eating, gambling, love or shopping. That might still be preferable to drinking, but it won’t necessarily save you any cash.

For those reasons, don’t quit drinking without thinking through what your alternate reality will become. People drink for a reason, and unless you’ve got something better to do with your time, you could find yourself this Saturday night gambling away your savings account with the sort of highly irritated zeal only a newly sober person would understand.