Bens, Booze & Budgets: Part One

If I didn't get my drinking under control,

This is an ongoing series tackling my struggles with alcoholism, and how I strive to do better. We’ll be looking at the financial impact, my overall health, how it’ll affect my longevity, and my happiness along the way. It’s a serious issue, and I don’t intend to take it lightly. Reader discretion is advised.

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My vacations are rarely actual vacations. This time, it involved visiting event planners in Kamloops and Chase to promote my wedding photography. We had a blast, and on our way back, we stopped in to see “Ben and Barbara” for another hike. That’s when “Ben”, a 60-odd tenured academic, took me aside.

I forget the exact words, but his tone was serious. He was very concerned with my drinking. At this point, he’d seen me consume upwards of six beers in a casual night at home. He’d lost friends in their 40s to hard drinking, and he’d never even seen them drunk. I was, what, 29? If I didn’t get my drinking under control, I might only have 10-15 years left. Taken aback by his frankness, I stammered something noncommittal, and headed back to my car. Even now, I’m thinking about it. “You have to reach old age,” he said. Admittedly, I never imagined I wouldn’t.

*****

The Lancet is a medical journal with roots dating back to 1823. Starting as a simple pamphlet in the 19th century, it’s now an online powerhouse of medical studies covering countless aspects of human health. Mere weeks ago, they published a risk analysis on 599,912 drinkers and came to some conclusions, summarized here: Fortunately, they found that people who drink about 6.5 drinks a week or less are mostly okay. But those who drink 6.5 to 12.5 drinks a week have a six-month lower life expectancy at age 40, while those who have 12.5 to 22 drinks a week have one to two years lower life expectancy, and people who drink more than that have four to five years lower life expectancy.”

This was, obviously, not great news for someone who frequently writes about longevity.

I’d spent years trying to convince myself my drinking wasn’t a problem, but the other day, on my way to work, I needed to stop at a bottle depot. It was a sunny day, and I found parking right out front. This was super convenient, I thought to myself. I mean, I had numerous garbage bags full of beer cans. As I stood there organizing my past benders into sticky blue trays, “Ben” crept into my thoughts again. As each tray filled, I found I looked forward to my bottle return less. Each tray I filled looked like a few hours shaved off the end of my life. 10¢, 10¢, 10¢… 10 minutes, 10 minutes, 10 minutes…

$32.50 was the total return. Literally hundreds of beer cans. I realized then that I needed help.

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Here’s where the math comes in. Nothing motivates me more than raw data, so I drew a line in the sand. The article said, “those who have 12.5 to 22 drinks a week have one to two years lower life expectancy, and people who drink more than that have four to five years lower life expectancy.” Well, I knew I didn’t want to be in the latter category, so I set myself a ceiling of 22 drinks a week, or 3 drinks a day. This is still not in line with what constitutes “moderate drinking”, but I was just looking to game the data. For now, any drinking ceiling was better than none. I AM NOW COMMITTED TO NO MORE THAN 3 DRINKS A DAY. And somehow, knowing that was really goddamn liberating. I look in my fridge now, see 9 beers, and I know I have enough for 3+ days. Somehow, this constraint was weirdly welcome in my life. More savings, a longer lifespan, and easier estimation of how long my beer would last me? I think if I remember all the benefits, it’ll be far easier to not drink to excess!

But can I do it? I still don’t know. My optimism is tempered by having failed at things like this before. I suspect I’ll see an 80% success rate with a few “cheat days” along the way. Done well, this sudden new challenge might literally save my life. Done poorly, there might not be a logical reason I’m saving for the future.

As I write this, it’s been just under 24 hours since I finished my last beer. I bought a coffee, but I’m still tempted by the new rye IPA in my fridge. My wall clock is ticking, and the ticks sound louder than normal.

Holy shit, guys. This should not be this difficult.

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Stay tuned for Part Two.

Losing Weight Is Saving Me Money

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A year ago, I went toe-to-toe with our artist friend “A” on food spending. I did not do well. Where I spent “$1,340.83 [in] November on comestibles – $902.33 on food, $438.50 on alcohol”, “A” spent “only $360/month”. I’m still not nearly as badass as her. I’m still not vegan, and I still spend most of my money on what I eat and drink. Here’s a quick breakdown of October 2017.

I ate out a stupid amount. After wrapping up my cooking-at-home experiment, I thought I should treat myself. Obviously, this was a bad move. I even paid for some friends’ meals, and ended up with a food total of $760.17. I was fucking stupid. It wasn’t even luxury food! I toned down on booze though — thanks to this, this, and this — and ended up with an alcohol total of only $311.90. (To see how far I’ve come, check out January 2016’s total of “$1,120.27”!) Total food and drink cost for October 2017? $1,072.07. This, I consider my most recent baseline. I was eating and drinking as much as I wanted, and no diet or even a modicum of restraint was applied here.

In November, I knew I wanted to make a change. I wanted to be the best 30-year-old I could be, and that meant getting down to 163 pounds. Intermittent fasting and other dietary measures made a reappearance, so my sushi lunches and Subway sandwiches got swapped out for frozen chicken, conveniently-packaged-yet-still-affordable spinach and kale, and boatloads of beans. Alcohol crept up (and so did the discovery of an amazingly expensive izakaya) but I managed to only blow $531.84 on food, or $17.73/day. Alcohol came in at $401.50, or $13.38/day. Total for both: $933.34.

These numbers weren’t the extreme improvement I was expecting, but saving $138.73/month with better health is still a victory! I successfully hit my weight goal, and virtually every meal I eat now involves half a plate of greens. Also, we’re currently 11 days into December, and I’m watching my food expenses like a hawk. Though I expect our Christmas dinner to break the bank, I’m only at $85.78, or $7.79/day for food. That’s the way it should be. Only improvements from here on out!

As a final note, I realized beef was killing my budget. A particularly ambitious brisket set me back $50.06 at one point, and though it was good for multiple meals, it’s hard to justify when 3kg of frozen chicken also good for multiple meals was only $10. Also weird: I don’t miss beef! Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but a steak hasn’t wowed me in years. Smoked beef ribs will always hold a special place in my heart, but I don’t intend to buy a $3,999 smoker ever. It’s also worth noting “beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water” than pork, chicken, dairy or eggs, and that drain on resources is reflected in the price. Even if environmental reasons don’t convince you, the price should. 1kg of prime rib is $30.66. 1kg of chicken is $7.41.

In short, being mindful about what I eat actually saves me money! My health, the environment, and my wallet all benefit. At this point, it’s only logical to eat less, eat more greens, eat less beef, and bank the savings. My $138.73/month in savings is $1,664.76/year. If I keep this up until I’m 65, that’s almost $60,000! An extra sixty-grand to live longer and make the world a better place? That’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Got beef? Let’s take it to Facebook.

I’ve Got Saving Money Down To A Tea

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Over the past few months, I’ve been making seriously big changes to my diet; not for health, but for my pocketbook. I accidentally got healthy in the process, but this isn’t about that. This is about my ongoing quest to reduce my annual food and drink costs by thousands.

Last October, I spent $1,314.54 on food and alcohol. Obviously, that’s ridic, so I tried to tone it down. By April 2017, I’d brought that down to $1,048.57 – $518.02 on food, $530.55 on alcohol. The fact I still spent more on alcohol than food was fucking bonkers though. I knew I could do better. I had to. Fast forward to now, and I’m tackling the booze budget. I think I can still have the good life AND spend only $300/month on drinks. Reluctantly, I started with evaluating why the fuck I drank so much in the first place. It wasn’t pretty.

I think I just like blowing money. On the cheap end, I guzzle bad beer without even thinking about it. On the high end, I internally justify things like my latest Mâcon-Lugny purchase by saying I like the artistry of good wine. Both situations brought me to the same conclusion: I like to feel rich, even when I’m not. This was a problem.

So what felt luxurious, but was still cheap? Soda? Juice? Coffee? Water? I booted soda and juice right away because I know the problems excess sugar can cause. Coffee was out because I don’t even like the taste. It’s utilitarian to me, and the sweet ones had the same sugar problem. Water was, well… water. It was useful, but I didn’t see the appeal. And that’s when my friend “A” popped in with a line that would save me tens of thousands in a lifetime: “Ooo! In summer we make cold brew tea, it’s really good! You just put a tea bag in a jug of water in the fridge and let it sit for a few hours (or overnight). Cold refreshing tea and it’s only a few cents per glass”.

Sold.

Just a few hours later, I’d hunted down my nearest Bulk Barn and found Earl Grey teabags for cheap. 40 teabags for <$3. I assumed at the time that’d account for 40 large jugs. Upon experimentation though, each 2L jug requires two teabags, meaning each teabag produces 1L. The math couldn’t be neater.

Basically, every time I drink a pint of tea (<4¢) instead of a pint of beer ($2+), I’m saving at least $1.96! Could the savings really be that simple? Could I really be adding $1.96 to my bottom line every time I drank tea? Maybe not exactly, but it was a step in the right direction! Believing in that $1.96 would motivate me to choose tea more often, and I’d see savings instantly!

Well, it’s now September 28, and I’ve had this experiment going for four solid weeks. Alcohol expenses so far? ONLY $408.94! That’s a noticeable improvement! Tea is helping me save ~$100/month! That’s ~$1,200/year! That’s ~$12,000 over 10 years! AHHHHH! WHY WASN’T I DOING THIS BEFORE?!?

A final note: tea’s goddamn delightful. I bought a small water bottle and carry teabags out with me now. Almost any establishment is willing to refill your water or give you ice, so it’s like free tea wherever you go. Hot or cold, it’s a great choice. Embrace tea and cut out more expensive drinks.

Anything more than 5¢/glass is too steep.

Thrifty Vegan vs. Spendy Omnivore

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This wasn’t even close. Obviously, I couldn’t have expected anything different seeing as how I was going up against our favourite artist “A”, but I didn’t realize how much work I needed to do until I saw her numbers. She can cover her three daily meals for the cost of my typical lunch! She doesn’t drink much either. Where I spent $1,340.83 this November on comestibles – $902.33 on food, $438.50 on alcohol – “A” averages $10/day if we don’t count eating out, and $12/day if we do. I guess this is normal spending? I have no idea because I have such a warped view of money. The rare occasions I make thousands in a day have largely destroyed any intelligent relationship I had with money. I need a fucking intervention.

“A” broke down her meals in way more detail than I expected. The following breakdowns are lifted directly from her email. Remember, she’s vegan, so she’s using things like almond milk instead of regular milk. Veggie burgers and beefless ground make appearances too. Here’s a typical breakfast:

Pancakes
     PancakeMix    $2.50/box  0.42
     Almond Milk 0.67
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Maple Syrup   $10?/1L 0.70
      Meal cost: $1.99

In case you’re wondering, I picked the most expensive of the three breakfasts she sent me. Cereal runs her $1.33/meal and oatmeal is $1.20/meal.

A typical lunch might be a veggie stirfry and rice:

Veggie StirFry and Rice
     Various veggies $0.75 (if you’re keen on saving money you can try to get the cheapest in-season ones and/or work in frozen veggies)
     Gardein Beefless Ground   $4.60bag/4   $1.15
     Garlic 0.20
     Olive or Vegetable Oil 0.10
     Soy Sauce 0.10
     Sriracha 0.10
     Rice   $20 for a big bag  (individual serving – 0.10??)
     Meal cost: $2.50

Dinner could be something like pasta:

Pasta
     Spaghetti   $10 / 4.2kg   49 suggested servings. probably 25 real servings     0.40
     Gardein Beefless Ground (1/3 pack) – $1.55
     Vegetable Oil  0.20
     Pasta Sauce 7.99 for 1.75Lx2   0.79
     Frozen veggies $10 for 2kg   0.75
     Garlic .10
     Meal cost: $3.79

Miscellaneous snack and drink costs bring the daily average from ~$8.28 to about $10/day. Also, as “A” wrote in her email to me:

I usually only eat out maybe twice a month, usually for a social event or date night so that tends to come out of my fun money budget not my grocery budget. A meal out might be $15-$30.

Factoring in everything above and even assuming she spends on the high end of her restaurant budget, “A” spends only $360/month on edibles. I’M FUCKING EMBARRASSED. I SPEND MORE THAN THAT PER MONTH ON ALCOHOL ALONE.

My food costs are insane too. Even my “most frugal” meals tend to be things like ham sandwiches from Subway for $7, or phở for $10. Then, there’s my cooking habit where I make ambitious meals once a week. Take a look at the shit I’ve been doing lately:

WEEK 6 – Roast rack of lamb persillade, garlic asparagus and buttered orzo
WEEK 7 – Ratatouille, lemon basil orzo and bok choy
WEEK 8 – Rotisserie-style roast chicken and quinoa tabbouleh
WEEK 9 – Cantonese lobster, dongpo pork, bok choy and rice
WEEK 10 – Lobster linguine and arugula salad

I BOUGHT THREE FUCKING LOBSTERS LAST MONTH. No wonder I’m in so much debt

In November, I spent $30.08/day on food alone. Including alcohol, that’s $44.69/day. I sincerely hope you’re nowhere near that. I’m definitely backsliding into full-blown idiocy.

In the end, as embarrassing as this exercise was, I’m glad I put in the work to add it all up. If I adopted all the same eating habits as “A” and ate for $32.69 less per day, I could save $980.70/month, or $11,768.40/year! Wanna see something truly scary? If I invested that every year from now until I turn 65 and got 7% annually like I usually do, I’D HAVE $2,018,998.71 IN MY BANK ACCOUNT. I’m literally fucking lightheaded right now. Less lobster, more millions. I’m eating myself out of a decent retirement.

The absolutely crazy thing is a lot of you reading this are eating for less per day than even “A”. $12/day is pretty luxurious, and here I am eating like a goddamn emperor. I can’t even justify what I’ve been doing lately. I’m floored right now because I hadn’t even added this up until I started researching this article.

I’m seriously fucking embarrassed, guys. Learn from my mistakes. Make me feel even worse by telling us YOUR food costs on Facebook.

What I Spend In a Month (Apparently)

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In our previous spending breakdown, “Why I Am A Fraud: A Story of Booze and Strippers”, I listed off all the dumb crap I spent money on in January 2016. It was a mess. $138.03 on entertainment was okay, but $229 on cabs? $651.08 on food? $1,120.27 ON ALCOHOL?!? Clearly, my spending needed a serious intervention. It took all the way until now to strip away my more harmful spending habits, but I’m still no saint. Reluctantly, here’s October 2016.

It turns out I eat a lot. My food spending was nearly identical to January, coming in at $651.96. I ate out less, but I splurge on ingredients when I cook, even when I’m feeding other people. One home-cooked meal cost me $72.63! Pan-seared cod puttanesca for five was EXPENSIVE. I was able to put a cap on entertainment though. I paid $10 cover to get into a shitty bar, and I bought two books and a single lotto ticket. Total for entertainment: $31.29. Travel costs were far less too. $174, and that covered driving, transit, and cabs. My bills are high though. I pay $89.49 to get online, and between my mother and I, our phone bill – which I pay – came to $299.74 because she was roaming in China. As usual, no rent costs for me after my roommate pays his share, and aside from debt payments and Netflix, all that’s left is… ALCOHOL. Any guesses? I’ll wait.

Ready?

Alcohol for October 2016 came to…

$662.58, ROUGHLY 59% WHAT I SPENT ON BOOZE IN JANUARY! I CUT MY ALCOHOL INTAKE BY OVER A THIRD!

Obviously, $662.58 is still bonkers. $21.37 a day for booze is crazy to a normal person. My aim is to have alcohol down to $500/month. Maybe then, I can finally start whittling down my debt.

In total, I went through $2,803 in October. $633.62 of that went toward housing, but was reimbursed by my roommate paying his rent. $100 came back to me from my mom because she felt bad about her roaming charges. Factoring all that in, I spent just over $2,000 on my own. I’m not happy with that number yet. I want to get down to $1,500/month.

I made $3,105 in October from all my sources of income. I sold some stuff, worked my liquor store job, and actually didn’t take any money for myself out of my photo business. I came out ahead this month! That’s how it should be EVERY month!

Anyway, here’s hoping I don’t backslide. I’m pumped my alcohol spending is so far down though.

Comments? Questions? Ask me on Facebook.

You Have A Drinking Problem

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I have a confession to make: I like craft beer, and that makes me stupid. Let me explain.

That’s not to say craft beer itself is stupid. I fully appreciate the care and craftsmanship craft brewers put into a well-balanced ale, but if you’re reading this, I’m gonna assume you’re working towards financial independence (hereafter referred to as “FI”). Craft beer is insanely expensive in BC. Look at this beer list. Let’s assume you have a basic understanding of how numbers work and avoid the $8.25 pint, but still like the idea of a “bold yet balanced Imperial white IPA hopped with Magnum, Centennial, and Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand” because you have a beard. That’s $7. Not the most expensive thing on the menu, but not the cheapest. Let’s roll with that.

Alcohol in BC comes with a sneaky liquor tax of 15%. Holy shit, we’re already at $8.05. And guess what, you’re not a jerk, so you tip your server 15% too. Suddenly, your 20-ounce pint is a whopping $9.26! WHAT IN THE LITERAL FUCK? Can I remind you that the base ingredients are about a buck? I don’t know about you, but it takes me about 15 minutes to down a pint. I’m paying $0.62/minute, which is like me paying my beer a wage of $37.20/hour to be in me. If that doesn’t make your head spin, you need to go back to school and learn math. Liking craft beer is stupid.

Don’t drink beer? You still have a drinking problem if you’ve ever bought a $5 latte or a $2.50 bottle of pop. The problem gets exponentially worse if this is a regular occurrence. After applying some Mustachian math, we find that even buying a single $5 latte every week over 10 years costs you $3,760! Your $9.26 beer? An absolutely stupid $6,963.52! Do the math. I’ll wait. And if you’re the type to buy a $9.26 beer every fucking day… I can’t even. Go away.

Here’s a new set of rules to live by:

1) You are NEVER allowed to buy any sort of beverage that costs more than 33% of the food you’re eating it with. Sitting down for an extravagant $15 meal? Your drink budget is $5. Live with it.

2) The next time you’re thirsty, DRINK WATER. This can be a fun mind game after a while. See how long you can keep this up before you indulge in the luxury of a goddamn Montrachet or something.

3) STOP drinking at restaurants and bars. You know that MGD your server just brought to the table? It’s less than $2 if you buy it at the liquor store and drink it at home like an unstupid human being. At a bar, you’re paying 4x more. Don’t be an idiot. We have lots of those already.

Again, I’m a lucky sonofabitch. A pint of Lousy Lager at the bar across the street from me is only $5 after tax and tip. Even then, every time I slam one of those back, I understand I’m being ridiculous and spendy. Unless you’ve already hit FI, you really shouldn’t be spending more than $5/day on drinks.

Remember: water is free and comes out of taps here. You have no idea how lucky you already are.