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.

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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.

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The Tiny Glass Movement

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Clearly, something wasn’t working. A recent look at my monthly drinking expenditures still had me blowing $530.55 on Alcohol. Sure, telling myself “just one less” and “you buy some things twice” worked to bring my spending down from a staggering $1,120.27, but I’m not calling this a victory until I average only $300-$350/month on booze. That’s why we’re embracing The Tiny Glass Movement.

The University of Cambridge conducted a rather duh study and “found that larger wine glasses encouraged you to drink more”. That’s why, for all of July, I’ll only consume beer out of 230ml glasses. (We’re using IKEA MUSTIG glasses.) Accounting for foam, each glass should only be 200ml, so each 2L growler we buy will make up 10 drinks. This also does double duty because it means I can’t buy drinks in a pub this month. I have to use my tiny glass. I expect this will give me the added boost I need to stop being such an alky. I hope to snowflake whatever I save directly into my debt.

To stay up to date on this experiment, follow along on our Facebook. I won’t be posting a follow-up article here, but our Facebook page will have all our numbers from June (our control month) and July (our experiment month). In fact, you should probably give that page a Like now. The site you’re on now is more for ideas, but our Facebook is for our results and discussion. I hope to see you there.

You Buy Some Things Twice

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A few days ago, we talked about how I cut my drinking down by half, and one idea that helped with that is so goddamn simple, I’m sure it’ll help you as much as it helped me. Speaking in basic terms, all I had to do was imagine that everything I used up needed to be bought a second time. That’s it!

I can hear the collective “uhhh…” already, so let me explain. Let’s use beer for this example because it’s both a consumable, and not something super perishable (like, say, a sandwich). Cool? Okay, let’s talk about beer. For non-drinkers, follow along anyway. I’m trying to make a larger point.

Before you have a 6-pack of beer available to drink, you’ve presumably paid for it at your local beer store. Let’s say it was $12. You take it home, it sits in your fridge for a while, and because it’s so readily accessible, you guzzle beer whenever you feel like until you run out. The old me would’ve crushed that 6-pack in a night, one $2 can after another, without a second thought. I would basically destroy $12 worth of value in an evening because I already had it in my home. Is this sounding familiar yet? FOR MOST OF US, AS SOON AS WE’VE BOUGHT SOMETHING AND HAVE IT IN OUR POSSESSION, WE FORGET ABOUT ITS MONETARY VALUE. For most of us, we’ve “already paid”! I’m here to tell you there are some things you buy twice: You buy it once when you pay for it, and you “#rebuy” it when you use it up because you’re using up its value. Just flip that mental switch, and it’ll help you become more frugal overnight. I like to think it’s already saved me hundreds.

When I took that $12 6-pack home, it was still worth $12. Every time I thought to myself, “I want a beer,” I rephrased that to, “Do I want a $2 beer right NOW?” Most of the time, when I reconsidered the VALUE of that beer and that I was mentally rebuying it, it gave me that little extra bit of willpower to put it back. This doesn’t work with everything – sandwiches are still super perishable – but I’ve had success with it when I’ve considered beer, snacks, and even entertainment. “Do I want to watch this $5 movie NOW, or can I get more VALUE out of it if I watch it with friends?” That kind of thing.

Beer was where it was most effective for me. I knew every $2 can I drank would just need to be replaced with another $2 can later, ad infinitum. Every can in my fridge I could say “no” or “later” to would SAVE me $2 in the future. See what I mean?

There are some things you #rebuy. Just because it’s already in your home doesn’t mean it’s automatically free for consumption. A $2 can of beer is a $2 can of beer. Remember that, and you’ll save a shitload.