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.

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.

It’s Time to Stop Joking About Being Shitty

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New Year’s 2007 was rock bottom for me. I’m not exaggerating. I somehow passed out in a crack house after consuming WAY more tequila than any 18-year-old should, and the night ended with me projectile vomiting all over the front porch as my friends left disgustedly. I slept on a mattress on the floor, and over half the people there were high on something, super racist, or both. My only saving grace were two friends I had there who remain my friends to this day. Without them dragging my hungover ass to Denny’s the next day, and eventually disassociating us from the denizens of said crack house, I’m not sure where I’d be right now. It was a pretty fucked up time in my life, but what happened next was worse. For years after that, I wore that night as a badge of honour.

Let me explain: 19-year-old me was a piece of shit too. By then, I’d already developed an alcohol problem that I still wrestle with today. At wild parties, I’d often talk about New Year’s 2007 to garner approval from the “cool kids”. I was somehow content in my shittiness, and used it as a social poker chip in conversations to go all-in. “Oh, you think you had a wild night? LET ME FUCKING TELL YOU A STORY…” It was gross, immature, and shameful – my most pathetic attempt at trying to earn the approval of others. I even thought that was what they wanted to hear. Every time I told that story, people would smirk, ask questions, laugh… How was 19-year-old me to know I was being a dumb brat? Not only was I perpetuating toxic behaviour; I was indirectly telling other people I approved of it! Well, no more. I’m putting my foot down, and you should too. Here’s why.

You’ve probably done the same thing, albeit in less dramatic ways. It’s most insidious in self-deprecating humour – [Why go to the gym when I have ice cream? LOL. #iloveicecream #fatforever] – and a lot of us are guilty of it. When we joke about our terrible habits, we’re actually seeking approval for our idiocy and choosing not to change. We know what we’re doing is unhealthy, yet we continue to brag about it. Why? Why do we come back after a weekend bender and give our coworkers a tally of how much we drank? Why do some meat eaters joke about “never touching a vegetable”? Why are we proud of being so unsustainably busy that our health suffers? WHY DO WE CELEBRATE BEING BROKE?!?

This attitude makes us poorer. If we don’t hear enough positive influences, we accept shittiness as the norm. If Tom, Dick and Harry make $4,000/month and blow it all on booze and cocaine, only to roll in all fucked up on a Monday to high-five each other, THEY’LL NEVER BREAK OUT OF THAT CYCLE. Be the person who brags about good shit, like “I worked out this morning and I feel great” or “my savings rate this year is through the roof”! Sure, you might not make Tom too happy, but who cares? You can choose to recognize your bad habits and change into the beacon of health, wealth and intelligence YOU KNOW YOU CAN BE… or you can just keep joking about your low bank balance, get a few chuckles, and stay poor forever.

A weird thing happens when you start being vocal about healthy habits instead of joking about shitty ones. The people around you don’t want to be left in the dust and adopt healthy habits too! My friend C texted me: “You also have inspired me to get healthy.” J messaged me also: “I think I’m gonna see if I can just get up earlier and walk to work the scenic route”. Oh, and remember Mike, the dude with the ridiculous car? HE TRADED IT IN FOR SOMETHING WITH TWICE AS MUCH FUEL EFFICIENCY AND HALVED HIS MONTHLY PAYMENTS. And thanks to A’s frugal eating habits, I’VE now adopted a mostly vegetarian diet and am losing weight so fast, it’ll only take me a month to hit my goal weight! (More on that soon.)

Comedy is tragedy plus time. Do you really want to be tragic FOREVER, just for a laugh? Didn’t think so. Stop joking about being shitty. Let’s boost each other up and conquer the fucking world. It’s all uphill from here.

Why I Am A Fraud: A Story of Booze and Strippers

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You probably shouldn’t listen to me. By the time you finish reading this, you’ll come to understand I really don’t know much about personal finance, and should be the last person dispensing advice. I mean, I can’t even follow my OWN damn advice. I’m a fraud. Here’s a completely candid look into The Shit I Spend Money On.

Even my least costly expenses are pretty high. In January, I spent $138.03 on Entertainment. There was a movie date, I bought a video game, and I also got tickets to see Basia Bulat this month. There’s also the matter of my Debt. I owe $15,400 at 5% and $4,300 at 9.68%, so $99.47 just disappears out of my account once a month. I also somehow blew $229 on cabs. I still haven’t figured out if that’s more expensive than maintaining my car. I imagine filling up the tank a few times would cost me about $229 anyway and this way, I can drink freely. Drinking’s a big part of my life, in case you hadn’t heard.

Oh, I should probably mention Alcohol. Are you ready for this? Here’s the final figure for January: $1,120.27 on booze. I’m not fucking kidding you. If I keep drinking at this pace, I’ll have blown $13,443.24 by the end of the year! For some stupid goddamn reason, I spent an average of $36.14 on liquor for EVERY DAY of January. I probably need an intervention.

Food came in at $651.08. I ate out a lot, and I know I can save more in this category. $21/day on Food is pretty nuts. I also rolled Coffee into this category. I was once a Starbucks Whore™, but I made sure to buy a coffeemaker, so that’s a step in the right direction.

My craziest expense was a $158.48 dinner date. I figure it was worth it, because she’s my girlfriend now. Funniest expense? $10 to see strippers. That was one hell of a bachelor party. I also made the wise financial decision to NOT get a $50 lap dance. Not today, nerdy Polish girl who looks vaguely like Taylor Swift. I know the only thing you want in my pants is my money, and you’re not getting it.

Total damage: $3,363.26. Total earnings (during January, so a slow month): $2,394.21. Keep in mind this is money I’m barely working for. This money just kind of happens to me with my lazy shifts at the liquor store. I also had two wedding consultations in January that would’ve resulted in $5,000+ had I landed both jobs. Had I simply been luckier, my earnings would’ve been $8,000, which could explain why I blew $1,120.27 on goddamn alcohol. Smart Ben reckons he can eat for three months on that amount!

Maybe I’ll learn. I most likely won’t though. I took my girlfriend out last night and racked up a bill of $456.73. Yes, I’m crazy, but so was the 1962 Amarone we drank.

I’m really not frugal. You shouldn’t listen to me. It’s honestly a wonder I’m not homeless.

Check out the entire January 2016 breakdown here.

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.