My name is Nick, and I am not an alcoholic.
But I do like alcohol quite a bit. And I’ve always been aware, on some level, that I’ve probably spent a fair bit of my disposable income on it over the years. Pretty much all of it, in fact. Still, the anxiety that came with adding it all up — and the sick horror at the final tally — wasn’t something I was prepared for. Consider this a warning: If at least three of your top five hobbies involve drinking alcohol, you may not like what you’re about to find out.
Some disclaimers before we begin. First: I’m bad at math and my memory — as we will soon discover — has been pickled by years of drinking. I haven’t taken into account inflation over the 20-year span of my investigation, nor have I accounted for the differences in the U.K.-U.S. exchange rate over time. (I’m a Brit who’s lived in the U.S. since 2009.) I’m prone to both wild overestimation and underestimation. This entire piece may be bullshit. But with that out of the way, here’s my very rough estimate of the obscene amount of money I have sunk into murdering my liver.
The pubs in England rarely card you, so let’s assume I was out drinking once or twice a week by the age of 16. The two weekend jobs I had probably let me spend about 20 quid ($25) a week, but over the course of two years, that’s already… £2,080? Really? That’s $2,685! Before I turned 18! Throw in another $250 or so on all the plastic bottles of vodka that were taken to house parties, and we’re up to roughly $3,000. Ugh.
Shame Level: Surprisingly high this early in the game.
Student bars are dirt-cheap, but if you’re out every other night and spending 10 pounds each time, that’s $50-ish a week — which is pretty much what I did in my first year, so that’s $2,685 just for those 12 months. This went down drastically in my remaining time there, though (largely thanks to a recurring, non-booze-related illness), so let’s say the same amount in total for those years.
Shame Level: Holding steady.
The combination of illness and shit-paying temp jobs and bar work means my first two years after graduation weren’t flush with cash. Call it an overall average of one night out a week at about $30 a pop.
Shame Level: Manageable.
I moved to London at 24 after landing a steady writing gig. And so, I went out. A lot. In fact, the odd bottle of wine aside, I can barely remember ever buying booze to drink at home until many years later. Now, granted, on many of those nights out, someone else was picking up the tab (thank you, every PR firm in England), but London is still an expensive city to drink in. Here’s my estimate for the following five years:
- Couple of $4 or $5 beers with lunch two or three times a week: $6,038.
- Out somewhere I had to buy my own drinks, at least twice a week, probably around 50 bucks a pop: $26,834.
- $12 bottle of wine or a few beers with dinner a couple nights a week, call it $25 a week: $6,709.
Shame Level: This can’t be accurate. It can’t be. It’s more than twice my pre-tax salary for the first year I was there, which makes it basically impossible. Doesn’t it? Oh God, I feel sick.
I left London for New York at 29 and spent the first year floundering financially: A generous overestimate for that year would be $50 a week on booze, so $2,600 overall, maybe. Consistent work followed, though, as did pissing money down the drain once more (although, thankfully, lunchtime drinking was almost nonexistent there). The breakdown for the next five years:
- Out somewhere I had to buy my own drinks, at least twice a week, probably around $70 on average (sometimes $30, sometimes $100+): $36,400.
- Wine or beer with dinner a couple nights a week, call it $30 a week: $7,800.
Shame Level: Somewhere between throwing up in the middle of making out and pissing myself on public transport. I am praying, praying, that this is off by at least 50 percent.
In 2015, I relocated to New Jersey to have a baby and never went out again. A year later, I relocated yet again — this time to Los Angeles, just to make a trifecta of three of the world’s most expensive cities — to have a second baby and to somehow go out even less. If you combined all the times I’ve gone out for drinks — or had drinks with dinner — since my first child was born, I doubt it’s more than $1,300. We do still buy booze to drink at home, though, so between all the wine, beer and spirits loaded into that Costco cart, that’s about $150 a month, or $3,600 altogether.
Shame Level: Honestly, still in shock from London and New York totals. I am a monster.
And that brings us up to the present day. Which means it’s time to add all this up…
GRAND TOTAL: $103,011.
$103,011. Enough to put one of my daughters through a good chunk of college. Enough to purchase a four-bedroom house in Texas outright. Enough to buy five-and-a-half locks of David Bowie’s hair.
Okay, calm down. Calm down. Let the dry heaves pass. I’m 37 now: We’re talking about $100,000 over the course of, pretty much, 20 years. Which breaks down to an average of five grand a year. Which further breaks down to $416 a month, or about $100 a week. Which… sounds pretty normal, right? This random article I found on the internet says it’s almost sort of normal, so it must be true!
What freaks me out is that all of this is just alcohol. It’s not post-drink munchies; it’s not cabs and cigarettes; it’s not, well, y’know, other stuff. So even assuming that I’ve overestimated by 50 percent, which is entirely possible — did I mention I’m bad at math? — throw all that in and you’re still looking at six figures. Add in what my wife has spent on going out in her life, and between us, you get a figure that only wouldn’t keep me up at night because my children already have that covered.
There are two possible takeaways here. One: Use this knowledge as a long-overdue wake-up call and start accounting for alcohol when budgeting to save yourself from financial ruin. Two: Assume I’ve got the numbers completely wrong and laugh about what an idiot I am as you’re buying the next round.
For the record, I’ll be doing the latter.