FIRE and Alcohol: Do They Mix?

I am about to get pretty honest about myself. This post is about something that feels very personal, and it is difficult to admit to what I consider one of my biggest vices: alcohol consumption. I am actually more comfortable publicly sharing my finances than talking about this, but I felt like it is an important topic. In our culture, it is easy for many people to think that their alcohol consumption is “moderate” (like me). I hope that you at least re-examine your habits, if not in the name of health, then for its affect on your ability to reach financial independence.

I have a confession: I drink too much.

Since I graduated from college, I have fallen into the habit of enjoying a beer or a glass of wine every night of the week. Honestly, it is more like two per night during the week, and sometimes more on the weekends.

That puts me in the 14+ drinks per week range. It is easy for me to rationalize that as being normal. Plenty of people drink more than me, so why should I be worried?

Well, according to this, my “normal” alcohol consumption puts me near the top 80% of American drinkers.

And, according to recent guidelines, I should drink no more than 6 drinks per week.

I have to agree with that, given my experience with the occasional groggy morning. A peek at my recent monthly alcohol budget also has me cringing. Just take a look at the last six months:

alcohol spending

That’s an average of $69 per month.

Ouch.

From what I know of other FIRE-seekers and the already FIRE’d, I’m not alone in my love for a good beer.

But it would seem like the effect of alcohol on our bodies and our wallets would be enough for us to shun it entirely, so what’s holding us back?

I imagine it is some form of “life is short so enjoy it while it lasts.” At least that’s how I think of it. But my focus is on the future for basically every other aspect of my life: finances, career, health, and family. The “live for today” line of thinking just doesn’t fit in with the rest of my values.

All this has gotten me wondering: Does alcohol even fit in with FIRE at all?

In three major ways, it entirely clashes with the values of the FIRE community. Alcohol is:

  • Harmful to finances. If regular purchases of such luxury items hinder your savings rate, you will extend your timeline to FI.
  • Harmful to health. The undeniable consequences to health may limit your time in early retirement, and your ability to enjoy it.
  • Harmful to productivity. Whether you get a hangover or not, alcohol has the potential to interfere with sleep, thus affecting your ability to get stuff done.

Let’s break it down now, y’all.

The costs

We have already established that over the past six months, we have spent an average of $69 on alcohol. I say “we,” but in reality, my wife infrequently indulges in the liquid mistress, so let’s just assume that this is one person’s consumption.

I get by with “only” $69 per month because this is mostly cheap box wine, with the occasional craft beer. If I were to drink only beer, this would be more like $90 per month. And BELIEVE ME. I would prefer the beer. I just want to minimize costs.

Using our friend opportunity cost, let’s compare the cost of 14 beers per week with a more reasonable 6 beers per week. I will assume a six pack of a good craft beer goes for $9.

That means that a rate of 14 beers per week costs you $1,092 per year. Cutting back to 6 beers per week would already save you $624 per year.

But if you were to invest that $624 savings over 20 years you would have over $27,000!

alcohol savings if invested

That’s a decent hunk of change.

I know. It’s a simplistic exercise, but you get the point, right?

Drink less, keep more of your money.

The health risks

I think everyone is at least somewhat familiar with the health effects of drinking alcohol, including damage to some pretty major parts of your body, such as your liver, heart, and brain.

However, I don’t think most people realize it can be harmful even in previously considered small amounts.

The 6 drink per week guideline I mentioned earlier is the maximum weekly intake recommended, meaning that anything more than that increases your risk of alcohol related health issues.

The path to FIRE is not just financial. We aren’t just minimizing our time in the office, we are maximizing our time outside of the office.

Personally, I want to be in the best shape I can be. Even though I have not yet felt any long term negative effects of my alcohol consumption, the data says that I am at risk to eventually experience them. I can’t ignore science.

  • Liver. This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Too much alcohol can result in excess fat on your liver, which is hinders its ability to function properly.
  • Heart. Some research shows that small amounts of alcohol can be good for your heart, but the actual amounts are uncertain. But – once you get into the 7 drink per week range, any positive effects are negated.
  • Brain. Alcohol consumption over long periods can result in brain cell shrinkage.
  • Cancer. Hormone imbalances caused by alcohol have been linked to a higher risk of certain cancers.

Of those, I am most fearful of cancer. It is easy to think that I will never get liver disease (only alcoholics drink enough for that! Right?), but cancer is such an unknown beast that I don’t want to take my chances.

And, of course, drinking and driving drastically increases your chances of crashing and potentially causing harm to yourself, or others. So don’t.

But there’s even more to the harm alcohol can do to your livelihood. What if you become ill and then are stuck with the medical bill?

The cost of the health risks

In the United States, excessive alcohol consumption cost $24.6 billion in health care expenses in 2006 (source).

If we assume that these costs are incurred by the top 10% of the drinking population, that’s $820 per person. And that’s probably a conservative estimate.

Including the cost of the actual alcohol, it is easy for your annual costs to push $3,000. For your whole life. That’s a pretty large opportunity cost.

The loss of productivity

The same source above from the CDC estimates that of the total $223.5 billion spent on excessive alcohol consumption in 2006, $160.9 billion (72%) was due to losses in workplace productivity.

And, while alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, the quality of sleep is worsened. I personally can attest to this. After 3 or more drinks the night before, my sleep becomes restless in the early morning and I will wake up around 4:00 or 5:00 AM. The impact on my sleep alone is enough to convince me to cut back.

So how does alcohol fit in with FIRE?

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The verdict: It’s up to you.

My opinion? I think that everyone should consider cutting back, even if you are already under the recommended guidelines. Any amount of reduction will be better for your health, your wallet, and your mind.

Obviously you would be able to save more money if you cut it out all together. Is that reasonable? Maybe for some, but not for me. Self control and focus are very important attributes to achieving FI, but I think that enjoying small amounts of luxury are an important part of an enriched life. As with everything, alcohol is best enjoyed in moderation.

I do not want to come across as the anti-alcohol-FIRE-blogger. As I said before, I am not giving up alcohol. I am merely reconsidering my consumption. I am still aware of the value in enjoying myself.

I have, however, decided to cut back on my consumption of alcohol to no more than 6 drinks per week and $30 per month, whichever comes first.

I may even try going weeks or months without alcohol. I find challenges like that enjoyable, especially when it means saving money!

What is your opinion of alcohol and FIRE? Have your changed your habits to better reflect your values? Let me know in the comments!

Further reading

Two posts from none other than Mr. Money Mustache himself:

And from the MMM forums, some Mustachians weigh in on their monthly alcohol spending and even cutting it out entirely:

 

20 thoughts on “FIRE and Alcohol: Do They Mix?

  • August 23, 2017 at 12:21 pm
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    This one’s going in the Dreamcatcher round-up. Props for taking on the topic and putting in your personal concerns about your drinking in general, never mind the money aspect. You’re spot on with the sleep stuff. I usually have crappy sleep when I have the “just one more” nightcap, too. Good luck finding balance all around!

    Reply
    • August 23, 2017 at 1:22 pm
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      Thanks! I was just looking through your past posts in that series, so I’m honored to be included! I wonder if it would be easier to cut drinking out all together. Then I wouldn’t have the “just one more” temptation because there wouldn’t be any there in the first place.

      Reply
      • August 23, 2017 at 2:25 pm
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        It’s such a touchy topic. If you think you’ve got an addiction and you need help, then yeah, it’s gotta go entirely. If you’re just thinking you’ve been overdoing it lately and either need to slow down or take a break to reset your level, and you think it’s more boredom/repetition than addiction, that’s different. Your plan seems like a good test for you to see whether you can indulge without overindulging. Lots of people in the same boat!

        Reply
  • August 23, 2017 at 12:39 pm
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    Regular alcohol consumption has some health benefits. It’s not just the “good stuff” in red wine but even the ethanol itself has some health benefits to the cardiovascular system. And the safe/healthy amount I heard of is 1-2 drinks per day. So 7-14 drinks per week cannot be too bad for your health. So, a nice Costco-brand glass of wine with dinner will improve your health and well-being and it’s also affordable. 🙂

    Reply
  • August 24, 2017 at 5:10 am
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    Now you got me thinking, Dylan. For the last year or so, my lovely wife has practically given up her daily drink for health reasons (mainly the calorie count – not that she needs to lose a single pound, mind you.) I’ve gotten to the point where I simply don’t sleep well if I have more than a single drink. I love a good cocktail, but anymore, it’s a rare “treat.” So I guess you could take heart that with age comes a bit of a reduction, naturally. Thanks for pointing out all these costs – it does make you think twice about the habit!

    Reply
    • August 24, 2017 at 7:00 am
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      The impact on my sleep is the most noticeable, and I have had similar experience with only two drinks causing issues. 3 drinks is basically guaranteed to cause restlessness, but I don’t have 3 that often. I thought the costs would tie it in to FIRE, and give me another reason to cut back, so I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  • August 29, 2017 at 3:08 pm
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    I think red wine consumption has some health benefits because it has resveratral?

    Reply
    • August 30, 2017 at 7:17 am
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      I’m not familiar with resveratrol, although a quick Google search tells me its effects sound somewhat similar to polyphenols. The issue with focusing on those elements of wine is that you can find higher concentrations in other foods (like nuts) without the risk of drinking too much. I didn’t discuss the “benefits” of alcohol consumption because it would be a lot to talk about, and it would be difficult to dispel any myths, but yes, red wine in moderation has been linked to heart health. My points were more about HOW MUCH wine is considered moderate – new studies show that there is a big difference between the long term effects of 7 drinks per week and 14.

      Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
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  • September 5, 2017 at 6:04 am
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    Great post!. I was only pondering the same quite recently, although I wrote about it from the ‘end of the week’ perspective. Normally during the week I have no desire for alcohol, but come Friday afternoon, am I ever ready for a beer. As you say a little bit (i.e. no overindulging) can be fine and I find it is something I feel I deserve at the end of a hard week. Nevertheless the morning after coming home from a friends wedding party a few months I ago I resolved to try hard not to over do it like that again. Like anything which has consequence in life, regular alchohol consumption deserves conscious attention. Nice job

    Reply
    • September 6, 2017 at 6:42 pm
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      Yeah, I have had enough of the “go hard” nights that I think I’m done with them. I still need to work on the low consumption, high frequency habit though. Thanks for sharing! I appreciate your input.

      Reply
  • September 5, 2017 at 10:23 pm
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    Thanks for sharing. It is good that you identified the problem. Monitor it. If you do need help, it is available in almost every town. Good luck.

    Reply
    • September 6, 2017 at 6:44 pm
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      Thanks, Dave! My long term health is important to me, so I will make sure to make the small-but-necessary changes.

      Reply
  • September 6, 2017 at 11:37 am
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    I’m with ya my friend.

    Honestly $69/month would be a pretty low month for us. On our weekly date nights I figure we spend at least $20 between the two of us, sometimes over $30 if we get a bottle of wine. So that’s $80-$120/month. I figure even with three-buck-chuck we spend another $25+ per month on wine.

    So we’re looking at $100-$150/month. That’s only drinking 2-3 days per week.
    Brad – MaximizeYourMoney.com recently posted…This is How You Achieve Financial FreedomMy Profile

    Reply
    • September 6, 2017 at 6:48 pm
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      It’s crazy how things like this can add up each month. I don’t like to budget because most of our spending is pretty well under control, but I am more inclined to track spending on luxury goods like alcohol. I didn’t think to focus specifically on alcohol until a few months ago, but I’m glad I did.

      Reply
  • September 6, 2017 at 12:13 pm
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    Excellent post! I was in the same boat for quite a while and found a way to justify it every time.

    It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I cut back dramatically. My new rule that I came up with for myself is that I just don’t drink at all if I have to work the next day… to take into consideration holidays and vacations.

    That’s worked well because over time, my interest in having a lot of beers on the weekends went down. I’ll still have two or three, but then I’m pretty much done.

    It’s not perfect and I’ve slipped up a couple times, but for the most part, it’s saved us a ton of dough and, more importantly, my health is hopefully a little better because of it.

    — Jim
    Jim @ Route To Retire recently posted…You’re Doing It Wrong! Your Personal Savings RateMy Profile

    Reply
    • September 6, 2017 at 6:51 pm
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      I have come to the same conclusion (no alcohol on work nights). I think simple rules like that are the best way to really make changes, and a lot of time it just necessary. Thanks for sharing! Glad to hear others have had similar experiences.

      Reply
  • October 5, 2017 at 8:51 pm
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    Great post, I’ve had the same thoughts at times.

    The good news . . . When you are retired, there are fewer reasons to drink! Friday is not a reason anymore and we’ve found we just drink less.

    On moderate vs. abstain, I recommend Gretchen Rubin’s work-some of us can moderate and some cannot. I can have none much more easily than one so abstaining works best for me.

    Reply

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