Have you ever announced to your friends that you’re not drinking?
I say ‘announced’, because that’s how it feels, on par with telling people you’re engaged, or pregnant, or you’ve somehow managed to buy a house in London under the age of forty.
After an unpaid stint of travelling earlier this year, my bank balance was at an all time low.
I tried to work out what would be a quick way to save some money, and decided not to buy any alcohol for the whole of May.
You’ll notice I say buy – of course free bars were allowed, and if somebody insisted on buying me a drink I would accept if I felt like it, but my rule was that I would not pay any money for booze.
I was doing this primarily for financial reasons. But considering a recent study claimed that young women are now binge drinking more than young men, and a ‘binge’ is classified as four drinks in around two hours, (I’m definitely guilty of that) I was interested in the health benefits too.
Here’s what I learnt.
- I wouldn’t buy a single bit of booze for the month of May. Meaning no drinks at bars, no bottles of wine, nada.
- I could accept free drinks at events
- I could accept free drinks from generous friends and generous passersby
I didn’t actually drink that much less
People become so generous when you say you’re not drinking, they insist on buying you a drink despite not being able to have one bought back.
I had hoped to have almost a dry month, but that didn’t happen at all. I’d say I ended up drinking around 70% of what I would in a normal month.
The guilt of not buying it also becomes tiring, but at the end of meals, your bill is significantly less when you realise you’ve just paid for your food and a diet coke.
I saved money, but not as much as I’d hoped
There’s no doubt that my account is looking much more healthy than it was at the end of April, but I’m not looking back on my overdraft with nostalgia – it will just take a bit longer for me to dip into it this month.
It’s like when you get a pay rise and then can’t understand why you’ve haven’t got that exact amount of money more to spend each month. You expand to fit your means.
I bought some extremely expensive, unnecessary underwear and some software for my computer, and of course this was the month that had to pay my quarterly bills.
I’m fairly smug. I’m not booking in spa treatments and hitting the shops, but I am less stressed about money.
What the experiment did was highlight to me exactly how much I spend on booze each month. I would never usually walk down the high street and blow £30-40 without thinking about it, but I’ll spend that on a night out without even considering it, or realising my total.
I went to a couple of free events throughout the month and every time I was handed a drink I started seeing them as five pound notes being thrown away in front of me. That was an effective reminder of just how much of a dent in my bank account booze was making.
I became hyper aware of my relationship with alcohol
I’m 29, and I think my attitude to booze has calmed considerably over the past two or three years.
Yes, I drink too much (we’re supposed to drink less than four large glasses of wine a week!) but I rarely drink spirits, shots are off the table as opposed to under the table, and I generally stick to red wine and prosecco, because I’m a woman in her twenties living in London and I like to live up to the cliche.
However, this experiment made me aware of the frequency at which I usually drink.
A drink is synonymous with pretty much any socialising, people want to have a pint at lunch, a drink after work, wine with dinner, a few gins at a gig, even most cinemas have a bar these days. Paired with 30th birthdays, engagement parties, weddings, bottomless brunches on a Sunday, a Friday wine in the office, and you wonder how you’re ever supposed to escape it.
Consciously objecting made me realise how many times I said no – and, therefore, how many times I usually would have said yes.
I felt like a judgmental outsider
I’m not somebody who has to have a drink to have a good time, or minds being a bit more sober than my companions.
However, when you’re regularly the sober one, you start to put your doctor hat on and internally muse over how much your peers are drinking – and sometimes you vocalise it. Hint: This does not go down well.
It’s like you’re holding a mirror up to their drinking, but I had no intention of trying to shame anyone.
Just assume that nobody thinks drinking is beneficial to their health, but that they’re taking the decision to do it anyway. Keep it zipped, unless you think someone has a real problem.
Then there were the times where I actually really fancied a Pinot Grigio to unwind after a long day but couldn’t.
I felt like a scientist observing people through a screen as they became looser and more relaxed, their reality hazing a little, as I was stone cold sober and completely knackered by 11pm.
It’s amazing how much energy alcohol seems to give you, although I can’t say I didn’t feel great in the mornings when I was hangover free.
It totally changed my relationship with booze
This month been a lesson to me; not just for my finances but for my health, too – much more than I’d expected.
I looked deeper into my attitude to alcohol and realised that since even before university age, the narrative around a significant part of our lives revolves around booze, what we drink, how much we drink, and the stupid stuff we do when we drink it.
Alcohol seems to be involved in every aspect of our social lives, and I’m going to make a conscious effort in future to lessen its inclusion in everything I do.
Even if that just means I can feel a bit healthier – and be able to afford more ridiculously overpriced underwear.