Frugal Challenge: Give Up Alcohol

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I gave up alcohol in June of 2017 and it has been one year since I have participated in what many people refer to as social drinking. There were many reasons why I gave it up, but the reason that I was least willing to reveal  was because I thought that social drinking was a drain at the bottom of my wallet. I wasn’t a crazy party goer or alcohol dependent by any means. I was an occasional drinker, perhaps drinking once every week or two. If it was an especially crazy or celebratory week, I would drink two times in the same week, 1-2 drinks at a time. But still, there was something about the habit that made me really unhappy. I challenged myself to stop drinking alcohol, mostly to see if I could do it, and I told everyone about it so that I would be held accountable. When people asked why I gave up drinking, I gave them the partial truth, which was that after every time I drank, I developed a minor skin rash. While health reasons were definitely a motivator, my biggest motivator was the realization that a beer at a bar costs anywhere from $5-8, and that every time I wanted to splurge on a cocktail, it would cost on average $15 for me to drink what was essentially spiked juice. Mimosa brunches were $30, for OJ and a splash of champagne! And don’t even get me started on paying for a 2 oz. shot.

I also realized that every party we threw involved alcohol for the guests, which increased our grocery bills like crazy. Plus, I really didn’t like the feeling of socializing while drinking. Usually, I felt a disconnect in conversations, a discomfort from the possibility that the conversation is simply the alcohol doing the talking and us humans acting as its platform. I didn’t like that drinking was considered a social event, and I had this feeling that relationships built on “going out to drink” and “happy hour date nights” were very superficial. What I found after I accepted the challenge was that I was not too far from the truth. What started out as a frugal challenge ended up being a decision that has stuck with me, for reasons other than monetary.

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Some of you are probably upset at hearing my suggestion of giving up alcohol. You probably are not liking these frugal challenges that I create. They are challenges because they are difficult. Most of them will be ideas shunned by society. But this DOES save you money. Assuming two drinks once a week, an average order of $20, multiplied by fifty-two weeks, the cutting of the habit saves me over $1000 a year. This is with the assumption that I am ordering one cocktail at the most for my 1-2 drinks per occasion, and beers half the time. Also, the calculation does not yet count the bottles of wine I would buy from the grocery store for my “wine nights” or the alcohol we would have purchased for the parties that we threw for our friends and family. I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be closer to $2000 a year. But let’s be conservative and call it $1000 per year, which I can then use for other things that I value more.

The health benefits of giving up alcohol included the avoidance of a minor skin rash as well as that groggy after-party feeling. Entering my early twenties resulted in longer recovery times, and I disliked the feeling of non-productivity that usually followed these “social events”.

The most surprising consequence of quitting alcohol, however, was the revealing qualities of my relationships. It helped me determine which relationships I wanted to keep, and which I did not. Going out to the bars and getting happy hour are activities so ingrained in the millennial culture, that it has essentially replaced ACTUAL hanging out. When I gave up alcohol, I found which friends I was not able to hold relationships with when alcohol was removed from the equation. I found out which friends were interested in still hanging out with us sober, which had similar values, and which ones can carry a decent conversation. I became more conscious of those who lived their lives based solely on comparisons, those who spoke badly of others when they weren’t present, and those who were vastly invested in appearances. I also became aware of the way I had been acting, trying to fit in and to get along with groups of people that I did not really value. I became more selective, because hanging out with unkind people is ten times more unbearable when you are a hundred percent sober. I started turning down invitations to hang out with people at events that are centered around drinking. Interestingly, that got rid of 80% of the events I had been going to. By saying no to these events, I had more time to build stronger relationships with those who were willing to come over for board game nights, or to kick a soccer ball at the park. I became much closer to my family as well. I started seeing family members once a week, which I hadn’t done since I moved out for dental school. Slowly, I was able to create a social circle that was more close knit and in-line with my values. There were no more situations where I felt pressured to go out, even though I did not want to. I started to understand who I was, by deciding who I wanted to be around. Interestingly, the people I used to drink with, I hardly see anymore.

For me, giving up alcohol was VERY easy when I put it from a frugalist’s standpoint. I was vested in funneling as much money as I can into my loans. All I had to do when I was tempted to order “just one” cocktail, was to think about the number of years I have to continue making these payments. That made the decision-making a no brainer. After a few months, it became a habit, and the feeling of wanting to “socialize” by drinking went away.

This isn’t to say I haven’t made any exceptions. I have made a limited few, mostly when it is a special occasion or once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity. For example, I had one beer when we went to Oktoberfest in Germany. As in, THE Oktoberfest. I also had one cocktail when we dined at our first Top 50 Restaurant in the world in Mexico City. Lastly, when we were in Oregon, I made an exception for the Multnomah Whiskey Library. That last one was a “just because”. These are the exceptions I have made since I quit. I am not completely anti-alcohol or anything puritan like that. I just simply recognize that choosing to drink is keeping me from financial freedom that much longer. Now that one year is up, I wouldn’t want to go back to being a social drinker. Especially after creating the social circle that I have now. My life is so much more valuable surrounded by true relationships, that I am not hankering to go back and add a boozy filter to that part of my life once again.

My advice?

+ You don’t have to go ham all at once like I did. Give yourself a trial run – say one month at a time.

+ If  you slip up, no big deal. Forgive, forget, move on and try again.

+ Have a “why”! A motivator is what will get you there. I just have to think about the years I have to keep paying down debt, and that’s all it takes for me to not feel like drinking anymore.

 

Frugal Challenge: Become Vegetarian One Week, Every Month!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I’ve attempted a lot of frugal life hacks in the past year, all with the goal of paying down my student debt of over $550,000 in less than ten years. These include co-housing to reduce rent, travel hacking to jet set around the world for free, and more. It seems I am very much up for these challenges, so I figure, why not start a series detailing some of the frugal hacks we come up with!

This month, we decided to start a new challenge. Become vegetarian for one week, every month. Seems arbitrary, but you can’t really deny that meat and fish are very expensive to buy. Even more so, when you have a determination to never come home from the grocery store with anything packaged in plastic. Because of that, we cannot buy meats and delis from large discount stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. We also cannot buy them from cheaper sources such as Albertson’s and Ralphs. Pretty much, we have only been buying meats and fish and deli and cheese from Whole Foods, which sells them wrapped in paper. With the change of going zero plastic last year, we have watched with heavy hearts as our grocery bill went up and up and up. The fact that I gave up beef and alcohol more than a year ago hasn’t helped. So we decided that it’s time we wrangle in the grocery expenses, without going back to plastic.

We were talking to our friends about the meat dilemma when we were visiting San Francisco. It’s amazing what everyone else is thinking but not saying. Once the topic was brought up, it seems that we’ve all struggled with the concept of pricey meats at one point or another. One of our friends said that he knew someone who split an entire cow among him and his guy friends to reduce the cost. It requires contacting the farm and ordering the cow at a discounted rate, but, split an entire cow?! That’s SO much meat going into the freezer. It’s a great idea, but I am not sure it’s one I am ready for, especially since I gave up beef and Mikey will have to finish all of that. Also, the minimalist in me shudders at the thought of so much excess in the house. So Mike and I kept on thinking…

Our solution? Vegetarian for one week per month, to test two things. Firstly, if we can get better about eating more greens, and secondly, if it helps the financial aspect. This was week one. The verdict: Our grocery bill was LESS THAN $25! For two people who bring lunches into work every day and dine at home every dinner, that is spectacular!

How did we do it?

We meal planned our way to a lower amount. Mostly, all we bought this week was produce. I cut down the costs as well by baking my own bread, as well as preparing pizza dough from scratch and freezing them, so that they were readily available for the weeknights. Before we even stepped foot into the market, we took inventory of things we had at hand. For example, olive oil allowed for homemade pesto sauce that required just a handful of pine nuts and basil. Since pizza requires just a smear of the stuff, we now have pesto for weeks of pizza, readily available! Additional toppings for a pesto pizza included two mushrooms, one red onion, pepperoncini, and a can of olives. Since we were already getting basil, why not add margherita pizza to the list? This would only require us to buy two more ingredients: tomato sauce ($0.89 per can) and a single tomato ($0.99 per pound). The tomato sauce will also last for weeks upon weeks, or could be used for pasta at a future date. The total cost for 8 pizzas (with extra sauces for the future) was less than $6. Granted, home-made sourdough took half of Saturday to do, but I enjoy the task and it was so worth it.

Our meals this week consist of:

– Egg sandwiches using homemade bread with homemade tomato soup or pasta salad for lunch, a couple days of the week.

– Vegetable pizzas – I prepped enough dough for 8 personal pizzas. To be honest, neither of us can finish one personal pizza per meal. At most, maybe 3/4 of a pizza is eaten, therefore leaving 3/4 of a pizza (each) for lunch the next day given that I cook 3 personal pizzas in the evening. Which is what we do!

– Fried Rice – The most basic of fried rice was taught to me by my dad. It used to be a staple at our house when we were growing up, because it feeds many mouths and costs very little. I carry that tradition, today.

– Vegetable Stir Fry – It was the simplest and easiest thing I could think of, after the fried rice. Plus, more veggies!

– Vegetable laden omelettes. Breakfast for dinner, anyone?

We did cheat a little… but only because there was left-over ramen from last week, which also meant left-over pork belly slices. Mike was happy we were able to eat meat for a day. But no meats were purchased this week, thus resulting in a total of $25 in groceries. So that’s fine by us. Final ruling: roll-over meat from previous weeks does not count. Additionally, no intentional cheating allowed (a.k.a. purposefully buying extra meat the week prior!). We make the rules up as we go.

Let’s see what we come up with next month!

How about you guys? Willing to try going vegetarian for one week? How do you go about cutting the grocery bill, without purchasing plastic?

A Simple Holiday Gift Guide – 10 gifts for the holiday season

Call yourself frugal, minimal, mindful, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. There’s still the matter of gift giving for the holidays. Unless you’ve found a way to completely let go of gift giving without hurting or disappointing your closest loved ones, there’s the issue of buying more material goods that could do the planet more harm than good. Gift giving is a bit of a funny thing. You hand someone something to celebrate a birthday or holiday, as a way of saying, “Here’s a piece of the Earth I killed for you in your name.” Extreme much? Yeah, I am sometimes, but there’s a little bit of truth to that statement, don’t you think?

It’s taken a bit of time for me to find a balance in my gift giving strategy. There is the issue of giving someone something they actually want. If there’s a specific list or wish, I don’t stray much from that, only because the point of gifts should be making someone else, and not yourself, happy. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could do an alternative. And for those people that didn’t insist on a particular item, there are always these options. Here are my top ten gifts for the holiday season.

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+ Home baked cookies – wrapped in linen napkin or placed in a reusable container (also being gifted). If your group of friends or family is anything like ours, bring it to a party Pizookie style. We recently served a pizookie this way at our Friendsgiving dinner, and it was way more fun to grapple over each other, digging in with our own spoons, and frantically trying to eat more than your neighbor. It was an awesome way to end a group dinner, bringing us together to literally share our meal. Grossed out by the idea of sharing? Make traditional individual cookies, plate, and top with a heaping scoop of ice cream.

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+ Your best homemade sauce in a mason jar. This is great whether it’s pasta sauce, a secret dressing, or a favorite dip. It is a sure way to bring a little piece of your home into someone else’s. Mike and I share a love for Mexican food, and in the last year, we’ve found a Tomatillo Sauce recipe that tastes almost as good as our favorite sauce in Valle de Guadalupe. Made from scratch, we wanted to share this sauce with our friends and family. We gave away little jar samples as a gift for attending our Thanksgiving dinner. The “Thank You” email sent the next day included our three go-to ways to cook with this tomatillo sauce, from something as simple as chips and salsa, to chilaquiles and enchiladas, which added even more of a personal touch!

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+ A bouquet of everlasting flowers from a local flower shop. I am a huge fan of supporting local farmers, florists, and small shops. Stop by your local florist and ask for a bouquet of flowers that dry beautifully. These in particular are Everlasting bouquets from Petals and Pop, a local floral shop in Huntington Beach. These bundles will last through multiple seasons, and technically, could last forever if left alone. Place in a mason jar or a vase to your liking.

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+ A bar of soap, without the wrapping, tied with a reused bow. My favorite gift that Mike and I ever received during the days leading up to our wedding was a single bar of soap, unwrapped, from my friend Jo as a housewarming gift. On it was a handwritten note tied with a single bow that read, “In my culture, a bar of soap symbolizes prosperity.” The simplicity of the gift stunned me, but it’s something I never forgot. It was my favorite present because she gave us a gift that symbolized a wish.

+ A mini Christmas tree for holiday cheer. Having an early party this season? Bring in a mini Christmas tree, small enough to stand on a coffee table or on the floor. Nothing beats bringing some natural element or other into the home. Plus, the smell of pine is a winner.

+ A reusable shopping bag, with some produce bags and linen bread bags, or mason jars, collected over time. I love these items, and they are particularly useful and actually friendly to the environment. I have a couple of tiny produce bags for fruits and veggies, and a disarray of totebags. The point isn’t to match (although matching is a plus!) but to have a sense of sensibility and practicality when it comes to shopping for those holiday dinners your loved one is about to throw.

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+ Homemade candles, infused with your favorite scents. There is nothing I love more than lighting scented candles. These are easily homemade in a mason jar or a jar that once held a previous candle. It’s great for lighting dark afternoons, when the sun has just gone done but the sky isn’t dark enough to turn on the lights. I love working by candle light in the evenings. There’s something romantic and peaceful about that, and it reminds me of childhood days in the Philippines when the electricity would go out and we only had candles to get us through to the morning. Click here to learn how to make one of your own.

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+ A stack of your favorite books that you’ve read this past year, ready for de-cluttering. I had a goal of reading through the leftover unread books that I foolishly hoarded in my early twenties this past year. But the year flew by so fast, that it seems I only got through seventeen or so books. With my new ways, I no longer feel the emotional tie to books like I once did, and can’t wait to part with them once I have sucked all the knowledge out of their beautiful smelling, yellowing pages. But what to do with them has been a dilemma. I’ve donated a bunch to my sister’s charter school, which does not have a library and wherein she is trying to create a collection of books for her high school students to read. Some of my favorites, I’ve held on to and gifted to fellow bookworms for their birthdays. So why not do the same for the holidays? Choose some of your favorite reads, add a review or synopsis, and wrap them stacked and with a bow. Their book lives are not yet over.

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+ A bottle of wine, brought to a holiday dinner party. Since giving up alcohol, I have constantly been trying to pawn off bottles and bottles of wine at every dinner party we’ve hosted at our house, and then some. It’s a great, merry addition to a party, and a good gift for any host or hostess. Plus, you and the guests may get something out of it too!

+ Handmade cards, for future birthdays and other well wishes. I love giving cards with every gift, but I hate paying $5 for them. I have recently acquired a novice level skill of using a calligraphy pen and could use some practice. I figured, why not practice by making a set of handmade cards? I started to do just that, then grouped ten cards together to gift to someone else for the holidays. Practiced a new skill, and saved someone $50 worth cards for the following year. Win win.

** All gifts were given sans wrapping paper, and tied with a bow that has been re-used from previous gifts that I’ve received.