Today marks the start of Dry February where I’ve undertaken not to drink alcohol for one whole month.
I’ve chosen February for obvious reasons. All I can say is thank God its not a leap year.
How does alcohol relate to financial independence?
Well, firstly you can waste a fortune on alcohol. Money out, drinks in…rinse through kidneys, flush down the drain and then repeat.
Thanks to taxation and high costs of the delivery mechanism, alcohol in pubs is ridiculously expensive. And in restaurants its even worse. If you order a £20 bottle of wine you’ll be getting something you could have got for say £5 in a supermarket.
And then there are the second order effects: the kebabs, the taxis and the unwanted pregnancies….the costs can really add up. This is The Aggregation of Marginal Gains. Not to mention the effects on your health and vitality. Which I guess I did just mention. Drinking makes us fatter….and people that are over-weight get promoted less and get dead more.
We all know that drinking is not big and its not clever. But, nevertheless, going without alcohol for a month might be my toughest challenge yet. That’s because we all have flaws and one of mine is alcohol. If The Escape Artist were Superman, alcohol would be my kryptonite. I know its rare to lead with an admission of weakness. But to achieve greatness you must first acknowledge that you suck.
Well guess what?…The Escape Artist is not Mother Theresa. We are all clowns to some degree. I’d like to say that I always drink responsibly…but that would be a big fat lie.
Not only do I sometimes drink too much, I have other flaws as well. For example, I tend to use inappropriate humour. But then you already knew that. I could go on but I only have about 1,500 words to play with so can’t possibly cover all my other flaws in this article.
If you are British, then there are two excellent times to drink alcohol. Firstly: Autumn / Winter. What cosier way to get through those long, dark evenings than a log fire, a bottle of Rioja and a hangover the next morning? Secondly: Spring / Summer. God knows, we need to celebrate our little bit of sunshine and what could be better than a cold beer or seventeen in the garden?
Most people like clear and simple blog posts that confirm their pre-existing
biases beliefs. But some things are complex and alcohol is a tricky subject. Alcohol can be used with good intentions and effects (celebration, creativity) or bad (self-numbing).
To be a grown-up is to let go of dogma and false certainties. You need to be able to hold 2 seemingly contradictory concepts in your mind at the same time. So here are 2 ways of thinking about alcohol:
- Getting drunk is great fun…let’s bang on some tunez and get good and drunk
- Alcohol creates serious problems. It allows you to hide from your issues and, in extreme cases, can kill people.
Which of these do I believe? Both of them. Its a question of balance and context. I’m with Winston Churchill who, when asked about the risks of drinking, said that he’d taken far more out of alcohol than alcohol had taken out of him.
The Escape Artist is all about the good life. We’re not interested in deprivation around here, we’re interested in self-discipline. So if you have your booze intake under control, a few beers or a bottle of wine from the supermarket each week is not a problem…financially or otherwise.
When I was young, money used to limit my alcohol intake. Life was simple back then. If I had £10 for an evening out, the bus fare was £2 and beer was £1 a pint then my intake was naturally limited to 8 beers (subject to the randomness of the round system).
One of the interesting challenges of financial independence is that there is no constraint on your ability to get drunk. As long as I avoid 6 star London hotels and strip clubs (not a problem for me) The Escape Artist has an unlimited booze budget. My wallet has much greater capacity than my liver. Also, there is no boss to tell me off if I get in late to the office.
By quitting your job, you in-source your self-discipline. If you have a job and a mortgage to meet, you have no choice other than to get up and into the office. Freedom gives you choices which is why it can feel scary.
In practice, I doubt this is much of a problem for most people that get to financial independence early. That’s because we humans mostly run on habit…and if you’ve got to financial independence, you will have developed some deep-seated habits around self-discipline.
The truth is that my drinking is perfectly manageable…but its also a deeply ingrained habit. I know this runs deep because, over the years, I noticed that my urge for a drink tends to spike up between 6 and 7pm. For most of my adult life, this was an unexplained mystery.
Then one day I was at my parents house and their grandfather clock chimed 6pm. My Dad jumped up and said: Right…who wants a drink? I had a lightbulb moment, realising that over the years I might have been conditioned by my parents example to work hard and then relax with drinks in the evening. This reminds me of Pavlov’s dogs where ringing the bell at mealtimes triggered the dogs to produce saliva.
By going one month without alcohol, I am looking to jolt myself out of a habit…to switch off auto-pilot and live intentionally…for a while at least. After that, my ideal frequency of drinking will be back to once or maybe twice a week. I don’t want to give it up…but I do want to be able to take it or leave it.
How am I going to make this a bit easier?
I have 2 motives in writing this article. One is the usual making-the-world-a-better-place thing and the other reason is accountability. By putting my goal out there, I increase the cost of falling off the wagon….thereby reducing the chances. Feel free to ask me how I’m getting on as we go through February!
I’ve also recruited one of my mates to join me on the wagon for the next month. When it comes to community, online is good but real world is better.
2. Out of sight, out of mind
I usually keep a cold beer or four in the fridge for when I get back from the gym in the evening, When I open the fridge door, I see it beckoning to me. It tells me lies that I want to hear. It tells me that instant relaxation is at hand with no work required and no consequences. It tells me that I’m worth it.
Get thee behind me Satan!
I’ve just removed my booze stash from the fridge where I can see it and put it in a shut cupboard in our spare room.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhig cites research that suggests the trick to ditching a bad habit is not just to give it up but rather to replace it.
For example, I used to check my portfolio prices compulsively. When I started a blog, I found a new habit that virtually eliminated my urge to check stock prices. I started to check my blog’s page view stats regularly instead. By replacing a bad habit with a less bad one, I moved in the right direction along The Path.
If I feel myself cracking, with an overwhelming need to reward myself, I will be breaking open the Fruit & Nut chocolate….replacing one treat with another.
4. Toughening up
No doubt some readers are thinking:
WTF is the snowflake banging on about? Its just a month without booze!
We’re all different. So some people will find a month on the wagon isn’t even a challenge, but for me this is going to be hard.
So it looks like I’m gonna have to go back and re-read The Inestimable Advantages of Hardening the Fuck Up.
Meanwhile…enjoy February and have a drink for me!