Listen, I enjoy alcohol. An ice-cold beer in the summer or a stiff drink of liquor during the holidays can make for a good time. If there is a line in the sand between a good buzz and a good drunk, I probably cross it more than I should.
But I typically try to stay away from the bad drunk territory when I can. I can deal with the occasional hangover here and there, but anything more than that would quickly be identified as problematic.
I like the taste, buzz, and overall good times’ that can come along with a few drinks. Throw in the right mix of people and late 90s music videos on YouTube, and it’s even better. That’s probably the reason I can’t remember going without it for even a week in the last 10-15 years. Maybe longer. Yeah, that’s a stretch.
But I like a good challenge even more. So, I figured, why not take a little break from the substance? And if we are taking a break, why go a week without alcohol when you can go for a month?
I have dubbed the Max Out of Pocket blog the intersection of healthcare and personal finance. Therefore, this little experiment fits right in. Not only can alcohol really hamper your financial budget, but it can also wreak havoc on your physical and mental health. I even created a new category for this one called “healthy living”.
So what were the results of this little experiment? Here’s what happened.
Max Takes a Month Off Drinking
When I first plotted this out, the thought did cross my mind that going 30 days without alcohol might be a challenge for me. On top of being a regular weekend drinker, there are always “good” reasons to let this habit spill over into the weekdays here and there. I had certainly thought about taking a break a few times before, but just never made it happen.
Drinking every night because we drink to my accomplishments.Drake
Keeping things dry on the weekdays is one thing, but rolling into a Friday evening without a drink in hand might be difficult. Isn’t that what Friday nights are for? And then there are Saturdays. College football and alcohol have always gone hand in hand for me. Yelling at the TV when you are sober just doesn’t seem as fun.
These are just excuses, though. So I figured, let’s go for it. With Mrs. Max OOP in another country for a few months, I probably don’t have a ton of excuses to be drinking on my own anyway. Polishing off a few beers while sitting around watching Ozark on Netflix is probably a questionable use of my time.
Who knows, maybe I could even reduce my liver fat percentage by 15%.
So on Friday, September 25th*, I threw back my last gin and juice and went to bed. The experiment had started.
Sleeping Like a Baby
If I was only to write about only one thing related to this little experiment, it would be the positive impact it had on my quality of sleep. This started almost immediately. I slept more soundly, had many more dreams in much more detail, and I did not wake up at all during the night. By Week 2, I had more excitement for my 8-hour sleep cycle than I would normally have for my Friday night drink.
I will spare you the details of my dreams, though. No one wants to hear about Max jumping through clouds, fishing reel in hand, with two tennis rackets tied to my feet (cloud shoes). No idea what the fishing reel was for. I chalked this level of detail up to me spending more time in the REM cycle.
Quite often, when I drink alcohol before going to bed, my sleep cycle is disturbed. On the weekends, in particular, I have a bad habit of not giving myself enough time between my last drink and when my head hits the pillow.
There are a few other underlying causes for my sleep disturbance.
- Alcohol occasionally causes acid reflux pain that feels like hydrochloric acid in my esophagus. Yes, that wakes me up.
- I often wake up to empty my overfilled bladder in the middle of the night.
- Sometimes, I think as the alcohol wears off, it triggers me to wake up, and my type-A thoughts start racing.
All three of these can easily lead me into a several hour insomnia episode. I did not experience one of these symptoms during my
30 35* days sober. They were completely eliminated.
Reduced recycling? Almost sounds like a bad thing. But when you are not consuming alcohol, you are not generating the packaging that comes along with it. Therefore, a lot fewer cans, bottles, and wine boxes are going to the recycling center.
This is probably a bigger deal for me than most. My town does not offer curbside pickup of our trash and recycling. I am required to sort and drive our recycling to the dump. I suppose that is the price I pay for living in one of the seven income-tax-free states.
This process makes it hard for us to hide from how much alcohol we are actually consuming. If I blow through a 12 pack over the weekend, that’s 12 bottles or cans I have to deal with next week. Sure, purchasing canned beer or boxed wine instead of bottles can reduce the work, but it still hits the weekly dump run.
A reduction in drinking had a positive impact on the environment.
Physical Performance and Health
This one might be debatable because I have been naturally spending more time at the gym with Mrs. Max OOP in Alberta. That said, it does seem like my motivation and overall physical performance is reaching the next level.
On the weekends, I have been getting to the gym by 8 am and running at a pace I have not seen in years. I put in a 21-minute run a few weeks ago that came in at sub 7-minute miles. Not bad. I am also quickly approaching 225lbs on the bench, which has been a long term goal for me. I weigh about 170lbs. There was no significant weight loss, but I am certainly more cut in the abdomen than I was thirty days ago.
Mental health has been great too. I have been more productive at work and have a general sense of “feeling great” lately. That’s a scientific observation. Most days prior to this experiment would be classified as “feeling good”. But then there are the days when I would experience the occasional hangover causing the dial to dip down to the “feeling bad” zone.
Then finally, there is my elevated lipid panel. I did not have another test during this experiment, but I have read in a few different places that a reduction in alcohol can decrease cholesterol. I will be checking back in on that reading in early 2021.
Level Setting the Habit
This is a big one. But I do need to make a note here. There is a subset of the population that shouldn’t have any alcohol. Unfortunately, their mind and body just doesn’t tell them where that line is between when the good times’ end and regular life begins. I know plenty of people who fall into this boat, and some of them don’t even know they are in it. There is no amount of time away from alcohol that would support them even having one drink. Resetting the habit is just not an option.
For Max though, I have an opportunity to come out of this experiment and reset the habit. This goes for both quantity and frequency. After a thirty-day plus break from drinking, it is much easier to limit my intake frequency to certain days. Say, Friday – Sunday fun day? I can also reduce my weekend intake to maybe a few afternoon drinks instead of a full day bender on a college football Saturday. I am too old for that anyway.
Mrs. Max OOP and I have played with dry weekdays in the past, and I do like that concept. But I also don’t feel the need to micromanage it either. If St. Patrick’s Day lands on a Monday, odds are I will be having a Guinness. That said, excuses to drink can get tricky. Is a stressful day at the office a reason to drink? Maybe, but there is a spectrum and self-awareness to think about here.
I think taking a full week or month off here and there could also promote a natural reset, and is generally good for the body.
Money Back In My Pocket
Believe it or not, I don’t have great data here. Beer and wine often get buried deep into our grocery bill and I don’t have the wherewithal to pull it out of those receipts. Additionally, I am very inconsistent when picking out higher-end liquor or settling for its cheaper little brother on the lower shelf. Finally, the pandemic all but eliminated overpriced drinks from the pub since March of 2020. Limited social events kept money in my pockets.
I guess it really is just me, myself, and all my millions.Drake
But I will make an estimate that in a normal year we likely spend over $1,800 on alcohol. A lot of this comes from drinks from restaurants with offensive markups north of 250%.
How can I complain about our health insurance cost when we are dropping almost $2,000 on alcohol? They penalize others on their premiums for smoking; should I get hit with increased premiums for this unhealthy habit?
It’s a good question. But for a family that only spent $51,436 in 2019, I suppose this shows we have our priorities in order.
Mrs. Max OOP and I used to hit our local pub for happy hours almost every weekend before the pandemic. We got the beers half off during happy hour but after tip, we would be looking at a $20 tab. That’s almost $1,000 on its own.
$20 (happy hours) X 50 weeks = $1,000
Not to mention, Max is known to get feeling good and “accidentally” order a drink after the happy hour expires. That can cost us and get the bill closer to $30. Ouch.
Since Mrs. Max OOP has not been drinking up in Canada either, I am going to go ahead and give this experiment credit for putting over $150 back in our pocket in October.
$1,800 / 12 months = $150 October Savings
This experiment spanned five weekends and saved us at least $150. Although it really didn’t cross my mind much during the week, I would be lying if I didn’t say I felt a little inconvenienced on the first few weekends. But by weekend four and five, even that dwindled. I was also invited out for drinks once. The drinks sounded good, but the company didn’t, so I was happy to have an excuse to decline.
I think this habit can slowly creep up on people. If I think back, it does seem like my monthly intake has very slowly increased over the last 10 years.
I have always thought there are probably a lot of people out there that have a love-hate relationship with alcohol. They love it at night but hate it in the morning. A never-ending cycle of winding down with a drink at night only to wind back up with coffee in the morning.
I think this would be a great challenge for them.
I am actually pretty happy about this accomplishment. This wasn’t a life-changing experiment, but it felt great. It has been on my list of things to do. Between resetting the habit and understanding my sleep cycle better, it was well worth a month without a drink. The extra cash and fewer budgeted calories were just a bonus.
When is the last time you took 30 days away from the bottle?
*You might be wondering why I started on September 25th and not October 1st. Well, at the time I was planning on visiting my home state of Michigan in the last week of October. That’s just too big of an excuse to drink to overcome. So I was planning ahead. Secondly, I had a lingering sore throat towards the end of September that I was trying to nip. But my Michigan trip got delayed, and therefore the sober experiment got extended to 35 days. I really didn’t have much of a reason to drink before my birthday on Halloween.