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By Paul Michael/Wise Bread
May 5, 2015
trashcan filled with bottles
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

If you're like most working adults in America, you like to let off steam at the bar. And, the economy is certainly showing that trend. In 2012, the U.S. bar, tavern, and nightclub industry took in over $23.4 billion in revenue. It's projected to reach $24.35 billion this year, and that doesn't include the alcohol we buy from liquor stores.

And while that's good for those businesses, it means that we the consumers are literally drinking away our savings. Depending on what kind of drinker you are, you could be spending way more than you think on your little stress reliever. But, knowledge is power, so here we examine the costs involved, and just how easy it is to cut back.

How Much Do You Drink?

If you enjoy just one beer or glass of wine every night with dinner, then guess what — you are in the top 30% of alcohol drinkers in the U.S. If that shocks you, you're probably not alone. Two drinks? Then you're in the top 20%.

However, to get into the top 10%, you'd have to up your drinking considerably. How much? Over 10 alcohol drinks each and every day. That's right, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the top 10% of drinkers in the U.S. consume an average of 74 alcoholic beverages per week. That equates to 18 bottles of wine, or over six 12-packs of beer.

But even if you're just having a few drinks a week in the local bar or pub, the costs can really add up.

What is it Costing You?

If you're a heavy drinker, you probably aren't getting your alcohol from a bar; that would be crippling to your monthly budget. With most people spending $10 on a bottle of wine, it would come to over $200 per week including taxes, or over $800 per month. That's two or three car payments right there. Annually, that's almost $10,000.

Let's look at the budget of someone who goes out twice per week. Once during the work week, and once on a Friday or Saturday night.

When you go out to a bar during the week, you will usually order food with your drink. And with most people ordering two drinks, plus tip, you are looking at around $40-$50 for the evening. This, of course, doesn't include the costs for cab fare, babysitting, and other expenses.

On the weekend, a typical night out at a bar is a little different. You will most likely take advantage of the fact that there's no work the next day, and order several drinks over the course of the evening, along with food and snacks. You may also order cocktails, shots, or other specialty items to make it a good night. You will be looking at around $100 for the evening, depending on where you live. And keep in mind, that's per person. As a couple, you will spend at least half that again.

Do the math. $160 per week, or roughly $650 per month, can easily be spent by someone who enjoys six or seven drinks a week when they go out to bars or restaurants. It is, in fact, very similar to the amount of money that would be spent on alcohol by a hardcore drinker. By going out just a couple of nights a week, and drinking moderately, you're spending over $7,000 a year.

The Big Question: How Can You Cut Back?

It's actually quite easy to make a few small adjustments to your weekly bar tab. In fact, you may not even notice the difference, depending on how strictly you follow the guidelines.

1. Only Bring Cash Out

By far the easiest way to stick to your booze budget is to hit the town with your plastic left at home. It's easy to rack up money on a credit or debit card, but cash is finite and you can see it going down throughout the evening. You can also preload a debit card and use that. Either way, once the cash is gone, it's time to go home.

2. Take Advantage of Happy Hours

Do you have to go out when everyone else is hitting the town? If you have your friends with you, why not do something a little earlier than usual? You'll get great specials, including two-for-one drinks, free appetizers, and even free shots. You can always head back to a friend's house later and finish the evening there.

3. Eat (and Drink) at Home Before Hitting the Bars

Food costs can really add up quickly in the bars, and the food may not even be that good. If you go out with a full stomach, you will not only save money on overpriced food and snacks, but avoid getting tipsy too quickly. As a student, my friends and I would usually have a few cheap beers at home with our food, too. Then we took the bus down to the bar, and were already quite happy before we'd ordered one drink.

4. Order Water Between Drinks

This is great for several reasons. First, a glass of tap water with ice and lemon is free at every bar. You can drink this and stretch your money over time. Second, and perhaps more important, it stops you getting drunk, and makes hangovers much less severe.

5. Pitch in for Pitchers

Bars and restaurants often offer pitchers of beer at a discount. Combine that with happy hour, and you can get enough beer for four or five people for just $5-$7. Also, consider domestic beers instead of imports and craft beers. They may not be as tasty, but they are usually much less expensive.

6. Look for Freebies

Bars know the importance of deals and coupons. They will often have specials on their websites, and in local papers and flyers. Save them, and bring them out the next time you visit. They can take a nice little sum off the final total.

7. Ladies… You Can Get a Lot of Free Drinks

Sad, but true. Many bars and clubs make special offers to women in the hopes of attracting a larger crowd. Some will let women drink free, or for $1 per cocktail, all night. And of course, many men will offer to buy you a drink. Just be careful who you accept these from, and if in doubt, say no.

How much do you spend on drinks per week?

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