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Uh-oh. I have a problem. I’ve gone over 5 months now without a glass of wine. And it’s great!

I didn’t set out on this path at the beginning, which started due to a health scare that wasn’t. Yet, I ask myself why it is that we in the FI community are cutting every last penny, just to gather and celebrate over some beers. We can do better, can’t we?

I went sober during both FinCon and the Greece Chautauqua and it was an interesting challenge. Depriving myself of wine has been eye-opening. Literally!

Let me share some of the lessons I’m learning and how they apply to money, mindset, health, and freedom.

That’s Okay, It’s CardboardDeaux

Let’s talk about the money.

Matt’s Brother Loves His Work!

Yeah, you’re frugal. You’ve cut your cell phone bill, ride your bike to work, and rent out your extra bedroom on AirBnB. But relaxing at the end of a day means a nice glass of … box wine. Box wine? Freddy Smidlap will not approve 🙂

Like Freddy, we weren’t frugal with it. Everyone’s values are different, and we value drinking good wine. Coming from a family of Italians and having relatives in the wine business, my husband is influential in our appreciation of the history, the making, and the enjoyment of a nice bottle of wine. If we drink “CarboardDeaux”, there is something seriously amiss in our world!

For us then, we were averaging about $12 per bottle and splitting one nearly every night. Some people might see us as borderline alcoholics. But at other times, we’ll mention this to someone and it seems to validate what they are doing. Maybe it’s our age or the circle of people we surround ourselves with, but splitting a bottle regularly has become pretty “normal”.

Normal? Normal like buying a $60,000 SUV. Normal like living in a McMansion. Normal like running up credit card debt, eating out all the time, getting the latest electronics.

At $12 per bottle on average, we are talking about over $4000 every year, just on this one purchase. And that doesn’t even count the money spent at a bar or restaurant.

FinCon, Chautauqua, and the Joy of Missing Out

Just before flying out for my very first FinCon, I got the doctor’s report and my gallstone scare was unfounded. I just had some rib pain from my Taiko drumming. After a month sober, the idea of upping the ante and challenging myself to something much harder crossed my mind.

Having just posted about my Jane Muir hikes and the Joy of Missing Out, I started reflecting on what is the essential element of financial independence that really draws my interest? I’ve been retired freeployed for going on 9 years now. I don’t need the typical information on saving, investing, or paying off debt.

It’s all about mindset to me. My first post was about being out of your comfort zone after all!

So I decided not only to go to FinCon sober, but I continued it in Greece during my first Chautauqua.

Don’t Just ChooseFI, Ouzo FI. Opa!

Yes, that’s right. I went to Carl’s Beer Party and sat in the Pink Flamingo, with only bubbly water to my name. It felt like a waste to use that free drink ticket on a sparkling water, but hey, I was thirsty!

I made lots of friends and had no problems socializing. And that’s what gave me the courage and inspiration to continue the journey and try being sober for a over a week in Greece.

One of the things that I have found so special about people pursuing financial independence is the great respect and jovial acceptance of individual decisions. People were really supportive and no one gave me the feeling I had to have a cocktail in my hand to be part of the party. In fact, I believe that when I explained my challenge and they realized I do love wine, it was a lesson for everybody to consider.

Uh-oh. It’s not breathing!

A Bottle a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Keeps the doctor away? Oh, yeah, but that’s because you’re too drunk to go to the doctor, right? Seriously, let’s look at some of the health related aspects I’ve been loving since I started down this road.

First, I feel great. I’m not experiencing “The Grape Depression”. My mood is improved, especially when I wake up in the morning. I’ve dropped a few pounds too.

My exercise is better because, to quote Freddy Smidlap “I tried running, but I kept spilling it”!

The biggest benefit, by far, has to be sleep. Recently I read a review of the book “Why We Sleep” at FourPillarFreedom. I joked that his post was not just eye-opening, but eye-shutting!

Wine and other alcoholic beverages affect our sleep and overall health a lot more than we’d like to admit. Depending on how much we’re drinking and how often, the affect on our health is a pretty serious issue.

Sober October, November, December…

Sober October. That’s a thing now, apparently. It seems as people are drinking more and more now, others like me are beginning to question the health and financial aspects. Taking a month off is gaining some traction.

Having returned from FinCon, I noticed this guest post by PhysicianOnFIRE about his Sober October. I was happy to meet PoF and his family in the pink flamingo and of course, snag one of his free beer koozies too. Learning that he is part owner of brewery, it surprised me that he and his wife took a month off of drinking.

I was fascinated to read about his experience and the impact it had, even for just a month. It was interesting to compare notes and realize that he had similar observations, even during that shorter time frame.

As an avid reader of blogs, I also stumbled (no pun intended) on this post at Raptitude, recounting his four month break from drinking. One of his biggest takeaways from the experience was that he likes “the idea of drinking a lot better than the experience of it”.  I am feeling a similar effect. I love the taste, swirling the glass, and toasting with friends. But I really don’t like the drug aspect of it. Do I really want to be sleepier and lose energy?

Skipping the wine at Thanksgiving, that was a tough one for me. Probably the biggest sacrifice so far. Why? Because we traveled to Texas where my winemaking brother-in-law lives. With twelve of us hanging out over five days, the excellent vintages opened and poured were phenomenal. Twenty year old Port, a bottle of really nice Brunello di Montelcino, wines from his friends in Napa — all of these passed me by.

So how long is this going to go for me? Am I giving up wine “for good”?

Meeting Ms. Fiology at FinCon

If you’re a fan of ChooseFI, you may have listened to one of the great episodes recently with Deanna, otherwise known as Ms Fiology. Her story of going from alcohol addiction to sobriety to a debt-free life and now becoming a leader and role model for others is so amazing to me.

I was lucky to meet Deanna at FinCon. We shared a common knowledge of rehab. Not because I personally went through a program, but in 2014, a close family member of mine was fighting a life-threatening dependence on crystal meth and had formerly been a heroin addict. Visiting often, I attended counseling sessions for family members and heard first-hand stories from people facing the devastating affects of substance abuse.

It startled me to realize that over half of the people at my niece’s rehab were alcoholics.

And it was during this time that I first went on a wine holiday that lasted 7 months. As a kind of solidarity with my niece, I decided to not have a drink during the time that she lived at rehab and the halfway house that followed. When her journey was complete, I finished mine as well. For me, I was ready to go back to enjoying my “drink of choice”, at least at that time. But for her, like Deanna, it has become a life completely committed to sobriety.

Each of us need to take a hard look at our alcohol consumption and determine if we are really using it in moderation or not. Even if we are drinking responsibly, we need to ask ourselves whether this practice is consistent with the lifestyle that we are building.

Discipline Equals Freedom

I recently read a great article about cultivating willpower by Dave at Accidental FIRE. It’s a guest post he did for JD Roth at GetRickSlowly, called Discipline Equals Freedom. I highly recommend you read this and consider the effect that depriving yourself has on creating the life you actually desire.

It’s Just Like Riding a Bike. NOT!

Dave gives an example about limiting his pumpkin pie bliss to twice a year. He reserves this splurge for just Thanksgiving and Christmas. At first, this sounds more like diet advice, but it goes far beyond that. The discipline we practice every day hones us into the people we become.

I like what Xrayvsn had to say in the comments. While a lot of FIRE walkers deny themselves so many pleasures, the reason is not just to stockpile their nestegg, but to build focused intent with conscious decision-making.

This got me thinking more about where this is leading me. I never intended to give up wine completely. But I’m on a roll right now. It so happened that the last glass of wine I had was on my 59th birthday. I’m thinking that I’d like my next glass of wine to be on my 60th birthday. That would be an entire year.

And somewhat like Dave’s pumpkin pie, going forward the wine will be a worthy splurge, reserved for only a special occasions. Something to truly celebrate with friends and family. An event worthy of popping some real bubbly!


Have you ever thought about giving up drinking or some other “costly” habit? Has the experience affected not just your wallet but your mindset?



  1. Dave @ Accidental FIRE

    First of all thank you very much for the shout-out and the kudos on my post. Secondly and more importantly, you need to post more often. This was really well written, eye-opening, and spoke to me.

    I was probably a functional alcoholic through my late teens into my early 30s. I never went to AA, no rehabs, and I can stop drinking. When I was deployed overseas as a civilian supporting the military I had maybe one drink in 4 months and I was fine with it. But I’ve been thinking more and more about this issue lately, and I listen to the leading research on great podcasts like Joe Rogan, Peter Atilla, and others. The latest, and most up-to-date research is that any amount of alcohol is bad for you, period. The scientific community is always learning, and always updating what we thought we previously knew.

    So the bottom line is the whole “a glass of red wine a day is good for you” thing is a myth. Alcohol is bad for you, it kills cells in your body. And whatever moderately good things there are in some alcoholic drinks like antioxidants etc are more than negated by the badness of the alcohol itself. That’s where the scientific consensus is right now.

    As a health nut who used to be fat and really wants to live long and healthy, I continue to ponder the issue of whether I should be drinking at all.

    • Susan

      Thank you for your encouragement on writing more, but you know I much prefer being a reader and commenter! Your Discipline post develops this essential idea and I’m glad it is on a big-time blog as JD Roth.

      I am with you on the health aspects and also watch many interview shows. People like Peter Attia have the time to pour through the studies in ways that full-time physicians aren’t able to. For years now I’ve followed a low-carb diet and made a big impact on my health, but at the same time had the idea that red wine could also work. Work? What does that mean? If I’m maintaining my weight? What about my health, my sleep, my money and my self-respect? This is worse than pumpkin pie. It’s probably more akin to drinking cola or other straight sugar.

      Congrats on the discipline you’ve shown putting a regular bad habit in its place. Moderation is probably harder that abstinence.

  2. freddy smidlap

    hey, thanks for the shout out. as you know i’ve linked performance to wine consumption in my own life. i do the same basic workout most every day. it’s 3 miles on a treadmill. days with no wine the night before are much faster and feel easier. my pulse rate recovery is faster too. weight comes right off without the vino too. none of this is surprising but it’s noticeable in just one day. i consider the sauce like altitude training. if i gave it up for month i could probably go run an 18 minute 5k. i’m happy with just moderating, though.

    i’m glad it worked for you, susan. i don’t know how the hell you said no to a brunello or fancy port.

    • Susan

      Altitude training! You crack me up and you’re probably onto something there. I’ll look to twitter for the results if you test that month off!

      I was lucky to drink a Brunello at the source in Montelcino in 2005. Yet, we were sharing a bottle every night so it wasn’t as special as it might have been. The biggest thing I passed up at Thanksgiving was a 1984 late-harvest Cab that my brother-in-law made in Paso Robles. First time I ever tried a late-harvest wine and he opened the last bottle. I went limp with the temptation, but when I’m on a roll, there is no stopping me.

  3. Deanna

    What an honor to be included and called a role model. Thank you, Susan! Nine years ago nobody would have associated those words with me or my lifestyle. It brings my heart joy to be helping others find freedom from addiction rather than being the poster child of it. In addition to being addicted to alcohol, I became addicted to drugs – one of the same ones your niece was reliant on. Brunello di Montalcino – you are taking me back to my days of being a wine sommelier! Yes, it was a fine job for an alcoholic/drug addict. I was high functioning. 😉

    Now onto you-you are a phenomenal writer, Susan! And you are rather quite funny (Cardboard Deaux, Ouza FI, haha!). I love your (and Dave’s) thoughts on limiting such splurges to less frequent occasions. I bet you’ll appreciate them more.

    It was so great to meet you at FinCon and I really am impressed at your decision to give up something you love during such social events where it circulates freely. Additionally, I love how you found joy in missing out. Yes, no one ever gives me a hard time when I opt for sparkling water at CampFI or FinCon. As a matter of fact, people in the FI community have been amazingly supportive & encouraging.

    I’m off to read Dave’s post on GRS…

    • Susan

      You are a treasure to our FI community, so I hope the link to your podcast episode will encourage people in my own circles to take a listen. Particularly my niece.

      I’m glad you enjoy the humor, as I do. When we met at FinCon, I believe we spoke about the Joy of Missing Out. That thought is empowering when you decide to go against the majority of peers at a given time. You are so right that people working toward financial freedom are really encouraging when someone steps out of the norm. It is great to have met you and I know you’ll love Dave’s post. Enjoy!

  4. Laurie@ThreeYear

    I gave up alcohol a year and a half ago and aside from the occasional sip of something wonderful (liking the “idea” of drinking more than the actual you drinking) I haven’t had any wine in all that time. I realized all the things you e realized, that I slept better and felt better without it. So I finally asked myself, “Why do I drink at all?” Just like any habit, it took awhile to adjust to but I’m sooo glad I gave it up!!

    • Susan

      A year and a half is impressive, particularly as there is a big difference in the approach if you’re not an addict. Asking “why drink at all” is a great question. When I consider the joy of the experiences I have had when I’ve skipped it, I’m actually collecting interesting memories of the great wines that got away. When I approach my 60th next summer, I will reread this and consider if it is more special to have the wine, or more special to skip it. You have me thinking. Thank you.

  5. Adam @ Minafi

    Whew, nice work! From a bottle of wine a day to nothing is an impressive jump!

    The money side is no joke. We’ve decided to start tracking every cent spent on alcohol – home alcohol, drinks with dinner, drinks at bars – the whole lot. We’re not far off from your $4k/year number based on the last few months.

    Looking at that in FI terms, that’s $100,000 needed to drink! That’s not insignificant. Props to you on the change.

    • Susan

      I like the way you’ve converted it to a 4% rule. When looked at that way it shows how significant this one spending item is. Forget latte factors, huh? I do think this category seems to be skipped over in our community because we so enjoy the socializing.

      You are smart to track it so closely, especially now that you have joined the freeployed. Congrats on that!

  6. Tonya@Budget and the Beach

    I think it comes down to personal decisions just like anything else. And I respect those decisions and never try to pressure anyone into my lifestyle or even question why people do or do not drink. I have close family members who are in my opinion alcoholics. I’m so, SO thankful that it was never part of my personality to be excessive about alcohol. I truly enjoy the taste and the relaxing-ness of having a glass of wine with friends or dinner (luckily I do NOT have expensive taste) and know that I can manage my relationship with it. I do know though that it can affect sleep and I do also preform athletically better when I haven’t had anything to drink the night before-even one glass of wine! But I think that has more to do with age and metabolizing alcohol. I’m a classic lightweight! lol! But good for you and follow what is best for you!

    • Susan

      Yes, I completely agree that we have to find our own path. I will say that reading and listening to many FI enthusiasts has raised the bar for me in lots of areas of life. For instance, your exercise it one of those. I recall seeing you on some monkey bars and I recently tried that and could not move from one bar to the other — at ALL! Even without the wine, ha ha! Seeing your success in that area spurs me on. If my current sober journey helps another person out there, then that’s great too. It’s all food for thought. Good to hear from you.

  7. Savvy History

    Interesting subject matter in this post. I’m into “value” purchasing and if wine is imortant to you, go for it! In other thoughts, I’m jealous you got to meet Deanna! I loved her insights on the Choose FI podcast and just listened to her yesterday on the What’s Up Next podcast about women and FI (highly recommended, although I’m sure you’ve heard of it). And I bet you are missing stumble upon!!!

    • Susan

      Yes, I “value” the good fortune of meeting Deanna and I also enjoyed both her ChooseFI podcast interview and the recent panel discussion at What’s Up Next. I was actually on Episode 11 there in a discussion on blog commenting, which was my personal first time on a podcast. Deanna has overcome so much that it goes to show us all that big progress can be made from a position of rock bottom, which is really an important story to my niece and some of her acquaintances. Thank you for your comments. I “value” them!

  8. Randy @ Emusements

    I really appreciated this post, not just from a FI context but as a general life question for anyone. I have never been a big drinker and drink sporadically at most. I tend towards headaches (tension and migraines) and am not a great sleeper, and alcohol nearly always amplifies these problems.

    Drinking is a personal choice, but I don’t think most people bring as much intentionality as they should to the decision. Irrespective of the health considerations, my wife and I have always been bewildered that people drink so many of their calories (whether via alcoholic or sugary beverages). We’d rather allocate our calorie intake to food. Plus, drinking any bottled or canned beverage, whether at home, on the go, or in a restaurant/bar, is costly — and exorbitantly more expensive than drinking tap water or home brewed beverages.

    I think optimization of diet and nutrition has interesting parallels and synergies with FI principles (an idea ChooseFI explored in episode 90), and I’d love to see more discussion about it.

    • Susan

      I agree that there are a lot of parallels between FI and nutrition. When I went to FinCon, many discussions were on the subject of new studies and ideas about ketosis, veganism, intermittent fasting. Heck, there was a guy at Chautauqua that gave his own impromptu talk on Cryogenics because he’s made arrangements to be frozen, and in the meantime was pursing a lot of studies on extending lifespan. This community has a lot of real thinkers interested in cutting edge information and it is so fascinating to have discussions. In fact, I look forward to meeting up with you at a local group in the future.

      As for wine, it used to be that it was supposedly healthy, but as time goes on it appears those claims are like most marketing campaigns that convince us consumers. Having a product that is addictive must be even better — for them! But for me, it has a lot of meaning in the family. I am not sure where this will go from here, but this experiment is truly changing me, which is great. I’m with you. Calories from a beverage are generally a bad idea.

  9. Abigail @ipickuppennies

    I only drink maybe 2-3 times a month, so I don’t really feel like I need to give it up. What I *do* need to do is make sure my group of friends has more game nights, so that it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to drink. Seriously, three drinks out on the town is easily $35! Ouchie.

    To that end, I’m having a game night on Friday. They’re always fun, but the cheap drinking is a wonderful bonus.

    • Susan

      Honestly, I’m with you there. Board games and some store-bought drinks are totally in line with great financial plans. Not only that, but I’m wishing I was in Seattle area to join you. Have a great time and please drink responsibly!

  10. Tim

    Wow, I love, love this article!
    It’s the opportunity cost for me. If I spend $x on something then I couldn’t use that to pay down the house, give, or some other much better opportunity.
    Thank you for sharing your story in such a strong way!
    I needed this encouragement.

    • Susan

      I’ve never framed it as an opportunity cost, but of course it is. At first, that makes me think of the money, but possibly the lost opportunity for wakefulness, discipline, or just going against the “flow” also count. I’m happy if this encourages you. We all get such great support from each other in this pursuit. Very good to hear from you.

  11. Joe

    We only drink a few times per month too. I used to drink beer more often, but I mostly gave that up. My triglyceride level is too high and alcohol doesn’t help.
    Now, I have one or two drinks on special occasions like Superbowl. 🙂
    Good job staying dry.

    • Susan

      You make a good point about your triglycerides. My husband retired as a Clinical Lab Scientist, so we talk blood work numbers like geeks. You are way ahead of the curve realizing that triglycerides are the important part of the Lipid panel to focus on. But hey, you are great at the moderation part, so that is fantastic. Superbowl, yes, another special occasion that I just skipped, while watching tons of beer commercials too!

  12. Frugal Doc on FIRE

    One advantage to drinking only occasionally is that you only need ONE drink to feel the effects (assuming that is part of your goal). I have realized that the daily alcohol is just a habit, and my husband and I are working on replacing the alcohol with something else, like sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate juice and a squeeze of lime. It is somewhat of a ritual– pour something special which signals the end of the workday and the beginning of a relaxing evening. This is our time to be present to one another, listen, share. And yes, we do save a lot of money in the process, and lose weight, and sleep better! Thank you for this thought-provoking post!

    • Susan

      I love your idea of mixing pomegranate juice with sparkling water. Being present with one another, listening, and sharing…nicely said. I’ll drink to that (NOT!)