Soldiers run on alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and junk food. This was my life for years: I’d drink nightly, power through the next day with Monsters and Red Bulls, eat gas station food for lunch, and toss in fat dips at all times throughout the day. There are still times that I load up on tornados and monster, but I’ve cut out most of the booze and all of the dip. There are two reasons that I cut back on the booze and chaw: hangovers, and money.
If you’re over the age of 25 you probably know what I’m talking about — hangovers get worse with age. It got to a point where a 6 pack would put me out of commission the next day. But the real reason is money — I knew after a $600 weekend bender that I needed to cut the bullshit and grow up.
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE
Numbers Don’t Lie
While I nursed the hangover from that bender I decided to run some numbers. How much did my drinking habit cost me? I combed over the last six months of credit card statements for anything bar or liquor store related. Here’s the averages I came up with:
- $100 spent each month at liquor stores
- $450 spent each month at bars
- $70 spent on Uber/Lyft
- $620 total alcohol related spending per month
$620 is a shitload of money. It was damn near 20% of my take-home pay at the time. But let’s not stop here, because booze isn’t the only thing I blow my money on.
Dip. I’ve been dipping since I was a kid, but not habitually until I joined the Army. I tried to quit once, and that lasted three weeks. We went to the field, and I was that piece of shit that mooched off everyone else. I quit again when I went to Ranger school, but only because you can’t dip there– and then as soon as I pinned on my tab I threw in a boss fuckin chaw. I should have just stayed quit, but I needed that victory dip. So it goes.
I chewed a can or more of grizzly straight each day, and a can costs just under $4 where I live — for a total of $120 each month on dip.
To round off the unnecessary spending, let’s throw in energy drinks and eating out for lunch. I drank an energy drink every work day — that’s $60 a month on caffeine. My weekly breakfast/lunch spending averaged out to $33, or $132 each month on eating out at work.
The sum total of my bullshit spending each month was $932 dollars! That’s a fucking mortgage payment! More than $11k each year on nothing.
The Long-Term Impact
I felt pretty shitty looking at that number, but I wanted to feel shittier. I wanted to know how much money I would have at age 50 if I would invest that $932 instead of blowing it on hangovers and cancer. I used google sheets to figure this out, and ran the numbers into three columns. Tot Contributions is how much money I would have by just saving the money and not investing it, and the two Account Value columns show how much that money would grow to assuming a 5% and 8% yearly rate of return. Both of these assumptions are very reasonable as we know the Dow Jones Industrial Average rate of return going back to 1925 is close to 10% with dividends reinvested (source.)
THE TOTAL DAMAGE -- $1 MILLION DOLLARS
I was already feeling nauseous, but seeing these numbers just about pushed me over the edge. If I continued drinking, dipping, and being wasteful like I was, I could be 1 million dollars poorer at age 50. That’s only 25 years — Imagine how much that number would grow to by age 65? 70? Even if I just stuffed cash under a mattress instead of drinking I would be $300k richer for it.
This was back in 2016. I didn’t change my ways overnight, but I did start going out less. Soon I stopped drinking during the week. I eventually quit dipping for good (that didn’t happen until two months ago– I’ll dedicate a post to that process sometime in the future.) I still allow myself some bullshit spending because life isn’t all about frugality, but I’m happy to report that I’m able to keep my booze and lunch spending under $150 most months and still manage to have a great time.
I know a lot of soldiers that live like I did — spending 10 to 20% of their paycheck on booze, dip, caffeine and junk food. I’d say 70% of single lieutenants, 50% of single captains, and goddamn near 90% of single joes and NCOs spend that much or more. Usually the married folk are more responsible with their cash but not always. And so far we’re just talking about the booze budget — what about cars, trucks, rims, pay day loans, strippers, and all the other stupid shit we waste money on?
How many more soldiers could get out of the Army sooner (and happier) if we didn’t live like animals? Let’s run another spreadsheet, this time we’ll look at two young enlisted soldiers. Both stay in for a 3 year contract and promote at the same times. Both lived in the barracks for the whole contract. But one spent 40% of his take-home pay on booze, the other only 10%. Here’s what their numbers look like (using 2015 after-tax pay):
These examples are a little extreme, but are by no means out of the ordinary. I know soldiers who spent that much on booze. Most don’t, but many come close.
The soldier who spends 10% of his paycheck on booze still has a good time, but he can leave the army with almost $18k more in the bank. That $18k would allow him to live pretty well while going to school on the GI bill, put a down payment on a modest home, or purchase a well maintained used car with cash to spare. That $18k could be $120k in 25 years if he invested it at an 8% annual return.
Looking at these numbers forced me to ask myself: is it worth it?
Would I rather spend my weekends fucked up and my Mondays hung over or retire early? Seems like a fucking no-brainer when you put it that way, doesn’t it?