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Are You Drinking Your Way Into Debt?

Christine DiGangi

It’s fun to unwind with friends after work, but handing a bartender your credit card to open up a tab can do considerable damage to your finances.

While most consumers are aware that going out to eat is a common budget breaker, many underestimate the impact alcohol has on their monthly budget.

Even in areas where a glass of beer doesn’t cost much, a happy hour habit really adds up. Here’s a basic example: Say you drink five pints of beer a week (two each weekend night and a single after-work drink), and you spend about $4 on each glass. You’re spending about $20 a week on bar trips, which is about $1,040 a year.

Of course, that figure doesn’t account for tips, the fact that a lot of beer costs more than $4 a pint (the U.S. average is $3.77, according to pintprice.com), and the good chance that you occasionally (or often) average more than five pints a week. If you’re not a beer drinker, the weekly expense likely goes up quite a bit, as well.

If you carry a balance on a credit card you use at the bar, the interest adds up, too. Here’s an explainer on APR, if you’re not familiar with how it works. When you do the math, you’ll see how an occasional drink has the potential to drive you deep into debt.

Connecting the Dots Between Drinks & Debt

There are financial implications of drinking beyond the cost of buying booze: Excessive drinking cost the U.S. $223.5 billion in 2006, according to the most updated information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Expenses from alcohol-related health treatment, car accidents, lost productivity and other effects impact millions of consumers, not to mention the potential for an individual to incur medical or other debt as a result of alcohol-related side effects and accidents.

This isn’t to say financially savvy people should stop drinking; it’s more of a reminder to track your spending. Blowing your budget on excessive social outings will push you into debt if you maintain the behavior long enough, and it doesn’t make sense to jeopardize your credit rating and financial future for a few extra pints of beer. Enjoy what you enjoy, but keep track of how it fits into the big picture.

You should check your credit scores regularly to make sure your habits don’t cause it to slide, and sticking to a budget is really helpful. If you’re interested in seeing how credit card use and other financial choices impact your credit, you can review your credit data for free at Credit.com.

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