I’m trying a “dry January” experiment this year and not drinking anything for the whole month. I don’t drink that much, but in a typical month, I buy one or two bottles of wine to enjoy at home and go out for drinks about twice each week. I’ll definitely save some money; how should I spend it? Should I splash out on a celebration, put it in savings, or use the funds for some self-improvement purchase?
— No more wine for the win
Dear No More Wine,
First off, congratulations! Dry January is a laudable goal. I think it’s important to have a few things in mind as you go through the month. First, I would advise you to consider the adage that it’s progress, not perfection. If you do end up going to happy hour on January 16th or whatever, you’re not a failure. I say that not to discourage you from sticking to your goal, but because resolutions can be tricky to keep.
The real deal on resolutions
In one study of a group of 200 people, only 64 percent of people who made New Year’s resolutions were able to keep them for a month. But even though they didn’t keep their resolutions, the majority of people who made a resolution (even if they broke it) still were more likely to have made positive change six months down the line, compared to people who had not made any resolutions at all. So, in the case of dry January, trying — but not beating yourself up if you fail — may be the best mentality.
Indulge a little. You’ve earned it!
Second, don’t spend the money before you have it! As far as how you should spend it, that’s up to you, but I would consider using the money for something you want as opposed to something you feel you “should” buy. You may not know what that something will be until you see the money add up. Once you have the cash, it can be considered a no-strings-attached gift to yourself (and yes, if what you want is a champagne blowout, then go for it).
Sometimes, people who make resolutions like this may feel like they need to use the money saved for some self-improvement purchase. But there’s no reason to use that money on a similarly “good for you” option if you don’t want to. Using the money for something you feel you “should” buy that you’re not necessarily interested in, like a gym membership or a healthy meal box subscription kit, may put more pressure on you. You don’t want to lose the momentum and confidence you’ve gained by doing this particular challenge.
Instead, you may want to see this cash as a way to buy a treat. Maybe you want to get a massage, or perhaps you’re genuinely excited about using the money for pricey workout classes. My point is: Use this money guilt-free.
Set a visual reminder of how much you saved
This brings me to my third point: Consider keeping your money in cash (throw what you would have spent in an empty wine bottle!) as opposed to mentally tabulating it. Seeing a visual representation of the amount you saved can be motivating. Another option could be to visually represent your savings via a pen-and-paper method, like a page in a bullet journal.
There’s a lesson. What have you learned?
Finally, use this month as an experiment to suss out when buying alcohol makes you happy. You may find it’s more of a habit than something that makes you happier. Maybe you realize it’s less stressful to hang out at happy hour with coworkers if you’ve got a soda in hand. Perhaps you don’t miss that mid-week bottle of wine you split with your boyfriend. Maybe you didn’t realize just how much you enjoyed that brunch Bloody Mary. Of course, if you find it hard to quit, you may want to discuss that realization with your doctor or mental health professional. But you may notice you have a clearer mindset to decide when and how spending money on booze works for you.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write her at email@example.com and check back every Tuesday for her next column.