Dry January Was a Sobering Experience. Here’s What I Saved — and Learned

Dry January
Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Well, Dry January has come and gone, and let me just say: It sucked — and that’s putting it kindly.

While I was looking forward to saving over $150 in January just by giving up booze, life had other plans.

Yes, I did give up my framboise, bubbly and beer (for the most part), but after my life got flipped upside down literally overnight, it started to become less of a light-hearted experience and more of a serious, personal challenge.

I ended up trying to stick to my guns the best that I could, but a few things got in the way.

Dry January Got Off to a Rough Start

Things were decent in the beginning. I was motivated as heck, ready to conquer the the beast of Dry January.

It was pretty easy at first, too:

I was hungover on Jan. 1 and the thought of alcohol made me want to cry.

On Jan. 2, I started my new workout routine and a new diet.

I was back at work Jan. 3 after a long weekend, so I was too tired to go out afterward.

But then Jan. 4 came around and everything took a turn for (what I thought at the time was) the very worst: I got dumped by my longtime boyfriend.

All my friends wanted to do was go out and buy me a drink at happy hour so we could talk about it.

But I couldn’t. I wanted to stick to the challenge.

So instead, I invited them over to my apartment to talk, which helped me stay on track — but it definitely wasn’t as easy as I initially thought it would be.

More Trials Along the Way

I kept it together when I went grocery shopping. I saw wine on sale, but resisted the urge to put it in my cart.

I ordered Diet Coke when I went out to lunch with friends. I went to happy hour with my co-workers and sipped water with lemon.

You know what I noticed? Knowing that you can’t have something can make you want it even more.

I groaned on Sunday mornings when I remembered I couldn’t go get mimosas at brunch — something I don’t even usually do!

I wasn’t drinking, but my wallet was still getting roped into a spending hangover thanks to some spontaneous purchases.

Although I managed to stay away from drinking after the break-up, I ended up mending my broken heart with pizza (a lot of it).

I also decided to buy some new workout clothes — definitely an unexpected splurge.

Ugh. I suck.

Accepting Defeat

Towards the middle of January, my ex moved out.

After he left, I popped a bottle of champagne that had been sitting in my fridge since the holidays (because #GirlPower).

So, yes, technically I broke Dry January that day — but I didn’t actually spend any money to do it.

I went back to being hardcore about the challenge and skipping happy hour, but at the end of the month, with less than a week left, I looked at the numbers and realized that my splurges ended up totaling nearly just as much as if I had kept drinking.

I ditched my diet and bought myself dinner — twice. That cost me $22.31.

The new workout clothes totaled $131.50. Add that to the dinners, and my “unusual” spending came out to $153.81.  Back in November, my alcohol and going-out bill totaled $167.78.

I ended up spending about just as much in January as I would have spent if I hadn’t given up alcohol for the month.

So, with just a few days left, I decided to raise my white flag and spend some time drinking wine with my girlfriends on a mini-vacation — and I took some time to do some hardcore reflecting on my spending.

What Dry January Taught Me About Spending

Giving up alcohol for the month taught me I’m an emotional spender, especially considering the circumstances.

Sure, I (pretty much) gave up alcohol for the month, but I replaced it with food and clothes. Not a good thing.

I wouldn’t say Dry January was for nothing, though.

It’s good I’m learning this about myself now rather than later — when it could really hold me back from paying off my student loan debt or saving for something big, like buying a house.

And, instead of going out and spending money to treat myself when I’m feeling down, I’m going to start to consider some free ways to do things that will make me (and my wallet) feel good in the long run.

Your Turn: Did you try the Dry January challenge? How did you do? Let us know in the Facebook comments!

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder and a senior at The University of Tampa. She would like to try Dry January again next year.

Do you think this article might help you put more money in your pocket?