Money-saving tip No. 203: Cut down on costly drinks

Coffee, soft drinks, and other beverages can drain thousands of dollars from your annual budget.

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    Cans of Coca-Cola and Diet Coke are shown in a cooler in Anne's Deli in this 2011file photo from Portland, Ore. Soft drinks, coffee, and other beverages can be a treat, but as a regular part of one's day they can become costly.
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When I was fresh out of college and enjoying my first post-college job, I pretty quickly established a daily routine for myself (particularly in 2004 and 2005).

I would stop at a coffee shop for breakfast and enjoy a $5 drink to start the day.

I’d drink a soft drink or two in the afternoon at work ($1 each out of the vending machine).

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On my way home, I’d sometimes stop for another coffee (another $5), often in the coffee shop area in my favorite bookstore.

Some nights, I’d go out for drinks with coworkers or friends (another $10 at least).

The total for this was $10 to $30. Every single weekday. Multiply that out by 50 weeks, five days a week, and we’re looking at $2,500 to $7,500 a year disappearing in the form of beverages.

That was a significant portion of my salary. No wonder I was in debt.

I’m going to be the last person to tell you that it’s not completely fine to have a coffee or a soft drink or a hard drink as an occasional treat. I enjoy them all as treats myself.

The key word there is treats. You only need water to hydrate yourself. Other beverages are extra pleasures, and when extra pleasures become routine, they become expensive.

The challenge with a change like this is that beverages are often a part of our life routine, and it’s very easy to be defensive about our routines. “Give up my morning coffee? I’d rather die!” I’ve heard these kinds of refrains many times.

Just remember, though, that every beverage you enjoy that’s not tap or drinking fountain water is an extra expense. Every time you make the choice to drink something else, it’s costing you money.

Perhaps one choice isn’t that expensive. Even three or four choices a day might not be too much, at least for that day. However, when you look at that over the span of a year, as I did, it adds up to a whole lot.

The key is to make better choices in individual situations. When you’re tempted to drink a coffee or a soda, drink a cup of water instead. When you pack a cooler for a road trip, put some water bottles in there instead.

Make a couple better choices each day and stick with them, and soon those choices will become routine. When they become routine, you’re spending less money without a second thought, and that money can go toward achieving whatever goals you desire.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. 

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