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preet banerjee

People drinking alcohol at a bar or restaurant.

When eating out with friends, we normally alternate who picks up the bill instead of splitting every cheque. When it's their turn to pay, they often remark that I'm a cheap date.

And it's true because I rarely drink when eating out.

I'm fairly strategic with my alcohol purchasing habits, because that's what they are for many of us: habits. And since booze can easily double a food bill, those habits can add up quickly.

With summer approaching, cracking open an ice-cold beer on a patio is something a lot of Canadians look forward to. When it's cold, alcohol can feel like it warms us up (even though your core body temperature would actually be dropping). Add in our world-class wineries and it's probably not too surprising that the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) notes that Canucks imbibe 50 per cent more booze than the global average.

With all discretionary expenses, budgeting how much you want to spend starts with figuring out how much you have been spending. That can be an eye-opening experience, but knowing the actual figure can help motivate you to make some money-saving changes.

Take a second right now and figure out the rough annual expense based on your own habits. A 24-pack of beer once a month? A weekly pub-night with friends? Anniversaries and special nights out?

When you realize cutting your alcohol bill in half could be enough to pay for an all-inclusive vacation, eliminate a credit card balance, or help fund retirement, cutting back doesn't seem like such a wild suggestion.

If you're eating out, you can ask about corkage fees for bringing in your own wine. If the restaurant allows it, the extra cost can be less than the markup for similar calibre wines. You can also opt for half-bottles or wines by the glass. The markups might be higher, but the absolute costs can be lower.

A friend of mine, who dines out frequently, resolutely sticks to the lower price ranged bottles when dining out and buys his favourite wines for home consumption to save himself from the restaurant markups.

Some people are saving by replacing higher-priced wine with cheaper beer. Canadians love our beer and with so many options available, beer connoisseurs can enjoy pairings with meals at a fraction of the cost of wines, with the same enjoyment.

Forget the latte factor, for Canadians the booze factor can be much more sobering.

Preet Banerjee, a personal finance expert, is the host of Million Dollar Neighbourhood on The Oprah Winfrey Network. You can read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @preetbanerjee.

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