How Much Does YOUR Alcoholic Cost You?

Think you can afford alcoholism in your family? Want to know how much it steals from your family? Here are some thoughts.

I was married to an alcoholic for 15 years. It took me that long to smarten up sufficiently to cut off her booze money, at which point she promptly divorced me and threatened to take my children by accusing me of abuse. There was abuse: my ex-wife abused my children and me physically, emotionally, and, obviously, financially.

I’ve been divorced now for almost 10 years. So, the effects on my entire family have been going on for 25 years. Unabated.

Here’s a more background: She, my ex, is a college graduate, and had a fairly successful career in sales when she met me. She speaks and presents herself well, though is prone to the occasional malapropism. She dresses up well, and is deeply concerned about how others outside her home perceive her. Hence:

  • She could have worked to help support the family.
  • While she was not working, she used a day care service, because, you see, she needed the ability to “look for work.”
  • During my son’s younger school years, her focus on drinking — and not actually finding that job — made me use about $4,000 each year in before- and after-school care.
  • When we were first married, our plan was to use only one of our incomes and to bank the other in order to have a retirement. We’d both work, and both do the usual retirement stuff as well — 401K’s, and all — but we’d live off just the one income. At least that was the idea.
  • Money not saved, is money not invested. We went paycheck to paycheck — even when I was earning a lot (top 1%) per year. She was buying the expensive booze then. We sacrificed the interest and investment returns on all the below money as well.
  • She’s also a smoker, the costs for which have skyrocketed as the government has recognized that addicted and weak-willed (like my ex-wife) smokers are like a vampire’s willing victim: a renewable (if only temporarily) source of future sustenance for now and the future. I’m not counting the many thousands of dollars my ex has spent on cigarettes, but there are ancillary costs to alcoholism.
  • When you live paycheck to paycheck, you are terrified of layoffs. I refused numerous lucrative consulting assignments that would have ended in six months, in favor of the “stability” of salaried positions, all because we had no savings.

In partial answer to my above question, below are some thoughts and numbers. Note: I used only very conservative numbers for this. You can be sure that our particular alcoholic cost our particular family at least the below amounts… really she cost a whole lot more.

Concerning the time of our marriage:

  • 15 years of not working, multiplied by let’s say an average of $45,000 annually — about what a good administrative assistant makes — and assuming that she would have spent at least some of that time in sales, at which she was once pretty good.
  • An average alcohol purchase of $15 per day, 365 days a year. I’ll calculate the wasted money by suggesting that she should have consumed an average of only one magnum of wine per week, rather than her actual average of seven per week.

During the Marriage:

Item Amount
15 years not working X $45,000 average salary. $675,000 (income not earned)
6 days/wk X 52 wks X 15 yrs X $15/bottle of wine. $70,200 spent on booze in the 15 years.
Before- and after-school care. ~$20,000
Investment income/savings foregone. 15 years X $10,000 ~$150,000 

 After the Divorce:

  • After the divorce, she was unable to do her part of the 50-50 arrangement, so the kids live with me, and have practically the whole time. However, I have paid child support to her, while the kids live with me, so I really pay twice. That’s Connecticut!
  • Had I not had to pay twice, I’d have been able to save that money. That also represents investment income/savings foregone for all that time. To calculate this loss, I’ll use two-thirds of the two amounts I pay for child support and actual support. So 61,800 times 2 = 123,600. Two-thirds of 123,600 = $82,400.
  • Since she’s never really done anything in the way of actual support, I was doing all the transportation for my kids both ways to and from school, as well as school/social events of all kinds. That has certainly represented at least half my gas consumption per week, every week, for all those years. According to the divorce decree, my ex was supposed to cover half of that. She was supposed to cover half of everything except medical, which I’ve covered fully. So, I usually spend $200/week on gas, while I should spend only my half, and half of the remaining half. In other words: my kids’ and my auto fuel loss, that’s directly attributable to my ex’s alcoholism is: Approximately one quarter of $200 per week — or $50 per week — for 10 years. Gas has been, on average, around $2.50 for all that time. I’ll use those figures for my calculations.
Item Amount
10 years child support. $61,800
10 years actually supporting the children. $61,800
Before- and after-school care. ~$20,000
Gas ~$26,000

That’ll do for the moment. Let’s add it all up.

  • $675,000 + $70,200 + $20,000 + $150,000 + $61,800 + $61,800 + $20,000 + $26,000 = $1,084,800

Okay, now, we have to back some things out:

  • If my ex had been working, then the before- and after-school care would have been necessary, so we can’t really count it as stolen. I’d have paid for it no matter what. That knocks out $40,000 from the calculation (child care from before and after the divorce).
  • Had my ex been working, she’d have had to pay taxes on the $675,000. Let’s say that brings her annual down to $40,000 (it would have been more than that, but I’m being conservative). That knocks out a cool $75,000 from the total.
  • Let’s knock out an additional $100,000 for just stuff: emergencies, vacations, odd luxuries here and there, other “stuff.”

Now let’s see where we are:  $1,084,800 – 40,000 – 75,000 – 100,000 = $869,800

That, by the way, is $869,800 net. Do you think it might be helpful if someone handed you a check for $869,800 … tax-free?

Now, some quick “add-backs” If my ex had not been such a horrific drinker, then her career over fifteen years likely would have earned for her — for her family — way more than $40,000 annually. A fairly decent waitress can make that kind of money, and when I met my ex she was already a fairly successful professional. So, if she had been able to make on the average just $60,000 annually, the difference ($15,000 — call it $12,000 after taxes) between that and what I used above would have been $180,000.

Bottom line, it’s safe to say that our particular alcoholic cost our particular family a cool million dollars over the span of 25 years. Get that million back, and there’s no problem with retirement, with the kids’ education, with the occasional emergency, and fairly regular vacations and lots of fun family stuff.

Now, mind you, without all that money, and by being prudent and thrifty, we’ve still had some really nice Christmases, and I’ve never been at a loss for birthday things, and other special occasion expenses. I’ve learned a lot about the value of a buck, and have, I hope, passed that on to the kids.

Still, there’s no escaping the fact that my alcoholic ex-wife stole from her family:

  • My retirement.
  • Her retirement.
  • Our kids’ education.
  • Our family’s future together and our marriage — camping trips, vacations, a hundred home movies, and thousands of pictures.
  • Thousands of family stories that my kids could pass down to their kids.
  • A family homestead that could be passed down to future generations.
  • An intact family from my kids.
  • Her husband from herself.
  • My wife from me.
  • A mother from her children. Soon enough, wine overwhelmed any maternal instincts and urges.
  • Her happiness from herself.
  • A million bucks worth of financial security.
  • A million bucks out of our bequest to the kids.
  • A whole lot that is just good, and decent, and fun, and touching, and beautiful, and sweet, and thrilling, and enriching, and rewarding. Oh, my kids and I put all that back into our new family life, but we shouldn’t have had to, and there was always a gap — everyone has always known it — between what we were as a loving family of three, and what we should have been.
  • A whole lot more.

What has your alcoholic cost you?

— xPraetorius


4 thoughts on “How Much Does YOUR Alcoholic Cost You?

  1. Uncountable. He’s 81, my dad, and I’m married for the third time (first two were alcoholics), my kids have pathetic lives, I’m 60 and finally in recovery. My siblings have their own issues – one is an alcoholic, the other two have relationship problems. Grandkids have no relationship with him, fortunately, but when you add up the YEARS of confusion and pain just in the immediate family, it’s 348 years. No way to calculate the financial cost. Thanks, Dad. Thanks, alcohol.

  2. All so true, and all so sad, Linda. I’m so sorry for all that muck in your life.

    I had near saints for parents. Non-drinkers, non-smokers, mild-mannered, truly decent people. Alcoholism in my then wife completely blind-sided me. Out of the blue.

    The things that allowed me to survive that nightmare were primarily the grace of God and my beautiful children. But I can’t minimize the sheer contrast of the horrific example of my ex, compared with that of my parents.

    My ex made it perfectly clear how not to live my life. Furthermore, that juxtaposition afforded to my children a clear example as well. We struggle, but my ex provided a clear path, so, thank God, we don’t struggle with alcohol. I suspect that in all that I was very lucky, and my nightmare was not as bad as yours. Linda, you have my sympathy and prayers with all my heart.

    Linda, I pray for your family and for you, that you may come to know great joy, comfort, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and great, good health, and that all these things might ever increase in your life and in those of your entire family.

    I do know your pain, but I also know that the pain can go away, replaced by happiness, beauty and peace. Chin up, Linda!


    — x

  3. You dear person, xPraetorius, thank you! I sound pretty droopy in my post, but there is much joy in our lives. You know; it is a joy different than how many would define it, but it’s strong and real. Prayer, a relationship with Jesus Christ, is crucial, and I appreciate your acknowledgement of Him. Recovery programs, 12-Step programs, make a HUGE difference as well. While it is depressing to think what didn’t happen in our lives because we were living like scared mice, yet the things that did happen have made us bigger, kinder people. I know life grows us stronger when it’s not easy, and I’ve learned compassion and patience that I otherwise wouldn’t have. There are blessings everywhere, even though my dad has known few of them and has increased our challenge of seeing those blessings as well.

    I pray for your children as well. You wrote a difficult piece that everyone should read. Thank you. Blessings.

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