10 Frugal Ways to Save Big on Booze

by Shawanda Greene

First, a confession – I like alcohol and I’m ticked off that it’s so expensive.

So, what’s a frugal zealot to do about it? You’re certainly not going to drink less. You simply figure out a way to enjoy your constitutional right while keeping your budget intact.

If you’re a novice to drinking on the cheap, here are 10 tips on how to save serious money on alcohol.

Boxed Wine

Photo by Tom Harpel

1. Buy boxed wine. It’s usually much cheaper than the bottled variety. I don’t have a refined enough palate to differentiate between the “good” stuff and the super cheap stuff.

The number of bottles in the container is usually noted on the box. Don’t just assume boxed wine is always the least expensive. It’s still worth your while to calculate the per bottle cost. Sometimes you’ll find wine for around $3 a bottle at Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, and Trader Joes.

Helpful Advice: Use a wine glass. Just because it comes from a box doesn’t mean you have to drink it like you live in a trailer park.

2. Carry a flask to bars, restaurants, etc. To some, such behavior is indicative of a more serious problem. I won’t say that it’s totally normal, but hey, neither is being independently wealthy. When no one’s looking, go ahead and spike your non-alcoholic beverage with the stash hidden in your purse.

I don’t wanna hear about your inexplicable bout of scruples now. You weren’t Professor Morals when you snuck those Raisinets, bottled water, and bologna sandwich into the movie theatre last week. Generously tipping your server will help you sleep at night.

Warning: You’ll likely be banned from whatever establishment you’re patronizing if you’re caught.

3. Never miss happy hour. And sever all ties with friends who do. You don’t need people like that in your life. It’s socially irresponsible to mosey into a bar just minutes after happy hour ends.

4. Use certificates from sites like Groupon and Living Social. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, you can use groupons to purchase alcohol – even during Happy Hour!

Frozen Margarita

Photo by House of Sims

5. Make frozen margaritas at home. It’s not that hard. Pick up some $10 tequila, $8 triple sec, and have at it. Don’t grumble about the taste. The flavor will be masked by the fruit anyway.

6. Get tipsy before going out with your friends. Do this slooooooowly. This strategy is not to be combined with “t-shirt time.” You need to grease your gullet gradually.

Listen to me. If you’re not careful, an hour into what would’ve been a fantabulous night, you’ll be burning up and shoeless with your face planted in a public toilet seat pleading with Jesus to help you.

That’s not cool.

7. Don’t be picky. Look. Scotch is disgusting – no matter how old or ridiculously expensive it is. No one can honestly say they drink alcohol because it’s delicious. If we wanted delicious, we’d drink grape soda. So just stop it. Buy the cheapest version of a particular type of Chardonnay, Scotch, vodka, or cognac you can choke, shimmy, or shake down your esophagus and shut up.

Bonus Tip: If you want to feel richer while sipping that cheap alcohol, invest in some decent drinking glasses. Ikea has some pretty classy looking ones for like $2 a piece.

Bottles of Beer

Photo by Matthew Bowden

8. Brew it yourself. Don’t ask me to attest to the safety or legality of home brewing. Quite frankly, I’m terrified of poisoning myself or having the brew pot explode in my living room. There are startup costs involved. And if you don’t take to home brewing, you’ll end up with more garbage you don’t need and don’t want. However, I’ve heard brewing your own beer can be a delightful and rewarding experience for those who love to drink and love to save money while drinking.

9. Let someone else pick up the bill. That is if you’re okay with being either a) talked to death or b) followed around for the rest of the night by the kind soul who purchased your drink(s) for you.

10. Don’t be a diva. Dives are homey (and sometimes frightening) places to get wasted on the cheap. The most important thing to remember is good company makes for good times.

These are just a few tricks I’ve picked up over the years.

What are some of the strategies you use to save money on booze?

This post appeared in the Carnival of Personal Finance #298 – The Best Money Articles Online.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

aloysa February 24, 2011 at 9:14 PM

You see boxed wine doesn't taste that great to me. I like California Red and I buy it only when it is on sale. I refuse to spend more than $10 (and sometimes I think it is too much!) on wine. Whiskey or brandy is another story. I'd rather spend some $$ on those because I like it smooth. :-) Loved your post. Especially let someone pick up your tab part. :-)


TheyCallMeCheap February 28, 2011 at 6:46 PM

For me, the alcohol content of boxed wine is more important than taste. However, I am partial to Chardonnay.

The best bottle of wine I've ever had was a Kabinett that cost $19. During the spring, I like to drive to the Virginia wine country to tour the vineyards. On those occasions, I let my wine budget creep up to $25 for a bottle. That is the absolute maximum I'll spend outside of a restaurant.


Romeo February 26, 2011 at 10:00 PM

HAHAHA. Hi, Shawanda, I'm new to your blog. After reading this article, I couldn't stop crying in my laughter. Buy boxed wine? Bring a flask to a restaurant? Holy crap! Is is that bad?
Get tipsy before going out? Hahaha. What a way to get a nice expensive ticket along with AA classes and mandantory community service. Oh, man. This one I have to share via twitter and facebook.


TheyCallMeCheap February 28, 2011 at 6:52 PM

Don't knock boxed wine. It's a staple around here. I've actually never taken a flask to a restaurant/bar, but that's only because my flask is conspicuously bejeweled in pink rhinestones. I don't wanna get caught. As for drinking before going out, that's what friends who didn't have the foresight to get tipsy before leaving the house are for. :)


jan March 1, 2011 at 7:20 AM

ok, this just made me laugh so dang hard at 7am! I'm all for the flask/small bottle when going out BUT only if its a big party, like the halloween fest or something when you KNOW that you will not be able to get a drink any time quick. Same theory as a water bottle coming along in my opinion (just don't take a swig of my water!) … love the site … (and um, can totally relate to the hugging the toilet praying to Jesus for forgiveness)…


frugalforties March 4, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Yow. Am I the only one who drinks because I like the taste of it, and not just 'cause I want to swill enough cheap alcohol to get drunk.

None of those options work for me. I like the taste of wine and I *can* tell that boxed wine tastes like crap. I don't drink scotch (my sweetie does though),but I do drink vodka, and yes, I can tell the taste difference between brands. FWIW, one of the best vodkas I've ever had is a very inexpensive brand called Tito's … most people have never heard of it because they're hooked on the name brand of Grey Goose (which is actually really crappy vodka).

My thoughts about keeping things inexpensive? Try different brands and find one you like w/out worrying about buying whatever brand is "cool" (like the aforementioned Grey Goose). Look into case discounts if you drink a lot – most liquor stores offer a hefty case discount on wine and liquor and will even allow you to mix cases a lot of the time.

The rest of the advice? Eh. ;) I'll pass.


Happy Simple Living March 4, 2011 at 10:19 PM

FUNNY! This is a great article, and you tackled a topic we all think about when we're trying to save money. The one thing I'll add is that it seems like mixed drinks at home can be less expensive than wine or beer. You can pour 17-25 shots from a 750 ml bottle of liquor and mix with inexpensive club soda and a squeeze of lemon or lime. I'm partial to orange juice and vodka over crushed ice – so good after a long day. Thanks for a terrific post.


Shawanda's fan April 18, 2011 at 9:18 PM

Second boxed wine. Not only is it less expensive, but it's less wasteful if you don't want to open a whole bottle. The stuff with 4 bottles in it is generally better than the stuff with, like, 6 bottles in it. You know which brands I'm talking about. I draw the line between nice-to-drink and hate-it. Liquor is generally the cheapest booze at the liquor store and the most expensive at bars. I drink fancy beers at bars and mixed drinks at home. Here's a tip: try the cheaper brands of liquor and move up until you find something you're ok with. For me, it's Phillips vodka, Sauza tequila and Evan Williams for my husband. Cheers!


TheyCallMeCheap April 18, 2011 at 10:26 PM

Ha! Love the name.

A friend and I recently performed a blind taste test of Ketel One vs. rail vodka. We were both able to tell the difference. However, the difference in taste wasn't all that great and Ketel One was certainly not worth the premium. Plus, we performed the taste test with straight vodka. (I'll pass on straight vodka under normal circumstances.) I seriously doubt we'd have been able to tell the difference in taste when combined with a mixer.

Thanks for the tips.


Wood Walking Sticks January 10, 2012 at 6:15 PM

I'd probably have to join a few of the other commenter's here and say that most boxed wine is just nasty! You don't want to make it too easy to drink anyway, otherwise its a slippery slope!


Carrie Smtih May 19, 2012 at 8:25 PM

This post is awesome! Haha.. "Just because it comes from a box doesn’t mean you have to drink it like you live in a trailer park." That is such a true statement. I'm not a big drinker, of alcohol, soda, tea, or anything besides water. But if I do ever decide to start drinking more, I'll have to use some of these tips.
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