Home > Personal Finance > Boozing at the Grocery Store? It’s a Thing, & It Could Be Bad for Your Budget

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Chances are you probably just go to the supermarket to buy groceries and maybe pick up some booze to take home. But if you live in a major metropolitan area you could actually just have your dinner and a few drinks right there at the store.

A glass of rosé while you peruse the cheese counter? A pint of porter as you stock up on cereal? Why not?

“Being able to have a beer while I shop has kind of taken the sting out of having to go to the grocery store on the way home from work,” said Michael Hobbs, who was having a pint on a recent Friday at the Whole Foods in downtown Austin, Texas. “It’s just a nice way to unwind while still getting life’s necessities taken care of.”

The 29-year-old graphic designer wasn’t alone. A half dozen other imbibers were seated at the store’s beer-and-wine bar, Bar Lamar, casually chatting with friends or checking their phones while another dozen people were having drinks and a bite to eat at the store’s Fifth Street Seafood counter. Countless others were walking the aisles, beer or wine in hand.

Whole Foods started testing the idea of serving beer and wine in some of its stores around 2010. Customers loved it, and now bars can be found in Whole Foods stores around the country. Several other stores also have installed bars, including regional supermarket giant Gelson’s in California, Giant Eagle in Robinson’s Market District in Pittsburgh, and Central Market, operated in Texas by grocery company HEB.

The Drawbacks

Hobbs admits his routine could be adding an extra expense to his grocery budget because he does tend to spend a bit more freely on items not on his list if he’s had a beer or two. But it’s worth it to him.

“The upside is, I’ve tried some beers I might not have if they didn’t serve them here,” he said. “I guess I really think of this more as spending on a leisure activity than I do as part of my groceries. But yeah, I do get home with some stuff I probably wouldn’t if I hadn’t been drinking.”

If you’re on a tight budget, steering clear of drinking at the grocery store is probably a good idea. Most consumers are aware that going out to eat is a common budget breaker, but many underestimate the impact alcohol has on their monthly budget.

Even in areas where a glass of beer doesn’t cost much, a happy hour habit really adds up. Here’s a basic example: Say you drink five pints of beer a week, and you spend about $4 on each glass. You’re spending about $20 a week on bar trips, which is about $1,040 a year.

This isn’t to say financially savvy people should stop drinking; it’s more of a reminder to track your spending. Blowing your budget on excessive social outings will push you into debt if you maintain the behavior long enough, and it doesn’t make sense to jeopardize your credit rating and financial future for a few extra pints of beer. Enjoy what you like, but keep track of how it fits into the big picture.

And when it comes to saving money on all of your purchases, including groceries, it’s good to consider using a cash-back rewards card. Most rewards cards require better-than-average credit, so before you apply for one, it’s good to see where your credit stands. You can view your two free credit scores, updated monthly, at Credit.com.

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Image: Izabela Habur

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