Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Going on a spending diet

Like many Americans, I recently realized that if you spend more money than you bring in through a paycheck you will go into debt. This is a new experience for me because 1) my husband is German and debt is really not part of his DNA; 2) I learned the hard way in college that a free credit card in the mail does not really mean free when you figure in the 19% interest that comes with it and 3) one can always justify a purchase if you try hard enough...especially shoes!

The costs added up slowly...too much eating out, 6 months of karate lessons, political fundraisers, medical co-payments, unexpected tree removal after a storm, another mindless trip to Target and -- the most necessary expense we should have been saving for all along -- tickets to Peru.

As the Visa bill climbed close to our limit, my husband and I discussed yet again the whole formula about only buying what you need vs. what you want. I figured it should be simple. The whole living frugally thing is an ironic industry in itself with PBS shows, self-help books and Oprahesque coolness. I have a good income, my car is paid for and yet...

When I found myself over spring break vacation coveting little doo-dads and jewelry in northern California gifts shops and art galleries, I literally had to walk out. I tried in vain to justify it. To me, buying something on vacation is like helping the local economy. A visiting thank you note if you would. Not to buy something would, well, just be plain rude!

But no, this time I would be strong. Even the "Friends of the Library" book sale with $2 bestseller hardbacks did not break me. I thought if I saved $2 a day for a year I could almost have enough for two plane tickets to see my family in Oklahoma. It was really hard being an avid reader but gosh darn it it I did it! This must be what it feels like to say no to dessert while on that new protein diet. Or to meet friends for coffee instead of cocktails after you've decided to go on the wagon.

Now I know some people may resent the fact that I even have money to save. I am a bleeding heart and support my local nonprofits and help out where I can. I realize there are people out there who are struggling to make ends meet, put food on the table and who are losing jobs and homes. Let me say this: I am grateful not to be one of those people...today. I know that in a flash of fate my family and I could end up broke and wishing we had $2 for bread or a half gallon of milk. But for now, I'm going to count my blessings and my pennies and stay on my savings diet!

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