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Penny Pinching Making You Miserable

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I loathe budgeting. Every once in a while, I'll get an itch to be super-organized and responsible, and I open up Excel and whip up the finest spreadsheet you'll ever see. I mean, there are color-labeled columns and beautiful fonts and sums and averages. There are even a few numbers in there. And then I close it and never look at it again.

Because, you see, my budget demands that I stop buying music. That's an extra, right? It's not something I neeeeeed, so it gets cut.

And then I'm miserable.

Music is everything to me. I love poring over every inch of packaging and liner notes and all the minutiae that come with purchasing a new CD or record. Music is one of the few things in my life for which there is no substitute -- I'll give up frou-frou lattes for homemade iced coffee; I'll go to the library for books; I'll get creative with my wardrobe (even my shoes!) -- but I will not, cannot give up music. And when I try, because my new fancy spreadsheet tells me I have to in order to pay off the credit card, five weeks down the road I go insane and place an order with every distro I've ever loved, and probably some new ones.

Just like that, my budget is shot to hell. And just like that, I'm convinced once again that saving money means deprivation.

But back up for a minute. Is it possible that a situation like needing music (or your equivalent) is actually the key to making a budget and sticking to it?

I think so.

Once I looked at all my expenses and thought about what was really important to me -- what really brought value to my life -- things clarified. Maybe I couldn't buy as much music as I wanted, but I didn't have to cut it out completely. What I did have to do was find another area where I could make cuts -- like my clothing budget. And it makes a world of difference. I don't feel deprived of something I love, and I'm still maintaining a reasonable budget.

If you're struggling with your budgeting, try looking at the dollars and cents from another direction. What's important to you? What do you really value? If the family vacation is worth more to you than a month of gourmet coffee and gorgeous shoes, then you know instantly where to make the switch. You can keep your budget AND the things you most love -- without feeling deprived and miserable.

Written by Megan Van Schaick for CafeMom's blog, The Stir.
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