I've been reading this book called Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. A good friend gave it to me about five or six years ago, and I'm finally mature enough to read it. The book talks about how a budget is a lot like a diet. You deprive yourself and skimp, and it works- for a month or maybe two. Then you feel you've been so good-- you can relax. And you go right back to your old spending habits. So you start a new budget. Hmmm.... Sounds familiar....

The book was written in the 1980's, from what I can tell, or at least-- a lot of their examples come from that time. So in some ways, I'm trying to maintain a current perspective while taking in the intended lesson of some of the financial examples cited in the book. Like the time that Cindy Soandso realized she was buying a pair of shoes a week and not wearing them. And on her budget, you can see she was also paying $200 in rent per month. Yeah, right. Or how this nice military man and his wife wanted a big family and a home in the country-- and on a budget of less than $30,000 a year, they saved up $45,000 in seven years, while having four children and paying off $25,000 in debts. So I figure now, that would mean an income of around $45,000 a year, and only two children. I mean, really. If I try to believe that $30,000 can support a family of six plus a 20% savings plan for a YEAR in 2007-- I will probably stop reading this book.

The book isn't about setting yet another budget. It's actually about calculating how much time/energy you spend on your current life style, and being accountable to your dreams/goals/values for the way that energy/time is spent. It's about changing your relationship with money and with the time you spend earning it. Dominguez and Robin say that all you need is enough-- and just a little bit extra. The hard part is that our culture teaches us to have endless appetites for buying. The phrase "more is better" simply means that you'll never have enough to be happy. Once you attain it, you want something else-- something more. Because more is better.

Instead, pay attention, and notice what is enough. What is important to you in your life? Do you need another foodiddler to reach that goal or have that experience you really care about? Probably not. One of my favorite tools in the book so far is the Purpose-in-Life Test. Originally formulated by Viktor Frankl, a Nazi death camp survivor, this test helps you determine if you have a strong sense of life-purpose or meaning, and if you have found ways to live your life according to that awareness.

One of my favorite questions on the test was this: "Facing my daily tasks is: a source of pleasure and satisfaction/ neutral/ a painful and boring experience." It really made me stop and ask myself why I spend so much time not enjoying my life. Frankl's book is called, Man's Search for Meaning, just in case you want to check it out. I haven't yet. I'm too busy planning world domination on $50 a week. And besides, I (just barely) have a clear sense of purpose, according to the test results. I'll take that and run with it!

I stopped about half-way through the book to go get my weekly groceries. Step One: record all expenditures to the penny for a month. I filled my water jugs. ($1.40) I got gas. ($34.79) I stopped at a local used book store for a book my mom wants, and found a great little expenditure recording notebook. ($12.37) Coincidence #1: the book she wants is on sale this week. I realized I was supposed to meet my cousin at 3pm to pick up her Christmas Gift to me (time-sensitive), so I rushed over there.

So far, I was very cheerful, optimistic, not too hungry to food shop, totally pleased to get out of the multi-everything store with JUST WATER, and working hard to remember and record everything I spent. Then I drove through downtown in nearly rush hour traffic-- on a SATURDAY, and got pretty grumpy. I also got hungry and thirsty. Bad combo. Cousin's phone was busy so I knew she'd be in. She wasn't in. I tried to find a corner of downtown to hang out in for five minutes in hopes that she'd be back, but everywhere I went, SOMEONE WAS BEHIND ME trying to drive forward. I headed back to Trader Joe's. In nearly rush hour traffic. My cousin called about 20 minutes later. She's home now, where am I? Coincidence #2: She ran to the bank for 10 minutes, and we JUST MISSED EACH OTHER!!!

I hang up and turn into the parking lot of TJ's. Everyone is at TJ's today. Everyone. And they brought their friends along too. In separate cars. Even my brother was there. Seriously. We drove past each other in search of parking. (Coincidence #3.) I haven't seen my brother in a couple of months. So we shopped together (enlightening to say the least-- $19.77 for my groceries this week! Helps that Thanksgiving is at someone else's place.) and then headed out to a late lunch together. Coincidence #4: We actually both had time to catch up right then, and we'd both missed lunch! That was pretty darn cool.

So today I started the process toward financial intelligence. To the tune of $68.33. That's probably about a hundred dollars less than I spent last Saturday. Talk about financial freedom! It's not that I can afford to do anything with this money but continue hoarding it for car payments over the next six months... Nope. I'm simply excited that my life, and the time I spend in it, is mine to delineate. And I just regained control of my budget, too.

Coincidence? I think NOT!

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