I feel as if I’ve been a Scrooge here lately: “don’t watch Super Bowl commercials“, “don’t buy gadgets“, “bundle up to stay warm“, etc. While it’s true that saving money requires sacrifices, I don’t mean to make it sound like drudgery. Actually, I’m elated with my progress.

When I was working with Lauren Muney to create my wellness program, she emphasized that fitness should not be a chore. “Remember that you’re working toward something positive, something long-term,” she said. “And allow yourself a treat once in a while.” She told me that as long as I stuck to my diet and fitness plan the rest of the time, I could allow myself a couple of “treat meals” during the week, meals during which I didn’t worry whether I was following the plan to the letter. This has made a huge difference.

The same concept holds true for personal finance. I’ve written before that you shouldn’t confuse frugality with depriving yourself. They’re not the same thing. It’s a good idea to allow yourself a reward now and then, to allow yourself to splurge.

In December I wrote about my financial goals. Since then I’ve had a number of major victories:

  • I built my non-emergency fund savings from $0 to $700. (Kris and I have $5,000 emergency fund that represents our only joint account.)
  • I paid down my home equity loan to $15,000 (which is $6,000 less than it was a year ago).
  • I reduced my comic book spending from $179 in December (or my average of $250/month in 2006) to $65 in January.
  • I slashed other miscellaneous discretionary spending.

I’ve made tremendous progress just one month. I even saved enough spare cash to indulge in an exorbitant treat. Kris and I joined two close friends for a meal at one of our favorite Portland restaurants, Paley’s Place.

Paley’s Place is not the sort of restaurant you enter expecting to pay less than $50. Or $100. Or $150. Kris and I spent $160 on our meal the other night and felt we escaped having spent less than we might have. (Last time we spent over $200.) But the expense was was worth it. The food is fantastic. As the restaurant’s web site says:

Paley’s Place offers Pacific Northwest regional cuisine, served in the warm and inviting setting of a Victorian home. Chef and owner, Vitaly Paley, creates seasonal menus from the bounty of the Northwest — fresh organic ingredients supplied by local farmers, growers and purveyors — with Southern French and Northern Italian influences.

Whatever. All I know is that the food is damn good. We paid $7 for french fries. You know what? They were worth it! It’s difficult for the frugal side of me to justify such an expensive meal, no matter how well I’ve been doing lately. It’s the equivalent of ten meals at other restaurants. But I ask myself: “Is the food really that much better?” The answer is “yes”. Kris put it best: “That’s a once-every-five-years restaurant.”

We had a wonderful meal and great conversation with friends. I got my money’s worth. It was a solid reminder that managing money is all about knowing when to save and knowing when to splurge.

This article is about Choices, Food, Real-Life