This is a guest post from my wife.

I need dessert.

After a fine meal — home-cooked or dining out — I simply don’t feel satisfied without a bit of something sweet. The slowing metabolism that comes with encroaching middle age means I must do one of three things:

  1. fight the urge and feel deprived
  2. give in wholeheartedly to my craving and regret it later
  3. find a middle ground

With dessert, I’ve discovered a middle ground that works for me. One small bite of dark chocolate fills my chocolate junkie’s need while avoiding the over-indulgence of restaurant-sized portions (or that entire pint of Java Chip ice cream in the freezer) and the inevitable guilt that follows. But the key is having only one piece, and enjoying it fully, rather than going back to the bag for candy after candy, mindlessly consuming them while the chocolate drool is dripping from my chin.

This works with dessert — but this is a personal finance blog, so what’s my point? J.D. has mentioned before that sticking to a budget is a lot like sticking to a sensible diet. No one likes to feel that they can’t ever eat dessert. But just as over-eating all the time isn’t good for your “net health”, over-spending isn’t good for your net worth.

The challenge is to find that middle ground: make smart decisions most of the time so you can afford to splurge on that decadent strawberry trifle or that new pair of shoes. Because managing money is so much about understanding the way our minds work, I try to apply the same “small bite” strategy to my spending.

Of course, as a faithful Get Rich Slowly reader, I have an emergency fund, a retirement account, a Roth IRA, a high interest savings account, and no credit card debt. But sometimes I just want to spend money, you know? Blow it on something! Does anyone else ever feel like that?

Knowing that I’d better nip it in the bud, I’ll spend a small amount that makes me feel like I’m a great bargain hunter! This could be anything: CVS shopping spree? Garage sales? Careful eBay or Craigslist shopping?

One of the best places I know for stretching my dollar is a nearby used clothing store called The Dig. I felt the spending itch last week. Fueled by an irrational desire for new clothes that accompanies the change in season, I grabbed my coupon and headed over. The end result? Nine items:

  • 2 pairs of work slacks (J. Crew & Tommy Hilfiger)
  • 1 blouse for work (Jones New York)
  • 2 biking/exercise tops (REI & Patagonia)
  • 3 casual tops
  • a thin hooded windbreaker (Gap) for our warm, wet springs

The store was having a “Buy 3, Get 1 Free” sale, so two of my items were free. After subtracting my coupon ($5 off a $20 purchase) and I walked out having spent exactly $15. That’s an average of $1.67 per item. At that price, my shopping splurge gives me the thrill without the spill.

A “small bite” of exceedingly satisfying spending gives me the strength to pass up more dangerous budget pitfalls and keeps my larger financial goals on track. I shop at The Dig about four times a year. My total cost each trip is typically less than any one of the items purchased new.

What’s your “small bite”?

J.D.’s note: Allow me to hijack my wife’s post for a moment. While Kris likes to let herself go wild at the used clothing store, I like finding bargains at garage sales. Here’s what I picked up for $8 recently:

I picked up a yoga mat, some golf clubs, a pair of gloves, two dishes, some books, and more!

Of course, when shopping at garage sales, I have to make sure that I’m not just buying Stuff. $8 spent on things I’ll use? A bargain. $8 spent on Stuff? Not so much.

Photo of woman and cake by dominikgolenia.

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