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Spending Without Guilt?

Q.  I grew up in a working-class family, where frivolous spending was not an option. I'm now financially comfortable, but I still have trouble buying things for myself without feeling terrible. How can I break out of this?
--Pam J., San Jose, California

A. You sound like my husband, who won't spend money on anything that isn't an absolute necessity -- unless he can drag it home, battered and bruised, from a garage sale and brag about how little he paid for it. I love a bargain as much as the next person (and buying used does save resources), but I think he misses out on a lot of fun, because he's so stressed about his spending.

Gayle Rose Martinez, a financial counselor and author of "Money and Me," would say you're a little too close to your inner "Frugal Fern" -- that part of us that equates money with personal security. "We all have a Frugal Fred or Fern in us," Martinez says. "It's just that some of us choose not to listen as often."

Typically raised in households where money was scarce, penny-pincher types like my husband learn to deal with the stress by hoarding money and spending as little cash as possible. Parting with their money proves to be difficult later on.

So how do you break loose? Martinez recommends picking a specific amount to save each month that will make you feel "safe." From what's left over, set aside some cash for something frivolous: a nice meal out with friends, a good bottle of local wine, or a fun gift for your partner. Spend it on anything that will drive home the fact that the money you work so hard to earn is also there for you to enjoy. "Notice the good feelings that come with this expenditure," Martinez says. "They might help you realize that sometimes it's good to be frivolous."

Text by Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

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