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Money Problems
How Saraís frugal ways all changed when she moved to Altea, Spain.

Sara has kept a tight lid on spending throughout her life, but now she sees the other side.

I have a problem with money. My problem, though, is not that Iím reckless with it, that I go on shopping sprees or that I spend beyond my means. On the contrary, I hate gambling, I could care less about shopping, and I only use credit cards to collect pointsówhich I later trade in for cash. My problem with money is not that I spend too much, my problem is that I have don't like to spend any at all.

I donít know how or when I became so painstakingly conscious of money. Growing up, I had everything that I wanted or needed, so if anything, I should have grown up to value each dollar less. Yet somehow, Iíve been instilled with a deep awareness of the value of each dollar, which in turn makes it hard for me to spend money on things that I donít think have value.

Sometimes, this helps me. I met my good friend Chouchou in Paris because I hunted down the cheapest and the best crepe on rue St. Denis and it just happened to be his. Sometimes, it hurts. During that year I lived in Paris I barely went out to restaurants, I rarely ducked into the small brasseries, and I didnít go see special performances. I couldnít allow myself such luxuries because I was obsessively calculating what each dollar saved could buy instead or what a huge chunk one outing would do to the measly salary I was earning as an English assistant. So, while I thought that I was living in Paris, I realize now that I was actually on the outskirts peering in, but not fully partaking.

Left to my own devices, Iíll sacrifice a lot so I donít have to deal with the guilt of spending unnecessarily. If I donít get a drink with my meal, Iíll be able to save more this month. I donít really need new shoes because the ones I have are working just fine. And so my reasoning goes until I have cut down my spending to only the bare minimum. Itís fortunate, therefore, that I met David whoís quite my opposite. While neither extreme is good, weíve had to learn how to balance each other out. Thanks to him, Iíve learned to let go a little and can now see that thereís value in experiencing new things and living life. Thatís not to say that I didnít painstakingly pay attention to the prices of things each time we went out in New York City or that I didnít cringe when David would order an appetizer as well as an entree every time that we went out to eat. But I did learn to allow myself to indulge a bit more often.

Then we arrived to Altea, Spain and my whole perspective shifted. It makes me happy to spend money on jewelry at Artesenal; I donít even think about the prices when I take my good friends to BellaAltea for lunch or La Forchetta for dinner; I donít mind paying 26 euros to cut my hair when in the States I hated spending even $15 dollars.

I feel the need to go out and show my support for our community because our community has shown us support.

Pepa, the owner of Artesenal, has become one of our favorite customers. Full of life, she fills AlteArte with positive energy and laughter every time she comes. At 71, Jaime, the owner of BellaAltea, comes in regularly before and after working at BellaAltea, the restaurant that he has owned for decades, and shows us in various ways what a gentle soul he is. Just the other night, the owners of La Forchetta came in for a drink after they closed their restaurant for the night. And Raphael, the son of Raphael Sr. who owns a hair salon named Raphaelónaturallyócame in to AlteArte a couple of months ago and has come back multiple times since. Giving business to the local business owners is the least we can do because they give business to us and weíre seeing firsthand what a difference that makes.

I remember when George W. Bush encouraged Americans to support their local businesses. This, he promised, was the way out of the recession. I listened to him, yet did not change my spending habits in the least. He was crazy, I thought. One of the reasons that we were in this mess was because too many Americans had spent beyond their means in the first place. And why, after all, should I? I had no personal affiliation with any of the businesses around me. In New York City, the intimacy of it all was lost in the waves of people and the thousands of shops and restaurants.

But in a village such as Altea where independent store owners and restaurateurs are dependent on each other to endure the long Winter months, supporting the local businesses takes on new significance, and I find myself actively seeking out opportunities to have dinner at the restaurants or have a drink at the tetteria (tea house).

And my feelings of guilt have finally abated and left me at peace. I finally feel that I can live without feeling the need to sacrifice and I can indulge without feeling as though I shouldnít. In Altea, I can see clearly the value of each euro spent and I directly feel its impact. It feels good to live here and partake in this world of entrepreneurs.

My problem with money has always been not feeling as though the item I was buying was worth the money I was spending. But in Altea, each euro spent shows my support for the community; and therein lies the best value that money can buy.

Sara Wilson is currently working as a freelance writer and lives in Torrevieja, Spain with her husband. She has kept a record of her adventures living abroad which you can find here or on her blog: http://sarawilson.wordpress.com. Contact her directly at wilson.sara@gmail.com.

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