I was in my 30s before I realized that I don't have to spend every penny that I have. It's perfectly ok not to spend one's entire paycheck. It's tough, though. It really is. There's a power to money and power to go somewhere and buy something. That's probably why dining out is the one area of spending that I have such trouble controlling. It's a little game of theater. I go in somewhere, I pay you, and you give me what I ask for.
I'm able to get all the bills paid and buy groceries, so I'm keeping my head above water, but I am still really worried about money. I really feel that I am complete f*ckup with money, but I have sole financial responsibility right now. It's stressful enough that I screw up my own financial future, but I'm crushed by stress of planning for retirement for both of us.
I've read lots of personal finance/debt reduction/seize control of your money habit books. Most are written for people who have a lot more resources than I do, so their money saving tips aren't especially useful. ("Don't buy towels every two years." I'm serious.) I tried reading "Your Money or Your Life" again. I know people swear by this book, but I tried reading it several years ago, during the nadir of my financial situation, and I literally threw the book against the wall. (See, emotional money issues.) But reading YMOYL again, it became clear that just like every other book I've read, it is written for middle/upper middle class folks. The basic advice is sound--examine your life, think about the life you want to live instead of the possessions you want to own. There's a whole plan about "liberating your life", but the things that bugged the first time I read the book are still there. The authors assume that you have a lot of fairy dust resources. Both of them had considerable assets (inheritance) when they decided to drop out of the rat race, so to speak. It is a lot easier to make a radical change in your life if you have a safety net.
However, despite my frustration with the authors, I did skip ahead to their Nine Step plan for simplying your life. It is sound advice. Really. But the tips that they suggest are again aimed toward middle/upper-middle class folks. The one thing the authors don't seem to consider is that the whole idea of "voluntary simplicity" is really quite arrogant for those who have no choice to be otherwise. (Well, maybe they do consider it. I skipped around a lot in the book.)
Does anyone remember the Fox series Roc? It ran in the early 90s, and focused on a working class couple, he a garbage man, she a nurse. They were really frugal, and amassed quite a bit of savings for a down payment on their dream house. "Semi-detached. Real freedom comes with a home that has a wall you don't have to share with anyone else." Sometimes their friends teased them about their penny-pinching. Example, a friend comes by and looks at the newspaper to read the headlines while he's waiting for his friend. He scowls and tells his friend, "Hey man, this paper is USA Yesterday. Where's today's paper?" Roc says, "I never buy the paper. I just get a copy out of the trash. Saves me 25 cents every day. That's almost $100 a year." He's repairing a VCR that he fished out of the trash to give to his wife for her birthday so that she can tape the shows she misses when she has to work nights. During this episode, Roc and his wife have an argument about money. She wants to splurge, just once. She's sick of pinching every penny, keeping track of every dime, working nights because it pays a few cents more an hour, getting a birthday gift that somebody else had tossed out. Even in their modest neighborhood, they had a repuation for simple living. Roc is really upset because his wife is so unhappy so he decides to give her a fancy gift for her birthday. She opens the box and lifts out a lovely dress. She's not impressed. "It's a designer dress", says Roc. "So?", she says. "I bought it at Saks Fifth Avenue," he continues. She gives him "the look" that says she's still not impressed. And then Roc gets a sly smile on his face and delivers the coup de grace. "It wasn't on sale." And she goes ballistic, jumping up and down and hugging him. "It wasn't on sale? It wasn't ON SALE? We've NEVER bought ANYTHING that wasn't on sale!" That one particular show said far more about the psychological power of money than any financial book I've read.