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JENEE OSTERHELDT: I won't spend, I won't spend, I won't spend

Attention shop-aholics. Could you stop spending for a month?

It doesn't seem like much, but it's a long time when we're talking about extreme budgeting. Inspired by an MSN Money challenge earlier this year, a friend asked me to quit spending for a month as a birthday gift to her. She's not spending either.

So for the month of September, I have given up shopping.

No eating out. No happy hour. No new Nikes.

Just groceries, bills and necessities. It's an exercise in saving - my friend has a wedding and house to think about. For me, I'll find out how much I actually spend and what I spend it on. And, honey, already it's been one long month.

Ever since I paid off my car earlier this year and eliminated my credit card debt, I have been a carefree splurger. The lines between needs and wants started to blur. Getting my hair done monthly became essential. A little thing like going out for dessert didn't seem excessive.

Now I know. The first week of my deprivation, I slipped. I had just gotten home from a wedding. I needed a pick-me-up. So I walked into Babycakes for a cupcake and some Shatto milk. That was a quick $5 I shouldn't have spent. But outside of that, I have been a budgeting bee.

I walked through the aisles of the grocery store thinking beyond the meals I wanted to cook for dinner. I had to think about lunch for work, since I wouldn't be going out for sushi or Thai food . And treats - candy and juice from the vending machine - were also off limits. But finding grocery fixes has been easy.

What has been hard is staying away from malls, boutiques and online shopping.

There have been so many sales this month. Revue and Phenom had Labor Day sales. Godiva had a free-gift-with-purchase deal. Nike offered 30 percent off. And Nebraska Furniture Mart is having a secret sale. I could be Christmas shopping right this minute.

With two weeks left in the challenge, I walked into my closet to find something to make me feel better. I came across a dress I'd bought at Urban Outfitters.

It's cute. But I'm not in love with it. Then again I paid only $5 for it, marked down from $80. That's it: What I love is that it's dirt cheap. I love the $2 pants from Old Navy. I love the red line discount, the 99 cents at the end of the price tag. But I don't end up wearing most of the steals. I give them away to charity or wrap them up as gifts.

And if I tally up all the sale items I have bought in the past year - things I don't wear - so far I could have saved about $150. That's a student loan payment, the one last debt I have to pay off.

I have learned a lot about my relationship with money this month. And I've learned about what necessities actually are. And for the most part, I feel good about my savings and budgeting.

But I do spend a lot of unnecessary dollars on drinks, appetizers, desserts, sales and gifts. I buy gifts to say hello, gifts to say get well, gifts to say thank you. It's ridiculous.

And when I look at what I didn't buy this month, I have saved $200 easy. That's another student loan payment.

There's still two weeks of September left. Maybe I can manage to save another payment. If I stay on budget, that student loan could be paid off before next year.

Even after this challenge is over, I'm going to work on my sales and markdowns problem.

I denied I was a shop-aholic. But the first step to recovering is admitting there's a problem.

So my name is Jenee Osterheldt. I'm still not a shop-aholic. But I am a sale-aholic.

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Hey, big spender ...

Are you a spend-aholic? Tell me your tales of woe, or join me by pledging a spend-free month. Let me know how it goes.

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