When my husband and I realized we were up to $10,000 in debt on our credit cards, we freaked. Why we hadn’t been upset at three or five thousand, I don’t know. Regardless, we felt like we were drowning. We owed. Lots. So we took the well-known Dave Ramsey course to get some advice. I have to tell you, my first reaction was: I hate this guy. He told us our debt was only our fault. Who says that kind of stuff? I thought in my naivety.

So, we went into budget lockdown. In fact, after I calculated our budget, I laid down my pencil and burst into tears.

“We’re never going to make it.” I moaned into the countertop where my head was resting. I thought, “Why would God make me live like this?”

All dramatics and whining aside, the fact of the matter was that we were spending more than we were making. We would have to spend less, and unfortunately for us, we were making peanuts.

Now in the thick of the “budget,” I think the hardest thing is simply telling myself “NO.” I don’t think I should have to! There will always be justifications for why I should pay money for such and such, but at the heart of the matter is the thought: I want it, therefore I deserve it, and I should have it. That thought is simply not true.

Living on a strict budget is hard. And it doesn’t start to feel good for even longer. I often go through several what I like to call, “emotional budget stages”: The noble woman taking on the world, then the dying martyr—giving up all I love for the sake of responsibility, then the angry woman—wondering why money is so mean, and then the despairing woman, thinking God has set this all up to torture me. Finally, I get to the determined woman who is going to see this thing through, which leads to…freedom. I’m serious! If I stick it out, I begin to feel freedom WITHIN the constraints.

I didn’t and don’t have a way to make budgeting painless, all I have is a choice of how I want to view my life. Instead of going out to dinner for a date night, I pack a picnic and we go for a motorcycle ride. Instead of despairing over my completely lame wardrobe, I buy some super cheap accessories and refashion them. Instead of driving, I walk—inhaling life and energy in each deep breath. It all begins to change. It’s not about what I give up; it’s about shifting the focus and seeing my life anew. I begin to see how much I DO have, and in all the important ways I see that I am actually rich. I let go of the need for my life to look and feel a certain way. It’s hard to see our assets clearly through the persistent buzz of “I want, I want, I want…”

On an ending note, I have a few suggestions for those of you going on a budget. Part of it is taking a break from the source of my discontent. If I am trying to be content in a house I dislike but can afford, I need to stop trolling real estate websites just to see “what’s out there.” If I am cutting down shoe or clothing expenses, I have got to cut myself off of the fashion magazines. If I am leaking small amounts of money from coffee, eating out, or drinks after work, then I need to think about how much money I am willing to give to those little pleasures. Lastly, the budget made me rethink my priorities. I often ask myself: what is truly important, and needful in my life? What things seem needful and actually aren’t? How long has it been since I saved up my money to buy something?

My family paid off our debt, by the way. I’m still using “cash-in-the envelope” system, and I am saving up for a leather couch. I clawed, scratched, and wept my way to a better financial place. It wasn’t pretty, but it was oh so worth it. And the view is pretty great from here.