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The urge to splurge 

Sticking with a budget is a lot like dieting. You start out with good intentions but somewhere along the way you get tempted. My approach to staying with a budget is the same as the one I take when I want to lose some weight. You've stayed with the low-calorie foods, you're close to your goal and while you shouldn't over indulge, there's nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with a job well done.

It's the same principle with your budget. You've stuck with your meal plan; you've been using coupons; so once in a while, you've got to reward your efforts. There's always room for some luxuries and here's how I approach them.

Tea: One of my favorite things is a great cup of tea. I couldn't start the day without one and sometimes it's the best thing for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, too. I've tried just about every brand of tea out there. Sometimes I buy a budget brand, but I always come back to the more expensive ones. And why? Because I've found the cheaper ones are really just low-grade teas. They produce a weak brew and I end up having to use two bags to get the same strength as the more expensive ones. Lots of times, I've been so unhappy with the taste that I've tossed the whole box away. I've been wasting money instead of saving it. And there are still ways to save a few pennies. I found all my favorite teas at the local co-op. They're sold in bulk and as I don't mind using loose tea, I've found some of the best bargains there.

Chocolate: I'm not just referring to a great bar of chocolate to eat, but the kind you use in recipes, cookies, frosting, etc. I've found it pays to buy the more expensive brands because they melt faster and easier. Plus, they tend to have a richer taste so I can sometimes use half the amount. Once again, you can easily find bags of gourmet chocolate chips in warehouse stores, so don't think you can't afford the top of the line.

Those One-Time Treats: Are there some food items you see in the supermarket that you'd love to buy, but hurry by them because of the cost? Just like dieting, it doesn't always pay to continually walk by what tempts you. Remember what happens when you do that: You end up eating twice as much. Close to where I live is an upscale supermarket; I don't usually shop there, but once in awhile, I'll stop by there to search for a hard-to-find item. This store has an olive bar that not only has the biggest selection of olives I've ever seen, but the best oven-dried tomatoes I've ever tasted. As I don't shop there that often, I've given myself permission to buy a tub of these tomatoes each time I go there.

Special Occasions: If it's a special holiday, a birthday or an anniversary, then I think it's definitely OK to splurge. They only come around once a year, so indulge. (See sidebar piece.)

Organics: I've lost count of the people who tell me they'd love to eat organic food but they just can't afford it. Like everything else in the supermarket, bargains can be found, even in the organic section. My preference is to buy organic apples, so I'm always searching for a good buy. Lately, I've found buying organic apples in bags really cuts down on the cost. And just last week, I purchased a bag of organic kiwis for $1.99. There were seven good-sized kiwis in the bag, which makes them just 28 cents each. So don't always assume you can't afford a particular food item. C

(This article originally appeared on Featurewell.com.)

Local Splurging

Here are several superb Charlotte restaurants to consider when planning to mortgage the house for a lovely evening out.

* Barrington's Restaurant. 7822 Fairview Road. 704-364-5755. www.barringtonsrestaurant.com.

* The Melting Pot. 901 S. Kings Drive, Ste. 140B. 704-334-4400. 230 E. W.T. Harris Blvd., Ste. C1. 704-548-2432. www.meltingpot.com.

* Palm Restaurant. 6705-B Phillips Place Court. 704-552-7256. www.thepalm.com/Charlotte.

* Ruth's Chris Steak House. 6000 Fairview Road. 704-556-1115. 222 S. Tryon St. 704-338-9444. www.ruthschris.com.

* Zebra Restaurant & Wine Bar. 4521 Sharon Road. 704-442-9525. www.zebrarestaurant.net.

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