Every year about this time it's not unusual for the media to announce the latest Top Ten New Year's Resolutions. Without fail right up there with losing weight is some form of I'm going to get my finances in order.

Considering that Americans are fatter and more deeply in debt than ever before, I can only assume the obvious: Budgets and diets don't work.

Both diets and budgets are based on deprivation. We can handle deprivation for only short periods of time because it feels so terrible. It's only a matter of time before we cave in and give up.

I can't help but recall the times I attempted to stop using my credit cards. And I really tried to stop writing checks when there was no money in the bank. Cutting myself off from my ability to spend felt like a part of me was being ripped away-as if I was losing my security, comfort and status in life. I felt like I was being punished and deprived of what I loved in the same way a prisoner is deprived of freedom and personal choice.

Over and over again I tried to reform but the feelings of loss and the fear of deprivation were much stronger than any desire to change. A battle was raging inside of me and I controlled neither side. Instead I was controlled by overwhelming feelings and out-of-control desires.

The irony is that in doing so many crazy things to make sure I never felt deprived I was paving the way for the ultimate deprivation-the total loss of everything in my life that truly mattered. I get chills recalling just how close we came to total financial ruin.

Economics and emotions

I've come to realize that the whole subject of reforming one's financial situation has two distinct aspects: economics and emotions. If you have tried to cure your money ills only to fail, it's likely you were dealing only with the economics. Both sides demand equal attention.

I've found that the economic side of personal finance is fairly simple. It's math. It's adding and subtracting. It's agreeing that I cannot spend more money than I have. It's about finding ways to spend less and keep more. When it comes to the economics of personal money management, there are right and wrong answers, black and white issues that are readily available and easy to understand.

Then there's the emotional aspect of financial change-the part most ignored and least dealt with. Dealing with our emotions is much more difficult than handling the economics because emotions are subjective. We see their result but we don't understand them. We can't put them on a spreadsheet and move them around until they balance perfectly. We can't project emotions the way we project income and expenses.

I struggled because my emotions were so powerful they sabotaged any kind of meaningful change. That is until I discovered that I can control my emotions. I cannot pretend they don't exist but I don't have to be their victim, either.

Somewhere along the line in my journey to solvency I made a profound, life-changing discovery. I learned that I could replace my fear of deprivation with the joy of sacrifice. I learned to harness my powerful emotions and make them my ally, not my enemy. I purposely set out to embrace sacrifice and reject all feelings of deprivation.

Sacrifice or deprivation

Sacrifice means to give up something of value for the sake of something else that is more important or more worthy. Deprivation means to have a possession or enjoyment taken away. Once I learned the startling difference between the two concepts I understood immediately why meaningful change kept eluding me.

Sacrifice. It's a beautiful concept. Sacrifice involves purpose. Sacrifice acknowledges a goal that is more worthy and of greater value than the sacrifice itself. There's no deprivation involved, simply a choice to give up something of lesser value right now to have or achieve something far more worthy in the future. Sacrifice focuses on a goal. Deprivation focuses on poor me. Sacrifice lifts my head and lets me see the big picture. Deprivation turns my eyes inward so I see nothing but myself.