How to Do Self-Care Without Breaking the Bank

self-care Reward yourself

When I think about self-care, there’s one meme that sticks out in my mind. A simple budget laid out by category: “Food: $200. Data: $150. Rent: $800. Candles: $3,600. Utilities: $150.” Underneath the caption reads, “Someone who is good at the economy please help me budget, my family is dying.” 

I felt especially called out by that meme one day last summer. When I found myself strolling through an upscale metaphysical store in a neighborhood of Los Angeles where you could easily find an exclusive Pilates studio and a bar selling $17 Aperol Spritzes within a few blocks. 

I was feeling stressed. In an effort to change my mood (or to “shift the energy,” to put it in LA-speak), I filled my cart with all the healing crystals and chakra unblocking candles I could find. I left with some sparkly new possessions, a slight boost of serotonin…and over $100 swiftly removed from my bank account. 

As I blamed myself for getting lost in a fugue state of wellness, I remember thinking to myself, “This is probably why I haven’t paid off that credit card debt yet.”  

While I certainly don’t feel proud of some of my more impetuous self-care spending, I don’t feel alone. According to a 2018 study by Eventbrite and research company OnePoll, the average American spends $199 a month on “treating themselves.” That’s 22% of the average disposable income, and $143,280 over the course of a lifetime. And that’s just an average. 

Chances are if you tally up every face mask, spa treatment, manicure, scented candle, and yoga class, you would find that your efforts to feel your best are having the opposite effect on your finances. If your cabinet is filled with sheet masks and supplements but your rainy day fund is only equipped for a drizzle, it’s time to do things differently. 

A Brief History of Self-Care

To reinvent our relationship with self-care, it’s helpful to go back to its roots and remember that self-care has long been the opposite of selfishness. In an article for Slate, culture writer Aisha Davis noted that “It wasn’t until the rise of the women’s movement and the civil rights movement that self-care became a political act. Women and people of color viewed controlling their health as a corrective to the failures of a white, patriarchal medical system to properly tend to their needs.” 

Davis rightly points out the fight of activists and advocates to champion healthy living as a way of fighting systemic injustice and supporting those often fighting invisible battles with trauma and mental health issues that often went unaddressed in traditional medicine. The latest iteration of the term started four years ago in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, when search results for “self-care” doubled (currently, there are over 3 billion). 

Almost overnight, the conversation shifted from “How much can you do?” to “How much are you taking care of yourself?” Frankly, it was a refreshing and much needed change of pace. After all, reframing our idea of what it means to take care of ourselves to include balance and remembering that it’s ok to put our needs first sometimes was a necessary tone change for anyone who was struggling under pressure. 

A Change in Self-Care

As a movement, self-care took off with gusto. Whether you were going through a bad break up, stressed at work, or simply dealing with the exhausting efforts of being a human being, investing in a little self-care was surely the cure that friends, magazines, and the internet would quickly prescribe. Simply put, self-care was a panacea for modern life. 

However, it was also expensive. While you can’t put a dollar sign on the idea of balance, healthy priorities, or relaxation, you can certainly put one on the products that promise to get you there Let’s just say if I totaled the amount of money I’ve spent on $12 juices that claimed to transform my life from the inside out, I would probably be writing this from my one of my several vacation homes. 

At some point, what began as a way of getting in touch with yourself became an economic exchange where how good you felt became dependent on how much you were willing to spend to do so. Wellness was no longer a niche industry for Hollywood stars and hippie holdovers — it was a $4.2 trillion juggernaut that preached better living through strategic indulgences.  

Self-Caring for Your Finances

But what happens when those indulgences start to pile up and put your finances, and your future, at risk? While investing in your future doesn’t impart the same immediate satisfaction as the fresh fizz of a new bath bomb, your financial health is the most important part of your wellness routine that you’re probably neglecting. 

Considering that Northwestern Mutual found that over eighty percent of Americans cite money as a major source of anxiety (with almost half being “constantly” stressed about their bank accounts), learning how to manage money, getting control of your spending, and becoming more financially literate is as important to your overall well being as your gym membership.

To get some perspective, I spoke with Ashley Dixon, a Texas based financial planner with millennial focused Gen Y Planning. “I encourage our clients to reward themselves…within their budget,” she told me. “If you are sticking to a spending plan and you’re tracking your spending and you do a good job, then you should treat yourself! If you’re not, then it’s time to pull back.” 

She continued, “Just like your 50 or 60 year old self will thank you for taking care of your health, you’re also going to be so thankful you learned how to be responsible for money at a young age. Your future self will thank you for the decisions you’re making today.” 

And while you have the future on the mind, you might want to add getting life insurance to your to-do list.

It seems that the road to integrating financial wellness into your life actually borrows from a major theme in the self-care industry — mindfulness. Being aware of your spending and making conscious decisions can help combat spending that makes you feel better now but hurts your bottom line later (and yes, that includes impulse crystal purchases). 

How to Integrate Self-Care into Your Finances

Dixon recommends making a comprehensive budget that includes an allotment for health, beauty, and treating yourself, and sticking to it. There are many different kinds of financial planning calculators that can help you create a budget. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to wave goodbye to your favorite speciality latte or fresh nail color every now and then (in fact, Dixon actually cautions that “over restricting is unhealthy when it comes to finances too.”) 

And just like your wellness routine is unique to you, creating a self-care practice around money will look different for everyone. However you do it, it’s time to flip the switch and learn to make choices based on what we need (or really want), and not on what we’re being sold. 

At the end of the day, it seems that what we need is to reinvoke the original goal of self-care. To invest thoughtfully in our lives so that we can fight for the future we want. It’s a work in progress for all of us, but it feels pretty good. 

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