Self-care drained my bank account. Well, what I thought was self-care did. The self-care industry has grown at a rapid pace in recent years. And witnessing its emergence has been an eye-opening experience.
I was raised to give what I can to help others and stay strong despite my struggles. Because regardless, someone else would always be worse off. So, when the concept of self-care started being discussed more, I was happy to see it. It was finally my time to do things for me and acknowledge that I deserve to be taken care of.
But what I didn’t realize at first was that I wasn’t taking care of my self so much as being sold products that made me think I was. I adopted the “treat yourself” mindset, and before I knew it my bank account was taking the brunt of it.
What is self-care?
Self-care means a lot of things. But what it does not mean is spending copious amounts of money on things you like when you have a bad day. Maybe this is obvious, but I wish someone had told me this earlier. I could’ve avoided buying what seemed like a million skincare products and bags of my favorite candy.
Of course, what it is is right there in the name. It is the intentional act of caring for yourself. On any given day this could mean something different. Ensuring you’re eating a nutritious dinner is self-care, just as much as honoring your cravings for a salty basket of fries is.
The media has made the concept of self-care very profitable. It is easy to be convinced that you need to buy certain things to take part in caring for yourself.
Capitalistic self-care ideals prey on poor people
I want to acknowledge that this isn’t completely my, or anyone else’s fault. When you’re a student working a minimum wage job and the internet is urging you to spend money because it’s supposedly good for you, you are the one in a vulnerable position. The self-improvement industry is now an $11 billion market force. My vulnerability and desperation to feel some relief from the daily grind led me to too much spending. It was always on things that were only making me more stressed as I watched my bank account balance lower.
I knew I needed to make some big changes to my self-care routine. But when all I knew of it was spending, this was a hard adjustment to make.
Finding space for self-care in your budget
What I realized when I started to truly assess this aspect of my spending was that I didn’t need to completely eliminate it. Sometimes taking care of yourself does mean buying a treat. But that is not all it is/ should be.
I knew I needed to incorporate self-care in my monthly budget in order to stop over spending. I started setting aside $20/month for self-care. And learned much more about what it actually meant, and was able to cut my spending down significantly. Additionally, doing this urged me to look into free and low-cost ways of caring for my mental health!
Make space if you can’t find it!
I was lucky enough to have enough wiggle room in my budget to seamlessly incorporate my new self-care fund. However, if your budget is any tighter than mine I would recommend re-evaluating your finances in their entirety and identifying what aspects of your budget (aside from set bills) are already contributing to self-care in any aspect. Food/groceries are always connected to self-care. As are personal items and toiletries. Take a closer look at what, within these categories, you choose to spend on. And if you can, tailor these budgets to contribute more intentionally to self-care.
Tracking spending and mental health
Once I created my new self-care budget, I made a pact with myself to track where I was putting this money and how it was improving my mental health or contributing to self-care. I sat down at the end of the month to budget and wrote down where my $20 went that month. I reflected on why I made the purchase, how it made me feel, and if I felt regret after spending the money.
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Quite often I’d spend the money on movie tickets because it is one of my favorite relaxing activities to do on my own. I never regretted my spending on them because it was always a good experience that let me get out of the house and just hang out with myself!
Avoid self-destructive spending- it hurts you and your bank account
A lot of the money was going towards snacks and treats. I noticed that after a bad day at work, I’d stop at the store for a snack that would satisfy me and temporarily solve all my problems. My money tracking came in handy in this situation because I was able to acknowledge that sugary food was often making me feel worse.
Of course, in the moment it can be hard to know if your spending is going to hurt you. That’s why it is so important to track your spending patterns and reflect on them. And this goes for all spending! Not wasting money on things that you don’t genuinely want to is self-care.
The month that I spent my $20 on a yoga mat I noticed tons of positive differences in my mental health! That in itself was exciting. I found a worthwhile purchase that was helping me to feel better every day. But it was also rewarding to notice I was learning what taking care of myself means and using my hard-earned money to do it in a healthy way.
Making the first step
Deciding to take care of yourself in whatever way you can is already a big step in anyone’s self-care journey. And the journey is not always a smooth one. While creating my self-care budget has helped me immensely, it hasn’t exempt me from the occasional emotional-breakdown-impulse-purchase. You deserve to be kind to yourself in regrettable moments. Go easy on yourself and take your time. This is the truest self-care after all!
The True Cost of Self-Care • Money After Graduation is written by Emily Norton for www.moneyaftergraduation.com