How to Balance Self Care and a Tight Budget
“Get a massage!”
“Treat yourself to a pedicure.”
“Buy a new book, grab a bottle of wine, and throw an herbal bath mixture in the tub.”
Over the last few years, the idea of taking time to care for your mental, emotional, and spiritual health has, thankfully, become pretty mainstream.
That’s a wonderful thing, but the #selfcare trend can come with a dark side: the toll it could take on your budget.
Too often, our ideas of what self care looks like (like some of those suggestions above) require you to spend money to access them. While it’s fine to enjoy an indulgence or splurge on occasion, buying something shouldn’t be a prerequisite for taking care of yourself. Before you charge another thing to your credit card, consider these ways you can balance self care and a tight budget.
Movement Is Medicine (and is Usually Free)
Taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing means making time for your physical health. Movement itself could even be a spiritual practice, as many people who enjoy yoga can attest.
Take 20 minutes at the beginning or end of every day and go through a simple flow on your mat at home. You don’t need to pay for a class; just check out the free videos on YouTube anytime. (Personally, I’ve been following Yoga with Adriene lately.)
If that $35-per-class Soulcycle habit works for you and your budget, that is great, but always remember that you could grab your bike (or an affordable Hubway rental) and go for a quiet ride outside without spending much money at all.
Or, lace up your sneakers and go for a run or a long walk. Try searching for “free workouts” and your hometown name to see if there are any free workshops or outdoor workouts that you could try. Just know that you don’t have to go to a trendy fitness class or boutique gym for your movement to be meaningful. The key is to just get moving to enjoy and be present in that movement.
But Stillness Works, Too
A spa day sounds luxurious, but it can also cost a lot. You may be able to achieve the same level of stress relief, relaxation, and peace by practicing meditation instead.
Will you feel quite as pampered? Probably not. But if the point is to include self care in your life while you’re on a budget, a meditation practice is an accessible, sustainable, and obviously affordable way to do that. Pull up a guided meditation playlist on Spotify like this one, and take some time to simply be.
In addition to meditation, make sure you give yourself the opportunity to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Sleep is vitally important, and yet most of us still don’t get enough.
Create a soothing nighttime routine you can practice before bed, which might include:
Shutting off all screens at least an hour before you want to fall asleep
Reading (and/or meditating)
Stretching or doing a quiet yoga flow
Turn Off Your Phone and Completely Disconnect
When’s the last time you left your phone at home (on purpose) before you went out for the day? Self care for you might include regular periods of not being so connected, so available, and so not present.
Try simply going for a walk without any devices. Or go an entire day without your smartphone and see how it feels. If that’s too much to ask, then at least delete social media apps and turn off your push notifications from other services. Use your phone only to communicate with directly people… and consider picking it up and actually calling instead of texting.
Dance It Out or Write It Down
Self care doesn’t have to be all peace and quiet, all the time. Turn on your favorite party playlist, crank up the volume, and have your own dance party. Let yourself be completely free and let go. If nobody’s watching, dance like it!
If dance isn’t your ideal form of self-expression, try writing instead. Journaling can be a great way to increase your self-awareness -- which, in turn, could make you better at understanding what kind of self care actually works for you.
Whatever Your Self Care Practice, Know It Doesn’t Have to Cost Anything
These are all just some ideas of practices you can take on to take care of yourself in ways that don’t require you to spend anything at all. But the possibilities for what might work for you—while keeping your spending in check—are endless (honey facemasks, anyone?!).
Sure, mani-pedis and massages are wonderful, but they’re not necessary (and certainly not required on a regular basis if you need to prioritize your savings instead). If you feel pressured to spend money you don’t have… that’s a good indication it’s not truly self care.
The most important thing to understand is that self care does not have to mean splurges that you can’t actually afford. Your self care can be anything that allows you to feel more grounded, peaceful, energized, and fulfilled.
That has nothing to do with the money you spend, and everything to do with understanding what kind of moment you can take for yourself to refill your cup.
Kali Roberge is a personal finance writer who contributes to JUGs to explain how freelancers and entrepreneurs can make the most of their money, and writes about mindful living through intentional spending through her email series, LETTERS. You can find her @kaliRoberge