When we visualize self-care, we often imagine putting on a face mask while sipping a glass of rose. Some of us think of journaling, meditation, or a rigorous workout class followed by a healthy salad (but with a side of fries, obviously). While these practices are all meaningful and necessary, we need to acknowledge other parts of our lives that need a little (or a lot) more TLC. Pampering and mindfulness are only part of the equation.
There are other self-care practices that don’t necessarily feel like self-care. They are booking appointments we’ve been avoiding, confronting issues we don’t want to, or initiating tough conversations we haven’t had. They are life “chores” that will negatively impact our well-being if we don’t cross them off our “to-do list.” By putting them off or avoiding completely, we’re failing to take care of ourselves.
One nontraditional area of self-care that often gets overlooked is financial wellness. It’s no secret that money is one of the biggest causes of stress in America — 62 percent say it’s a significant source of stress, and the likelihood of having a mental health issue is three times higher among those who are in debt. Rates of depression and mental health problems are directly linked to financial adversity and mismanaging funds. So it’s important to recognize that finance can be a form of self-care.
Here are a few of the ways I take care of my personal finances in order to take better care of myself.
1. Set a budget based on your goals: It’s important to start your journey to financial wellness with a budget based on your income and standing. A budget gives you a concrete visual of what you need to spend on and what gives you the most value, whether that means allocating more money toward a gym membership so you can start a better workout routine or saving up for a backpacking trip to Europe that you’ve been putting off.
Whatever your goals are, write them down and then take small steps to accomplish them. It helps to use the 50-20-30 rule: 50 percent of your income should be set aside for living expenses, everything from your rent or mortgage and utilities to insurance, loan payments, and food. 20 percent should be placed into savings — either your own savings account, a 401(k) or a Roth IRA, or a combination of the two. The remaining 30 percent can be spent on the more those weekly dinners out, vacations, a nice bottle of wine, you name it.
2. Know where your money is going: It’s easy for any of us to go months overspending in one area without even realizing it, but there are tools that can help keep track. Many banks give a breakdown of spending on weekly statements. Apps like Mint are also a game-changer in helping us understand how much we’re spending and on what, so we can better manage how much money we allocate to each area.
3. Consider freezing your credit: Addicted to swiping that card? Consider freezing your credit for a period of time to jump-start better spending habits. A credit freeze doesn’t affect your credit score, and you can do it for free. Contact the credit bureau to freeze your credit, or freeze your credit via phone apps.
4. Recognize your individual needs. Another financial self-care practice is having an awareness of what’s important to spend your money on, and that it looks different for everyone. For instance, I don’t feel guilty when I look at my monthly ride-share bill, because ride-sharing saves me time and the stress/additional expenses of owning a car.
5. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not there yet. Although it’s normal to stress about money, we’re all learning and it’s important to remember that it’s about progress, not perfection. In the meantime, just keep doing your best to take care of your present self while still keeping your future self in mind. Maybe your student loans aren’t paid off yet, but that’s okay. You can create a plan for paying them off over time. Or maybe you have approximately $55 in life savings, and that’s fine for now — you can start putting away $25-50 a month toward a rainy day fund. That way, you’re being kind to your present self while taking care of your future.
At the end of the day, we’re all trying to live our best lives, and that requires both traditional and nontraditional self-care. While a mani-pedi or massage can have a short-term positive impact on our overall well-being, maintaining financial security will make a long-term impact that you can feel. Figure out how you can strike a balance, and tend to both your needs and wants in a deliberate and compassionate way.