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Fitting self-care into your life and finances

A financial guide to personal care in your budget

Summary

Self-care may be important, but it isn’t necessarily free. Here we take a look at self-care in 2022, expert-recommended self-care practices and how to finance the costs of self-care.

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What is self-care – and how do we practice it?

“I define self-care as the deliberate steps we take to tend to our needs,” says Dr. Natalie Christine Dattilo, clinical health psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School.

The more you engage in activities that help you meet your most basic needs – nutrition, connection, sleep and so on – the easier it is for self-care to become a habit.

“We receive important cues about how we are doing based on our behavior,” Dattilo explains. “When we practice self-care and make those activities a priority, our behavior sends an important message back to us. It says we are doing okay. It also says we are worth the time and effort it takes to do those things. And, in my opinion, this is probably the most important part of self-care for preventing depression and promoting mental wellness.”

Self-care may be important, but it isn’t necessarily free. How much should you budget for personal care? What are the best ways to save money on self-care expenses? Let’s take a look at self-care in 2022, expert-recommended self-care practices and how to finance the costs of self-care.

Self-care in 2022

How much should you budget for personal care? It all depends on what you need – and what you value.

“I spend between $5,000 and $10,000 every year on self-care,” Amy Sullivan, health coach and founder of AspireZen, told us. In her case, the average cost of personal care per month comes to around $625 – although it’s worth noting that Sullivan tracks everything from mani/pedis to vacations under self-care. If you track travel as a separate budget line item, your average monthly personal care costs will probably be lower.

Sullivan’s self-care spending didn’t change much during the pandemic, but the purchases shifted from in-person activities to virtual ones – switching from an in-person yoga studio membership to an online yoga membership, for example. Sullivan also put more of her self-care dollars toward personal care and improvement. “I spend more now on bettering myself mentally and physically,” she explains, “such as virtual coaching sessions, virtual workshops and organic food.”

Many people used the early days of the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to practice inexpensive self-care habits such as baking, walking and meditation. Now that we are approaching our third year of coronavirus safety measures, people are looking for new ways to stay connected with themselves – and with others.

“Staying engaged and connected to others is a critical component of self-care,” explains Dattilo. If you’re looking for a wellness habit to pick up in 2022, consider reaching out to friends and family members – especially if you haven’t checked in with them in a while. Be patient with the people closest to you, and use this upcoming year as an opportunity to talk, listen and strengthen bonds. We all know that dealing with the pandemic has really taken its toll, both physically and psychologically, and recovering from the emotional fallout will likely take some time,” says Sullivan.

Best ways to practice self-care

Want to start taking better care of yourself? Here are five expert-recommended self-care practices:

Exercise

Want to feel good fast? Get moving.

“Physical activity is an instant mood booster and stress reducer,” says Dattilo. “Aim to spend a little time each day exercising to help circulate stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that can build up in your system and become toxic over time. Brief bursts of exercise to get your heart rate up have been shown to boost our feel-good brain chemicals, prevent panic and help us relax.”

Sleep

Many people can list the best ways to get good sleep – going to bed at the same time every night; taking time before bed to wind down; falling asleep in a cool, dark room – but only a few people consistently put those tips into practice. Maybe you can be one of them.

“By making sleep and rest a priority, your brain and immune system will thank you,” says Dattilo – and if you can’t get the recommended eight hours per night, don’t lose (more) sleep over it. “Aim for quality over quantity.”

Nutrition

Everyone’s nutritional needs are different – but we can all work toward eating the kinds of foods that fuel our bodies to do their best work, whether that means putting together a power salad for lunch or breaking bread with family at dinner.

“Start meal planning to reduce food waste and save on groceries,” suggests Andrea Woroch, a nationally recognized financial expert who helps people build effective budgets. Planning your meals ahead of time will also help you cut back on takeout and delivery expenses, which can both save money and lead to more nutritious food choices.

Mindfulness

Many people associate mindfulness with meditation – and they’re not wrong. “Meditation and breathing to relax are some of the most important things you can do to calm your anxieties, reduce your stress, enhance your focus, boost your immune system and counteract the negative effects of cortisol and adrenaline,” says Dattilo.

However, there is much more to mindfulness than a daily meditation practice. Being mindful means paying attention to what is around you – which can be not only relaxing but rewarding. “Staying grounded in the present moment can be helpful for managing anxiety and uncertainty,” Dattilo explains.

Personal care

Taking care of your interior is only part of the self-care process. Make sure you take care of your exterior as well – because when you look good, you feel good.

“Try DIY for simple self-care practices in which there are at-home products available, such as teeth whitening and facial peels,” Woroch advises. “Give yourself your own mani and pedi and purchase some products to give you that spa experience at home.”

When to seek professional help

Developing good self-care habits is an important part of modern life – but sometimes there’s only so much you can do on your own. When is it time to seek out the services of a counselor, therapist or other mental health expert?

“It is always recommended that you seek the assistance of a qualified mental health professional if you find yourself struggling in ways that concern you or even frighten you, that seem to be getting worse instead of better despite your best efforts or are affecting your relationships or your ability to work,” Dattilo advises.

How can you find a good therapist? “The best way to do this is to speak to your primary care provider and ask for a referral or your insurance company who can provide you with a list of in-network providers,” says Dattilo. “Some people find the convenience of having an online therapist helpful, but be sure to ask plenty of questions to make sure you find someone with the training and experience that matches your needs.”

If you’re thinking about working with a mental health professional to help you reduce stress, learn how to navigate complicated interpersonal issues or otherwise improve your day-to-day life, make sure to read our guide to covering the costs of mental health therapy.

How to cover the cost of self-care

Setting aside money for self-care is important – because nobody else can practice self-care but you.

That’s why self-care should be an essential part of every budget. “It’s easy to say ‘Oh, I can cut this because it’s just for me and I can persist a little longer without it,’” explains Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks, “but it can be a slippery slope, especially when emotional and physical well-being are involved.”

How much should you budget for self-care expenses – and how do you know whether you’re spending too much on self-care? Start by looking at your average cost of personal care per month, and then ask yourself whether that number is helping you increase your personal and financial stability – or leading you toward stress and credit card debt.

“To me, a huge element of self-care is reducing things that trigger stress,” Sullivan explains. This includes financial stress – which is why we’ve put together a list of tips and tricks that can help you save money while giving yourself the care you need.

Take advantage of free resources

“Effective self-care doesn’t have to be costly,” says Dattilo. “In fact, some of the best forms of self-care are free.” Whether you’re taking an evening walk, learning meditation techniques from YouTube (or the local library) or setting aside 20 minutes to wind down before bed, there are plenty of ways to practice self-care without spending any money.

“I look for ways to incorporate self-care into my life that cost nothing,” Sullivan explains. “Quality time with people I love, time in nature, journaling, playing guitar, venting to a friend after a stressful day, living and speaking my truth. These all have just as much – if not more – value than anything that can be found in a store or at a spa.”

Plan ahead for personal care expenses

Even though many self-care practices don’t cost money, some aspects of personal care – nutrition, skincare and so on – must be purchased. It’s a good idea to plan ahead for these kinds of predictable expenses and to ensure that the amount of money you’re spending on groceries, personal hygiene products, beauty treatments and other personal care items fits your household budget.

“Adding self-care to your budget isn’t something a lot of people think to do, but it’s an important one to factor in because it can improve the quality of your life,” Woroch explains. Planning for these kinds of expenses, whether you’re creating a budget line item for monthly salon appointments or adding an extra $50 to your grocery budget to cover the cost of organic produce, also eliminates the guilt you might otherwise feel around self-care and personal care purchases.

“If you don’t budget for self-care, it’s very easy to push it off,” Wang explains. Personal care procrastination can leave you feeling like you’re neglecting yourself – which, in turn, can lead to the kind of shopping sprees that cost more than you expect and leave you more stressed out than ever. “Financial stress undercuts any fleeting joy you get from a spontaneous purchase,” says Sullivan.

How much should you budget for personal care? Take a look at your credit card statements and see how much you’ve spent on personal care expenses over the past year. Divide that number by 12, and you’ll get the average cost of personal care per month. That’s the number you should use when you create your personal care budget – and keep in mind that you can always move that number up or down depending on your income and your other financial obligations.

Pick up a side hustle

If you run the numbers on the average cost of personal care per month and discover that you’re spending more than you can afford, it might be time to earn a little extra cash.

“I would suggest finding a side hustle you can do that doesn’t add to your stress but can provide some extra income that you earmark for self-care,” says Wang. “If you like pets, you can sign up for a dog walking or pet sitting job on Rover.com, earn extra money and then spend that money absolutely guilt-free on whatever self-care you want.”

A good side hustle often comes with its own mental health benefits. “In the case of dog walking, you’ll get a bit of exercise outdoors,” Wang explains – and that’s just the beginning. Side hustles give you the opportunity to learn new skills, increasing both your competence and your confidence. In some cases, you can even build your new side hustle into a thriving small business – and if you do, you’ll want to take a look at our list of the best credit cards for small businesses.

Offset costs with credit card rewards

If you want to save money on self-care costs, consider applying for one of today’s best rewards credit cards. With a top rewards card in your wallet, not only will you earn cash back, points or miles on every self-care purchase you make, but you may also be able to take advantage of credit card benefits like sign-up bonuses, purchase protection and roadside assistance.

If travel is an important part of your self-care routine, a top travel credit card can help you cover the cost of your next trip. The best travel credit cards come with time-saving, stress-relieving perks such as free checked bags, complimentary airport lounge access, TSA PreCheck/Global Entry fee waivers and more.

Save money with discounts, deals and apps

Another way to save on personal care expenses is by seeking out discounts and deals. “For instance, you can often get better deals on haircare or haircuts by using a hairstylist in training or going to a beauty school,” says Woroch. “They always have a professional supervising so you can feel confident in the services.”

Even when you’re paying full price, there are still ways to save. “Make sure you’re using cash back tools whenever shopping in-store or online,” suggests Woroch – and we’ve got a list of the best cash back and rebate apps to help you get started.

Final thoughts

Self-care is one of the most important things you can do to improve your mental health and well-being – not to mention your stress levels, your interactions with others and your general satisfaction with life.

While some types of self-care can be expensive, many of the basics – exercise, sleep, mindfulness – are either free or very low-cost. Setting a budget for monthly personal care expenses can help you balance your self-care needs against your other financial obligations and help reduce the stress that might arise from accidentally overspending.

Lastly, don’t forget that self-care is a practice. That means it’s something you do, not something you buy at a store. “Simple acts can serve as self-care when done with intention and purpose,” Dattilo told us – and we agree.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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