Lately, I’ve been seeing the word “self-care” thrown about often. I feel like I see it on every social media platform and in magazine ads and I hear it when I’m talking to my friends.
I am a BIG fan of self-care. My favorite ways to self-care are going to my therapist, doing a facial mask a few times a week and eating more veggies than I used to.
But lately, I’ve seen self-care bastardized and co-opted for marketing campaigns and by Instagram influencers. They use self-care to sell you something you probably don’t even need. But in an age where self-care is a valuable commodity, everyone is hopping on the self-care bandwagon.
My Self-Care Journey
When she was stressed out, my college roommate Leah would sometimes declare a “mental health day.” She’d skip class, indulge in a favorite romantic comedy and generally just chill out.
When I was stressed out, I would often indulge in retail therapy, another bullshit term used to entice women to shop. In fact, I became so good at retail therapy that I ended up with a bulging closet and a collection of bras so large my friends used to make fun of me.
My retail therapy took a huge upswing when I lived in New York for a summer, interning at the Associated Press. I was so stressed out with work that I often overspent just to make myself feel better. I’d take a cab instead of the subway or buy food out instead of cooking at home. At one point, I was buying take-out three times a day – THAT’S INSANE!
I used money to make myself feel better, but it never really worked as a long-term strategy. I remember one day I had really messed up at my internship and I went down to the bookstore, where I spent approximately $84 on books and notebooks. Then, I went to the diner to have lunch. I felt sick to my stomach with all my spending, which wasn’t helping me forget about my work mistake.
Money isn’t a band-aid. It isn’t a magic salve that will help you forget about your troubles. In fact, it usually amplifies them.
When I started working as a newspaper reporter making $28,000 a year, I couldn’t afford to rely on retail therapy. After paying my $350 student loan payment, I barely had anything left over. Suddenly, I had to face whatever feelings I was running away from.
Do You Use Self-Care as an Excuse to Spend Money?
I was reading this article from finance guru Tonya Rapley, where she shared her journey from financial abuse victim to financial warrior.
I read this line and immediately knew what she meant:
But when I left, I had no savings to speak of, and thought that healing myself meant not worrying about how much I was spending.
I’ve never been a victim of abuse, but I’ve been depressed and anxious and thought that worrying about money was counter-productive. Dealing with your finances seems like it’s a chore, but in fact, caring about money is the biggest self-care activity you can do.
One way I hear people talk about stress, self-care and money is this phrase. You’re going to jump back in your seat when you read this. Are you ready? Ok here we go:
I had a bad day, so I DESERVE THIS.
Whoa! Did you just jump back? See, I said you would. Deserve is one of those words that makes it seem like spending money is ok, that it’s great for your mental health. But in fact, it’s just a trick, an excuse your brain uses to spend money when you know you shouldn’t.
How often have you been feeling crappy and used the phrase “I deserve” to justify buying something? It can be as small as a new NYX lipstick or as big as a Kate Spade purse, but this phrase is DESTRUCTIVE TO YOUR FINANCES.
How to Do Self-Care on a Budget
Ok so if bottomless mimosas and retail therapy are outlawed, how can you actually relax, take some time for yourself and not feel bad about it afterward?
Here are my favorite ideas for self-care on a budget:
Take a bubble bath
Ok, yes, you might be thinking: isn’t this kind of an old-fashioned idea? But lemme tell you something: Bubble baths work! Any time I’ve taken a bubble bath, my first thought is, “Why don’t I do this more often?” Quietly soaking in a hot bath is one of the most invigorating activities you can do.
I don’t even buy pricey bubble bath. I just use body oils and body wash I already have and pump in lots of my favorite moisturizer. My bubble bath doesn’t look perfect, but I leave with smooth skin and a calm mind.
Do something with my hands
Most of the time when I feel the need for self-care, I really just want some quiet. The world can feel so loud and noisy and even scrolling through my Instagram feed can seem too much. Sometimes it feels good to get back to the basics and do something tactile. I’ll usually get out my sewing or jewelry-making supplies and work on a simple project.
Sometimes I’ll even get out my watercolors or drawing pencils. Ever wondered why adult coloring books were so popular? It’s the same reason. They allow us to make something with their hands instead of just absorbing content. P.S. For bonus frugal points, I try to find art supplies on sale. Sometimes you can find people giving away free stuff at yard sales or on Craigslist.
Declutter my house
Ok, I know this sounds like work, but honestly, throwing stuff away is ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS. I love the satisfaction that comes with filling up a 32-liter garbage bag and tossing it away (or putting it in my donate pile).
Decluttering always makes me feel I’ve truly accomplished something. And since I’m still in the stage of life where I move almost every year, I know that every garbage bag I throw away is one less garbage bag I have to pack. Plus, it’s always fun going through old stuff (at least if you’re a weirdo like me).
Bake something decadent
I love to bake. I think it comes from my mom not baking a lot as a kid and me being jealous of kids who always had boxed brownie mix in their pantry. In college, I made cookies and brownies all the time and started experimenting with my own recipes.
Recently, my husband and I have been watching “The Great British Bake-Off” on Netflix and I’ve rediscovered a love for baking. Last time, I made a two-tier chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. It was so good – I still dream about it when I’m feeling hangry. Baking is one of my favorite self-care activities because it’s so innately satisfying. Baking requires your utmost attention and since I struggle with getting through a sentence without – SQUIRREL – losing track, I love the focus I have to spend on baking.
Baking something yourself is so much better than buying it from a store, unless you’re going to a real bakery in which case you’re spending a lot of money. Not only is the act of baking itself enjoyable, but then you get to eat what you made! Even if you don’t love baking, try making a box cake next time you need self-care. I promise you’ll enjoy the process.
Watch a favorite movie
Ok this idea kind of seems like cheating because, “Duh, everyone knows watching a movie is a good idea when you’re feeling bad.” But trust me, when was the last time you sat down to watch a good old-fashioned chick flick?
A few weeks ago, I discovered that “Miss Congeniality” was on Netflix so I immediately started watching it while painting my nails. IT FELT SO GOOD. The combo of watching a movie I basically grew up with combined with doing something indulgent like an at-home manicure filled my soul.
If you’re lucky enough to have some girlfriends near you, invite them for a full-blown spa session complete with rom coms. One time, my friends and I made homemade strawberry yogurt masks and did a coffee scrub on our legs. It was hilarious, especially when we realized that we’d left the curtains wide open and everyone on the street could see us with red faces and legs covered in leftover coffee grounds.
I hope I don’t get any flack for this comment, but there’s a reason why people recommend exercise when you’re depressed or anxious. When I’m feeling anxious, I tend to think about skipping the gym. But every time I go, I feel better. Maybe instead of your normal routine, do something different. Take a bike ride, do some basic yoga or hit the heavy bag (my personal favorite).
Remember, self-care isn’t always about doing the easiest thing. It’s about doing what will truly help you in the moment and in the long run.