Everyone is talking about “self-care” nowadays, but no one is talking about the cost of self-care and how to get around it. This post is meant to give you some self-care ideas that are doable on any budget, so that you can seamlessly incorporate them into your everyday routines.
What Does Self-Care Mean?
Self-care, self-love, mindfulness, time alone, these things all go hand-in-hand. Yet what do they mean?
the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.
the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
It means you need to put yourself first sometimes, and how you do that is defined by you. Whatever it takes for you to feel like you have made yourself a priority, that you have taken care of yourself in some way that you needed to be taken care of.
There’s that saying that goes:
“you cannot pour from an empty cup”.Tarryne West
If you’re not ok, you can’t take care of others either.
How Does This Translate Into Real Life?
As it’s defined, self-care is how we preserve our health and happiness when we’re stressed. However, self-care can take many forms and translates into each person’s life differently; so what works for you may not work for your friends or colleagues.
In general, I like to think that self-care manifests in ways in which we treat ourselves, the amount of time alone we have, or our ability to complete small daily tasks so that we have peace of mind at the end of the day.
The Cost of Self-Care
Yet, all of these options can cost you money, even time alone. For instance, if you have kids, getting time alone may mean that you pay the babysitter or nanny for that extra time. According to an NYPost article, a study done by OnePoll and Eventbrite found that Americans tend to spend around $199 a month on self-care, or “treating themselves”, or $2388 per year, or assuming you started working at 20 and live till 80, over $143,000 during a lifetime.
That’s a lot of money.
It appears, according to the study, that the majority of people prefer experiences over things and feel less guilt when paying for those experiences versus paying for luxury items.
Makes sense and I’m glad that’s the case.
However, are the experiences we are paying for really helping us? And is the amount of money really effective? Is it necessary to spend a lot in order to care for ourselves and manage our stress?
I don’t think so.
I think the idea that spending more equates to “caring more” is a fallacy, and at the end of the day only serves to create more stress – think of what else you could be doing with your money!
Some Self-Care Ideas to Fit Your Budget
As I mentioned, I don’t think this idea of self-care needs to break the bank or even affect your budget in any way. I’ve listed some common, budget-friendly self-care ideas and experiences below. Hopefully they can help you incorporate more self-care into your routine, without spending $199 per month.
Spa Day at Home
Many people will advocate or even try to get a facial and their nails done at least once a month. Assuming you find middle of the road prices, and are happy with your services, let’s assume that you pay about $100 for a facial and $35 for a basic manicure. That’s $135 per month.
Instead, a budget-friendly self-care idea for a spa day is to go to any drug store or even Sephora, and buy yourself those face mask packets and some nail polish. No, it’s not as satisfying to do these things by yourself, so if you really need it, get a friend to come over so you can do each other.
A facemask packet at a drug store will cost anywhere from 1-5 dollars depending on the mask. Nail polish is the same depending on the size of the bottle and the brand. Couple this with a Netflix movie and a glass of wine and you’ve got yourself a relaxing evening at home.
Even assuming you spent the maximum, you can give yourself a mini facial and get your nails done for about 10 dollars. The bottle of wine you buy will likely be under 10 dollars, and your movie is free.
Total cost at home: approximately $20
For any female, girl time is a must. This time is to vent, connect with another female badass in your life, and hopefully release a lot of that stress that you’ve been carrying around. Girl time is free and can be done over the phone, via text, via email or in person. My preference is to have girl time in person with a glass, or bottle, of wine.
Fancy restaurants and wineries are not required; however, if you do want to get out, then look for happy hours in your area, or if there’s a restaurant with BYOB, then buy a bottle and take it with you! If the weather is nice, take a bottle on a picnic or sneak it onto the beach. Wine, plus girl time, plus fresh air is a winning combination.
Total cost at home: free +/- cost of wine. If you’re out, the cost of a happy hour is probably about half of what you would normally pay.
The average cost of joining a gym: $58/month
A great way to facilitate self-care and release stress is to get physical. Gym memberships can be super expensive (I’m considering canceling mine), and how often can we even make time for the gym anyway?
If a gym is what you really need, or prefer, then make sure its one where you will get the full benefit of your cost. For instance, a $58/month membership at a gym that otherwise costs $10 per day without membership, will require you to go at least 6 times per month in order to get your money’s worth. So, if this is your thing and you know that you’ll make use of it, then go for it.
Alternatively, if going to the gym regularly isn’t in the cards for you, then using a day pass so that you can go maybe 2-3 times per month, might be a better bet. Also, depending on where you live, and if the gym is not your cup of tea, then go outside. Hiking, biking, or just long walks in the neighborhood can do wonders for clearing your head. If you live in a colder part of the country where going outside may not be an option, then YouTube some exercise videos, download a Yoga app and get moving at home.
The total cost of going outside or exercising at home: free. Day passes at gym: ~$10. Only join if you know you’ll use it!
One of my favorite ways to de-stress is to read a book. Might sound counterintuitive because I’m concentrating on something versus just trying to empty my mind. However, for me, burying myself in a story is an effective way to not think about all the things I’m doing in real life. It actually offers a reprieve from daily stress. Incorporating reading into your daily routine does not have to be complicated, difficult or expensive. My recent post on how you can do so is here.
Another way to escape is to empty your mind via meditation. There are apps out there that can help you with this and other online resources. I like to do breathing exercises in quiet room and repeat a mantra. Calming music also helps, as does lighting candles.
The average cost of a paperback novel: $13-$16. Alternative: buy a Kindle ebook for less. Borrowing from the library and friends: free.
If you’re an avid reader, then Kindle unlimited is another option. You pay a subscription and get access to all books on Amazon Kindle. Check it out and see if it’s right for you!
Giving yourself a getaway is the epitome of self-care, especially if you can travel alone on a solo trip. The time away, by yourself, is a great opportunity to not only relieve stress but also to reflect and grow. If you’re able to go abroad, and your travel dates are flexible, you will be able to find more budget-friendly flights. In addition, if you don’t know where to go or how to pick, then check airlines for their flight deals to different cities. Based on how much it costs to travel to different places, you can choose the destination that fits your budget!
Always remember, a packing hack when traveling is to pack lightly with just a carryon and backpack. This will not only save you money in check-in fees and potentially taxi costs but can save a ton of time at the airport.
If you’re unable to fly anywhere, then even a short weekend away can do wonders. Find out local day/weekend trips you can do nearby your home and book a couple of nights to yourself.
Getting Out of the House
Sometimes what we really need is to escape the four walls that confine our daily lives. The mind-numbing routine of going from home to work and back again can drive anyone crazy if you don’t get a break. However, many self-care ideas that include leaving the house can get very expensive.
Here’s a list of some budget-friendly ways to spend time outside of your home:
- Go to a local park and/or have a picnic
- Visit your local hiking trails
- Volunteer your time at a local charity or with an organization that can use the help – giving to others can do more for our peace of mind than anything else.
- Go to the movies–late morning or matinee shows are always cheaper, and more often than not you’ll get the theater to yourself.
- Take yourself out for a simple cup of coffee
- Window shopping at a local market
- Find a local museum and take a look around. Museums generally require silence or quiet voices, so sometimes this is a great way to get out, do something new and still be alone with your thoughts. Most museums are free, however, if you live somewhere where you have to pay, then check out their website for rates and deals. Many will have nights where access is given at a discount. For instance in San Diego, summer nights in the park include Art museum access for only $5. In NYC, you can do “Friday night Art After Dark” and get entrance for $12 at the Guggenheim. ( and according to this NYTimes article, exposure to art can help you live longer, a win-win!)
The most important, and cheapest, self-care idea: Say NO
This is probably one of the hardest things to do, yet the most necessary. One way to overwhelm yourself and your schedule is to agree to do everything that’s asked of you. While its important to “say Yes” to the things that will help you, its just as important to say “No” to the things that don’t.
Sometimes self-care doesn’t involve doing fancy things by yourself; it involves making sure you spend your time wisely and do things with intention. Sometimes it’s about making sure you’re able to prioritize the things that truly matter to you.
Choose Your Experiences Wisely
I mentioned earlier a study that showed people prefer to spend money on experiences. The study included data from Eventbrite, which as you can imagine includes concerts, shows, etc. If this is something you love to do, then I still encourage it. However, you should always strive to never pay full price for any of it. Check out Groupon and Living Social as they often have deals for events. Also, try to book tickets well in advance so that you aren’t purchasing last-minute tickets at inflated prices.
Overall, choose experiences that will actually help you on your self-care journey. For instance, spending your time experiencing something that teaches you a new skill, teaches you something about yourself that you didn’t realize before, or truly helps you relax, is far more advantageous than an experience that does none of these things. Hand in hand with this, make a bucket list that includes experiences you’d like to have and use that as inspiration when you have the time to devote to yourself.
Living life with self-care
These self-care ideas aren’t meant to be used just one time or every now and again. It’s a practice we should all incorporate into our everyday lives. As the quote above says, we can’t pour from an empty cup. We owe it to ourselves to keep filling our cup and to show ourselves some regular love and TLC. If we are fulfilled and taken care of, we are better able to care for everything and everyone else around us.
Self-care doesn’t have to cost a fortune or break the bank or include anything fancy. It just has to make you feel like you’ve gotten some peace of mind, some time to yourself for relaxation and reflection, and a sense of fulfillment in time well spent.
This article originally appeared on The Money Mix and has been republished with permission.
Sanjana is a physician anesthesiologist, avid traveler, and entrepreneur. She founded The Female Professional in order to give women a voice and a platform to express themselves. With her experiences as a physician, as a CEO of a startup, and as a writer, she understands the struggles and frustrations that women face. She also understands what it takes to move past those things and come out on top. Through this platform, Sanjana aims to empower women to be their best, authentic, selves, achieve work/life balance, and live life to the fullest.