It is a falsehood that self-care is extravagant and expensive. Many women neglect themselves due to this black and white thinking, believing only the wealthy can afford to take care of themselves. But self-care is a mindset; not a bank account --- a good thing in our current economy.
We all need to feel nurtured, loved and supported --- it creates meaning, depth and purpose in our daily lives, allowing us to be present to ourselves as well as to others. Too often, we seek these things in money and material goods, external symbols of care. But feeling rich has more to do with how you feel about yourself on the inside than about what you do or don't have on the outside. When you feel worthy and valuable, you treat yourself as worthy and valuable. Self-care, after all, is simply love in action.
Fortunately, we don't have to spend a lot of money (or money we don't have) to feel nurtured. In fact, true self-care is none of those things. Just as eating too much food makes you feel sick, excessive indulgence feels badly, too. Debt, overspending and a house filled with things you don't use, need, or appreciate drains the spirit. Self-care enriches it.
The trick to inexpensive self-care is using your creativity to meet your needs --- a tool I've used in cash crunches over the years. To get you thinking, here are 15 frugal ways to add self-care into your life:
1. Use the library.
The library is a self-care treasure trove. During a time in my life when a $10 pizza was a luxury, I used the library for much of my entertainment needs: I checked out armfuls of books, CDs, magazines, and videos for free. I didn't let my library's offerings stop me, either: I ordered books or videos that my library didn't have through interlibrary loan, for a mere $1.50. The best part was receiving the call that my interlibrary loan had arrived: Picking up the book that I was so eager to read was like a Christmas present.
2. Buy quality over quantity.
While I'm careful with how I spend my money, I'm likewise careful with what I spend my money on. I save for what I really want --- even if it takes me months or years to do so --- instead of buying a cheaper alternative that I can afford immediately. Buying what you want serves your spirit because it honors your need for beauty, quality, or choice. Too often, we buy junk, gadgets, knicknacks or things we don't need because we are surrounded by objects that don't speak to our truest hearts. So we search endlessly for it, parting with our money --- our life energy --- for things that only end up collecting dust, clutter our homes, or show up in the give away pile. When you give yourself permission to buy the $100 cashmere sweater instead of the $30 cotton one, you lose the deprived feeling that accompanies a habit of making do; settling for second best. That deprived feeling is often what leads to overspending in the first place. So my advice is don't settle. Buy the cashmere sweater. But do it mindfully: wait until you can pay cash, not credit. Likewise, reconsider how many sweaters you really need and wear. (My closet is spare, but I love and wear everything in it.) Swinging for the cashmere sweater may mean having four sweaters in your closet, instead of 10. In my experience, having one sweater that makes you swoon is preferable to ten that don't.
3. Learn how to do it yourself.
Do you love Chinese take-out, authentic Mexican, or gourmet pizza? With a recipe, basic lessons, or a tutorial from a friend, you can learn to make these yourself. Our family prides itself on cooking good food: we love to eat well. It makes us feel richly abundant on a daily basis. Likewise, you can learn decorating skills to transform your home, or how to give yourself a lavish mani/pedi. I've made my own jewelry, sewed clothes, pillows and curtains, and knitted scarves and shrugs. Learning a new skill has an extra side benefit: it feeds your self-esteem, as well as your spirit.
4. Make your own pampering products.
I make bath salts for friends and my own use. They take five minutes and cost pennies. I've also made my own face masks out of everyday kitchen ingredients ---- they are fantastic for my skin, and are a bargain when compared to organic skin care products.
In today's consumer culture, we limit our creativity when we don't think of alternatives to buying. What about bartering for what you want, instead? I've swapped cooking for childcare; accounting for a cleaning service; a collage lesson for a jewelry making class. That sweater that is the wrong color on you? A friend might swap you for something in her closet that calls to you.
6. Ask around.
Are you looking for craft supplies? Put up a sign in a community bulletin board, like a friend of mine did: She received an entire bag of needles from a woman who no longer wanted them. Or try Freecycle, where you can use your neighbors to get (or give) things for free.
7. Give yourself the luxury of time.
When I'm feeling frazzled, what I most crave is time: time to take a long shower, paint my nails, or read a book. How can you give yourself 20 or 30 minutes a day, a sacred space to cultivate your relationship with yourself? We often think we don't have the time, but how much of our daily lives is spent buying, scouting for things, or running errands (to buy)? Cutting down your consumption may create the very pockets of time you need to feel whole, without buying the new outfit.
8. Cultivate low-cost entertainment.
There are a myriad of ways to entertain yourself, without cost. I meet girlfriends for walks, or at the coffeehouse for tea: a $2 investment. I exercise outside or do yoga in my bedroom --- I run, bike and walk, all free, aside from my gear. We make the most of our Netflix subscription, getting "fun" movies as well as documentaries, how-to videos, or other educational entertainment. Book clubs and game nights are other ways of adding inexpensive joy. Check your local paper: you may be amazed at the wealth of free entertainment in your area.
Too often, we give ourselves shabby alternatives to what we really need. Think of the times that you eat when you're really tired, or you push yourself to go to the mall when you really desire an evening of quiet. Give yourself the rest that you desire: go to bed earlier, take a nap (there's nothing that feels richer in the middle of the day), or spend a few hours puttering around the house.
10. Use the power of a group.
My local art center has a woman's craft group that meets one evening a month for a girl's night out. A different woman directs the group each month, and offers instruction on everything from wire wrapping to batik dying. It's a fantastic way to learn a new hobby, with a minimal cost. I know other women who band together to tackle house projects, spending one Saturday month at a different girlfriend's house, painting or finishing another project that can be overwhelming for one person.
11. Change your expectations for entertaining.
I used to think that I couldn't have people over unless my house was immaculate, my meal, gourmet and of multiple courses, my table, perfectly presented. But, while there is a time and place for a beautifully set table and a chef-quality meal, there is much freedom in lowering our expectations for entertaining as a whole. There is nothing wrong with paper plates, or a simple dinner of soup and salad. After all, having friends over for dinner is about enjoying their company, not impressing them with your domestic skills. Some of the best times I've spent with friends have been impromptu get togethers: the last minute nature of the meal means I don't fret over the food, but focus on the company.
12. Embrace potlucks.
We all crave variety, a richness of experience. When we have extra cash, it's easy to rely on money to meet this need: going out to eat because we're tired of our own cooking. Enjoy your friends' cooking instead. Host potluck parties: it's always fun to try new foods, and you get the rich feel of eating out without the rich expense. Potlucks also create a feeling of community, the connection that comes with sharing a meal. This interconnectedness with others is especially necessary when we're feeling afraid, anxious about our finances.
13. Share your wish list with friends and family.
Ask for what you need. After I had my baby and carried an extra 20 pounds, I lamented my lack of wardrobe options to a friend. She gave me a pair of her jeans that she was about to give away, and I wore them for many months. They were a welcome shift from my sweats, and I didn't have to fret about "wasting" money on something I wouldn't be using long-term. I have another friend who is a thrift store and garage sale hound. I'll mention my wishlist to her --- a laundry basket; art supplies; something for my kitchen --- and she often surprises me by finding the very thing I need, for pennies. If my birthday is coming up, and there's something I really desire, I let my family know: they're usually grateful for the guidance.
14. Host swaps with friends.
Ever had a "New to You" swap? Everyone brings things they no longer use, need or like --- this could be anything from clothing to household decor --- and you "shop" your friends' wares. This gives you the rich feeling of having something "new," without having to spend money: everyone leaves feeling happy.
15. Give yourself an allowance.
There is something very empowering about having your "own" money. If you have a partner or spouse, tensions can arise over different expectations about spending vs. saving money. An allowance gives each person freedom to spend a small sum of money however they choose. Even if it's just $10 a month, I've found that giving myself a regular treat tames any feelings of lack or deprivation, particularly if I'm in a savings or pay-off-debt mode. Just knowing that I have a bit of money each month to spend as I choose quells those cravings to spend.