Financial Self-Care: What, Why, and How

Financial self-care addresses financial stress and builds the habits necessary to avoid debt

I am one of the first people to advocate for a nice soothing bath TM when practicing self-care. I am all about treating yo-self and enjoying things! So why do I bring up financial self-care? What is financial self-care? Who can practice it? Why should we practice it? And most importantly, HOW do we practice it?

What is Financial Self-Care?

Firstly, we all have a relationship with money. It could be a good relationship, it could be a very bad relationship, or it could fall somewhere in between. Our relationship with money is often learned from our parents and watching how others handle their finances, bills, investing, and everything else that has to do with money!

Financial self-care essentially boils down to building a healthy relationship with money. It is NOT going on a shopping spree to make yourself feel better after a rough week. To many, this means having good saving habits, but I want to extend that definition.

Money does not equal happiness. I am not joking when I say that some of my best memories come from free (or nearly free) experiences. Hoarding money like a dragon in a mountain is not going to improve mental health.

On the other hand, I would be amiss to neglect the terrible impact money stress has on mental health. According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of Americans reported financial stress in the last month. In Canada, 48% of people reported having lost sleep because of money problems and concerns.

I was (and sometimes still am) one of those people lying awake at night wondering where my next paycheck was coming from. Or thinking about the massive hole of student loans I would eventually have to dig myself out of.

When you’re stressed about money, other forms of self-care barely scratch the surface of that stress. Many popular self-care strategies even cost money, which is the exact opposite of what can help you.

Financial self-care is a constructive way to address this enduring financial stress.

Disclaimer

Those in poverty or without access to resources may not benefit from this article. There are circumstances that do not allow for an income, and you may already be cutting all the corners you can possibly cut. If that is the case, this is not another article telling you that you just have to cut out coffee or turn your water off when you wash dishes.

If anything, I encourage you to reach out to community organizations (like Lions Clubs) for financial assistance. It is impossible to build a positive relationship with money when you do not have any, and there is no shame in asking for help when you need it.

Who Should Practice Financial Self-Care?

Financial self-care begins with your relationship to money, and ends with the habits you develop around that relationship.
Photo by Diane Helentjaris

The short answer is everyone.

The long answer accounts for the fact that some people are just not in situations where financial self-care strategies are feasible.

For example, you can teach a teenager (who still lives, and has a healthy relationship with their parents) that they should save their allowance. But until they have their own bills to pay, they are not going to fully understand their relationship with money.

Moreover, someone who is in poverty cannot develop a healthy relationship with money. You cannot “bootstrap” your way out of being poor.

However, practicing financial self-care can and should start at any point. Yes, a teenager may not understand the full extent of their relationship with money, but they understand money is finite and must be earned. Someone in poverty cannot be expected to put 20% of their paycheck into a savings account, but they know how to prioritize necessities.

Both employed and unemployed people should know the basics of financial self-care in order to be successful in life.

Financial Self-Care Basics: The How-To

Like any self-care, financial self-care is not one-size-fits-all. Some people love to budget. Others literally cringe at the idea.

I included a list of various financial self-care techniques that can help get you on the right path to improving your relationship with money! A common thread is the importance of consistency and habit in sticking to your budget.

Financial Self-Care Tips

  1. Reflect and understand your current relationship with money: Why do you treat money the way you do? Is money stressful or anxiety-inducing to you? Understanding your relationship with money is essential to making changes. Take the time to journal or meditate on your money relationship.
  2. Check your bank accounts: When money stress is eating at us, the last thing we want to do is remind ourselves of how little we have. But, checking your account regularly creates a clearer picture of your resources. You can start the process of flagging money-draining habits, and if there are fraudulent expenses, you can notify your bank sooner.
  3. Budget: Budgeting is not for everyone, but it is a helpful tool. When I was unemployed, I was lucky to have savings, but those savings were limited. So, I started a budget. I realized that I did a lot more shopping than I had thought and that my food budget was grossly underestimated. Understanding this allowed me to make money-smart decisions that let me stay within my budget in later months.
  4. Realistic goals: Wouldn’t it be nice to be a millionaire? Unfortunately, most of us can only dream. One sure way to lose steam when practicing financial self-care is to have unreachable goals. As mentioned above, I knew I needed to start a budget. I also knew Christmas was on the horizon, and I would be over that budget. I could make smarter decisions with gifts, and spread out my Christmas shopping. Despite my efforts, I was still over-budget, but that’s okay because I expected it to happen. Goals are good, but goals beyond our capabilities are just discouraging. So start small, and celebrate your small victories.

Other Money-Saving Habits

  1. Improve financial literacy: It is difficult to save money when you do not understand how the financial world works. Listen to a podcast or read some blogs to learn how you can make your money work for you.
  2. Prioritize debt: This suggestion seems obvious. I almost didn’t include it in the list! But, if you are struggling to pay off student loans AND you’re considering buying a brand new car, maybe prioritize those student loans first.
  3. Check your annual expenses at least once a year: Checking insurance premiums and subscriptions is one of the hardest habits to create. It’s nice to forget the different places our money disappears to each month. However, staying up to date with your car insurance costs, or realizing that you don’t use Amazon Prime enough to need that membership, can ultimately save you a ton of money! If you decide you do need those services, then at least you’re aware of what you’re paying for. Win, win!

This Seems Like A Lot Of Work. Is It Worth It?

These tips and habits can seem like a lot of work at the start, but once you get in the groove of being aware of your money, checking your bank account doesn’t seem like a chore.

Since I have started my budget, I spend between 30-45 minutes calculating expenses at the end of the month. Sometimes I spend 15 minutes doing a mid-month check-up (which I highly recommend for those who have a habit of spending everything in the first two weeks).

Moreover, even when unemployed and stressed about running out of savings, financial self-care helped me:

  • Remember that I was in control of my finances (as I had made the decision to leave my job)
  • Realize that saving money could be as easy as tracking what I was spending on plant pots or candles
  • Lower stress, and increased gratitude, because I knew I had the savings to support myself
  • Build a positive relationship with my money that had previously been stress-inducing and very unhealthy
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