How to Practice Self-Care Without Going Broke

One of my favorite writers, Laurie Penny, wrote this scathing screed against “neoliberal self-care” and the elitist and often exclusionary forms it takes: “Lifestyle bloggers insist to hundreds of thousands of followers that freedom looks like a white woman practicing yoga alone on a beach. One such image (on the @selflovemantras Instagram) informs us that ‘the deeper the self-love, the richer you are.’ That’s a charming sentiment, but landlords are not currently collecting rent in self-love.”

If you, like me, just read that passage and went, “YAAASSS,” I’ve got some good news for you: You can attend to your mental, emotional, and physical well-being in all sorts of creative ways that don’t involve maxing out your credit card to go on a five-day yoga retreat in an exotic locale. Here are some smaller-scale, more affordable ways I treat myself without blowing my budget to smithereens.

Stop buying things that don’t spark joy.

By now, most people are familiar with the organization/decluttering guru Marie Kondo’s ultimate maxim: If something you own doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. I’ve amended this rule slightly for shopping: If it doesn’t spark joy, don’t buy it. In my own life, I realized that wearing makeup is simply not a priority for me, yet I was regularly spending $49 on Dior mascara and Kat Von D eyeliner alone. So, one year ago, I stopped wearing and buying makeup (save for bright lip color) and I’ve never looked back. Now, I allocate those funds to things that do spark joy for me (namely, candles, dance classes, and cocktails).

Follow your mom’s lead and shop at off-price retailers.

I’m a TJ Maxx super fan. You can buy so much high-quality stuff there at much cheaper prices than chain stores. Things that are perfect to buy here: gym clothes, socks, underwear, and bedding. I just bought five pairs of gym leggings for $100. The trick is to not wait until you need something—TJ Maxx (and its retail siblings, Marshalls and HomeGoods) replenishes its inventory so frequently that you’re not guaranteed to get exactly what you need if you’re shopping last-minute. To get around this, I just drop by every now and then, and if I see a dress or a pair of heels I love, I buy ’em—there’s always a special occasion coming up.

Find an affordable therapist.

As a freelance *~CrEaTiVe~*, my need for a great therapist (high) is inversely proportional to the amount of money I can afford to spend on one (low; like, really low). So, I Googled “affordable therapy” plus the name of my city and found a counseling center that charges each patient on a sliding scale based on income. A platform like Zencare can help you find sliding scale therapist near you. I have a great therapist who helps me a ton and even gives me homework, something that’s important to me.

Also remember that, depending on your situation, you may not need to see a therapist every single week. If you can’t afford it, or you just don’t feel the need to go that often, cut down your visits to biweekly or once a month. You could also try a therapy app like Talkspace.

Get your hair done by students and apprentices.

Several years ago, I happened to walk by the L’oOeal Training Academy in New York City. There was a sandwich board outside advertising free color treatments to people who were willing to be hair models for students. I decided to give a try, and since then, I only get my hair colored by students. Depending on what’s available, I may pay anywhere from zero to $55—but even the higher end of that spectrum is much cheaper than the price of color services at a regular salon. If you don’t live in a big city with a training school, call around and ask local salons if they offer discounted services performed by apprentices.

It’s important to note that there are also totally free ways to unplug and get some quality you time. Exercise. Take a bath. Meditate. Talk to a friend. Build a habit of reading in bed for 15 minutes every night. If you commit to taking small steps to nurture your body and mind, I’m willing to bet you’ll reap the benefits.

Originally published on May 7, 2019.

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