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What does financial wellness look like in the age of self-care?

A face mask or a new candle feels good in the moment — but a financial road map that alleviates my anxiety? That’s self-care for years to come.

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Another day, another group chat with friends that left me longing for more. More what, exactly? Money? A new candle? A weekend getaway? A pass to the cycling studio that was way out of my budget? Despite my friends’ best intentions, it was easy not to notice the steady drip of self-care that permeated our conversation. The underlying message: Treat yourself. And so the stress-inducing self-care cycle begins — a frustrating career or life problem crops up and you try to quell those problems with facials and other costly indulgences.

In other words, the temptation to give in to the quick fix — the face mask, the bottle of wine, whatever the day’s craving brought — turns near impossible to ignore.

Self-care means something different to everyone. For some it means a facial, for others it might be a workout class, a video game, a nap, a meditation app. These rituals look like indulgences on paper, but they are, in a way, synonymous with self-care. We as humans need time to refresh, to recharge, and to be good to ourselves. At its essence, self-care means prioritizing our mental health and personal needs, versus succumbing to the stresses, pressures, and challenges life throws at us all. So there’s no denying the importance of self-care when it helps us get through the day, destress, and clear our heads. But what happens when indulgences, this definition we’ve come to know as #selfcare, add up to more stress and anxiety instead?

Materialism is so deeply ingrained in our society that separating the spending from the living can feel impossible. When we discuss self-care, the conversation often delves into what we buy in order to do things that put ourselves first. Look no further than social media to see what we actually of think of self-care (as of writing, there are 21.5 million posts on Instagram with the #selfcare hashtag). For every inspirational quote on Instagram that heralds the intrinsic value of self-care, there’s a meme along the lines of “buying expensive things I shouldn’t spend money on — is this self-care?” (Another favorite meme? *Does a face mask and thinks everything will be ok.*)

But spending money isn’t self-care. Spending money and feeling good aren’t intrinsically linked. While research shows that spending money on experiences makes us happier than buying physical objects (exceptions include books, i.e., experiential objects), we’ve found no comprehensive research to prove that money makes you happy. People who value time over money have been proven to be the happiest among us. A recent income satiation study from 2018 found that a certain level of income ($105,000 in North America) was the optimal level of income to be happy — and questions the notion that more money equals more happiness.

So how do we redefine self-care? After all, we can’t simply wash away our problems and stress with a new bubble bath product. Maybe the new goal for 2020 self-care should look different than it does today: balance your bank account, create a manageable plan to pay off debts, open a line of credit for the first time, listen to a financial podcast to learn more about your money, be aware and in touch with our finances, understand the potential and limits we’re working with. Financial wellness is the new goal to strive towards.

After college, I created a spreadsheet to track my income, expenses, and savings. I was working at a patisserie full-time (earning the cash equivalent of three Laduree macarons per hour) while getting my writing career off the ground, but ended up netting zero every month. So, I avoided my budget spreadsheet and all the anxiety that came with it. After months of this avoidance (along with some forward trajectory in my writing career), I decided to prioritize my financial plans to finally meet my professional goals.

Although my spreadsheet has helped me track my finances, I still needed a nudge in the right direction towards financial wellness. Like any kind of self-care, financial self-care looks different for everyone, so making sure you take the right steps for you (and your specific financial situation) is extremely important. As Anna Borges, author of The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care, notes: Financial self-care isn’t always simple, but a little change can go a long way.

“If you’re in a position to revamp your financial wellness, it’s definitely a worthy endeavor,” she says. “Money is a huge stress point for a ton of people, myself included, and there are little ways we can feel more in control and on top of things — and that can impact our overall well-being as a result.”

For example, if checking your bank account creates massive anxiety (and therefore you avoid the task and just hope for the best), Borges recommends that staying aware of your current balance can help. Envision all the time you’ll save worrying if you just make checking your accounts a regular habit. All that worry time can be better spent meditating or emailing an old friend or just counting the coins in your wallet, if that’s your thing.

“Same goes for creating a detailed financial map or budget of how much money you make and how many non-negotiable expenses you have,” Borges suggests. “It’s about looking for ways money adds stress to your life and exploring whether any of them are within your control.”

Financial self-care isn’t about your net worth, but about taking control of your financial knowledge and, if possible, financial situation. Stress and anxiety about money may never disappear. It hasn’t for Borges, and it certainly hasn’t for me. I take a deep breath every time I open my budgeting app, and set calendar alerts to pay bills I obviously wish would take care of themselves. Sometimes I literally shield my eyes when scrolling through the spreadsheet that lists my freelance income and just look for the one specific box that has the information I’m seeking at that moment.

But self-care is taking the time to look inward and understanding what habits work for you. The more I build these tips into my routine, dedicate a few minutes to research how to take the next step in my financial goals, figure out the best way to ask for fair compensation or the most effective way to nudge a client on a late payment, I’m investing in long-term happiness. Little by little, they’re going a long way to decrease my daily anxiety by not stressing over playing catch-up. I’m prioritizing self-care, even if I don’t have a face mask on while balancing my budgets.

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer and editor living in New York City. She currently covers all aspects of food, dining, travel, and lifestyle trends and the intersection of culture, business, and politics in these areas.

This article is not intended to give medical, legal, or financial advice, and any questions the reader has should be directed to their own qualified professional.

Sources are provided for informational and reference purposes only. They are not an endorsement of Advertiser or Advertiser’s products.