“Self-care” has come to be synonymous with yoga and massages, but actually, it’s about taking care of yourself more holistically… and paying attention to (and meeting!) your own needs. Some of those are physical–getting enough exercise and regular sleep–but others, like financial self-care, relate more to your mental state. There’s no “one size fits all” definition of financial self-care, but essentially it’s taking care of your money so that it takes care of you.
We talked to a handful of experts to find out exactly how you can start improving your financial self-care today.
Track what you spend and how it makes you feel
The first step in financial self-care may be the hardest, because it involves really figuring out how spending makes you feel. Did dropping a ton of money at a fancy restaurant last night make you happy because you did something you love, or did it make you feel icky because the experience didn’t match the check? By tracking how your spending makes you feel, you can start to decide what’s worth it and what isn’t.
Dan Hinz of Adulting With Money recommends keeping a spending diary — like the one in Joy! — that tracks what you spent, when you spent it, and how the spend makes you feel. You can categorize things by happy and sad spends, and start to notice how your purchases affect your mood. When you pay attention to how you use your money and how it connects to your emotional well-being, you can identify the spends that make you feel good, and the ones that don’t.
“Think about what a rich life means to you,” says Betty Wang of BW Financial Planning. Once you have that information, start spending and saving money to match your goals. “Rich is not necessarily defined by money, but what makes you happy and fulfilled in a sustainable way. You may be surprised that some parts of your rich life have nothing to do with money.”
Make a budget
The “B” word might not immediately scream “fun” to you, but deciding how to use your money in advance (rather than wondering where it all went at the end of the month) is actually pretty exciting. This is where you take charge, and become more proactive and purposeful about where you spend and save your money. Think about how much cash you have coming in each month, how much is allocated to fixed, necessary expenses (rent, health insurance, etc.), and how much you have left over to play with.
Consider how you can make sure that balance goes mostly to happy spends. In an ideal world, would you save up for a big trip or a new entertainment system? Or would you get more pleasure out of regularly spending your discretionary income on dinners out and nights at the movies? Think about how your money can help you meet all of your physical, social, and emotional needs, now and in the long run. Then, make a plan so that your reality can match up with your dreams. “You could start with little changes like saving $10 a week to achieve one of your goals or putting an extra $50 a month to your credit card debt,” Wang says.
Give yourself a break
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and while taking care of your finances won’t be as daunting as building an entire empire, they will require some time. “Aim for small manageable changes,” shares Lou Haverty of Financial Analyst Insider. “Those are the easiest to make into habits.”
As Wang suggested above, you can put a little more money into savings each month, or you can make a commitment to packing your lunch.
“After you hit that first goal, gradually set new goals, like a down payment, a car, or saving for retirement,” says Haverty. Make it manageable and you’ll make real change.