Can You Do Self-Care on a Budget?

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about one of the biggest self-care myths aroundIn short, the post debunked the idea that self-care is about external factors influencing internal feelings.Genuine self-care is about starting with our physical and emotional needs, and working out what we can do to best meet those needs right now.Today, I want to focus on one particular barrier to self-care that's associated with this myth: the idea that you need disposable income to engage in self-care activities.This has been a pretty big obstacle when it comes to my own self-care. When it comes to struggling to reconcile self-care with financial self-worth, I have some experience under my belt.For various reasons, during early 2009 I was really, really broke. Like "I have £2.89 left on my overdraft and stuff to sell on eBay" broke. This wasn't totally my fault, but that didn't make the situation any better.I lived in a hole (literally: the house had no roof all winter) and my student loan didn't cover my rent, even with the no-roof discount, let alone any living costs such as food and transport.Having broken up with my boyfriend and moved cities during Christmas/New Year 2008, I struggled to find a new job that fit with my course hours. Whether it was bad luck, bad timing or the recession, it was just not happening.The jobs that said yes wanted commitments I couldn't keep alongside my course. The jobs that fit my schedule went silent or came back with a negative. I had 5 A-Levels, was doing a degree at one of the best universities in the UK, and was drawing blanks wherever I turned.Even McDonald's.Finally, a friend put in a good word for a position in Camden market, where I spent many weekends freezing my ass off and pretending to be passionate about fake Ray-Bans for minimum wage. What doesn't destroy you, etc. etc.During this time, most of my attention was on studying for my finals, processing the end of my relationship, and scrounging to pay bills. Things became more stable, then I made the probably-not-the-greatest-but-it-worked-out-for-the-best-eventually decision to start working for myself pretty much straight out of university. I was in a much better place personally, but this decision didn't help my finances, and I was still paying off my overdraft and credit card until last year.During much of this time, self-care wasn't even on my radar, even though that was one of the times in my life when I most needed it.Why?Because I had fallen for the myth that self-care is only something you do when you have "XYZ" amount of cash to splash doing it. Not only did I have no disposable income to spend on what I thought were self-care activities (they were actually self-indulgence), but I felt guilty for spending money, and consequently didn't feel like I deserved or had earned the right to engage in self-care.As I started to explore the concept of self-care, I came to realise that it has nothing to do with money and everything to do with identifying and meeting my needs. Spending the afternoon at the park, taking a long bike ride down Regent's Canal, snuggling up with my library book, meditating, doing free yoga videos from YouTube... this all counted as self-care, as long as I was clear with myself that I was meeting a particular need.In some ways, I'm glad that I didn't have any extra moolah to spend on what is conventionally described as 'self-care', because if I'd had that opportunity, I might not have come to this realisation when I did.With the gift of experience and hindsight, I can put my hand on my heart and say that it is more than possible to make self-care a way of life, whatever your current budget or bank balance. In fact, if you're feeling stressed about finances, that's even more of a reason to engage in self-care, not less.So how can you engage in self-care on a budget? Here are some things that I've learned over the past few years:

  • Start with your needs. Seriously. This is what it's all about. Start by thinking about your needs. Take the time to ask yourself: "What do I need right now?"
  • Be wary about coping strategies and shadow comforts. During the epic brokeness of early 2009, the only way I knew how to relax involved cigarettes, cheap wine and zoning out in front of online reruns of Desperate Housewives. Needless to say, this is not self-care. Coping strategies might feel great in the short-term, but they have a negative impact on your physical and emotional well-being in the long-term.
  • Don't meet one or more of your needs at the expense of your other needs. If financial stability is an important need for you, don't do anything that is going to compromise that, even in the pursuit of meeting other needs. When we do this, we get into a vicious cycle of meeting one need at the expense of another, which can be hard to stop.
  • Be gentle. This great quote has been popping up on Facebook recently: "Life is way too short to spend another day at war with yourself." At a very basic level, self-care exists in how we are with ourselves every day. It exists in how we talk to ourselves, how we treat ourselves, and in our self-compassion.

It took me a long time to realise the above, especially the part about self-compassion. That's why I really care about sharing these ideas now. Our culture has the concept of self-care all wrong and, because of that, we're missing out on the real deal.As I said in that post from a couple of weeks ago: self-care is an inside job.So, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, self-care is for you. Photo Credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc