Self-care isn’t just about burning scented candles, getting a massage, or going to a yoga class. It can involve any behaviors or practices that benefit your physical, mental, or emotional health. These activities help reduce stress, improve your quality of life, and benefit you in the long term. With that in mind, there may be no better form of self-care than financial responsibility.
A 2018 study from Northwestern Mutual found that money is the number one cause of stress among Americans — more so than work or relationships. That stress has likely increased amid the uncertainty of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Experiencing financial stress can create feelings of anxiety, shame, and guilt. It can also affect relationships. According to a LendingClub survey, credit card debt leads can cause feelings of social isolation and dissatisfaction with your personal life.
Being in control of your finances can reduce stress, improve your mood, allow you to get better sleep, and even help you to lead a more fulfilling life. Here are five financial habits to build into your self-care routine.
1. Start Talking
In its study of consumer habits, LendingClub also found that 70% of people don’t discuss their financial issues. That can lead to feeling alone and heightened feelings of shame. However, talking about our problems and negative emotions with someone trustworthy, whether it’s a friend, a partner, or a professional counselor, can be healing. Don’t pretend everything is fine (if it isn’t). Airing your concerns can also help you forgive yourself for any past money mistakes and prepare you to move forward with a better mindset.
Being transparent with your partner about finances may also help your relationship. Around a quarter of people admit to hiding debt from their partners. Money is an oft-cited source of arguments in marriage. Being on the same page with your partner about your financial obligations, concerns, and future goals may help to reduce stress in your partnership.
2. Take Stock
Spend a few minutes each week checking on your bank accounts. This is a great way to track your actual (not idealized) spending and review your balances. You may also consider signing up for an expense tracking app that can follow and aggregate your spending habits. You’ll also want to ensure you’re aware of payment deadlines and upcoming debits. Knowing your full monetary picture can build your confidence around your finances.
Monitoring your accounts can also alert you to any fraudulent transactions. Fraud can be an immense and unexpected source of stress, so catching and addressing any instances of it early can decrease your worries in the long run.
3. Make and Track a Budget
Once you have a good sense of your cash flow, you can establish a budget. Your budget should be realistic. If possible, it should also include money for treats, rewards, and, yes, even perhaps that massage or yoga class for another kind of self-care. Set a time to revisit your budget at least once a month so you can see how your actual spending compares to what you’ve laid out.
Keep in mind that following a budget can be difficult — especially if your earnings aren’t consistent because of fluctuating hourly work or if you’re paid by the project. Allow your budget to evolve to meet changing circumstances. If you do get off track, don’t throw in the towel immediately. Treat it as an opportunity to make adjustments and refocus on your budget for the following month. Having a handle on your budget can make you feel secure.
4. Start Saving
Ideally, you should incorporate savings into your budget. Building up savings or an emergency fund gives you more flexibility and independence. When you’re not dependent on every penny of your paycheck, you may be able to pursue passions that enrich your life such as a new hobby or travel. Having savings on hand could also allow you to make life changes, such as swapping jobs or taking a sabbatical. In any case, having more options improves your quality of life. Even if you’re only able to save the spare change out of your pocket, that’s a start.
5. Create Financial Goals
Managing your money may feel burdensome at times, so give yourself something to work towards. Give yourself time to imagine one or two financial goals, whether that’s buying a new home, a car, or taking a vacation. Write down your goal in detail or create a vision board with pictures that illustrate your objective.
Be as detailed as you can, including how much money you will need to save. Being able to picture and describe your goals will help you achieve them; people who do so are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to reach their ambitions. After you have a goal or goals in mind, keep them top of mind. Tape a note to your bathroom mirror or create a password that reminds you of the goal. Focusing on a future financial goal will inspire you to stay on budget, stay motivated to save, and will, ultimately, help you fulfill your life goals.