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Don’t worry, this article won’t tell you to forgo every face scrub and cappuccino that calls your name and only spend money on survival needs. Of course, you should treat yourself and practice self-care, particularly during a nightmarish pandemic.
And retailers want you to care for yourself, too — specifically, with their products. It’s an industry worth billions of dollars. Consider the ads for lavender-scented candles and the dozens of articles with headlines like “15 Self-Care Products We're Actually Using Right Now.”
But all these self-care products on the market, paired with a need for comfort, can quickly lead to overspending. It’s also easy to buy a range of stuff in the name of self-care, given the concept is as squishy as a $40 bath pillow.
Before shelling out for a product to make yourself feel better, ask the following questions.
How are you feeling?
Feeling upset can lead to poor decisions. And it has been an upsetting year. No wonder you want to buy yourself something. For many people, it may be easier to “add to cart” than address their emotions.
But we know how that can go. The video game meant to distract you gets old; the journal meant to inspire you collects dust; and the tea meant to soothe you takes up residence in the back of your cupboard. What kind of self-care leads you to waste money — and then probably feel bad about it?
One place to start: Avoid shopping while you’re feeling down. For example, Sarah Newcomb, behavioral economist for the investment research firm Morningstar, has learned that she’ll overspend if she shops for clothes while feeling sad or insecure. So she only shops when she’s feeling good and looking her best.
To keep emotions in check while shopping, note feelings such as “I deserve this,” or “this will fix it” and fantasies about living someone else’s life, says Amanda Clayman, a Los Angeles-based therapist and coach specializing in financial wellness.
“That’s when we’re really vulnerable to advertising or wellness influencers who seem to have their life together,” she says.
Pair emotional vulnerability with online shopping, and it’s easy to impulse-buy. “You can practically buy things with the power of thought at this point,” says Newcomb, who’s also the author of “Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values Behind.”
Distance helps, so step away from the purchase until you feel more level-headed. Better yet, sleep on it.
What are your needs — and how much can you spend?
Aim to be more intentional and less emotional when it comes to spending on self-care.
As Newcomb puts it: “The sweet spot of financial self-care is saying, ‘I have needs, and I have resources. How can I best employ my limited resources to meet all of my needs?'” (She counts stuff like social connections, respect, confidence and sense of purpose as needs.)
Consider the need that a self-care purchase is fulfilling. Is that daily smoothie providing an excuse to get out of the house and see other faces? A way to support a local business? A delicious snack? If you’re trying to save money, then maybe you can meet those needs in other, free ways.
Part of being intentional with money is knowing how much you have. If you track your spending or have a budget, you can determine what amount, if any, should go toward smoothies and other self-care purchases.
What are the best ways for you to practice self-care?
Now that you know your needs and how much you can spend on them, you may decide that you do in fact want to put money toward self-care products. Go for it.
Or maybe you realize that trips to the smoothie shop were filling your need to get outside. In that case, try a walk in a park, perhaps with a homemade smoothie in hand.
In any case, knowing a few free ways to treat yourself can be helpful when you’re feeling low and convincing yourself you deserve that shiatsu foot massager you can’t afford.
Reflect on what typically makes you feel good. Clayman likes baths, for example. Or maybe you feel better after chatting with a friend.
If you’re unsure of where to start, follow the lead of Newcomb, who feels grounded while walking in the woods. Lots of research shows that interacting with nature can restore energy and provide cognitive benefits, says Maria Rodas, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
Rodas also says that many people are longing to fill their needs for autonomy and control, because they’ve had so little of either during the pandemic. Creating something can help fill those needs, she says, and it doesn’t have to be artistic. Sure, you could draw a picture, but you could also bake a pie or even create a new spreadsheet for a personal project.
Whatever activity you choose, be present with it, Clayman says. After all, self-care isn’t a material item, she says, it’s “first and foremost a state of mind.”
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.