Let’s Talk About Self Care: a top 5 list

Face it, when you think about self care, you are probably thinking of spas and pedicures. Right? Full disclosure, I am writing this while waiting for a blue Dead Sea Minerals mask to dry. I’d take a picture, but I can’t smile since the mask is drying and honestly, I am not a selfie person. But that isn’t what self care is all about.

Self care is taking a moment to do something for your mental health. The benefit of visiting a spa is that you can disconnect. But really, how many of us can afford that? Monday was my birthday and I thought about going to get a pedicure, but instead I did my feet myself at home because spending money gives me anxiety. So dropping a chunk of cash in the long run really wouldn’t make me feel any better mentally.

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know my husband is having health issues. We are currently waiting to see if he has been approved for disability. It is a tough reality, but we have accepted it. So that means that we have to find ways to save rather than spend since he is not working. Things have also been tough at work too because two people in my department resigned. So overwhelmed is not even strong enough of a word right now.

So here is a list of my top five low-cost/no-cost self care things that you can do for your mental health:

1. Staycation

To celebrate my birthday and the fact that I had just returned from a week long conference trip, I took the two days off before July 4th. That gave me five days to unwind since my office is closed on the weekends. It would have been nice to have taken a real vacation somewhere, but not this year. Instead, I spent $18 on a cheap vinyl kiddie pool that my son and I setup in the back yard. We have learned that you can’t put a pool in our yard gracefully because of the slop of the yard. In the end, we sat in the pool fully clothed while it was filling with water just to keep the sides up long enough to self stabilize. It was a heat index of 105 degrees, so the pool was really needed if we wanted to be outside. The rest of the time was spent reading and watching movies with the family. Family time is very important for your mental health because the connection with people is something you need even if you are an introvert. Remember that experiences also trump things when it comes to happiness. So an $18 pool wins out over a $1800 vacation because of the experience it gave me and my son. Though he would probably have argued that a trip to Universal Studios would have been better. Honestly though, what will he remember. The only times I remember our family trip to Disney when I was a kid is when I see photos. Instead, my memories are filled with seeing fireworks at the local community college or barbecues in the backyard. Those are the memories that have stuck with me.

2. Budget

I know what you are saying…money gives you anxiety, so how is this self care? There is a piece of mind when you know that it is okay to spend on something like that kiddie pool. Also, even though money is tight, I know that we will be okay. Budgeting helps take out that ambiguity factor. According to Maslow, our happiness is at the top of the pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs. However, we can’t reach that level if we are constantly worried about food or even a roof over our head. Which leads me to the next item…

3. Safety Net Fund

This could probably be lopped in there with the budget section, but a safety net fund is something everyone should have. For a long time, my husband and I put this on the back burner for when we would get our debt paid down. Then he got sick…when I took over the bills last year, it was one of the first things I did. The idea is that you want to start with $1000 set aside for when those big ticket emergencies pop up. So I set up a free savings account with Capital One because even though they were not exactly the best interest rate (though 1% is not too shabby compared with other banks), the ease of use for their system is really nice as I also have credit cards and my car loan with them. So it is all one interface that I log into. I started out small with $25 deposited ever paycheck. When money was a little better, I adjusted that to $50 and then back down to $25 when things started getting tighter again. When I got a little extra money, that also went into the account. I also opened an account with Long Game which is a gamified savings account app from a bank in Virginia. You receive tokens for depositing money into your account. Those token are used to play games of chance like scratch offs, match games, races with friends, and lotto drawings. You can win coins to play more games or even cash. The games don’t cost you anything, it is all based on how much you deposit. The more you deposit, the more you can play. It is FDIC insured and has a really low interest rate of .1%, but the draw is that some of the games give you a chance to win money. So far I have won about $3. I know, not much, but it is more than my son’s savings account has gained in almost six years with the same amount of money in it. Between Long Game and Capital One, I have reach that $1000 goal,for my safety net fund.

4. Gardening

Gardening is one of those activities that has a two-fold benefit. It can be a mindfulness based activity because of the tranquility feeling it can give us to putter in the dirt or trim leaves, but it can also be a nice benefit for our pocketbooks. I tried for several years to have a traditional garden and every year I failed. So I started small with a patio container garden using pots and herbs. With container gardens, you have many options for what you can grow things in. I have containers from the dollar store that I drilled holes in and added gravel for drainage below the dirt. That same year, my son tried to grow a cucumber plant in a pot. We had basil, mint, and cucumbers all summer. This year I expanded the pot garden. We have cucumbers, peppermint, basil, oregano, rosemary, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, lavender, cucumbers, butternut squash, and zucchini. Most of these were purchased as seedlings from the garden section of the hardware store, but some we also started from seeds. We didn’t think most of the seeds would sprout, but now I have roughly fifteen zucchini plants. My son hates zucchini. I am going to have to get creative when it is time to harvest. So factor in the price of purchasing these fresh at the grocery store and you have your money back and then some in the output. I use a dehydrator for all the herbs that we can’t eat fresh. Honestly, I am Italian but even this is too much fresh basil for me. During the summer I constantly drink ice water with lemon and mint. A health alternative to sugary or caffeinated drinks. It is also nice to sit on the deck in the morning with my coffee and smell the herbs. Very soothing!

Garden Tower Project

Here is a picture. It is a bit overgrown at the moment, I need to harvest some of those herbs.

5. Clean

I know, this is another one that has you shaking your head. But the truth is that clutter and mess is overwhelming to our senses. When our house/apartment is a mess, we feel like we are a mess. It also becomes another thing on our to-do list. You can start small, with just fifteen minutes a day (or broken down into fifteen minutes sections with lots of breaks between sections like my son likes to do). Purging the stuff you don’t need can also be very satisfying. You can donate or have a yard sale. There are also free sites you can post your stuff on if you still want money, but a yard sale isn’t an option. I have been holding on to a lot of clothes since moving to Maryland. They don’t fit, but I always had in the back of my mind that one day I would lose the weight and be able to wear them again. That is something else that can sabotage your mental health. Holding on to those items is just a reminder that there is something wrong with you. But hey, I am healthy and I can always buy new clothes if I do start to lose the weight. So I have been bagging up all those too small clothes and sending them off to thredUP…and using the money gained to buy cute shoes.

There are a lot of other self care things you can do to benefit your mental health. These are just my top five recommendations. Other than a spa trip, what would be some of the things that you would put on your Self Care list?


Small Wins Equal Big Change

So if you remember, a couple of weeks ago, I posted about how much I love the service Betterment. Last week I decided to activate my Acorns account. It is still early to compare the two, but I am impressed by both of them. Mainly it is because once I set it up, I basically didn’t have to do anything other than sit back and relax.

The concept being used here is similar to Shawn Achor’s 20 Second principle from the Happiness Advantage. In this principle, you are setting things up in advance that will help to make good habits easier. The idea is that if you have to exert more than 20 seconds of energy to do something, you won’t do it. So make it easier on yourself to get started by using automation. In my above example, I have automated building a nest egg through the two micro investing services. Both invest my funds for me and rebalance when needed. I have Betterment set up to deposit every payday. My acorns account monitors my credit cards and bank account to deposit the rounded up change from all my transactions and invest every $5 it collects. This past week, it deposited over $12 from the rounded up change on my purchases. By not having to think about it, I am able to build a good savings habit to help protect my finances for those rainy days.

Another way to save money is using grocery lists when shopping. This is another way that I automate things to make it easier. I have an Amazon Alexa Dot right in my kitchen. When we are either out of something or running low, I just tell Alexa to add it to the grocery list. Then when I am in the store, I just pull up my list. This helps to curb the impulse buy instinct when you can’t remember what you need from the store. I keep saying that I wish I had an Alexa for my car so I could add things while driving, and I just found out that my husband’s car has Alexa built into it…hmmm…the possibilities.

The 20 second principle can also be applied to your time management. I plan out my work outfits the night before by using Alexa to check the weather for the next day. Then I pull the items I plan on wearing and hang them on my mirror. This way I am not rushing in the morning to find something to wear. In the morning, I set a timer on Alexa so I know when I need to start hustling with my hair or makeup. This gives me time to make my lunch and my coffee…again, ways to save some cash.

So what can you do to help build happy healthy habits to keep you on track? Have you used the 20 second principle?

Investing with Betterment

I will start off by saying that this is not a sponsored post. I am a user of this service and like it so much, I thought I would tell you all about it.

Back in June, our family experienced some setbacks with my husband spending some time in and out of the hospital. This was not something new as he had been experiencing health problems for a long time, but could never really get some answers. This time was different because it was so severe. He started seeing specialists and finally got answers and we are working on this being our new reality, but one of the side effects of his health issues is that he experiences a lot of ” brain fog”. One of the shockers was to discover that he thought he had paid bills in June only to discover that for whatever reason, ever single one of our household bills with the exception of the rent had not been paid. So I ended up taking over the bills.

One of the things that had interested me for a while was micro-investing. However, we always held off with the thought of “let’s pay off the credit cards first.” Which meant it never happened. So one of the things I set up when I took over the bills was to research the different micro-investing services. I liked what people were saying about the service Betterment. So I thought I would try it out and see how it worked.

I started off with one account and $20. Within a matter of weeks, I had already gained more in my account than my son’s savings account had earned in three years with 10x that deposited. This looked like a good sign. So I deposited $50 and things were still looking good. So I set up a joint account with my husband that would have $20 automatically taken out every payday. I figured this was a good place to start because $20 is not large enough that we would drastically miss it. My plan was that as I rebuilt our finances and got everything back on track, I would adjust the deposits to be higher. Last week, I adjusted my account to start taking $50 out of each paycheck. I am projected to have over $1200 in my account at the end of the year and almost $90k in 30 years. Which is a nice emergency fund or even holiday money. Though my plan is not to touch it for a couple of years to start building up a nice nest egg.

Since I started investing back in September, I have deposited over $300 and made about $7. While this may not seem like a lot, it is more than I would have earned from depositing the same money in the bank and it is not money I am really missing since I have been taking a little out at a time. What is nice about using the Betterment service is that I can cancel deposits before they are made, withdrawal money when needed, and they will automatically adjust my investments if it seems like they are no longer working for me.

Now there is risk involved with investing. The market could have some bad days which means your investment could drop. I have had that happen, but it did not reach the point where it touched any of my initial deposits. So it did not make me nervous. Then about two weeks ago, the market started drastically dropping. It started dropping to the point that I lost all my gained interest and it started to dip into the investment deposits. That made me really nervous and I was considering cancelling my upcoming deposit until things got better. My husband actually encouraged me to hold steady and I am happy to say that things are already bouncing back. In a span of three days last week, we made back about $5 in what had been lost. So if you plan to use one of these services, be patient and hold steady.

What is also nice about Betterment is that it is based on goals. You set what your goal is for investing (like a nest egg, paying off college, house, etc); you set the risk you want to take on your investments; and you set the amount you want your goal to be and in what timeframe. The service will tell you recommendations based on the info you provide. For example, if you want to reach a goal of $15,000 in 3 years, it might recommend making a $100 deposit every week depending on the risk you set. Investments are a mix of stocks and bonds. Bonds are better for the long term investments. When the market started dropping, I admit that I did adjust my allocations to be more conservative than they previously were set at.

Betterment is not a free service and there can be tax implications depending on what you invest and withdrawal. So far, it has only cost me $.10 to use the service. They also have programs where you can refer a friend and gain free management. For example, if your friend signs up, you get one month free management and they get three months free management. Refer three friends and you get free management for the year. Not a bad offer!

You do have the option to have automatic “smart” withdrawals taken out of your bank account. These are deposits to betterment that use an algorithm to decide the amount based on your spending patterns. Right now, I don’t think my spending patterns are stable enough to turn it on, but it is a neat feature. It makes it easy to save when you don’t have to think about it. For right now, I will keep up with my investing for the next year. Perhaps next year, I will post an update on how it is doing. For now though, I am happy.

Does anyone have a favorite tip that they use for saving money or a service you recommend for investing? Share it as a comment!