How to buy into self care without spending a single penny

Self-care is a buzzword these days that’s become synonymous with shopping sprees, SoulCycle classes, pricey spa treatments, brunches, and face masks—lots of face masks. It has become commodified by the beauty and fitness industries and made into a catch-all for people being able to justify spending money because it’s “how they practice self-care.” But it doesn’t have to be like that.

While we’re glad to hear that people are embracing self-love and indulging in a bit of extra “me” time in 2020, this idea that we have to spend money and buy into self-care puts pressure on us do it in a specific (and expensive way). Let’s face it: As women, we already put enough pressure on ourselves, and the last thing we need is another way to feel like we’re doing something wrong.

“The reality is that good self-care is more about habits and community than it is about buying whatever is the newest fad of the day,” explains Summer Forlenza, a marriage and family therapist in Southern California who specializes in working with millennials. Instead, she says,

“Good self-care takes into account your physical, emotional, mental, and relational needs. This includes physical habits like brushing your teeth, taking your medications on time, going to see a doctor regularly, and moving your body or eating in ways that make you feel good.

While it’s nice to be able to splurge on ourselves every now and again, there are plenty of ways you can “buy into” the phenomenon of self-care without spending a single penny. Choosing instead to prioritize yourself by focusing on the things that fill you up in meaningful ways will leave you feeling more centered, grounded, and cared for on an individual level, without the financial stress.

Remember: There is no “right” way to do self-care.

As Sanna Khoja, a licensed counselor in Houston explains,

“Self-care looks different for everyone. For some, it's taking their dog on a walk, taking a shower, washing dishes, sending that email, and paying the bills. It's not always glamorous, pretty, or easy. Sometimes, it may be doing what is difficult like texting your friend to let them you know that you're feeling lonely or spending time outside when you've been isolating yourself in your apartment.

If you want, you can start by making yourself a self-care plan. Khoja explains that a self-care plan can have different components, including emotional, physical, and spiritual health. You can think about these things in general terms—as the last thing self-care needs to be is regimented—but make sure to prioritize the areas of your life that need a little extra attention.

Then, when you have free time or are feeling extra stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, you can tap into one of the components and do an activity that makes you feel good. Or, if you’re committed, you can eventually turn these self-care activities into habits that you do daily or weekly, so there’s always time to check in with yourself and your well-being. Remember: Peace of mind doesn’t have to cost a thing.

7 self-care ideas that are free to do:

1Take a walk.

Walking for just 30 minutes a day has been proven to have tons of physical and mental health benefits, including increasing your endorphins and reducing the stress hormone cortisol. Plus, we could all stand to get outside more. So put on your sneakers and get moving if you can. Your mind and body will thank you.

2Listen to music.

Whether it’s that Taylor Swift song that gets you in your feels or Kanye’s Christmas album, studies have shown that listening to music, especially classical music, can almost instantly boost your mood and help you deal with stress.


“This type of self-care does amazing [things] for your mental and emotional health,” says Cassandra D. Freeman, an accountability coach on journaling. “It helps you to release any negativity and it amplifies the positive.”

Try shifting the focus of your journal toward gratitude, and writing a few things down that you’re thankful for. You’d be surprised at how much it can change your perspective when things get overwhelming or stressful.

4Take a shower.

Ever wonder why you feel calmer when you’re near the ocean or a body of water? It’s called “blue mind” and it’s a sensation studied by a marine biologist named Wallace J. Nichols who says being in or near water makes our brains feel calmer, more peaceful, and generally happier.

Taking a hot or cold shower can also simulate this, which can ease both our minds and our bodies. Plus, you can’t take your phone in the shower, so it’s automatic designated “me” time away from electronics and social media.

5Talk to a friend.

Never underestimate the power of the human connection. Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be a solo task. That’s why organizations like Girls Night In are devoted to shifting the conversation around self-care to be more community-based. Put the obligations aside to take 20 minutes to hop on a call with a friend who always makes you feel good. It’s free and at your fingertips.

6Declutter your space.

“An underrated way to practice self-care is to declutter your space,” says Adina Mahalli, a mental health expert at Maple Holistics. Whether that’s your wardrobe or any other part of your life, take a minute to tidy things up. This could be as simple as just making your bed.

“An excess of visual stimuli is correlated with an increased production of cortisol, which is your body’s stress hormone,” Mahalli explains. “This is backed by research that shows that cluttered homes cause people to feel stressed. With this in mind, decluttering can go a long way in helping you to feel relaxed and recharged.”


Breathe in. Breathe out. Meditation is a form of emotional self-care that provides a few moments a day to just be. If you’re not sure how to start, there are plenty of free meditation apps available to help ease you into shutting off your mind. Go ahead, take a few quiet moments. You deserve it.

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