When Does Self-Care Turn Into Splurging?

Making smart financial moves is good self-care, too.

When Does Self-Care Turn Into Splurging?

In the past few years, “self-care” has popped up everywhere. Women are told that we don’t do enough of it, so we’re encouraged to buy another massage, get a manicure, or treat ourselves to something nice. The problem is that all that self-care spending can have a big impact on our bank accounts.

Striking the balance between giving ourselves some much-needed TLC and making savvy spending choices can be tricky, something I know firsthand. Each week I see a personal trainer, and I visit the chiropractor biweekly. I love to reward a month of hard work with a Friday afternoon pedicure. Although all of these leave me healthier and happier, they also come with a hefty price tag. I recently began wondering: has my self-care become an excuse for splurging?

“For working women with families especially, we work all day, and we work at home too,” says Jane DeLashmutt O’Mara, CFP®, and portfolio manager with FBB Capital Partners in Maryland. “We have to carve out something for ourselves.”

The key to responsible self-care, she says, is being perfectly clear about your financial situation and how your self-care spending will affect it.

“If you can really drill down to figure out, ‘This is what I make, this is what I have to pay bills, and this is left over,’ you know what seems reasonable to spend on manicures or lunches with friends,” DeLashmutt O’Mara says.

The basic financial planning rule is that housing costs shouldn’t take up more than 30 percent of your monthly income, groceries and personal items should be around 10-15 percent, and utilities around 10 percent.

Self-care should take up much less than that — about five percent of your budget, maximum. What’s most important is to make sure that your self-care habits aren’t having a negative effect on your finances.

“If your self-care starts to manifest in the form of credit card debt that [is] growing or balances that are rolling over, you’re probably spending too much,” DeLashmutt O’Mara says. After all, the whole concept of self-care is that you’re taking some time to breathe easy, so creating financial stress in order to do that is counterproductive.

That said, it’s important to indulge yourself on some level. Even if you’re just getting your finances under control by doing things like saving and paying down debts, you’ll still want to designate a small amount of money for fun.

“It’s similar to being on a diet,” she explains. “You don’t want to [withhold] the treats for so long that all of a sudden you find yourself binging.”

And self-care doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money: go on a walk, take a bath with bubbles and candles, or see a matinee movie. Dedicating even a small amount of time and money to enjoying yourself makes being on track financially a lot more fun — and realistic.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can retrain yourself to think of managing your finances as the ultimate form of self-care. After all, maxing out your retirement savings and having an emergency fund will do more to reduce your stress in the long term than any massage or dinner out.

“Similar to exercise, it’s very rewarding and gratifying to see your credit card balances go down and your savings grow,” DeLashmutt O’Mara says. “That becomes the source of enjoyment.”

It may not sound as fun or as relaxing as a wine night with friends, but planning for a bright financial future can be addicting.

I’ve started a habit of using the $30 or so a week that I used to blow on lattes or lunch out to pay down credit card debt. Watching my balance drop and my credit score increase gives me lasting joy that’s much greater than the happiness I would get from that caffeine jolt.

That being said, I’ve also figured out the types of self-care that are most important to me. The money I spend on the personal trainer each week is instrumental to my physical and mental health, so I won’t cut back on that. I now stretch out time between pedicures, but getting one somewhat regularly is just the thing I need to motivate myself — both to be successful and to stay on track financially.

Knowing when to spend a little money spoiling yourself and when to scale back is essential to keeping your mind — and wallet — happy and healthy. After all, securing financial freedom just might be the ultimate form of self-care.

  • Linda Mason

    Weekly pedicures!?! Really? Waaaaay too often

    • Trina

      Agreed, once a week is surely a luxury.

  • cecdkc

    She said “after a month of working hard…Monthly pedicures.

  • NYCWorker

    Good advice. I do my own manicures/pedicures and foot/hand massages. I do occasionally get a professional massage for an old back injury that left my shoulder tight. Also I would never highlight my own hair so I carefully budget and save where I can to afford it without going into debt.

  • Worker Bee

    I laughed so hard at this:
    “The basic financial planning rule is that housing costs shouldn’t take up more than 30 percent of your monthly income, groceries and personal items should be around 10-15 percent, and utilities around 10 percent.”

    That may be the “rule”…but it sure ain’t the reality in NYC.

  • Beth Mitchell

    As a licensed massage therapist I find tossing massage into the same category as manicures and pedicures is uneducated and laughable, at the same time. Massage is a recognized health modality now being honored by many insurance companies. Manicures and pedicures, while relaxing, do not provide known health benefits. Massage can also help specifically address a number of health issues:
    Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.
    Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays.
    Ease medication dependence.
    Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body’s natural defense system.
    Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.
    Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts.
    Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ—the skin.
    Increase joint flexibility.
    Lessen depression and anxiety.
    Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks.
    Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation.
    Reduce post-surgery adhesions and swelling.
    Reduce spasms and cramping.
    Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles.
    Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller.
    Lower blood pressure.

    This list goes on and on.

  • Sara J

    Self-care is a way to find peace of mind and a break from the chaos of daily living. I recently took a community class on worm bin and dry composting. There are people who will say raising worms for compost is not something they have any interest in doing. However, those little worms really take my mind off the worries that creep into my mind. When I look after worms, I do not have dark circles under my eyes because my mind is cleared of random negative thoughts. I treat my worms with a lot of respect and make sure they are well fed and have a comfortable living environment.