A few weeks ago, a co-worker forwarded me an email. Not a groundbreaking occurrence since it happens daily, but groundbreaking in regard to what the email contained—a startling statistic that's had kind of a profound impact on my life ever since I left-clicked.
"The average American spends $143,280 in a lifetime to treat themselves," it read. And then my eyes proceeded to bug out of their sockets. Yours too?
According to new research that was conducted by OnePoll and Eventbrite, when 2000 Americans were recently surveyed about their spending habits, on average, it was found they spend $199 a month (or roughly 22% of their disposable income) on "non-essentials" for ourselves—from typical self-care "treats" (think a fancy dessert or an impromptu manicure) to more luxurious experiences like concerts, vacations, the like. And while that initial dollar amount of $143,280 felt rather jarring, the monthly $199 (to the horror of my always depleted bank account) didn't.
For instance, if you count a 120-minute deep-tissue massage, an evening showing of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and a $30 dance cardio workout class as self-care, I spent exactly that (eek, or more) in just one Saturday sitting recently. Fun? Yes. Relaxing? Yes. Expensive and ultimately guilt-provoking? Double yes. And apparently, I'm not alone when it comes to that post–expensive self-care remorse. (PESCR—should I officially coin that?)
Interestingly, 75% of those surveyed said they also feel guilty after spending on themselves, yet 62% feel they want or need to treat themselves more often. What's more, survey participants 25 and younger spend an average of 33% of their disposable income on various forms of self-care, while that percentage significantly declines with age. Those who were 55 and older had whittled self-care expenses to 13% of their disposable income.
So as it turns out, self-care can serve as a stealthy double-edged sword. On one hand, it's vitally important to our well-being. On the other, it can also leave our bank accounts (and mindsets) depleted and overworked. Not surprisingly, if we perpetuate that splurge-shame tail-chase, it becomes a stressful dynamic that only makes us more uptight—and in want of recuperative self-care. See where I'm going with this? Luckily—and we know you know this—self-care doesn't have to be expensive. But since we can't easily escape a co-worker dishing about their recent trip to Hawaii or an IG feed brimming with freshly blown-out bobs and foaming, adaptogenic, CBD- and collagen-infused $15 cappuccinos (I'm not being dramatic—I live in L.A.), it can be easy to forget the limits of our paychecks and the infinite (and free) alternatives for self-care—especially come fall.
Sure, January typically takes home the gold when it comes to well-contrived fresh starts, but honestly, and maybe it's the childish nature in us, the nostalgic back-to-school ambiance of fall feels far more appropriate for fresh invigoration. And this year, our mission is to do it for free. If you're keen on it, keep scrolling for our top tips and practices for indulging in some much-needed self-care this season—no cash or card required.
1. Drink Something Warm
The Habit: a daily stop at your favorite coffee shop
The Swap: enjoy a warm, soothing beverage at home instead
We get it. Not only are runs to your corner coffee shop convenient and fun, but they're also the perfect way to get your daily dose (of caffeine, CBD, herbs—pick your poison) before starting your day. That being said, it's not news that a daily pit stop can quickly add up and burst your budget. And while you may consider the practice a way to treat yourself, you might actually feel better (aka more relaxed and less harried) if you simply sit at home. For instance, when I quizzed my co-workers on their favorite self-care practices for fall, senior editor Hallie Gould told me she loves recalibrating in the mornings with a hot cup of coffee.
"Getting up early enough so that I can sit on my couch and drink a nice hot cup of coffee and collect my thoughts feels so good for fall," she tells me. Plus, in the long run, a soothing ritual like this will save you major cash. Oh, and if you have a fancy order, you can still make it at home! For instance, every morning I blend up almond milk, cold brew, collagen, peptides, cinnamon, toffee-flavored stevia drops, and other fun things like pearl powder and adaptogens into a luscious foamy hit of caffeine. Of course, the supplies cost money, but they last me a while, and it's cost a heck of a lot less money than my previous java orders.
2. Relax Your Muscles
The Habit: a routine massage schedule
The Swap: foam-rolling at home (or at the gym) instead
I'll be the first to admit that I had (and am still weaning myself off of) a very regular and very expensive massage habit. Like almost every other person on Earth, I spend the majority of my day at work, in a chair, scrutinizing a computer screen. Plus, I've noticed that I subconsciously like to position my body in highly bizarre contortions while doing all of the above. (Does anyone else realize they're simultaneously twisting, arching, craning, and crossing their body while typing or Google-searching?) Thus, it wasn't all too surprising when my back and neck started hurting and spasming like crazy, resulting in an addictive pattern of weekly massages at my local garage. No really, my go-to massage parlor is called the Massage Garage. In my head, I told myself the spending was warranted. I was in pain! I deserved it! My back was SPASMING! But after too many regretful looks at my bank account, I decided to fall back on my gym membership (okay, not free, but something I already have), utilizing rejuvenating yoga classes and a warm-up and stretch area with foam rollers. I've found the muscle-soothing results to be almost as good, especially when I make sure to do it every day. If you don't have a gym with foam rollers, they're a worthy one-time investment you'll be able to use for years to come—ultimately saving your knotted-up muscles and your wallet's weekly exposure.
Or for a completely free option, give yourself a massage (a tennis ball will be your new best friend) or ask someone you love to perform one for you. Remember elementary school massage trains? Why aren't those still a thing?
3. Experiment With Your Makeup, Hair, or Nails
The Habit: getting a professional blowout or manicure
The Swap: taking the opportunity to experiment with and revisit products and tools you already own
If you're like my fellow editors and me, you likely have plenty of hair products, tools, makeup, and nail polishes that go virtually untouched for days, weeks, months, even years on end. So it's kind of funny when we think about how untouched our credit card is when it comes to covering a similar result but at the hands of a professional. Are these types of appointments convenient, relaxing, and lusciously indulgent? Well, of course! But there's also something to be said for a satisfying paint job you do yourself or simply taking a lazy Sunday afternoon to practice with your curling wand or those lipsticks you never wear. Plus, and we talk about this all the time in the Byrdie Gchat, there's something so calming and cathartic about just applying makeup (or skincare or whatever you love) on your face. It's a calming ritual and can kill two birds with one stone if you discover a new hairstyle, nail color, or application technique. Or if you want to get really fancy, follow our guide for giving yourself a spa-inspired facial at home. Manicure on your mind? Reach for a fall-inspired color to feel extra cozy.
4. Slow Down and Take a Walk
The Habit: spending money on an expensive drop-in workout class
The Swap: taking a walk to unwind after work
Even if you think you hate walks, I guarantee you'll like them in fall. The air is crisper and fresher (even if you live in a relatively non-crisp locale like L.A.—I can vouch from experience), the air feels calmer, and the rush of relaxation you'll reap will feel just as good as (or maybe better than) a heart-pounding hot yoga or Spin class. Of course, we get that these classes can also be an important part of self-care, but interspersing your schedule with more cost-effective (i.e. free) jaunts outside will cut down spending, increase mindfulness, and ease any lingering post-workday squirms. Still don't like the idea of a walk? Try bringing a friend or embellishing your stroll with your favorite podcast or playlist. And remember that homemade warm beverage we talked about earlier? Take one for the road.
5. Sip Wine… But in Your Bathtub
The Habit: going out for drinks with friends
The Swap: staying in, running a bath, and sipping wine (or tea or whatever you love)
"I love fall because the coziness of the season just feels like an excuse to stay in more—not having that feeling that you have to turn up," Byrdie's features editor Amanda Montell told me. Of course, getting drinks with friends and any shenanigans that go down afterward can be fun, but there's nothing quite as jarring as the shell shock of the morning after when you're sifting through your bagful of receipts. So while we still, by all means, encourage you to indulge in nights out, try subbing a few each month (or week, depending on your frequency) with a relaxing night in instead. Draw a bath, dump in some bath salts, light a candle, and sip some wine or any other beverage that feels relaxing. Not only will you wake up the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but you also won't have a trail of tips, Postmates orders, and Lyft charges haunting your conscience.
6. Read the Book Before the Movie
The Habit: going to the movie theater
The Swap: reading the book instead
Going to the movies (sometimes even by myself) is one of my favorite ways to decompress. You're forced to turn off your phone, it's dark (so no need to wear anything but super-comfy clothing), the chairs are enveloping, and for two hours you can completely tune out the pressures and worries of your own life while you become immersed in someone else's fictional ones instead.
But since a trip to the theater can easily run you up at least $20, it's not exactly a plush option for your budget. Instead, try saving your trips to the theater for the movies that will truly be a lesser experience on your home TV or laptop. Getting lost in the book instead will save you money, and you'll still be able to imbibe the same tales and stories everyone is talking about if you read it before you see it. Then, binge-watch them all with your friends once they're released on your favorite streaming network. (So scary that DVD now sounds obsolete.)
7. Cook Something You Love
The Habit: forking over your paycheck to Postmates
The Swap: making your favorite orderable dishes at home
I've been there. Theoretically, there's nothing more satisfying than ordering exactly what you're craving with just a click of a button from the comfort of your couch nest. Alas, if you try it, you might find planning a meal, choosing your ingredients, preparing, and then savoring it even more satisfying. Seriously, the process can be extremely therapeutic, rewarding, and if you double or even triple your batch, you'll have leftovers of your favorite meal ready for an entire week.
Plus, it can be fun to research and find (or even create!) a recipe that exactly mimics your favorite order. And if at first you don't succeed, simply try again a different night. Think of it as the ultimate conquest and as a form of self-care, not a chore. Enhance the process with friends (if you feel like), some mood music, or maybe some wine. We promise it's so much better than Postmates. And your wallet thinks so too.