10 Low Cost Self-Care Activities
As someone who has found themselves in several thousands of dollars of credit card debt that was justified by the “treat yo self” mentality we all know and love, I get why you find yourself drawn to spend money you may not have when you’re in a bad mood. I’m all for people taking themselves out to eat, buying new clothes, and taking trips - but it shouldn’t always have to come at the expense of your financial health. These 10 self-care activities may not be the most Instagram-worthy experiences, but they’re free and can be done from just about anywhere.
I’ve organized this list of self-care activities into three categories, because depending on your mood and personality, running 3 miles may not be your idea of relaxing
A lot of these will seem pretty obvious.
The point of this list isn’t necessarily to tell you something new (although do you remember how relaxing and enjoyable cloud watching can be?), but to remind you that taking care of yourself can be fun and free.
One of my favorite ways to get out of a funk is to just walk around my neighborhood. Walking is an opportunity to reconnect with your thoughts while also changing your scenery. It’s also a pretty well-researched fact that walking helps with stress and anxiety levels.
I find that getting out of the house is important to my self-care because it reminds you that there’s something bigger than your problems. There’s a whole world of chirping birds, laughing children, and people zooming off to unknown destinations.
If you live in a big city, it’s also a nice way to get to know your neighborhood. I love to start walking without a specific destination in mind, and try to memorize as many streets and possible ways back home. The next time someone asks you for directions, you’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about!
Go on a hike with some friends.
Walk to the grocery store, or somewhere else you normally wouldn’t walk to.
Come up with funny or interesting backstories for the people you pass on the street.
I used to hate exercise growing up - you could not have paid me enough to spend an hour in a gym as a teenager.
When I started discovering other forms of movement that were limited to lifting weights or aerobics classes - things like barre and pilates - I started to appreciate how much my body could move.
Running is my favorite form of exercise, because you don’t need to pay for a class and you can literally do it anywhere. The slap of contact between my feet and the pavement, combined with a killer soundtrack, are exactly what I need during times of stress.
If you live near a body of water, spend some time splashing around and swimming.
Ride your bike that’s been gathering dust - or ask a friend if you can borrow theirs. If that isn’t an option, a lot of major cities now have bike sharing programs. They’re not free, but they usually cost less than $10 an hour.
Dance like there’s no tomorrow to your favorite song.
Who doesn’t love a good book?
I’m an avid reader, and can go through at least a book a week. One of the reasons why I love reading so much is that it’s a form of entertainment that doesn’t involve screens, so it’s perfect for my nighttime routine. If you prefer to read on an e-book tablet, that’s okay too!
Second hand bookstores are a great way to get cheap books while supporting a local business. It’s also just a completely different experience than typing in your mailing address in an online shopping cart, and can be a great way to get out of the house without spending an arm and a leg.
A really low maintenance, fun self-care activity is grabbing a blanket and hanging out in a local park. On days when I do this, I’ll typically also bring a book or my headphones, and will spend a few hours taking in the sights, thinking and watching clouds.
When I first started doing this, I was a bit self-conscious. Who goes to a park to just stare at the sky? However, if you’re at a fairly large park, you’d be surprised by how many other people are sitting by themselves and with their thoughts, enjoying the day.
Drawing isn’t one of my natural talents, but that doesn’t stop me from whipping out a few sheets of paper every now and then to sketch something. I’ve found keeping a small notebook near my laptop has been a great way for me to stop randomly buying things from Amazon.
Oftentimes, we treat online shopping as something we do in our free time when we’re bored, anxious or upset. Instead of randomly scrolling for pasta makers that are on sale (and that you’ll probably only use once) grab a coloring book to pass the time.
Writing out your thoughts doesn’t have to be done in a carefully designed and organized bullet journal! I find that journaling every day can get a bit overwhelming, and tend to only journal during periods when I’m really upset or anxious. Journaling can be especially helpful while you’re still processing something, and don’t feel comfortable yet sharing with someone else.
KEEPING A GRATITUDE LOG
Unlike journaling, which can sometimes feel like writing an epic novel (or maybe I’m just journaling wrong), I love to keep a gratitude log. This is a staple layout in my bullet journal spreads, and consists of writing - in incomplete sentences - things that you’re grateful for each day.
This is a nice way to unwind after a busy day, because if forces you to think about everything that went right, and not how much you hate your job or that person that cut you off on your way home.
I’ve found that the more I focus on all of the things I have in my life that I’m grateful for, there’s less of an impulse to spend my money. I’m able to take a step back and reflect on everything I do have.
In addition to doodling, picking up another random hobby is a good way to treat yourself without spending too much money. Unlike something like doodling, you’ll probably need to buy some materials. However, starter packs for things like needlepoint are relatively inexpensive (often less than $20) at your local craft supplies store, and can be used multiple times.
DIY FACE MASK
Late last year, I got my first facial at Heyday in New York, and completely fell in love with skincare as a self-care activity. However, getting a facial every month isn’t always financially practical, so I’ve invested in a few quality products so that I can take care of my face from the comfort of my home.
I have a six step skin care routine I do every other day, and have been obsessed lately with a pineapple peppermint scrub I got from Shaffali.
A cheap alternative to buying products is making your own!
One of my favorite DIY masks is a simple honey, oatmeal and brown sugar mask. It uses ingredients right in your pantry, and takes about five minutes to make. You can find a few different recipes online, but all you need to do is:
Add ½ c steel cut oatmeal and ½ brown sugar into a blender. Pulse until coarse.
Add ¼ c of honey (if you have natural, raw honey, even better!) to the oat and sugar mixture.
Combine with 1 tbsp of vitamin E oil and 2 tbsp of coconut oil.
When you’re ready to put it on, just wash your face, and apply in a circular motion! Rinse off immediately, or let it dry while you’re doing other relaxing things.
TAKE A BATH
Another way to relaxing and treat yourself is taking a long bath. I love to pick up some epsom salt, grab a cheap bath bomb from Lush, and light a candle while lounging in the tub.
When I was living in New York, I didn’t have a bathtub (well, technically I did, but I always feel weird about bathing in communal showers) so if that’s not an option, you can still relax by trying a new soap or shampoo.
With dozens of apps to choose from, meditating has come quite a long way than sitting in a dark room and chanting “om” a thousand times. Mediation is great for your mental health and clarity, and can be a free self-care activity.
However, I believe investing in a decent app - one that you'll actually use - is worth it.
Headspace is clearly the gold standard when it comes to at-home meditatation, but at nearly $100 for an annual subscription, it’s something you really have to commit to if you want to get your money’s worth.
My favorite app is Meditation Studio. I bought a yearly subscription for only $35 and use it almost every day.
The thing that I love about this app is that they have so many different categories, ranging from anxiety and PTSD to tackling your quarter life crisis or feeling more confident in the workplace. They’re short (usually between 5 to 10 minutes, with some longer ones as well) and it’s so accessible that it doesn’t feel like meditating.
These 10 self-care activities cover most of the bases, but are any that you do that don't fall into one of these general categories? One of my other favorite forms of self-care is cooking for myself - especially a nice big bowl of homemade mac-n-cheese.