When I first began paying down my student loans, I constantly struggled with whether spending money on "unessential" items were worth it.
In other words, anything that didn't include rent, groceries, toiletries, house supplies, my cell phone or recharging my public transit card. If a friend asked to go for dinner, my response involved a drawn-out analysis as to whether it would be worth the money.
Forming that kind of mentality, there was little surprise that my mental health took a sharp nosedive.
I cried a lot.
I emotionally burdened my girlfriend about your finances.
I began grinding my teeth while I was sleeping.
My stomach felt like it was constantly doing backflips.
I neurotically checked my student loan balance once every hour.
I could continue, but I think you get the point.
I was reluctant to properly address these symptoms. I actually assumed that these were normal. Luckily, I had a resident nurse - my girlfriend - who gently encouraged me to talk about these symptoms with my family doctor.
It wasn't until after I discussed these symptoms with a health professional, did the symptoms gradually stop.
Although, it's been a year since that dark period in my life, I still have my "bleh" days like everyone else.
Here are some of the few things that I, unapologetically, spend money on to make sure that I'm encouraging my mental health.
I purchase a new book (or three) every month.
Whenever I feel down, reading is my go-to cure. Now, even when I'm not feeling low, I still read for leisure every single day to maintain my happiness. I read books on a range of topics, from marketing to economic theory to guilty pleasures.
Just this past week, I've purchased 3 books on Kindle. There are some books that are so life-changing for me that I won't hesitate to purchase a physical or electronic copy, and consider it an investment in myself.
I also strongly recommend borrowing books from the library, especially books that you're interested in but can't commit immediately to purchasing. I tend to borrow 4 - 6 books from the public library each month.
All of this money could be used towards paying down my student loans, but I've never regretted any of my literary purchases.
I take myself out on a date.
A little while ago, I was feeling a bit low.
My girlfriend had left for Chicago to attend a work conference and wouldn't be back for almost a week. After I finished work, I just didn’t feel like going home to an empty apartment.
Instead, I headed to the library and borrowed three books that I had been wanting to read for the past months but never took the time to actually obtain. I then walked over to my favourite neighbourhood sushi spot. For the first time in years, I had dinner alone and I HAD THE BEST TIME.
I intentionally left my phone in the pocket of my jacket, opened up one of the books, and focused on the meal that was before me.
I focus on nourishing myself through appreciating my own company. A good book. A nice meal. The $13.53 I spent on my dinner might have been an entire paycheque, given the ROI I received from that dining experience.
I prioritize clean eating.
Here's the cycle of my eating habits: eats relatively healthy, slips into junk food territory, and then returns to eating relatively healthy. Snacking is my sweet downfall. Whenever I feel stressed, sluggish or just generally not great, it usually means that I need to eat something green.
By focusing on nourishing my body, I've noticed the effect it's had on both my mind, body, and emotional wellness.
I play in a recreational sports team.
For the past two summers, I’ve played in an all-women slow pitch league. Every season I pay $125 to register. Before joining the league, I actually considered the price to be expensive (which goes to show you how little I knew about organized sports). I made a little stink, whining that I was trying to save money and now I also had to buy a mitt, batting gloves, and softball cleats. My friends graciously reminded me that it was all pretty affordable - one friend got her cleats at Walmart for $20 - especially given how long the softball season ran (May – September).
Let me tell you, whatever money I’ve spent has been completely worth it.
I love playing softball so much that I even rented a car through Enterprise CarShare every week this past summer just to attend the games. Although sometimes the idea of running around a field at the end of a workday sounds exhausting, committing myself to this weekly event for four and a half months has brought a lot of laughs, stress relief, and overall greater self-confidence.
Again, I can only speak for myself, but these are some things that I've chosen to spend money on that has made a positive difference in my life.
Before I experienced my health problems, I never took self-care seriously. I've now learned that prioritizing self-care is absolutely essential, and should be worked into your budget - just like rent, transit and groceries.
If you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them.