How this important act of self care can change your life
It’s a weird thing to brag about – but seriously – I take very good care with my personal hygiene.
I always brush and floss, for instance. I shower, no matter how tired I am. Oh, and exercise with makeup on? Never.
But there’s more to my hygiene habits than germ avoidance. Personal hygiene rituals are a form of self-care that signal “I’m here, and I matter.”
Now, without getting too heavy, it’s interesting to note as side issue that lack of self-care can be a symptom of mental or neurological disorder. This shows how important it is on the measure of living a healthy life.
There are other forms of self-care that are as important but rarely acknowledged as such. Looking after your finances is one of them.
Here’s a little story.
Most of my life lessons come from the darker periods in my life, as do yours, most likely. I think this probably has to do with being in turmoil, survival mode, having to sort what out from what, often under excruciating conditions.
My ex-husband and I never agreed about money: what it should be used for, where it should be spent, how it should be saved. Looking back, disagreement about something as fundamental as this is akin to disagreeing about how often one should shower (we didn’t see eye-to-eye on this either).
So when we got divorced, he went on a bender financially and I lay in bed at night in cold sweats wondering how I would get through my PhD on minimal pay from sessional teaching.
“ I’d log into my bank account, always with a racing heart. It got to the point where, although I continued to pay my bills and keep the cogs turning, I couldn’t bare to face the facts of my money situation. ”
Which is akin to refusing to wash your hair for fear of discovering it’s falling out.
This situation continued for about year, until finally I got to the point where I decided to start building up from the rubble of my home life. The first step involved what I called ‘financial self care’.
Most of the stress of my money situation was caused not so much by being broke, but by not facing my situation in a head-on way.
So, here’s what I did to turn that around:
1. I did a weekly assessment of my finances
To take care of my finances, I had to know what was happening with them. I used a form of exposure therapy to get over the anxiety over logging into my bank account by making myself do it once a week. This simple act of checking off what I’d spent and what I’d made increased my knowledge of the situation, and it also decreased my stress. By assessing it weekly, there was less likelihood I’d get shocked or surprised by what I saw. I had it covered. I was on top of things. The boss. This small act gave me confidence to make changes.
2. I outlined monthly costs
By working out how much exactly it cost me per week for utilities, food and so on, I could make cutbacks. Truth is, I was living pretty skint anyway, but I did manage to make some tweaks here and there, which saved me. More than this, though, when you arm yourself with knowledge, as in the example above, you can own a situation and this automatically makes you better at managing it.
3. I borrowed, shared and exchanged
Best thing about being broke is it draws you closer to your community and networks. Because I couldn’t afford childcare, I created networks with other parents who could help me care for my kids when I had to work. Of course, I helped them in return. This gave me an opportunity to form bonds with people around me and live less of the isolated existence I had when I was married.
Oh, another fun example – my friend Jo is the same clothes size as me. She and I set up a system of clothing exchange. We’d get together and try on each others clothes and swap. It was fun to get new things to wear without having to pay for them. I’m pretty sure she got the rough end of the deal on that one. But the point is, we ended up bonding over wearing each other’s things.
I also borrowed toys and games for my kids from toy libraries, I cut back my book-buying habit and opted for second hand books from garage sales or library books. I also exchanged some writing and editing work for help I needed with transport. Not having a car, and working over an hour and a half away from home, my friend would drive me and I would proof his papers for him.
“ I was a lone operator now and I needed to make
sure I was fully steering my course. ”
And this saved me money.
I figured out very quickly in that if I was going to get through the turmoil, it would be on the back of what I created. Something at the very core of me knew that I had to keep moving forward and keep producing. Once I let myself crawl onto the bed and cry, I may not be able to rise again. You’ll never hear this from a financial planner, but I decided to get rid of costs that weren’t directly related to ‘moving forward’. An abstract notion, I know. But for me moving forward had everything to do with producing writing.
So before I purchased anything, I asked – Will this help me with my writing? So many nos: I cancelled subscriptions, pay TV and stopped using the air conditioner (I live in a hot climate; this was a biggie). I honed everything I did financially to staying alive and reading and writing. It’s amazing how, when you figure out what really matters, you determine at the same time where you want to direct your hard earned.
5. One final thing
I didn’t have a trillion dollars, obviously, but I was building a lot of intellectual capital – and I was now solely responsible for three kids. So the final part of taking care of my finances was to think about my legacy: the potential mess I’d leave behind if something happened to me. I made a Will, a Power of Attorney and a Health Directive.
These are the most basic three documents everyone needs to take care of business. They allowed me to gift my work, to appoint an attorney to take care of my health and financial decisions and to outline my wishes for health care in case I became ill or had an accident.
Mostly when people discuss finance it’s in the context of making wealth, planning strategically and investing wisely. For me, taking financial care is about being in control and directing your life – no matter how little you have. Because when you’ve taken stock, cleared the benches and cleaned your slate, then – and only then – you can start building on your creativity.