We're working on a mini-series about grief and money. Money is sometimes a taboo topic, and people certainly don't love talking about grief. This leaves a lot unsaid about the complicated relationship between grief and finances, even in the grief support space. It might seem strange that we're starting a mini-series about grief and money by talking about self-care. But I assure you, there's always (usually . . . sometimes) a method to the madness around here.
The thing about self-care is that it often gets discussed without acknowledging a very real and unspoken factor - money. And we're guilty of it. We've shared so many ideas for taking care of yourself in grief over the years. In doing that, we always try to give you a range of self-care ideas. Everything from free stuff to things on the higher end of the spending scale. We do this because we know everyone's budget is different.
But in reality, we know that how people spend money on themselves and their self-care goes well beyond budgets. A huge part of why, how much, where, and when people will spend money on themselves comes down to money beliefs (sometimes called money mindset or money scripts). And yet we've never called that out and talked about it. So shame on us, but we're here to rectify that.
Financial Social Work and Money Beliefs
Way back in grad school I took a course called financial social work. To be honest, I assumed the course was to give social workers a good foundation in financial issues to help clients - understanding things like budgeting, healthcare debt, and credit. I was working with people experiencing homelessness at the time so that seemed useful. It turned out to be so much more than that. In fact, it fundamentally changed the way I understood people and money.
And this revelatory shift for me feels so self-evident now that I'm a little embarrassed typing it. What the course taught me was that we all have a relationship with money. And that relationship comes from a set of unique attitudes and beliefs that we each have about money. Most of us, most of the time, aren't even particularly aware of our money beliefs. We began shaping them as kids, listening to how our parents or caregivers talked about money and spent (or didn't spend) money. And then it continued to evolve as we continued to evolve. But often the thoughts and feelings about money are so foundational to how we see finances that we don't even consciously notice them.
Sure, fine. But what does money mindset have to do with grief and self-care?
Now, we always make a point to share free self-care and grief coping strategies here. And as mental health professionals with personal losses, we started What's Your Grief - publishing free articles about grief, recording a free podcast, and creating free and affordable online grief courses and webinars - specifically because we knew just how many people didn't have the financial resources to seek out other types of support. (We also knew that some people didn't have the time or interest in traditional forms of support). So we are big believers in grief resources that free, affordable, and accessible.
But the world is filled with plenty of things that aren't free. Some of that is grief support. But much of it is other . . . stuff. How we take care of ourselves while grieving isn't just about access to grief support. It is about learning to live life after loss. That means cooking and cleaning and laundry and friends and family and (hopefully) hobbies and service and self-care. And a lot of those things cost money. Not only that, but they are things that were hard and stressful and energy-consuming before your loss.
Layer your loss and grief on top of it, and some of those things can feel impossible. When so much of your baseline energy is being zapped by grief, the laundry that felt daunting before can feel insurmountable now. That morning walk and long shower that felt like self-care before your loss can feel unimaginable after. And some of the things that might help us most in those daunting or dark moments cost money.
Where are you willing to spend money to take care of yourself in grief?
Where money beliefs comes in to play is when you're in a grief-pit. You're just feeling completely down or feeling overwhelmed by day-to-day life and you suddenly think of something that might help. Maybe it is paying for a service to help around the house or treating yourself to something that might cheer you up. It would be easy to imagine that what happens next is that you consult your checking account and monthly budget and decide if you can afford the thing. If you can afford it, you go for it. If you can't, you don't. That would be how it worked if our relationship with money and self-care was rational. BUT . . . it's not. Instead all those thoughts and beliefs start kicking in.
Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist who studies money beliefs and people's "money scripts" (aka the things we tell ourselves about money) has a list of the most common money scripts (they are generally listed below but that link goes into detail about each of them):
- More money will make things better.
- Money is bad.
- I don’t deserve money.
- I deserve to spend money.
- There will never be enough money (or I'm always at risk of losing all my money)
- There will always be enough money.
- Money is unimportant.
- Money will give me meaning.
- It’s not nice (or necessary) to talk about money.
- If you are good, the universe will supply all your needs.
And these are just a handful of foundational scripts - we all have multiple, layered money beliefs and attitudes about spending that come in to play.
How much money do I think is worth spending on myself?
Some of the scripts above give basic insight into spending money in general which have a lot more sway that the balance in your checking account. If you believe there will never be enough money or you're always at risk of losing it or you don't deserve to spend it, no matter how much money is in your account you might not splurge on self-care. And if you believe there will always be money, the universe will supply, and that you deserve to spend it, you might waaaaay overspend on things to try to ease your grief (or ease your life headaches while grieving) even when you can't afford it.
Layer self-care on top and then you have a whole other set of beliefs. That is a whole other article, but you might consider questions about your beliefs that can get in the way of self-care like: do you believe you are worthy of care? Do you need to do everything without help? Is it wrong to pay for something you can do yourself? Is it selfish to splurge on yourself for 'no reason'. Are others more worthy or deserving? If you have extra, should you always give it to others in greater need rather than spending it on yourself? Do you need to 'earn' any splurges? And on and on and on.
Giving yourself the right amount of permission
The reality is that some of you reading this article might be waaaaay overspending in your grief based on what you can afford. You might feel entitled after all you've been through, or maybe you've just said screw it, none of it matters anyway! I might as well pay for things that make my life easier or help me feel better. Others of you might be way underspending, struggling to make it through the day and yet refusing to pay for therapy or practical help around the house, even though you can afford it. You might be saying I shouldn't need to pay for that or I can't afford that, when really what is going on is a fear that money might later disappear or a feeling of obligation to spend money on others before yourself.
This article isn't about changing all your money beliefs or money spending habits. But it is about raising awareness about how your grief self-care splurges are working for you. Are you spending too much or spending on things that aren't bringing you the support or relief you expected? Are you depriving yourself of things that could genuinely make life a little easier or a little brighter, even when you could afford it, because of certain beliefs you've internalized about money? Or, if not about the money itself, about what is worth spending it on, or if caring for yourself is worth the money?
If that sounds like you, here are some self-care splurge suggestions.
Make a list of three things that, in the next 30 days, might genuinely make a piece of your life just a little bit easier or help you to cope. Consider things you've been finding harder to do than usual because of your grief and which might bring you some relief to have done. Or consider things you know make your body or mind feel good that you haven't been willing to spend money on. These can be big or small.
Now write down the cost. Really push yourself to examine why you aren't spending that money to care for yourself. Which money beliefs might be at play? Are you worrying that self-care is selfishness? Can you genuinely not afford it? If a dear friend needed that amount of money to care for themselves, would you give it to them? If you genuinely can't afford it, are there things you are spending money on that are of less value to your wellbeing that you want to shift?
Crowdsourced Self-Care Splurges
We asked the WYG community on social media about splurging on yourself. Specifically, we asked about grief self-care things that they hesitated to spend money on, but were worth it. They often required pushing back on some money beliefs. Here are some of the most popular responses:
Home and car things
- I paid for a lawn service. My husband always mowed the lawn. I hope by next summer I'll be able to do it myself. But it felt like too much this year so I just decided to spend the money on a service. It has been such a relief not to worry about it. And not to have to feel bad about myself when it was getting too long.
- I had the windows of my house professionally washed.
- Someone gifted me a laundry service for the first two months after my son died. When the gift finished, I paid to keep it. I NEVER would have paid for something like that before. But it was such a relief not to have to deal with the laundry. I did tighten up in some other places to balance out the expense, but I am so glad that I gave myself permission to do it. I'm also grateful my husband supported it. He didn't bat an eye when I told him I wanted us to pay to continue it.
- A condo. No mowing ever!
- I put a new floor down in the farmhouse and boy, it was so worth it.
- Paid the moving company to finish packing items in my dad's home.
- Having my mom's home painted before we sold it. In the past I would have done this myself. Between being so run down and the emotions of just being in the house, after a good, honest talk with myself I realized I should hire someone.
- I turned the heat up this winter. My husband was probably rolling over in his grave! He was diligent about us keeping it at a 68 in the day and lower at night to keep the bill down. We had the money, it was just a matter of pride and principle for him. I felt a bit guilty turning it up, but the house was so sad and empty. It didn't need to be cold too! It was a little thing, but it helped me to feel physically better when I felt emotionally devastated.
Wellness and beauty things
- Grief therapy that I actually go to via zoom!
- A weighted blanket!
- I got 100 classes Barry's gym - the people there are the sweetest and it helps with my grief.
- Regular massages. I started with just once a month but now have one ever 2-3 weeks.
- I bought a Pelaton. Getting to the gym was just not happening and it felt worth it to see if this could get me moving!
- I've been getting regular facials. This was a real push back on my money beliefs, as I definitely usually don't think I deserve to spend money on myself.
- I splurged on a home workout program.
- I've been getting my hair blown out every week. I just have struggled to take care of my hard to manage hair as much as I used to and this makes me feel so much better. Plus, I really love having my hair washed by someone else.
- I got my medical card for PTSD
- I bought an e-bike
- I started buying the 'fancy' bread. I know that sounds silly, but I have always been a store-brand gal. My mom raised me to always cut corners at the grocery store and I still generally do. But the good sliced bread is so much better. I have toast for breakfast every day. It is absolutely worth it to me to spend a few extra dollars on the 'fancy' bread!
- Splurging on food delivery.
- I get groceries delivered if getting to the store feels too overwhelming.
- 12 packs of fresh gluten-free pasta
- Stopping for coffee on the way to work. When my wife was alive we always had our morning coffee together. Having mine alone at the house is a painful way to start the day. I always used to shake my head at people who 'wasted' money buying coffee at coffee shops. But it has become a nice part of my morning routine to see some familiar faces (the workers and some customers). And yes, I still think it is a bit overpriced when I think about what it would cost to make it at home. But I don't mind at all anymore because it gets my day off on a better foot.
- Getting takeout two nights per week.
- I've been buying healthier food. I used to tell myself it was too expensive. Though it is more expensive sometimes, it isn't actually too expensive for my budget. Most importantly, I feel much better and know that I am taking better care of myself be here for my kids. So some money beliefs can change!
- Premade meal delivery. I've tried a few different services now and it has been worth it. I just wasn't grocery shopping or cooking well for myself. And I was getting tired of carry-out (plus it was harder to make healthy choices). These services seem more like a homemade meal. I figure maybe next I'll 'graduate' to a Blue Apron type box, so that way at least I can feel some accomplishment that I made the meal! But not quite yet.
- I bought a new iPad for work and for nights when I need to Netflix & cry 🙂
- A phone with a better camera and more storage, so I can save all my photos and not worry about using up all my storage space.
- This sounds silly, but a speaker for the shower. The mornings can feel so lonely while I'm getting ready and it is nice to have some music or a podcast in the shower. It only cost $20 and it makes such a big difference.
- A SAD (season affective disorder) lamp. I've always found the winter hard, so facing winter so soon after my dad died felt terrifying. It seemed worth a shot when I saw one on a lightening deal, though I'd always said they were silly. I do think it genuinely made a difference.
- I bought two nice home speakers. Music has been a big form of comfort to me - always - but especially since my daughter's death. I used to play music through my phone or earbuds, which was fine. It felt like a speaker was unnecessary when I had my phone. But after I went to a friend's house and listened to music on his Sonos speaker I realized there was such a big difference! I did some mental math and thought, if I use these speakers every day for the next five years (which isn't unrealistic) it would only come out to a few cents a day. I know I should have had to justify it to myself that way, but it made me feel better.
- I take myself out on dates and treat myself to my favorite meals!
- I took time off work in order to feel my pain.
- A bunch of overnight and day trips to give myself something to look forward to.
- Books - even though I know I have a million at home, sometimes a new one helps.
- Buying myself gifts knowing that my beloved boyfriend would have if he were still here.
- A kitten. Not for everyone but it has helped me soooooo much.
- Any clothing for my dog because it makes me laugh and smile.
- I took a solo trip somewhere I had never been and it was so wonderful that I'd like to make it an annual thing.
What if this isn't me? I splurge plenty. I think I need to stop grief self-care splurging.
Are you chronically over spending on things that later cause you stress? Or do you impulsively spend on things that you think are going to help but don't? Now, we all do this sometimes. But the thing to look for is whether it is a pattern. Are you looking for that self-care through spending, when it could come elsewhere? Don't worry, we have an article coming out next week that will cover tips for you! There are ways to take care of yourself and get some of those spending habits in check.
Want to share some thoughts about money beliefs and self-care in grief? Leave a comment down below!
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.
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