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The Myth of Self-Care and How to Improve Your Health and Finances, with Sarah Li Cain

Presented by Borrowell

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

My guest this week is Sarah Li Cain. Sarah is a writer here at MapleMoney, and she also founded the website, High Fiving Dollars, where she helps others integrate physical, spiritual and mental wellness so that money becomes a tool to enhance their lives. She also co-hosts the popular Beyond The Dollar podcast.

In this week’s episode, Sarah and I discuss the importance of self-care, how it relates to your finances, and why it’s more than just a millennial buzzword.

Sarah explains that there are two different versions of self-care; one for marketers, and one for the rest of us. The good news? While some of the best forms of self-care are free, it’s actually ok to spend money on yourself.

This episode is made possible by our sponsors at Borrowell. Have you heard the saying, “what gets measured, gets managed”? Borrowell recently conducted a study that found a correlation between the frequency of checking your credit score, and credit score increases. To check your credit score with Borrowell, head over to their website today!

Episode Summary

  • Sarah describes the two different versions of self-care.
  • The relationship between self-care and your personal finances.
  • Can focusing on self-care actually save you money?
  • The impact of self-care on your short and long-term goals.
  • Relax, it’s ok to spend money on yourself!
  • The benefits of spending energy, and not money, on something.
  • Sarah explains that she actually schedules in self-care to simplify her life.
Read transcript

Welcome to the Money Maple Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom.

Self care. It’s been a bit of a buzz-word the last couple of years. I thought it might just be another hash-tag used by indulgent millennials so I brought one of the writers at Maple Money, Sarah Li Cain, onto the show. She showed me a side of self-care that is good for your health and your personal finances. Sarah founded the website, High Fiving Dollars, where she aims to help others integrate physical, spiritual, and mental wellness so that money becomes a tool to enhance their lives.

I want to let you know about a recent study conducted by our sponsor, Borrowell. I found a correlation between the frequency of checking your score and credit score increases. This makes sense. After all, what gets measured, gets managed and Borrowell does track your score over time. Head over to maplemoney.com/borrowell to start improving your credit score today. Now let’s chat with Sarah about self-care.

Tom: Hi Sarah, welcome to the Maple Money show.

Sarah: Thanks for having me Tom.

Tom: We were chatting before this episode and I kind of wanted to get into the idea self-care with you. It seems to be a topic that’s big with millennial women and since I don’t check either of those boxes I wanted to talk to you. First of all, what is self-care?

Sarah: I found that in my experience there are two different versions. The first version which I call the marketer’s version of self-care is where you go out and treat yourself, “I’m really stressed a work so I’m going to go and get myself a manicure,” or, “I’m going to buy myself some really luxurious face cream,” or, “I’m going to take a bubble bath,” things like that. I find people tend to spend a lot of money on that version of self-care because they think; I have the money to treat myself because “I deserve it.” Whereas, self-care, in general, for the rest of us is really just a way to recharge. It’s a way to take a break when were overwhelmed with life. It can even be something as simple as taking a nap. It’s really just respecting your body, your energy, your boundaries and acknowledging that you just need take care of yourself. And it’s a daily practice.

Tom: Okay, what are some examples you do (or you’ve at least heard of) that you think is a decent form of self-care beyond what you’ve mentioned?

Sarah: Gosh. This woman—she talks a lot about mental health and she’s saying self-care is actually getting out of bed. Self-care is brushing your teeth. It’s actually just taking care of yourself. If you take the time to do things as basic as taking a shower, that’s self-care. Something I try to do every day (because my schedule so hectic) is I try to take a walk. That’s exercising but it also helps me clear my head. I sometimes walk with my 3-year-old son around the pond where we live. It’s just really a way to recharge and reconnect. Again, it’s just taking care of myself. And it’s free.

Tom: Speaking of being free how can we connect self-care to personal finance? How can this affect our money? Not just with saving money but also things that can possibly help make money or anything else that might help our finances?

Sarah: In terms of saving money… if you’re talking about going to get a manicure or massage every week—I think a manicure is something like $30 a pop and a massage is maybe $60 so you’re spending quite a bit of money. And, if you’re doing that on a monthly basis, estimating it at about $100 a month, that’s $1,200 a year that you could be saving toward something else. Now, I’m not saying don’t spend money at all. But there are definitely cheaper ways to do it. If you insist on only a manicure maybe you could go to a beauty school. You can get a manicure as cheap as $10 there. If you’re talking about how self-care really bleeds into other parts of personal finances, as a mom, I remember being so sleep-deprived when my son was first born that it got to the point where I started ordering take-out a lot more. Or I would go to a restaurant because I was so exhausted and did not take time for myself. I remember looking at my spreadsheet and thinking, “Oh, my gosh! How did I spend $1,000 on food?” I mean, I had nothing in the fridge. It was all take-out for my husband and I. Then I thought, “Okay, if I take time to sleep and I take time to meal plan (to me, that is a form of self-care) and I take time to go to the grocery store or get it delivered, I will be saving. I think I spend about $300 a month on groceries. That’s about $700 a month I just saved by sleeping.

Tom: That sounds similar to something I’ve been trying. I’ve been trying this whole intermittent fasting where, in my case, is eating from about 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. I’m cutting out two things there. I’m cutting out breakfast. But more importantly, I’m cutting out a whole lot of snacking in the evening when I’m at my computer working on the website or watching TV. I was doing a lot of snacking so I did it for health reasons. But I’ve noticed already—and it’s been maybe a month or two, that we’ve been spending a lot less on food. Especially junk food. I did it for health reasons and that probably kind of counts as self-care but the real perk was that I’m not spending as much on the junky stuff. I’m really just eating two meals, basically.

Sarah: Yeah. I find that when I’m super stressed, I’m super overwhelmed… I just moved. I came back from a month-long road trip and frankly, I’m very exhausted right now, I find myself going to Amazon or wanting to buy clothes. For some reason, that’s my vice. And I don’t need clothes. When you do regular self-care… Let’s say, you take a nap or go for a walk like I do, the stress levels are less, and for me those stress triggers are a lot less. Therefore, I actually just spend a lot less time on Amazon unless it’s for things I absolutely need. So it’s another way to save money as well.

Tom: Yeah, I was bad with Prime Day just a couple days ago. I spent too much time on Amazon. I like the idea that if you’re stressed you could either take a nap or you could go spend money which, in the end, is just going to lead to more stress. I like the connection that you can save money and actually reduce your stress in the long run.

Sarah: And for me I think self-care even extends to long-term or short-term goals. Let’s say you’re saving up for a vacation at Disneyland and it costs $3,000. Self-care, in that sense, is you putting aside money for something you’re going to do in a few months or in a year. You’re going to enjoy yourself; you’re going to have an absolutely fun time. So, it’s one of those things where can have a manicure now, you can have a massage now, but that $100 could go towards the Disney vacation. It’s really one of those “opportunity costs” at that point.

Tom: You mentioned budgeting. Does it work the same with saving? Is that self-care towards the future or do you not consider it in the same area?

Sarah: You can budget for self-care. I’m sure you’ve talked about it on your site and probably will talk about it on a podcast in the future. You can have a fun-fund where you just set aside a set amount per month to just spend on whatever the heck you want. That’s really a form of self-care because, let’s say at the end of the month you are stressed and you really wanted that massage, you can say, “Hey, I happen to have $100 in my savings account. Cool, I’m not going to feel guilty about spending this amount.” Or you have a dedicated savings fund for some other goal; maybe a car or a house, that’s a form of self-care. It’s really about respecting yourself and what it is that you want and value and taking action towards it. That’s really my definition of self-care.

Tom: I like the fun-fund because, again, that’s the general idea of self-care; it’s maybe a little too indulgent sometimes. They can spend that a little more guilt free instead of just racking up the credit cards just because of self-care.

Sarah: Exactly.

Tom: Are there any other aspects you can think of that you’d consider a part of this?

Sarah: I will say, in terms of self-care, you should try to incorporate it every day. Again, don’t feel guilty about spending money to take care of yourself. If you enjoy manicures and it’s an indulgence but you saved for it (like you save for retirement, cars and all that other stuff) and you are really great with your budget, then go ahead. At the end of the day, it’s really what you value and what you want and how it’s going to help you relax. Don’t do it because it’s in a magazine. Don’t do it because a celebrity touts a certain brand of a facemask or anything like that. It’s really that you enjoy it. I really enjoy gardening so I am actually planning to buy Bonsai tree this week and learn how to take care of it. For me, it’s self-care because it helps me relax. It’s not necessarily free but I’ve budgeted for it.

Tom: Yeah, exactly. That seems good. The bit I knew about self-care was this idea that priority is just spending on yourself first.

Sarah: If you think about it, it is kind of spending on yourself but it’s also spending time or spending your energy in taking care of yourself. And you and I both know that doesn’t necessarily require a ton of money. It’s kind of like thinking about a no-spend weekend and finding free entertainment around your city or your neighborhood. You’re still having fun but you’re not spending money. Self-care care can be the same way.

Tom: Yeah, and putting energy into something sounds a lot better than putting more money into it. Like you mentioned, going for a walk or something like that is something you can just go do. Between personal finance and lifestyle, what a bigger term for me was life hacks. I’ve been drinking a lot more water. That’s something that’s been healthy for me. But again, it’s actually reducing my expenses. I don’t have a bunch of juice and pop and stuff sitting around anymore. Another thing I’ve probably done was at least try to have cold showers. I don’t know if it’s science or theory but that’s supposed to circulate your blood better and kind of start your day off. Again, I have long showers so I’m wasting all sorts of water but at least I’m not paying for the water to be quite as hot. I’m not emptying out the hot water tank.

Sarah: Oh, that’s so funny. Maybe this is a bit of a stretch for some people but for me self-care (at this stage) is actually paying for extra days of preschool for my son. I work from home and anyone who works from home probably knows that it’s really difficult to be productive when a 3-year-old is around. For me, I think, “Okay, do I want to be stressed out 12 hours a day because every five minutes I have to stop what I’m doing?” And then it’s going to cycle into buying clothes, going on Amazon, et cetera. Or, am I going to pay $200 a month and just put him in part-time pre-school? I feel so much more relaxed. I can sleep at night and do all of that.

Tom: I’ve heard of a lot of people that do that. Especially in our world of blogging and working from home. At first I couldn’t understand why people were paying for child care. That’s just an extra expense because you’re already at home. Then I caught on—whatever cost you’re paying for child care (beyond just sanity) if you’re working you can actually make more money than the cost of child care. The children are getting to do something and interact with someone. Meanwhile, you’re being more productive at home. Even if you’re not working at that moment—even if you’re just doing housework, you’re still doing something that improves your life in some way. And they’re having a good time anyways, getting a little more socialized than if they just stayed home with you all the time.

Sarah: Yeah, and if you’re so overwhelmed or so exhausted that you don’t really take care of yourself, think of the decisions that you’re going to be making? For me, the meal planning was a very small example. But think of other things. For example, if you’re tired, sleepy or worn out and you’re driving, that’s pretty dangerous. Or, let’s say you make a mistake at work. That could cost you something somewhere down the line. It just bleeds into every aspect so maybe self-care for that day may just be going out for lunch with a friend or co-worker. And yes, it sucks to be spending $20 or $30 on lunch but if that saves you on your work performance, then why not?

Tom: That could lead to a raise or a bigger raise. Maybe even a bonus. That’s not saying that buying lunch is going to get you that outcome.

Sarah: I wish, right?

Tom: Yeah. My thought was that it’s employee morale and even productivity. Back to your comment about sleeping, one issue I’ve had for a few years now is not sleeping enough. My average night is probably six hours. I’ve been getting better with nearly seven hours but I probably need about eight hours so I’m working toward that. But for the longest time I was almost getting well known for working nonstop. I’ve got a day job. I’ve got the blog. And I would put in a lot of hours. I’d still spend my time with my family. That was still the priority. But ultimately, outside of when I get home from my day job they’re only awake for a few hours so when they’d go to bed I would go back to work. I’ve been cutting back on some of the time I’m spending in the evening to get more sleep. I’m not there yet. I’m sure more nights are six hours and they are seven hours.

Sarah: I totally understand. I was at that point too. Two or three years ago when my son was first born I was nursing, my business was still a side-hustle, I was teaching full-time so we didn’t have family time. Of course, my husband helped with the childcare but it was one of the things where I was doing it all too and it got to the point where I just did not give myself time. It’s funny… We had a nanny because we don’t use sitters. At one point my nanny said, “You look tired. Take a nap.” It was funny because I think it was something like 4:30 in the afternoon. She actually made me take a half-hour nap before she left for her evening job. I could not believe what a difference that made. That’s when I realized I just needed to stop.  Yes, sometimes it’s great to keep hustling and making money. If you’re making all this money then spending it all on self-care but you’re still exhausted, is it worth it? Luckily, it was just a temporary thing (for me). I ended up leaving my teaching job and now I’m doing this full-time. But gosh, if I kept doing this I don’t even want to imagine what I would be like now.

Tom: So instead of self-care you just become this jumbled mess trying to do so many things—

Sarah: Yes. Exactly.

Tom: I think you’ve found that more so than I have, but I’m trying to get there. So, simplifying things can help, right?

Sarah: Yes, exactly. My schedule is still pretty full. I’m a parent. Let’s be honest, I’ve pared down a lot of things. I’ve actually put it in my Asignit which is project management software (for those who don’t know what that is). I actually schedule in self-care. I think I’ve color-coded it to show a “self-care day.” For example, half a day on Friday, it doesn’t matter what I do but it has to just be for me. So tomorrow is my self-care, half-day and I’m going to IKEA which is my happy place. It sounds really silly but I just like going to see the displays at IKEA. I’m going to thoroughly enjoy it and I’m going to feel thoroughly refreshed for the days ahead.

Tom: Nice. Do schedule at some of the simpler things like going for a walk? Are you going to that level of detail?

Sarah: I probably will if I start not doing it.

Tom: Going for a walk is an interesting one because it’s something I was thinking of starting but I have yet to do it. Does this idea of simplifying a bit to get to what seems to be a better form of self-care, does minimalism come into this at all? Even before we were on the show we were talking about your move and I admitted that two years later I still have boxes full of stuff in the garage that I haven’t opened in two years. Sometimes I feel weighed down by that stuff. I don’t know if you have that same situation or not but can simplifying in that way help as well?

Sarah: I think so. Maybe you should take a look and see how much you’re actually spending time cleaning or thinking about buying something or thinking about replacing something. Let’s say your cars. Maybe you don’t really drive one but you’re spending time cleaning and sometimes running the engine. If you got rid of that car then you free up that time and the mental energy into something else. I remember we had a storage unit (because we lived overseas in China for a few years) and I remember opening the storage unit thinking, “I don’t remember buying any of this stuff.” If it was that useful, why was it in a storage unit? I actually got rid of 90 percent of my things at that point. It was so interesting. So, if you think about moving, the equivalent of a small moving truck would be something like $50 so I just saved myself $50 and that’s not including gas or insurance anything like that, just by getting rid of the things I don’t use anyways. And now I don’t have to think about cleaning it. I don’t have to buy the cleaning supplies for it. I don’t have to buy boxes to organize it. All of that adds up. Yeah, minimalism can save you money. I think you just have to be very mindful in terms of what it is you’re going to get rid and what you want to keep—anything like that.

Tom: That’s been a big part of the problem for me. Well, not so much with what I want to keep. I know what I want to get rid of but I’m cheap enough that I don’t want to just get rid of it because some stuff has value. Then it becomes the whole hassle of how I’m going to sell the stuff. I’m going to have to list all these items and deal with people coming to the door and everything.

Sarah: Yeah, I know. That’s another thing too because something that is of value to you, you’re maybe only going to sell for $5 or $10 to somebody else so is it worth spending that time to sell something that’s $10? The things I did end up selling were more collectible items. I think I made a few hundred bucks off of that which is great. But things like clothes—I had a few kind of books here and there that I just donated to local Goodwill because I wondered if it was really worth it to put up on eBay or Poshmark. I don’t know if you guys have that in Canada?

Tom: I’m not sure if we do or not.

Sarah: It’s like a consignment website. So, is it worth it to put it up on those kind of websites to make a few bucks off of? But I will say this, whenever you do self-care or minimalism, just start really small. All of the things I do now really started with that 15 minute walk. Then I thought, “Can I do this for three weeks?” And when I was able to do that I wondered what else I could do to schedule in that half-day. Oh, my gosh… I felt so guilty the first time I did it. But I think I’ve been doing it consistently for maybe two months now and I’m wondering why I didn’t do this sooner. It’s really about getting over the guilt of giving yourself permission to give yourself time to relax and recharge.

Tom: Well great. We’ve got to get running. Thanks very much for joining the show.

Sarah: Yes, thank you.

Thanks again to Sarah for joining me. To find out more about Sarah go to; highfivingdollars.com and also check out the Beyond The Dollar podcast. You can connect with her on Twitter @sarahlicain. You can also find show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/sarahlicain. If you’re a new listener, head over to maplemoney.com/itunes to subscribe so you won’t miss any episodes. If you have a minute leave a review. Let me know what you think about the show.

'Self-care is about respecting yourself and what it is that you want and value, and taking action towards it.' - Sarah Li Cain, on her definition of self-care.Click to Tweet

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