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How I Treat Myself (Well) On a Dime

One of the biggest financial challenges any budget can face is a reduction in income. Last year, as a result of a mass layoff, my income was severely and unexpectedly reduced. I had to make immediate changes in my lifestyle to avoid draining my beloved savings.

Getting clear about what I really like to do made the process much easier. I realized that doing what I love the most - learning, creativity, social connection, self care - is not necessarily expensive. Here are some of the cheapest and best ways I’ve cared for, entertained, and treated muhself, on what I like to think of as not a tight, but rather an “intentional" budget.

Sheet Mask



I hate spending money on cosmetic stuff, but I worry about how my skin is changing over time. When I saw that these sheet masks were only $1.50 I got stars in my eyes. I also saw the possibility of chemical burns. These things are surprisingly effective. I use the gooey little sheets about once a week after showering and it's making my skin and pores very happy.

Botanical Gardens

Golden Gate Park


This is one of my favorite spots in San Francisco. Not only is it a great place for Forest Bathing (which is a real, true thing) but it’s free for SF residents. There are so many incredible hidden ponds, vistas, and walkways that it feels like you’ve completely left the city. Call it a staycation.

Even if you don’t live in SF, most every city has some kind of public park or walking path to help you to get your Walden on.

Rather get your freebies/cheapies indoors? Try donation-based art galleries. I recently spent a day eating Mooncakes and touring galleries in Chinatown. For SF locals I recommend checking out the Chinese Culture Center and 41 Ross.

Calvin Klein Pillows


$8 each

It's much easier to skip fun/expensive outings when you've got something enticing at home. Two of these fluffy puppies were enough to make me want to get, and stay, horizontal. Honestly, for about a week after I bought them all I wanted to do was read in bed. Very good for the budget!

Pro Tip: I’m not one to endorse big box stores but Ross is a great place to find brand name stuff on the cheap.

Used Hardback Book

Dog Eared Books


I’ve mentioned this in the blog before, but the only time discounts are really a good deal is when you were already planning to purchase the item anyway. I’d been wanting my own copy of this book for a while. So when I spotted my discounted Amazonian heroine, I pounced. The bonus - having a good book makes taking the bus (instead of Lyft), or staying in, that much more enjoyable.

Since then I began regularly perusing the sale section in bookstores- I don’t always buy, but I enjoy it as a fun and free activity.

Want literature on the super cheap? Ain’t nothing wrong with libraries. Lots of libraries, including SF Public, now offer eBooks too.

Hair Cut and Style

Cowboys & Angels Salon


I have been cutting and coloring *what, it’s not natural?!* my own hair for over 15 years. When it comes to this cosmetic expense I’m even more particular than I am cheap. So when the opportunity presented itself to get an actually affordable cut, I raised an interested eyebrow. The cost was lower because I went to an apprentice stylist who needed a “model” fitting my hair description.

I thought I was ride or die DIY but I like the new do, and it’s feels good to not be self conscious that my hair looks whack from the back.

Want your own bargain cuts, color, or styling? Call up your local salon or beauty school to get set up with one of their apprentices or students.

Closeout Records


.50c EACH

Hunting the discount record bin was not only one of the best dates I’ve ever been on, but probably the cheapest. My date and I spent an hour or two leafing through albums, laughing at cover art, celebrating good finds, and then cute-fighting over who got to keep what. And at the end of the date we got to listen and dance. I walked away with 12 records for a total of $6.

Spending money on discounted books, movies and music can be a really smart way to leverage a tight budget. No matter how broke you are, you have a basic human need for entertainment. Paying for Netflix or music gives you a means of chilling out so that you don’t become completely exhausted and stressed out. One of the most important lessons I've learned as a financial counselor and consultant is that stressed out people make bad decisions. Moral of the story: even if you're broke it's important to TREAT YOSELF!

Are you struggling to make your budget work?

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