The other day, I asked a few women in my life about how they spend their money when they’re feeling low on self-esteem. I’ve certainly spent more money than I’ve needed to when I was feeling particularly low, and it’s never a decision I’m happy about later. Some things that cost money can truly help you feel better about yourself, but more often than not, spending that stems from a lack of confidence or feelings of insecurity can do more harm than good. (Especially if your splurges are mostly Lindt truffles, and you end up with a bag of empty wrappers after about two hours. Just me?)
For me, building confidence is an ongoing practice; I do have to invest in myself, but I can’t afford to constantly be spending money I don’t have on things that will supposedly make me a better “me.” Investing in yourself isn’t just financial — it means investing time and energy where you need it most. That’s why I’ve decided to put together this list of the things that make me feel tons better about myself, without costing me anything. I’ve narrowed them down into a few categories of happiness (which I may have sort of stolen from this delightful little book): relationships and family, work and career, helping others, mental health, and physical wellness. A lot of the things I mention — like really leaning in to a good hug, for instance — seem obvious, but personally, they’re the kind of small things I forget to do all too often.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if you have any tips to add, let me know! (And all of this comes with the caveat that some things, like your phone and internet service, you are technically paying for — but since you’re already technically paying for those services, I’m counting the activities as “free” anyway.)
Relationships and Family
1. Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while, just to let them know you are thinking of them. Tell them something you love about them
2. Open a Google Doc. Pick a loved one and start writing them a letter. Write down things you appreciate about them. Come back to it every once in a while when you think of something new, and when you fill up the page, copy it onto paper or print it out, and mail it to them.
3. Start reading a book or watching a show that a person you love has been recommending to you. Tell them you’re doing so, so you can start having a conversation about it. Their excitement at you reading or watching something they love will be contagious.
4. Go through your emails and/or letters, and find something nice someone has written you. It could be something from your mom, a friend, or a partner — whoever. Read it a few times, and really soak in the details.
5. Meet up with your significant other or a close friend, and give them a giant hug. Keep hugging them until you feel better. Know they’re glad to be hugging you, too.
Work and Career
6. Revisit some old work that you’re proud of. Re-read an article you wrote, or look back at a sales email that won you a new client, or even just read your professor’s notes on an essay you got an “A” on back in college.
7. Email a former boss or colleague, just to see how they’re doing, and mention something you genuinely liked and miss about working with them.
8. Set a timer, and knock out a bunch of emails you’ve been putting off. You’ll feel so much better once you get them over with.
9. Review some resources you depended on early in your career — perhaps notes left over from a college class, or slides from a webinar. Feel great about how much more you know now.
10. Open up LinkedIn. Update your profile with something you’ve accomplished recently. Endorse a friend for a few skills, and they’ll likely return the favor.
11. Look up an organization you’ve been thinking of volunteering with, and sign up to get involved, or add yourself to the email list.
12. Do a household chore even though it’s not “your turn.”
13. Offer to do something for a friend, like giving them feedback on their resume or a website they’re building.
14. Give someone you admire a compliment, whether in real life or on social media. Send a nice email to someone you’re a fan of or leave a positive iTunes review for a podcaster you really like.
15. Offer to make coffee for someone at the office who seems extra busy today.
16. Read a few more news articles than normal so you can feel more informed about what’s going on in the world.
17. Hold the door open for more people than you actually need to.
18. Pull up your budget spreadsheet or Mint profile. Find something positive to focus on, whether that’s a higher credit score than last quarter or staying under budget in a specific category this month.
19. Share something good that’s happened to you recently with others, whether that be texting someone in particular, or putting it out into the ether via a tweet.
20. Pay a bill earlier than the due date just because you can.
21. Download a free meditation app, and try out a few exercises. Decide whether or not it’s for you.
22. Walk to your nearest library. Apply for a card if you don’t have one. Browse through the book selection with no agenda, and check something out — maybe something uplifting and inspiring, or maybe even your favorite steamy page-turner from when you were a teenager.
23. Put on headphones and play the silliest, most upbeat pop song that you love on repeat for as long as you damn well want to.
24. Unfriend (or hide) someone on Facebook whose presence there is only toxic to you.
25. Stretch. Do a series of stretches, and do the same ones tomorrow, and the next day, etc. Be amazed at how much deeper you’ll be able to stretch in just one week.
26. If you’re at home, do a ten-minute YouTube workout video. If you’re at work, do some squats and stretches in the bathroom, or some mini-exercises at your desk.
27. Decide to walk home from work. If you drive and it’s too far, decide you’re going to take a walk as soon as you get home. Don’t let yourself plop on the couch first — just drop your bag off and turn right back out the door.
28. Grab your favorite snack you have in your fridge at the moment, and eat it alone, super slowly.
29. Watch a YouTube hair tutorial and keep practicing it in the mirror until you master it. Wear it out, even if you’re just going to buy groceries. (Dirty hair and/or dry shampoo is your friend.)
30. Test out different combinations of lipstick you already own until you find an awesome combination.
31. Put together a new outfit from the clothes already in your closet. Put it on and go outside.
Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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