How Do I Budget for Wellness When I’m Trying to Cut Back on Everything?

Here's how to save money in Canada while keeping up with your feel-good goals.

Taking care of our health and well-being is important. But the cost of a gym membership or meditation app subscription probably feels expendable when a regular trip to the grocery store is getting more and more expensive. Rising prices, the skyrocketing cost of living and a crisis in affordability for just about everything mean we’re all making difficult choices about how to spend our money.

When you’re stressed and anxious about the prospect of a recession, prioritizing wellness is actually prudent, as long as you’re able to recognize what a necessary wellness investment means for you. “Remember greenwashing? Well, everything now is wellness-washed,” says Janet Gray, a certified financial planner and long-time coach at Money Coaches Canada. “You do this for your wellness, you do that for your wellness. But wait, what really is your wellness?” She has a point—it can be hard to disentangle what’s vital to your health and happiness from clever product marketing, or a need to keep up with your Peloton-owning peers or favourite social media stars. Do that, though, and Gray believes it is possible to balance financial, physical and emotional wellness all at once.

First, understand what financial wellness means

There’s no getting around the fact that financial wellness is having more cash coming in than what you’re spending. It’s incredibly hard, but it’s liberating. “Because then you have options available to you,” says Gray. “That might include additional savings, or not creating additional debt. And that’s life affirming, really. It leads you to achieving your goals, to freedom from toxic interest rates, and it creates less panic, less stress, which ultimately links to your mental and physical well-being, too.”

Then, prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

That’s the key to any type of financial plan. To start, look at what resources you currently have, what expenses are fixed and what your goals are. “Map it out,” says Gray. Literally: pull out a piece of paper or fire up a simple spreadsheet and list your current incomes and all the things you have to pay out: rent, mortgage, strata fees, car insurance, groceries, bills, loan payments, everything. And then, include a line item called wellness. Allow yourself the flexibility to spend it however best suits your needs at that time, but make it a fixed expense. “For me, it’s my yoga class,” says Gray. “That’s non-negotiable.” For you, it could be going out to have coffee twice a week with a friend, or a monthly check-in with a therapist, or getting the newspaper delivered in the morning. You might feel like these are luxuries that should be trimmed from your budget in recessionary times, but sometimes a little goes a long way. “If you’ve got one little spark of light in your week or your month, then it’s worth it,” she says.

Look (again) at your resources

What benefits are available through your employer, and do they offer a health spending account or some money tied to a wellness program? Chiropractors, podiatrists and physiotherapist visits might be reimbursable, depending on your benefits plan. “So many people don’t take advantage of that,” says Gray. “Yes, it’ll still cost money. But wow, if for every $60 massage I might get $45 back…who doesn’t want a $15 massage?” You could also use it to supplement your gym membership or help purchase a bike, or to pay for a fitness app, she adds. A lot of group plans also have an employee assistance program (EAP) that provides free, short-term mental health counselling, and an opportunity to test out whether therapy is right for you.

Dial in to the freebies, or near-freebie

Group exercise classes in community settings are often gratis or deeply discounted. In the warmer months, many communities host yoga in the park. In larger office buildings or business parks, landlords sometimes offer cheap lunchtime workout classes in common areas. If you’re working from home, employers may offer free online meditation classes or guided stretch breaks on Zoom. Look for second-hand fitness equipment selling for a deep discount on sites like Kijiji. And Gray also recommends looking into your community resource centre. Many offer counselling services, resources and support for mental health, employment, healthy eating and more.

Find that happy money

We all need to feel at certain points that our money is bringing us happiness. And sometimes physical and mental health investments are a slow build. That’s what makes retail therapy so powerful, says Gray. You get the dopamine hit when you make an impulse purchase, and it’s pretty unrealistic to think we can, or should, eliminate that spending entirely. So instead, plan for it. “Consider a line item called happy money, and it’s there to be spent or not. Don’t deny yourself the resources,” says Gray. “Acknowledge it and limit it so it becomes spending on a meaningful level rather than just impulsive.”

Next: How Important Is It to Buy *Only* Organic Foods?

Originally Published in Best Health Canada