After all the hand-washing, it’s time to treat yourself.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused millions of Americans to need to self-isolate, practice social distancing and shelter in place. These uncertain times are causing major stress and anxiety for most people, even if they’re physically healthy and at low risk for coronavirus complications.
If your job was impacted by coronavirus and you’re newly out of work, or if you’re adjusting to working from home for the first time, it can be disorienting to suddenly spend so much time at home by yourself or closely surrounded by family members whose schedules and energy are different from your own. Especially if you’re an extrovert who usually has a busy social calendar, being forced to stay home for weeks at a time can be harmful to your mental health and well-being.
Along with protecting your finances during the coronavirus crisis, it’s important to protect your peace of mind and find ways to relax, unwind and have fun. Along with covering the essentials like rent and groceries, make a plan to give yourself permission to splurge on a few special categories of spending to help soothe your nerves.
Here are seven ideas for how to spend your money wisely during the COVID-19 crisis—without damaging your family budget—by investing in self-care, stress reduction and a few healthy indulgences.
1. Order Restaurant Meals
Live in one of the places that have ordered all restaurants and bars to shut down their dining rooms? Then you know going out to eat has taken on a whole new meaning. Fortunately, many of America’s restaurants are still open for business, but most are restricted to offering carryout, delivery or curbside pickup.
Many people may find that—despite being furloughed from work—the stress of following all the news about the coronavirus crisis has left them feeling too tired to cook, or in need of a break from that routine. So why not let someone else do the cooking for you?
Spending money at local restaurants is an ideal way to support your local economy and help keep small businesses alive during this difficult economic time; it also helps shorten the lines at grocery stores. Takeout, delivery, curbside pickup: You still have many good options to spend money wisely at restaurants.
2. Get Faster Internet or Upgrade Your Phone
Being “stuck” at home is reminding many people that having fast, reliable internet connectivity has become a fundamental requirement. During times of social distancing and sheltering in place, we may need to stay in contact with friends and family, collaborate with work colleagues, order food and essential household items, and keep binge-watching our favorite Netflix shows, all at the same time.
So don’t settle for slow, choppy internet service. Check with your internet service provider and see if it’s possible to upgrade to a faster service, such as fiber optic or high-speed cable. While some internet providers are scaling back the number of internet service technicians who are still on the job, some service upgrades can be handled online via your ISP’s website.
Are you in the market for a new phone? This could be the ideal time to upgrade. Even if your mobile phone company’s retail stores are closed due to the coronavirus, you may be able to get your new-phone shopping done entirely from home.
This also may be the right time to invest in a better data plan for your phone. If you’re getting hit with data overage charges, or if you want a better family plan with unlimited data, contact your carrier (online will be faster than calling for now) to find a plan that better fits your needs.
3. Learn Some New Skills
While you’re at home, there are many great opportunities to use online learning to improve your skills. Yoga studios and fitness gyms are offering remote classes, many for free. Music and dance teachers are teaching lessons online. Why not use this time to learn a new language, learn to code, learn new cooking skills or find a new hobby?
Especially if you’re out of work or your work hours have been reduced, it can be great for your mental health to give yourself new goals to work toward. It’s also a chance to catch up on all that work-related learning that’s typically so hard to find the time to do. Or perhaps it’s time to upgrade your personal website or social media presence for whatever changes the after-coronavirus time will bring.
In addition to supporting your physical and mental health, participating in a group fitness class or other online instruction also can provide you with a sense of structure and help you feel a spirit of community.
4. Add Videoconferencing or Streaming
Zoom has become synonymous with this social distancing time we’re in. For those workers who are suddenly on full-time WFH, Zoom is a lifeline to colleagues and projects. People also are using Zoom and other videoconferencing tools to host virtual happy hours with friends, put on virtual living room concerts and stay in touch with older relatives without being physically present in the same location.
Zoom’s free personal plan may meet your needs: You can host unlimited meetings, but those meetings cannot last longer than 40 minutes. If you would like the ability to host a more extensive, longer-lasting gathering of your family and friends, go ahead and splurge on the $14.99 per month Pro plan. (Or you may already have access to a Zoom plan through work.)
The coronavirus pandemic and its shelter in place orders are helping Netflix traffic reach all-time highs. Never before have so many Americans watched so many different forms of TV. If you find that you’re binge-watching more than you used to in the pre-pandemic era, this might be a good occasion to spend money on some additional streaming services or on an HD upgrade. Check out this budget-friendly guide to streaming services to see how you can save money when signing up.
5. Support Music and Art
Spend a bit of your self-care money on music, art and culture. Splurge on a paid subscription to Spotify or Apple Music. If you like vinyl records, order some online from a favorite record shop. Buy some prints from a favorite photographer.
Do you have friends who are musicians who are hosting live streaming shows to replace gigs that have been canceled? Send them some money, buy their album, buy a T-shirt. Is your favorite museum or theater closed to the public for now because of the pandemic? Send them a donation, buy some gift certificates for future shows or buy an annual membership.
Even if you can’t show up in person, keep showing support for the people and organizations that create the art and culture that you love.
6. Pamper Yourself
To cope with stressful times, it helps to have some pampering. Most barber shops, spas and salons are closed, but you can still enjoy the sense of relaxation and self-care that you would normally get from a massage, a haircut or a spa day.
You could pamper yourself at home by:
- Experimenting with a new hair color with an at-home dye kit
- Trying some new makeup, skin care treatments or other personal care products and applying them yourself at home
- Getting a new electric toothbrush to help your teeth feel like you just got out of the dentist’s chair
- Taking a relaxing spa-style bath in your own home, complete with candles and lighting
- Getting some sparkling wine and fancy chocolates, then having a relaxing dessert with your spouse or roommate
Indulgence doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Give yourself permission to unwind, use your imagination and enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures.
7. Plan That Delayed-for-Now Vacation
So much of the global travel industry has shut down because of the coronavirus, but this strange moment of global immobilization is a good opportunity to think about your next vacation. Does this sound crazy? After all, we don’t know how long the pandemic will last or when it may even be possible to travel freely again.
But what if planning a vacation could help reduce your stress? Studies have shown that when people have a vacation to look forward to, the mere act of anticipating that future vacation can help people feel happier about life.
Spend some time during these homebound days thinking about where you would like to go next once this crisis is over. Whether it’s a glamorous resort in another country, or a quiet bed and breakfast in a nearby town, take some time to research your options, consider some costs, put down a refundable deposit on a hotel or vacation resort, and visualize yourself in a happy future.
Take Good Care
Every item on this list can help you take good care of yourself and others while you’re sheltering in place—without breaking the bank—during a time that otherwise may feel stressful and exhausting. And self-care isn’t selfish: It’s smart to eat as well as you can during a time of crisis and it feels good to support your local restaurants.
At a time when you have to be careful with your money, there still are affordable indulgences to enjoy. If there is one lesson for how to spend money more smartly, it is this: Experiences often make us happier than things. Keep buying quality time and keep building happy memories.