The notion of self-care has been making the rounds in lifestyle magazines and across social media networks – and a similar philosophy seems to be making its way into financial planning sessions and personal finance advice now, too. Financial self-care, like general self-care, can mean different things to different people. But the gist is about taking the time to focus on your finances and figure out how your money best fits into your life.
"Just like it's important for our overall health to tend to our physical, emotional and social needs, our finances need attention and care, too," says Megan Ford, a financial therapist at the University of Georgia and former president of the Financial Therapy Association, a professional trade group for this emerging field of finance. "Financial self-care is both about behaving with and experiencing money in a more optimal and fulfilling way."
That doesn't just mean spending money on what makes you happy today. It means building a financial plan that can help you achieve the life you want. "Financial self-care is a practice that needs to be crafted around principles of balance, sustainability and empowerment," says Jennifer Navarro-Marroquin, a licensed financial professional and founder of Claiming Prosperity, a financial education and counseling organization in San Francisco. "The practice you create ultimately needs to move you toward your defined money goals while at the same time cultivating an overall good feeling about your money."
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Unfortunately, many Americans do not view money positively. On the contrary, 62 percent count it as a source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association's 2017 Stress in America Survey , the second most common stressor behind only "the future of our nation." So one important step in practicing financial self-care is to work on changing that way of thinking and "reframe a negative thought into a positive thought," says Reeta Wolfsohn, president of the Center for Financial Social Work, based in Asheville, North Carolina. "A lot of people get stuck because they've made really poor financial decisions. We work on forgiveness and seeing that they're deserving of better."
Of course, that's easier said than done, and there's no quick way to change your mindset. You simply need to spend some time thinking about your attitudes toward money. "Engage in some self-reflection about why you might behave in certain ways with your money," Ford says. "Exploring your past experiences offers a chance to become more in tune with your present."
[Read: Don't Let Money Worries Shorten Your Life .]
Talking it out might help, whether it's with a financial professional or just trusted friends and family. Doing so can help you feel more comfortable with your money. Plus, you might learn that plenty of people are going through the same thing you are. "It can be reassuring to know we aren't the only ones feeling stressed, concerned or confused with money issues," Ford says.
Beyond thinking and talking, you also need to take action. Set some financial goals and priorities – both for the short term and long term. The more detailed you can be in defining these, the better. "Financial goals are extremely important to clarify and establish. They will be the dictator of upcoming money decisions, are great motivators and help in your ability to stay on track with your financial self-care practice," Navarro-Marroquin says. "Make sure that the goals you set have an established timeline and end date, as well as a dollar amount associated with them."
You also need to review your current spending habits and make sure they align with your goals and priorities. "If there is a misalignment, which there often is, make a shift to bring your spending and saving more in sync with your goals," Ford says.
Basically, you need a budget . The word itself might bring you back to those negative money thoughts, but don't think of a budget as a restrictive force on your finances. Consider it more like a game plan that you're creating to make sure you achieve your goals and can afford your desired lifestyle.
And of course, financial self-care is an ongoing process. Just like going on a crash diet doesn't really work to achieve a sustainable level of health and wellness, you can't expect to find a quick and easy fix for your finances. "Financial self-care is a lifestyle change," Navarro-Marroquin says. "It means putting more thought behind every purchase and looking at the big picture instead of making moment-to-moment decisions when it comes to your money."
[See: 8 Times to Talk to a Financial Advisor .]
The good news is the more you work on it, the easier it becomes. Like exercising, it can be hard to get started, but once you get a routine going, it becomes a part of your life. So you should get started as soon as possible. "Don't wait to start taking steps," Ford says. "It's easy to find ourselves avoiding our finances, but waiting to confront money issues doesn't make things any better."
Indeed, you want to deal with your financial situation head-on rather than let it run amok and cause you stress. "Until you take control of money, you can never take control of your life," Wolfsohn says.