13 Cheap Self Care Ideas for Anyone on a Budget

Self care can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of cheap self care ideas that you can use to restore and refresh. Here are some of the best options for anyone on a budget!

A letterboard that says self care isn't selfish.

1. Take a walk outside.

Taking a walk outside is one of the most cost-effective and beneficial forms of self care. Not only is it completely free (aside from a pair of sneakers that can last you quite a while), but it has massive benefits for your health.

For example, research has shown that walking outside in nature may improve Vitamin D status, improve mood, and increase the release of BDNF in the brain which is key for brain health. Plus, we’ve known for a long time that walking is good cardiovascular exercise.

You can walk in different places and see what you like best – some people may enjoy a walk through their city center with lots of people watching, while others may prefer a quiet trail surrounded by trees.

You can also try walking during different times throughout the day and see how the light changes the landscape around you. You may even discover hidden gems along your route!

2. Read a book

Reading books is an excellent way to engage your mind and practice cheap self care. Whether you veer towards lighthearted fiction, historical non-fiction, self-help and motivation, or something in between – any type of reading is valuable.

It can improve focus and concentration by exercising your brain, increase vocabulary and comprehension skills, provide insight into different cultures and points of view, and even reduce stress levels!

You can save money on books by utilizing your local library. (PS – not only can you borrow books for free, but libraries also have a multitude of other services, like discounted museum passes, DVDs to rent, and educational events).

If you prefer having some books on hand for longer than the library allows, you can buy used books at thrift stores like Savers or Goodwill. You’ll save money and it reduces the strain on our environment as fewer resources are consumed in the production of new books.

3. Practice yoga.

Yoga is great for strengthening and stretching the body, as well as promoting relaxation. It’s an ancient practice that has been used for centuries. And it can be done on any budget!

For free options, look for online tutorials on YouTube. I’m a huge fan of the Yoga with Adriene channel on YouTube, which features tons of free videos. Many are perfect for beginners.

You can also find inexpensive online studios that offer live or on-demand yoga classes from the comfort of your home. Or, look into local in-person studios and see if they offer “community classes” or first-time student deals. This can be a great cost-effective way to practice in a live class.

A woman doing yoga on a mat in her living room as a form of cheap self care.

Listen to your favorite podcast.

Listening to a podcast can be a great way to relax and unwind after a long day. With thousands of free podcasts available on almost any subject you can think of, it’s easy to find one that speaks to your interests.

Love learning about online business? Oooh goodness, you can find hundreds of great podcasts! Enjoy hearing about nutrition advice? Lots of options. Enjoy getting caught up in a murder mystery? Yes, there’s podcasts for that too!

You can listen to a podcast while you’re taking a walk outside, commuting to your job, cooking dinner, or doing laundry or other household chores. It’s a great way to make another task more enjoyable.

Start a gratitude journal.

Sometimes we forget to take a moment and appreciate the good things in our lives. Starting a gratitude journal can be an easy way to shift your perspective. It’s a great cheap self care idea!

Each day – morning, afternoon, or night, whatever works for you! – write down three things you are grateful for. They can be big things (like your relationship with your family) or small things (how darn good your cold brew was this morning). Don’t judge what you write down, just let it flow freely.

The important part is simply taking time to pause, reflect on what’s going right, and express your appreciation for it. Doing this regularly can help cultivate feelings of contentment in your life and lead to long-term happiness.

Give yourself an at-home pedicure.

Give yourself a little pampering without the expensive spa prices! Fun fact – when my kiddo was younger, this was actually one of our favorite things to do together at home when we were bored. (Now he’s eight and too cool for mom, haha).

Start by soaking your feet in warm water for about 10 minutes. I like to add some Epsom salts and a few drops of essential oil to the water, which make for a true sensory experience. But if you don’t have those on hand, plain ‘ol warm water will do just fine!

If needed, you can use a pumice stone for foot maintenance, buffing away rough areas, and then clip and/or file your nails. Take a few minutes to apply a nourishing moisturizer or foot cream (whatever you have on hand!).

Top it all off with a fresh coat of nail polish in your favorite color. Doing this every few weeks can be a great cheap self care activity that keeps your tootsies looking and feeling fabulous.

PS – If you do want to buy a few items to have in an at-home pedicure kit, like some new nail polish or a foot cream, check out the Dollar Tree. They have a lot of options there for just $1.25!

Ask a friend to meet up.

We’re often so busy these days, from work to family obligations, that it can be hard to find time to catch up with a friend. But having social connections can be an important part of maintaining mental health and well-being. Try to make plans to meet up with your friend and fill that relationship bucket.

This doesn’t have to be an expensive outing. You could invite a friend to your house to enjoy a cup of coffee or a beer together. You could plan to take a walk in the park or at the local track. Or you could meet up for free days at a local museum or art gallery.

I once heard on a podcast that it takes at least seven minutes of uninterrupted chatting before you get to deep conversation with someone. I have no idea if this is scientific or accurate, but it’s made me more conscious about continuing past the fluff (“I’m so glad it’s warm out today”) and getting to true talk about things in our lives.

Low angle view of two friend's legs walking together in a park.

Cook something delicious.

Cooking can be a great way to relax and get creative in the kitchen. And who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked cookies or homemade lasagna?

You can take this tip as you wish. Cooking something delicious might be a decadent dessert or treat, or might be something nutritious that supports your fitness goals. It could be an in-depth recipe that you usually don’t have time for, or it might be a 10-minute recipe because you want something simple. (If you’re on a tight budget, you can also focus on recipes that incorporate mostly cheap foods.)

Take your time going through the process. As you chop vegetables, knead dough, or stir sauces on the stovetop, let yourself get lost in the process — it’s a sensory experience with the touch, taste, smells, and sounds.

Try an inexpensive hobby.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a hobby when money is tight. But there are plenty of hobbies that don’t require any major expenses or commitments — you just have to get a little creative!

Here are some inexpensive ideas you could try:

  • Grab a sketchbook (Dollar Tree sells some!) and practice drawing or painting. You can find a lot of directed activities on YouTube if you need some initial guidance.
  • Start a garden. Gardening is helps reduce stress, is good physical activity, and rewards you with tangible food after a couple months. (This can be expensive but there are definitely ways to start a garden on a budget).
  • Play board games with your spouse, friends, or kids. You can find great second-hand options at thrift stores like Savers for $2 to $4.
  • See if there is a hobby that can actually make you some extra money – for example, creating your own jewelry or flipping garage sale finds.
  • Get great at baking sourdough bread! I feel like this was a hobby everyone turned to in 2020, myself included. It’s inexpensive and fun to play around with different ratios of ingredients.
  • Learn how to take better photos using your phone or whatever camera you already have on hand.
  • Teach yourself how to knit or crochet. You can grab a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn for under $15, and watch YouTube tutorials. Who knows, maybe you’ll even start your own crochet business some day!
  • Start couponing! This is a fun hobby for me; I love the thrill of the deal. Just be sure not to buy things you won’t actually use, even if they’re cheap.

Choose a hobby that brings joy and a sense of accomplishment!

Watch or listen to stand-up comedy.

You’ve probably heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”, and that can definitely hold true! If you find yourself in a bit of a funk, try listening or watching to stand up comedy to cheer yourself up.

When I go for a long run, I actually love listening to stand up comedy. It takes away from the monotony of lots of miles and always makes me giggle a few times.

You can find stand-up options to watch on Netflix or YouTube, or listen to streaming versions on whatever audio platform you use (I use Napster – yes, Napster is still a thing – and can always find a ton on there).

Also be sure to see if there are any cheap live shows in your area that you can get out to in person. For example, a brewery near us hosts live comedy nights for free, and all it costs is the one beer my husband and I purchase – so only about $15 for a date night.

A woman laughing listening to stand up comedy via headphones for self care.

Try a new fitness activity.

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, improve sleep quality, improve cardiovascular health…you name it! Trying a new fitness activity helps you step outside your comfort zone while simultaneously helping you stay active.

Here are some inexpensive ideas:

  • Join a free local running group. For example, two local breweries near us offer run clubs each week for free!
  • Try a new fitness class at a gym that you already belong to.
  • Browse Groupon to see if there are any good deals on new fitness classes.
  • See what studios offer deals – many might have a “first class free” for new students, or may offer unlimited classes for one month if you’re new to the studio.
  • Look into adult recreational sports teams in your area.
  • In the warmer months, try swimming at a local pond or community pool.
  • Browse free online workout videos on YouTube – you can find tons of new things to try!

Volunteer for a local organization.

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community while boosting your own mental health. Research has shown that those who volunteer have better psychological well being and may even have better physical health – in fact, one study found a reduced risk of high blood pressure with volunteering!

Take some time to research local organizations that align with your passions and interests, then call or email them to find out what type of volunteer opportunities are available.

Love animals? Maybe you volunteer at a shelter or offer to foster dogs. Have a passion for education? Perhaps you’ll volunteer to tutor students in low-income areas. Want to support seniors? Maybe you’ll help cook food at a community meal program.

Whatever you enjoy, you can be sure to find some type of volunteer opportunity that helps bring more purpose and satisfaction to your life. Plus, not only will you be helping those in need, but you’ll also be connecting with other like-minded volunteers to develop meaningful social connections.

Declutter your house or apartment.

This might sound like the furthest thing from self care, but hear us out. Cleaning and decluttering can be an incredibly therapeutic activity with benefits for weeks.

Did you know that frequently seeing clutter and disorganization may actually increase anxiety levels and prevent you from thinking clearly? Research has shown that it can even affect your stress hormones, increasing levels of cortisol, as well as affecting your mood!

When you clean out excess stuff, you’ll thus help your brain and body feel calmer each time you’re in that space. It’s one of the easiest ways to practice self-care without spending any money!

Try starting with one group of things (like clothes) or one room (like the kitchen) at a time. Either approach can work depending on the person.

If you come across items that you never use, that are broken, or that you’ve been meaning to try to sell – it’s time to get rid of them. If you really think something has value to sell, put it on Facebook Marketplace or Poshmark or Ebay, but give yourself a firm timeline. If it doesn’t sell in X days, it gets brought to a donation center.

(It’s really easy to end up with tons of stuff with the intent of selling it, and ending up with piles that never get taken care of. Selling your stuff can be great for earning extra cash, but it’s important to take action on it!)

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, remember that self-care isn’t just about indulging in luxurious spa treatments or expensive trips — it’s about taking the time to nurture your mind, body, and soul. And you don’t have to break the bank for it either! With these inexpensive activities, you can practice self-care without spending a fortune.

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