Cost-of-living guilt: Spending money on yourself when you don’t have much

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Whether it’s getting a manicure, going to a yoga class, a fishing trip, drinks with mates or a streaming subscription — sometimes the things that make us happy cost money.

But for many Australians struggling with the cost of living, more and more expenses are becoming luxuries.

So when is spending a little on ourselves worth it, and how can we look after our wellbeing if there is no “me time” money to begin with?

For Brisbane woman Eleanor Smith — who lives on “a pay cheque for two days, fumes for 12” — that question is such a hard one to answer.

“I feel so guilty about doing something that isn’t directly related to either improving my situation, or something that’s not food, an electricity bill or rent,” she said.

Eleanor is on the disability support pension. She’s a practised budgeter.

But affording rent and food is a struggle. There’s no money anymore for simple things she loves, like her favourite craft magazine.

She hasn’t finished the last stages of a root canal because “in a way, it’s also a luxury”.

But recently, she decided to get a haircut when it felt heavy, causing discomfort by flaring up her psoriasis.

So, she hopped on a bus, went to her beloved hairdresser and treated herself.

“I just feel so much better seeing my hairdresser.”

But guilt and anxiety about the expense almost tainted the experience.

She walked home, to save $3.

“There’s so much stuff I can’t do or don’t think it’s worth the anxiety that it gives me,” she said.

Every dollar is precious and agonised over for many struggling in this cost-of-living crisis.

From his position on the other side of the fence, Mackay-based hairdresser Michael West says he hears from people in similar positions to Eleanor.

“People have slowly just started transitioning into low-maintenance hair colours, pushing their haircuts out for longer [time between] appointments, that sort of stuff,” he said.

“We’ve even had clients come in, who will get their colour put on but then leave the salon with their colour so that all they have to do is pay for the colour, not the blow-dry or haircut service as well.”

And sure, going without these items isn’t the biggest problem facing Australians struggling with the cost of living.

It’s not Eleanor Smith’s biggest problem either but she says that doesn’t mean it’s a superficial or trivial concern.

She says having to sacrifice the little things can make a big difference — especially when these issues are long-term and not going to pass.

“It makes you want to retreat further and the isolation is really difficult.

“I don’t have a social life because I can’t afford one.”

Hairdresser Michael says he sees daily the difference a little “me time” can make.

“It’s not even just getting the hair done — it’s stepping away and being able to vent about problems to a hairdresser as well.

“Hair can be an entire identity for some people.”

His client in the chair chimes in at that.

“Mine is,” she agreed.

Shalana Shaw-Murphy, 25, saved up for months to afford the visit.

“Having coloured hair makes me feel more me.”

Young people’s wellbeing at lowest point on record

A team of researchers who conduct a survey every year called the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index offer some insight into how the cost of living is impacting Australians’ sense of wellbeing.

Lead researcher Kate Lycett from Deakin University says 2,000 people have been surveyed each year since 2001.

Their data, released in May, reflects responses collected about this time last year.

“For satisfaction with life as a whole, it had dropped to the lowest score that we’ve ever seen on record,” she said.

The research also asks people about seven factors to assess wellbeing: standard of living, relationships, purpose in life, community connectedness, safety, health and future security.

And the resulting wellbeing score for 18-25 year olds?

Again, the lowest on record.

Kate says for people on lower incomes, money definitely impacts wellbeing, but sometimes the most meaningful boosts can be free — like time with a friend — rather than consuming a product.

“Wellbeing is such a buzzword now, it’s so marketed.”

Fun, pleasure, play — and guilt

So why does an outing or treat make us feel better sometimes?

Financial therapist Jane Monica-Jones says it comes down to “play”, which is a key part of building resilience.

“The more I can play, the more I have a bit of decompression and stress relief, my resilience can bounce back and deal with what’s happening,” she said.

“So what we need to look at is low- or no-cost ways to do play.”

Jane said this can include turning to nature and socialising without spending as much.

“Pleasure is such a complicated thing, that somehow we’ve got to get all the ducks in a row before I can even have some fun.

“But it’s important for self-care, in a way.”

(Original ABC Article)