Katie Dalebout’s Pivot: Is Self-Care Draining Your Bank Account?

Transitions are universal and inevitable, regardless of age we’re constantly evolving. And while change can, at times, feel messy and uncomfortable, it’s through these metamorphosis that we learn success. All of my greatest lessons have come as a result of a pivot after a failure; pivotal movements that have made fertile ground for growth. Through the exploration of these transitions and changes it is my hope that fullest readers will feel less alone in knowing that others are going through the same trials and celebrations. As I move through my Saturn return and the tail end of my 20’s I find myself mining for life’s gems and sharing the lessons I’ve learned (and still continue to learn) through personal essays, lists, and interviews.

Enjoy my monthly column, Pivot for the fullest.

I felt a brassy taste in my mouth but was unconcerned as I lay on the warm table with mantra music playing around me.

“You might have a slight metallic taste or see flashing lights… but just relax,” my esthetician warned me at my first microcurrent facial session.

Microcurrent facials — or ‘natural face lifts’ — have been said to reduce redness and puffiness (and apparently make your mouth feel kind of weird). I didn’t care about the side effects though. This was far from the most bizarre sentence I’ve heard from a wellness practitioner.

As I lay there I pondered on all the other strange sentences I’ve heard from healers and practitioners in the last several years.

“I’m going to feel around with gloves in your vagina,” said my vagina proctor.

“You will be releasing a lot of emotion in your bile,” said my colonic practitioner.

“Do you want me to tell you about your birthmarks? They’re how you died in your past life,” said my shaman.

Typically, people in their late 20’s might reflect on the strange beds they’ve slept in, but I tend to ponder the strange tables I’ve laid on with heating pads, needles stuck in me, and essential oils diffusing throughout the room. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on healers and workshops all in the name of “bettering myself.”

The decade of my 20’s had become a meandering holistic spiritual quest. I’m not exactly sure what I’d been searching for or if I’d found it — but what I know for sure is that it cost me a lot of time and money.

One may not think a 20-something from the midwest would be the typical character to dive into healing arts, holistic wellness, and spiritual evolution with such fervor… yet it became my hobby and identity.

This level of propensity towards self-care seems more fitting for a middle-aged divorcee, living somewhere like Sedona. This type of woman would probably have more time and disposable income to indulge in as many wellness hobbies as she’d like. Plus, an older woman would have had the opportunity to experience life before she detoxed it all. So why was I — 21 and inexperienced — so attracted to self-help and wellness? What did I have to heal?

Maybe I should ask my psychic, or therapist, or shaman first — but here’s my own unauthorized analyzation…

My foray into all things wellness might have been my good-girl form of rebellion. My midwestern family owned and operated three locations of a popular fast food chain and I’d never even heard of kale or set foot in a health food store until I was in college. The novelty of all things wellness and witchy invigorated me and differentiated me from the clan. While my peers experimented with drugs and alcohol, I got high on the rigidity of my candida cleanse.

Both were fleeting highs but my pursuit was more expensive, time consuming, and perhaps more damaging mentally, long term. My obsession with wellness led to disordered eating, social isolation, and an empty bank account.

I wouldn’t bat an eye at a 20 dollar smoothie, had a pantry full of expensive superfoods and herbs, and asked for a Vitamix for my college graduation gift. If Carrie Bradshaw had her money hanging in her closet, mine was in my kitchen.

I wondered if I’d missed out on living by trying to prevent dying?

This obsession expanded out of food and into an array of holistic habits. By the end of my 20’s I’d been to sweat lodges, dream-decoding workshops, shamans, acupuncturists, medicine dances, sex coaches, a vaginapractor, feng shui consultants, reiki healers, hypnotherapists, nutritionists, psychics, human design readers, astrologers, holistic facials, sensory deprivation tanks, salt caves, and so many more.  

I hadn’t yet eaten french fries at midnight, had casual sex, backpacked throughout Europe, or experimented with drugs. I realized it wasn’t that I was trying to be the healthiest, I just wanted anything to fill the gaping hole of emptiness within me — and it was a lot more controlled to hire yet another coach or purchase yet another healing session than it was to make friends, date, and/or combat my loneliness the old fashioned (much less expensive) way.

As I inched closer to 30, I reflected on what I had missed out in my rigidity and discipline. I suddenly found just as much healing from a night out with a good friend, traveling, and falling in love as I did a yoga class or a weekend retreat.

While my specific obsession might have come out of my rebellion of my upbringing, my situation is not unique — wellness is having a cultural moment. There’s a vast portion of my generation, who, like me, spend more money on speciality adaptogenic tonics than the cosmopolitans and manhattans of the Sex in the City era. The trendiness of self-help teachers making it ‘cool’ to be sober, grow your own food, and get 10 hours of sleep a night have caused many of my peers to lean into wellness and self-care with fervor.

When I texted a random sample of my friends about their weirdest self-care spend, I felt less alone in my frivolous new age spending. For Phoebe it was a pet psychic; for Guiliana it was paying for a monthly sauna membership where she watches Ted Talks on repeat; for Karolina it was a workshop on visualizing your hands as crystals; and for Sara it was a trip to Bali for a theta healing session and a $500 water filter.

But does investing in our wellness make us more stressed about money in the long run? Is our pursuit of wellness causing us financial stress that all the meditations and superfoods we’re paying for will have to subsequently heal us from?

We can’t control when we die and we can’t control if we sprain an ankle in an expensive exercise class… but the illusion of control is addictive.

When I moved to New York City, I left my Vitamix in Michigan. I decided I’d focus more on living life rather than preventing dying. I drank alcohol just as much as green juice, I ate out more than I meal-prepped in, and I experimented with dairy like my peers had with hard drugs. Eventually though, the allure of trendy wellness obsession pulled me back in. Soon I was paying $20 for that green smoothie again and trying every expensive fitness class and wellness workshop the city had to offer. I’d relapsed back into the wellness culture strong-hold that overtook my college experience.

It wasn’t until I looked at my bank account that I realized I might want to diversify my interests. Did I really need the celery juices or had it become mindless routine? I walked around the city like I was Daddy Warbucks trying every wellness concept no matter how trendy or strange. But as I examined my finances for tax season, I was appalled at how much money I had actually spent on things and experiences that didn’t deliver on their promise of healing and stress-relief… or that were even fun. This money could have been spent on travel, a night out making memories, or better yet, collecting interest in a savings account.

According to financial advisor and educator Berna Anat, I’m not the only millennial overspending on self-care. It’s common for the millennials she works with because of self-care’s cultural trendiness in today’s world. Many of her clients go to sound baths more often than they check their bank accounts — making them unaware of their spending habits or future savings.

“I tell my audience, I’m not here to shame you for dropping money on therapeutic soundbaths,” she says. “I want to help you organize your money so that you know exactly how much you can spend on soundbaths — after the anxiety-inducing essentials are covered.”

According to Anat, not understanding your basic financial situation causes a constant, low-boil stress. “People think that exploring their terrible money habits and facing how little money or how much debt they have will make them more stressed, but from my experience, the opposite happens: You become empowered by awareness, no matter how bleak, and it gives you a place to move forward from,” she explains. “It’s the not-knowing, the guessing, the staying-in-the-dark about our money that truly wrecks our mental health.”

Money was my great eye-opener of how I wanted to spend my time and invest my resources — and what, exactly, that meant giving up. Organizing my financial life was the catalyst that showed me where I wanted to shift my life as a whole. It showed me what I had valued and what I had ignored.

Looking under the hood of my financial life and getting organized turned out to be the most transformative self-care trick I’ve ever tried. That’s the beauty of self-care, there’s a million ways to do it and most of the reliable ones are free. There’s nothing trendy about: sleep, hydration, connection, and creativity — but these four will solve most of your problems.

Tossing money at my existential wounds is much more alluring than facing them, but once I faced my money I couldn’t ignore my spending. Now every time I’m about to purchase something for my self-care, I first ask myself the following: Am I tired, dehydrated, lonely, or creatively blocked? If the answer to any of these is yes I wait on the purchase until I have time to work on my free self-care.

Katie Dalebout is a writer, host, and the founder of Let [a podcast] Out, a workshop that helps people DIY podcast. Since 2013, she has interviewed over 250 people on her long-form interview show, Let It Out. Her first book, Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling is a collection of personal essays and journaling prompts and was published in 2016. She now writes about her feelings in her monthly Let It Out Letter. Katie, those feelings, and all of her plants live together in Manhattan.

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