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If there’s one topic I wish people talked about more in the personal finance world, it’s mental health.
The two are deeply connected. Our mental health can greatly impact our financial lives, and vice-versa. On top of that, getting what we need to take care of our mental health usually costs money. Adequate mental health care isn’t financially accessible for everyone. Even people who can afford it need to work it into their budget, and possibly make sacrifices elsewhere, to stay financially secure.
After losing income in the months following the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve decided to keep my spending to a minimum for the rest of the year. This will help me rebuild my emergency fund and stash away some extra money in case my income takes another hit.
Despite cutting back on my overall spending, I’m actually increasing my spending on my own mental health. I’ve decided to budget for therapy this year — here’s why, and how.
Why I’m budgeting in therapy even though I want to keep my spending low
I’ve been to therapy off and on throughout a lot of my adult life, and it’s easily one of the best tools for stabilizing and improving my mental health. In fact, I recommend therapy to everyone I know, regardless of whether or not they’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness.
This year hasn’t been great for my mental health — and I’m sure many can relate to that. It’s important for me to keep my spending low this year, but it’s even more important for me to take care of myself. Therapy is crucial in that regard, so, I’m finding ways to fit it into my budget without increasing my spending too much by making some sacrifices and taking advantage of affordable therapy options.
Whenever I think to myself, “I can’t afford to go to therapy,” a clever voice in my head responds, “You can’t afford to not go to therapy.” Mental illness and financial problems go hand-in-hand. I know that, personally, when my mental health declines, my finances do too. I get less work done, so I make less money. On top of that, I lose motivation, so I’m more likely to give up on financial goals and spend money impulsively to try and make myself feel better.
Being in a good headspace, on the other hand, means I’m more productive — and as someone who is self-employed, this productivity directly impacts my income. In that sense, therapy is an investment in my own mental health that pays off in the long run.
That being said, I see taking care of myself as a non-negotiable, and not just because it helps me be productive or make money. Even if I didn’t think going to therapy would pay off in a financial sense, it will still be worth it, because I take my own health and well-being seriously.
First, I had to figure out how much therapy would cost
It’s important to me that adding in the cost of therapy doesn’t completely throw off my budget, especially because money troubles produce stress, which exacerbates mental health issues.
The first step for me is figuring out how much therapy will cost. In the past, I’ve used a therapy app called BetterHelp that offers the option of chat, phone, and video call sessions. Not only was the virtual component necessary for me, because I was living abroad, but this service was also more affordable than traditional therapy. However, now that I’m back in the US, I want to find a local therapist.
For traditional therapy, a 45-minute therapy session normally runs anywhere from $75 to $200, and that’s excluding major cities like New York and Los Angeles. On the high end, that’s $800 per month for weekly sessions, which is more than my rent. Even the low end — $300 per month — would put a strain on my current budget, although it would be doable.
Luckily, a lot of therapists offer “sliding-scale” pricing, meaning the price they charge is based on your income level. Therapy database GoodTherapy.com let me filter to therapists who offer this sliding-scale pricing, so it was easy to find someone affordable in my area. There’s also Open Path Collective, which is a nonprofit network of therapists that offer steeply discounted sessions for people in need.
I plan to have sessions every other week rather than every week. I’m looking for additional support but don’t feel the need to go every week at this moment, and going less frequently will cut down the monthly cost. By taking advantage of sliding-scale pricing and going less often, I should be able to get my monthly therapy cost down to $200.
Fitting therapy into my budget
Once I had a cost estimate, I went through my budget and monthly spending to see where I could cut down.
My biggest cost in the past few months, which should come as no surprise to anyone else who’s been staying home thanks to COVID-19, has been food delivery services. My Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card gets me free delivery on DashPass, so it could be worse, but I can still easily make more room in my budget by cutting down on food delivery. I’m setting a limit for myself — I’m allowed to order delivery twice per week.
My other weakness while stuck at home has been online shopping. To curb the habit and divert some of that money toward therapy, I’m setting up “savings buckets” in my savings account for anything I want to buy that costs more than $20 or so. For example, I currently have a savings bucket for roller skates.
My money goes toward my other financial priorities first, which include therapy as well as rebuilding my emergency fund and saving for retirement. If I have anything leftover, I can put it toward those savings buckets. I’m only allowed to purchase those items when I’ve saved up the money for them.
While impulse purchases are fun for a moment, spending my money on therapy makes me happier in the long run.