In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Self-care is not an optional expense

I’ve spent thousands of dollars I hadn’t planned to spend this calendar year.

I’ve broken out the credit card for several mastermind groups, purchased nutritional supplements, gotten extra massages, booked more travel, and begrudgingly bought shoes faster than I would like.

Why? Well, I’m starting to better recognize when not paying for something actually costs more than the sticker price.

It’s very much in my nature to lean toward the cheaper side of things. I hate paying more for something if I think I can get by without it. I really try to flex the “Do I really need that?” muscle first, and then the “Can I do it cheaper” muscle second. It serves me well from a retail perspective most of the time.

What I’m realizing though is there are non-monetary costs to my decisions, too.

For instance, I used to get massages about 4-6 times a year. They’re expensive, after all, and while I enjoy them do I really need them?

Then my left shoulder started locking up, unable to move fully. I resisted doing much more than using a home massager and some topical muscle relaxer. This went on for a few months. Sometimes it got a little better, sometimes worse.

Finally, I broke down and went for a massage. As luck would have it, I ended up in the very capable hands of a masseur who had experience with sports medicine and was able in one hour to free up not only the left shoulder, but the right one as well.

For months, I avoided paying $75 by trying to fix the problem myself. I also had to make sure to put on my coat left arm first, be careful when lifting things a certain way, and suffer through uncomfortable nights.

I paid a much higher price than I thought I was saving.

How much is a better life worth?

In February, I joined The Dad Edge Alliance, a mastermind group of men looking to improve their lives and relationships. Men who are successful; men who are struggling. Men in amazing marriages; men in crumbling ones. Men making epic memories with their kids; men who feel like they barely know what to do with them.

Being part of that community has been so enlightening because not only do I get to see the the vastness of human experience as told first-hand by those living it, I also get to see the power of community and knowledge and positivity. I get to see how families are transformed, sometimes in just a few months, because a man has chosen to put in the time and money to make him a better person for his loved ones.

The monthly cost of admission to that group is about the same as a tank of gas for a big truck. On the surface it seems like an unnecessary expense. Why would you pay monthly just to talk to a bunch of guys online?

The thing is, what you’re paying for is the quality of people you get to interact with in the group.

But what I’ve seen over and over is how people are able to create a very different life simply because they have access to the Alliance. They learn how to better connect with their partners, how to better handle their children, how to make positive changes to their finances and health and businesses. They get accountability partners. They get a safe place to lay bare their most difficult situations knowing not only are they not going to be judged, they’re going to get advice and support from people who have walked the same path.

How do you put a price on the value of that kind of experience?

Still being frugal while taking care of yourself

There may be no shortage of things you can consider “self-care,” and the price can add up.

I’ve started to move some things out of other expense categories in my mind and into the “self-care” category.

Shoes, for instance.

I hate buying shoes. My M.O. forever has been to buy the most inexpensive shoes I can find that suit my (admittedly hopeless) fashion sense. My rule used to be to get shoes for $20 or less.

Maybe it was the ravages of inflation, the declining quality of materials, or the fact that when you get over 30 years old your body doesn’t put up with the same crap it used to without a fight, but I started having more heel, ankle and hip pain.

My wife convinced me, kicking and screaming, to not only start buying shoes that cost three times what I used to spend, but to also replace them every 6-8 months instead of 8-10 months.

If I look at that as a clothing expense, I’ll get hives or something. If I look at it as a self-care expense, I recognize that it’s more about taking care of my body, reducing pain, giving me more energy — all that stuff that doesn’t show up on a receipt but comes along with the package just the same.

But I still make a bee line to the clearance rack when I walk into the shoe store. If there’s something there that fits the bill and is $15 cheaper than whatever else is on the floor, I’m good. I’ll go to the sales where you buy one and get one at half off and pick up two of the same pair of shoes. I’ll wait for a good coupon or sign up for the store’s app to save even more.

I mean, c’mon, I want better shoes, not more expensive ones.

Spending a little more on my health

Last month, I signed up for an eight-week health and fitness mastermind through The Driven Dad. As part of the program, I bought a bunch of supplements and things recommended for my specific situation. They’re intended to improve gut health, not get me swole, and I dropped almost $200 on this stuff based on Adrian Chavez’s recommendation.

Adrian has a PhD in nutrition and hosts the excellent Your Nutrition Prescription podcast. He specializes in healing the gut microbiome, and he bases all of his advice on medical research. I could have found less expensive supplements, but Adrian isn’t making any money off the ones he directed me to. He sent me there because they’re what he has determined to be the most effective and appropriate supplements on the market.

This is a self-care cost. I’m spending a little extra money than I would on my own because improving my health and feeling better is worth far more than saving $20 or $40 on a couple bottles of supplements.

In fact, I just ordered daily multivitamins on Adrian’s recommendation that are 25 times more expensive than the ones I can get in a bucket at Costco. I can’t say I’m happy about it, but I recognize money is only part of the value analysis in this case, and it’s not even the most important part.

Price is what you pay; value is what you get

One of the oft-cited quotes from investor Warren Buffet is “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”

He’s referring to prudent business analysis when determining whether a stock price is undervalued, overvalued, or properly valued. Indeed, it’s key to his investing model to find companies whose value exceeds their stock price.

But it applies elsewhere, too. It’s the core of frugal decision-making. Frugality is not about getting the cheapest thing you can; it’s about finding the best value for your dollar.

There is value in peace of mind, safety, ease of use, self-esteem, saving time, feeling better, reducing waste. These are all things for which price can’t account. They’re also of differing importance to different people in different situations. Those aspects become part of our own personal finance equations.

Maybe you’re looking at home decor, furniture, a new-to-you car, a major appliance, a home remodeling project. Whatever it is, there’s more to your purchase than cost. There’s a well-being aspect to it, too.

When we see decisions through a narrow lens like price, we aren’t taking in the whole picture.

I find myself having to look beyond the sticker a lot more these days, and I think I’m better for it.



  1. Trevor

    Excellent post (my favorite so far) and I agree whole heartedly. I think when viewing this through the lens of FIRE, what good is going through the effort if your health is so crappy that you can’t enjoy life and the fruits of your hard work?

    • I Dream of FIRE

      Thanks, Trevor. I agree enjoying the journey is as important as reaching the goal. Overcoming my sometimes overly frugal default setting takes some effort (I say as I have an Amazon window open to buy new shoes …).

  2. Downunder Dad

    Very cool read, looking into joining the Dad Edge Alliance myself, might see you around 🙂

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