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Should I get my hair colored or send the kids to college?

Barber washing hair to her client

My husband (aka resident comedian) jokes that I’m at my favorite hair salon so often I should have my own private entrance. Haha, funny man! It’s true that I get my hair colored frequently enough that I can easily keep up with the very active love life of my 20-something colorist. While all of this time spent in the salon is good for my highlights, it can be tough on the budget.

The cost of getting my hair colored is less of a stretch for us at this point in our lives, but there were a lot of years when coloring my hair at a salon was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Nor did I get manicures, pedicures, waxing, or have anything other than drugstore-brand skin care products in my makeup bag.

It’s certainly possible to go overboard with high end products and services, but the cost of even basic “self-maintenance” can be prohibitive for many of us.

For all of those years – decades in our case – while we were raising young children, I kept an iron grip on our budget. I had Excel spreadsheets, stacks of paper bills and mounds of receipts that I entered by hand as I pored over our account balances in Quicken. When bills came in I would jimmy the budget in various categories, taking money from, say, the grocery budget, if our heating bill came in especially high one month. To say that I had a lot of anxiety about our financial situation would be an understatement.

When I was in my early 20s – first in college, and soon after a young workingwoman supporting her law student husband – I had a modest “self-care” budget. But like many of us, when I became a parent my focus switched from self-care, to the care of others. Three more children and the requisite trappings of family life, and we were living pretty close to the edge, month after month. Soon, there was no wiggle room, and certainly no room for indulgences.

As the margin in our budget for non-essentials went down, my weight went up. In an effort to save money, I cut my self-care expenditures to the bone. I got haircuts at a beauty school and bought boxed hair color (on sale, with a coupon, of course). Over time, not only did I lower my budget line-item for self-care, but I lowered my own expectations that I deserved to care for myself.

Now clearly, making sacrifices for our families is not a bad thing. And we’re not talking about a significant sacrifice on my part; it’s not like I went hungry so that my kids could eat. But there’s something insidious about sublimating our own desires over a long period of time. Eventually we forget what they are.

It may not seem like hair color has anything to do with healthy living, but when I set out on my journey to lose weight, one of the things I did was to rearrange our budget so that I could enjoy some of those self-care indulgences again. Small pleasures – getting my nails done, buying wonderful smelling moisturizer, and yes, having my hair colored by someone who knows what they’re doing (ask me how many times I accidentally dyed mine raspberry) – make me feel pampered and cared for.

Those little luxuries make me feel like my happiness matters.

Because it does, of course.

My happiness matters enough that now I get a line-item in our family budget. The dollar amount isn’t a lot, but I’ve come to realize, it’s important enough that I no longer push it aside.

Losing 120 lbs. – and more importantly, finding happiness – has touched every part of my life. Acknowledging the value of meeting my own needs, even in something as seemingly trivial as these small self-care indulgences, means that I don’t turn to food as my soul means of gratification anymore.

For me, this simple change has been hugely helpful.

So the kids will still get to go to college. The bank isn’t broken. But neither is my sense of self-worth anymore. I get to feel like I matter now. Because I do.

Know what else? So do you.

feel special


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