Here’s how to build a self-care routine on a food stamp budget

Self-care often becomes our last concern when we encounter problems with money —it gets pushed to the bottoms of our lists. We can feel like other things are so much more important, or that self-care is superficial and selfish when we’re struggling. But sometimes, that’s when self-care is the most important. Self-care is far from selfish.

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Growing up with abuse, financial struggles, and unemployment as a first generation queer college student, I’ve been on and off both SNAP and WIC. I’ve struggled on my own for long enough to establish a self-care routine on a food stamp budget — and it’s time I share!

Although a large part of this self-care routine is skincare, it is not entirely material in requirement; so I’ll start off with the simple, non-material things.

Have a “space” and take time.

Have a space that’s only yours. A space where you can go when you need it. Take the time for yourself because you deserve it.

It may not seem like much, but even small acts of relaxation and alone-time give you a clearer head to handle the future.

Go out.

If you’re a social person, but find yourself afraid to say yes to social events because of money, guilt, or other personal reasons; go out once in awhile.

Head out to that movie you’ve been dying to see, grab dinner out with friends, or take a night out on the town — surrounding yourself with people who make you happy will really pay off.

Know you do deserve it all.

It can be hard to see oneself as “deserving” of self-care when other people depend on you, or you think other things take precedence over your physical and mental health. Something I’m learning is that it’s harmful to be the martyr. Realize you deserve it. Know you do.

Now, building a routine. This will differ by budget, person, and skin type — but it’s possible.

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I’ll give some product recommendations for the face, hair, and body, but I’ll keep it pretty simple. Know that everyone’s situation is different and it’s possible to create a routine that works for you on any budget.

Disclaimer: products linked online may differ in price from products in store.

The most important part of this all is the necessity to stick to a routine. Consistency keeps the skin balanced, and repurchasing the same products at the prices makes budgeting and finding deals easier.

1. The Face

If nothing else, cleanse your face every day. Cleansing is important to remove toxins and re-balance the pH levels of your skin. Two extremely important (but technically optional) steps are to moisturize and use sunscreen.

A budget hack is to seek out 2-in-1 products: like this moisturizer with SPF protection from Simple or this one from Purpose. For cleansers, I’ve found generic cleansers to be cheaper and better for you than expensive Cetaphil cleansers. Be sure to look for alternatives that are paraben-, sulfate- and other-bad-things-free.

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Bar soaps, like Yardley almond and Neutrogena, are also a great option, especially those that keep your skin moisturized and healthy. Micellar water can be great as well, as this is a mild surfactant which doubles as cleansers and makeup removers. My cleanser of choice right now is by Dr. Bronner, and this stuff will last forever. Also a multipurpose cleanser, liquid soap can be used for your face, body, hair and even around the house.

A pro-tip: you can make your own face masks from things you probably already have around the house for much less than stores are charging. Ingredients like oatmeal, avocado, egg whites, and honey all have great properties for your skin.

2. The Body

Dr. Teal’s can be your best friend. From bath salts (“superficial” self care) to body washes and lotions, they can be found in almost any store and have the whole range. While you should always read the ingredients and test products for potential allergic reactions before using, the best products have  enough integrity so that you don’t have to worry about what your body’s absorbing.

Yardley bar soaps are a wonderful weapon here as well — and always take advantage of dollar stores!

And always remember to release your stress, take naps or rest, and give your body a break. Taking care of your body is as important as your mind!

3. The Hair

Try to wash your hair two to three times a week. It can be better for your hair (and the environment) and makes your products last longer! Our body produces more oils to compensate for all the natural oils we wash away, so your hair and body will adapt and thank you for easing back on the showers.

Classic Suave Ocean Breeze shampoo and conditioner is my no. 1 recommendation here because of how much product you get for the price.

If your hair is thinner or short, try a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner! If your hair is thick, curly and / or textured, Mane N’ Tail and Cantu products can be hair (and budget) savers.

No matter what you use on your face or what kind of card you use to shop, the bottom line is that your wellbeing matters. It’s easy to put ourselves last and forget self-care because of the rush of our lives and the culture social media has created. But it’s important and possible to keep yourself healthy, cared for, and even pampered no matter your situation.


All love, all the time, Han 🍒