Why joy should be a category in your annual budget

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Think about your annual budget. What comes to mind? You’ve probably gone through the endless Rolodex of essentials: mortgage, utilities, groceries, insurance, student loans, kids’ expenses, etc., etc. You can also budget for savings and emergency funds if you can afford it.

But when was the last time you included “joy” in your monthly budget plans? I’m not talking about a hundred or two spare to go shopping for someone else. I mean pure, unfiltered, all for you joy. Sounds frivolous? According to experts, this is actually crucial.

From financial coaches to mental health counselors, the consensus is clear. Budgeting for joy in your 40s and beyond is absolutely essential — here’s why.

1. It normalizes well-being

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“We grew up with this ‘women are expected to do everything’ mentality,” says Jen Lawrence, certified life coach and financial analyst. Most of us were so busy juggling parenthood, work, and volunteering that we had little time, money, or energy to do what we loved.

“Women in their 50s and beyond often feel drained of energy and financially as they balance the complex needs of their young adult children and aging parents,” she continues. “Marriages and jobs may not bring you the same joy as they once did. If you don’t create joy in your life, you can go days, weeks, or months without doing anything you love.

“Quarantine and beyond is a chance to make joy a part of our lives. Happy people are healthy people, and budgeting for joy is as important to our health as budgeting for healthy eating, doctor appointments, and gym memberships. By including things in our budgets that make us happy, we normalize the importance of feeling good.

2. It builds much-needed resilience

Silhouette of woman raising her fist in the air
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Joy budgeting also helps us during times when we feel decidedly not good. Rachel Cavallaro, a licensed psychologist, explains that this is because joy is a building block of resilience. “As we get older, we will experience more loss related to death and transitions.”

“It can create feelings of loneliness and sadness, which are not helpful for mental well-being. In fact, it’s how many people develop depression or anxiety. Creating positive emotional experiences related to joy can improve mental well-being and reduce stress.

“Working to reduce symptoms related to anxiety and depression can make life feel like it’s just getting by,” Cavallaro continues. “On the other hand, by creating rewarding and meaningful experiences, you can go from surviving to thriving.”

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3. It reminds us to value ourselves and others

Group of women laughing
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While budgeting for personal joy may seem selfish at first, it’s actually incredibly caring for others. “Joy is contagious, and it will be shared,” says Robin Shear, public speaker and joy coach. “Anytime we have joy in our buckets, we have something to give, which makes prioritizing joy a very generous thing.”

In addition, he opposes the societal devaluation of older women. “Older women have a lot to offer, but they often struggle to come to terms with the idea that they are worth less than their younger counterparts,” Monica Minermental health counselor, explains.

“Many older women feel undervalued because society doesn’t see them as capable of doing what a younger woman can do,” Miner continues. Of course, that’s inherently wrong, and including joy in your budget reaffirms that fact.

4. It keeps things interesting (and healthy)

Silhouette of woman doing tai chi
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Finally, budgeting joy keeps life fun. It can be all too easy to fall into a routine of “work, chores, errands, mindless scrolling or streaming, and repeating.” While it can be relatively productive, it is also monotonous and not conducive to maintaining mental and physical health during and after quarantine.

“Participating in fun activities, as well as learning something new, can help you feel better physically and mentally. Continuous learning helps improve memory and offset dementia,” says Cavallaro.

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Find your version of joy

Examples of physical investments that bring joy include yoga, tai chi, or dance classes. Taking an art class, learning a new language, traveling, learning to play an instrument, and participating in immersive learning experiences are also viable options.

But really, the best way to budget for joy is to figure out what makes you feel warmest and fuzziest on the inside. Shear asks a few questions to determine what makes your heart bubble with joy.

“Is it relationships with people she cares about? Budgeting a few bucks to take a loved one out for ice cream and a good chat is a fantastic money move. Additionally, “does she find joy in the way the movement makes her feel?” Does she find joy in generosity? It’s a fun idea to have a donation fund ready and ready to tap into when ideas spring up.

Whatever joy looks like to you, it’s imperative that you include it in your budget. It may not be as tangible as the electric bill, but it’s what will keep your interior light on and that’s probably the most important thing.

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