A 'care budget' will help you support yourself and others without being overwhelmed


CNBC Make It is posting a new financial task to tackle each day for a month. These are all meant to be simple, time-sensitive activities to take your mind off of the news for a moment and, hopefully, put you on sturdier financial footing. This is day 15 of 30.

There is no shortage of people and organizations in need right now. You may have friends out of work, know a family member who is struggling with medical bills or want to contribute to one of the countless GoFundMe campaigns set up by strangers to pay their rent. But helping others in the midst of a pandemic can be overwhelming, especially if you are ignoring your own needs in the process.

Yesterday, CNBC Make It encouraged you to donate a portion of your coronavirus stimulus check, if you can afford to do so. Today, take some time to create a more comprehensive "care budget" to manage your well-being while also helping others.

Created by Rachel Miller, deputy editor of Vice Life, a care budget is "a way to think about where your most valuable resources — your time, money, and energy — are going each week." It's a recognition that you can't help everyone and contribute to every cause while still caring for yourself; you have to be honest about how much you actually have to give others. In practice, it will help you determine how much of your money and your time you can give to others right now. 

The care budget isn't literal, Miller writes. It's not simply a new line item in Mint or a breakdown of what percentage of your money goes where. Rather, the idea is to "establish a flexible, sustainable framework that lets you show up for yourself and others on a big-picture, in-this-for-the-long-haul level." You're budgeting time, money and emotional bandwidth.

Here are three steps to take to create your care budget.

1. Prioritize your mental health

The first step is to consider what you, personally, need to get by day to day, literally and emotionally. That includes how many meals you need to eat, how much sleep you need, the activities that bring you joy each day and the people you need to talk to. Write all of these non-negotiables down in a Google doc or money journal. Then prioritize these things, because if you're not helping yourself deal with the stress and anxiety of the current moment, you won't be able to help others. 

It's especially important to make time for things that make you happy right now, like meditating, going for a daily walk or rewatching your favorite TV shows, mental health experts say. These activities are important because they help your brain "function in a more healthy way," Lauren Murray, a clinical psychologist and associate scientist at Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health in the Department of Mental Health and International Health, told CNBC Make It

Whatever your non-negotiables are, they can help you form a sort of schedule for yourself, which can have a calming effect, "especially when it feels as though a lot of things are changing around you, or that a lot of things are altering quickly," Joshua Morganstein, Chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters told CNBC Make It. Stick to this schedule as best you can. 

2. Acknowledge that you can't do everything

Once you have a handle on what your own needs are, you can start thinking of ways to help others. Write down the three to five people who you are closest to and who you absolutely need to show up for in difficult times, Miller suggests. This could be your partner, child, grandmother, parents, best friend, etc. Think about the people who depend on you, but also who nourish you.

"When we're supporting others, it gives us a sense of purpose," said Morganstein.

Then, consider which of your deeply held values are most important to you. A few questions to consider: If you could only donate money to a charity tackling a single issue, what would that issue be? What about the current situation is most distressing to you? Is it an issue you could actually do something about, such as medical professionals not having proper protective equipment? Or families not being able to afford food? Write those things down. 

Remember, you cannot help everyone who needs it. There are a lot of people hurting right now, and you are one person with limited financial and emotional resources. But your lists will clarify which people and organizations to prioritize in the coming weeks. 

3. Take practical steps

Now, consider what you can actually do to help if the people on your lists need it. These should be basic, practical things. If you still have a job and are financially sound, perhaps you can donate $50 to a few organizations or to a loved one who needs help every week or month. If you are a skilled worker, think about donating your time to someone in need every few weeks.

Make sure that you are not intruding on your non-negotiables from Step One — if you don't have extra money this month, don't go into debt to help others. If you feel stress and anxiety building, do something for your mental health before donating your time to someone else.

You are operating in a different world than you were even three months ago — what you can actually do now is different than what you could do then. Keep that in mind when crafting your care budget, and read Miller's article in full. Make adjustments as needed, and remember to be kind to yourself.

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How a 31-year-old making $118,000 in Philadelphia spends his money
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