Think of your annual budget. What comes to mind? You likely went through the neverending Rolodex of essentials: mortgage, utilities, groceries, insurance, student loans, kids’ expenses, etc., etc. You might also budget for savings and emergency funds if it’s within your means.
But when’s the last time you included “joy” in your monthly budget plans? I’m not talking about a spare hundred or two to go shopping for someone else. I mean pure, unfiltered, all-for-you joy. Sound frivolous? According to the experts, it’s actually crucial.
From financial coaches to mental health counselors, the consensus is clear. Budgeting for joy in midlife and beyond is absolutely essential—here’s why.
1. It Normalizes Feeling Good
“We grew up with that ‘women are expected to do it all mentality,’” says Jen Lawrence, certified master life coach and financial analyst. Most of us were so busy juggling parenting, working, and volunteering that we had little time, money, or energy to do what we loved.”
“Women in their 50s and beyond often feel financially and energetically squeezed as they balance the complex needs of their young adult children and elderly parents,” she continues. “Marriages and jobs may not bring you the same joy they once did. If you do not build joy into your life, you can go for days, weeks, or months without doing anything that you love.”
“Midlife 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 for our health as budgeting for healthy food, medical appointments, and gym memberships. By including things that make us happy in our budgets, we are normalizing the importance of feeling good.”
2. It Builds Much-Needed Resiliency
Budgeting for joy also helps us during times that feel decidedly not good. Rachel Cavallaro, licensed psychologist, explains that this is because joy is a building block for resilience. “As we get older, we will experience more losses related to death and transitions.”
“This can create feelings of loneliness and sadness, which are not helpful for mental well-being. In fact, this is how many people go on to develop depression or anxiety. Creating positive emotional experiences related to joy can enhance mental well-being and reduce stress.”
“Working to reduce symptoms related to anxiety and depression can make life feel as though you are 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
While budgeting for personal joy might seem selfish at first, it’s actually incredibly thoughtful of others. “Joy is contagious, and it will be shared,” says Robin Shear, public speaker and joy coach. “Whenever we have joy in our buckets, we have something to give from, making the prioritization of joy a very giving thing.”
Moreover, it pushes back against the societal devaluation of older women. “Older women have a lot to offer, but they often struggle with the idea that they are worth less than their younger counterparts,” Monica Miner, mental 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, this is inherently false, and including joy in your budget reaffirms that fact.
4. It Keeps Things Interesting (And You Healthy)
Finally, budgeting for joy keeps life fun. It can be all too easy to fall into a routine of “work, chores, errands, mindless scrolling or streaming, and repeat.” While it might be relatively productive, it’s also monotonous—and not very conducive to maintaining mental and physical health in and after midlife.
“Participating in fun activities, as well as learning something new, can help you to feel better physically and mentally. Ongoing learning helps to improve memory and offset dementia,” Cavallaro explains.
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Finding Your Version Of Joy
Examples of joy-inducing physical investments 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 all viable options, too.
But really, the best way to budget for joy is to figure out what causes you to feel the warmest and fuzziest on the inside. Shear poses a few prompts to determine what makes joy bubble up in your heart.
“Is it relationships with people she cares about? Budgeting a few dollars to take a loved one out for ice cream and great conversation is a fantastic money move.” Additionally, “does she find joy in the way movement makes her feel? Does she find joy in generosity? It’s a fun idea to have a giving fund ready and waiting to dip into when ideas bubble up.”
No matter what joy looks like for you, it’s imperative that you include it in your budget. It might not be as tangible as the electric bill, but it’s what will keep your inner light on—and that’s arguably the most important.