15 Life Upgrades You Can Do For Less Than $15


While for many people, 2017 was a blistering year full of setbacks, fear, and darkness, the fact that so many people were encountering increased symptoms of anxiety and depression made folks as a whole much more willing to talk about mental health. We know that practicing good self-care can help us weather tough times, but we also know that tough times tend to be tough on our wallets, too. The good news is there are tons of life upgrades that cost less than $15, giving us little ways to tweak our lives that can boost our self-care arsenal.

The first time I took my daily planner aside and literally penciled in self-care time, I felt ridiculous. As Lifehacker puts it, people tend to hear "self-care" and think it's "fluffy and indulgent," a pointless exercise or an attempt to shove our heads in the sand and ignore what's going on in the world around us. But even if self-care were about those things, instead of being about regrouping and giving ourselves the mental fortitude to surge on, that wouldn't be such a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with indulging yourself, just like there's nothing wrong with needing to unplug from the world for a while.

Fundamentally misunderstanding self-care led me to avoid it. I thought self-care was about pouring yourself a bath and dropping in some rose petals. For some people, sure, that's the kind of self-care that works. But self-care is different for each person, and luckily there's an endless range of easy-on-the-wallet things that can help make your life just that small bit better.

1. A To-Do List

Daily Plan Note Pad, $13, Etsy

Remember when I mentioned scheduling time for self-care? Yeah, that's where something like this comes in. A multipurpose to-do list like this one, involving not only tasks you want to accomplish, but space for a meal plan, appointments, and other notes, can be a quick way to help organize your life and make sure you're taking time to get your work done, and taking time to live life. Sitting for a few minutes in the morning, or the night before, and jotting down what you want to accomplish — even if you don't get to all of it! — will let you move from day to day with a clear head and a set of observable, achievable goals.

2. A Personal Assistant

I'm not talking a full-time, attend-to-your-every-need assistant, of course, but if you're a freelancer of any kind, chances are you need help with some small daily tasks, whether that's updating your website with client quotes or making sure your revenue spreadsheet is up-to-date for taxes (yes, I know it's only January; I'll pause to let you groan). And if you're not a freelancer, maybe you need your business inbox organized, or you need some appointments booked, or you need... one of the frankly billion other small tasks that can clutter up the day.

That's where assistants on sites like Fiverr come in. At Fiverr, you can find tons of people offering their services starting at just $5. For example, here's someone willing to do three hours of data entry. Fiverr also allows tipping, so you can use the rest of that $10 to show your temporary assistant just how much you appreciate them.

3. Snacks

Let's be real, there's literally nothing that is better than snacks. When I worked in an office, 2 p.m. trips to the vending machine were my bread and butter. But vending machine snacks can get monotonous, and just in general, it can feel like the selection of snacks we have to choose from is limited or repetitive. Enter the Graze box, which costs $13.99 per box of eight different pre-portioned snacks. When you join Graze, you fill out a lengthy profile about your food preferences, and then Graze sends you a variety of snacks in each box on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly schedule. It's a great way to try new stuff, and to always have snacks on hand.

4. Get Everything Off The Surfaces In Your Room

Here's a free one. And I'm serious: Get everything off every surface. Take everything off your bed, your desk, your bookshelves, your windowsill. If you're like me, you'll find piles of old bill envelopes, wrappers that got lost, and a bunch of knickknacks you wanted at one point but now are just cluttering up your space and your life. Throw out (or donate!) things you don't want and give all your surfaces a wipe-down. Then do the same to your floor. Pick up any and all clothes, pieces of paper, and other miscellany. Organize 'em. After all that's done, bask in having streamlined your possessions. I guarantee decluttering your place will feel a lot like decluttering your whole life.

5. Get A Low-Maintenance Plant

Tillandsia Ionantha Fuego Air Plant, $4, Air Plant Shop

There are tons of houseplants that are easy to care for, but IMO, none beats the air plant. Though they can't actually thrive on air alone, as their name suggests, they need very, very little attention, and they're beautiful to boot. All you need to do is put them in a place with regular indirect sunlight, and soak them in a bowl of water for an hour every one to two weeks. The best thing about them is they're forgiving — if you forget to water them for a couple months, they're likely to keep on keepin' on.

They're also pretty cheap. You can grab a Tillandsia Ionantha Fuego from the Air Plant Shop for $4, get one of the larger Tillandsia Bulbosa for $9, or, for sliiightly over our $15 budget, get a $15.95 six-pack variety grab bag of small and medium air plants.

6. Give To Someone Else

$15 is likely a significant chunk of money to a lot of people reading this list. It's half a tank of gas, it's a copayment for medication, it's a couple days of meals if you're eating off the dollar menu. Knowing those things means you also know how much $15 can help someone in need. If you've got $15 to spare and you want to use it to make a change, you've got just as many choices as you would if you were spending it for yourself. Call up a local food pantry and see what they need most; you can usually pick up a few items on their lists for $15. Some food banks also run virtual food drives, where you can shop on their site and buy them products they need at specially discounted prices.

And of course there's TisBest, where you can donate to hundreds of different charities. TisBest's minimum is $10, and you can choose to spread your donation among up to three charities from their roster.

7. Learn To Tailor Your Own Clothes

Sewing Kit, $13, Amazon

Learning to tailor your own clothes is a vital skill for the thrifty. You don't need to become a expert tailor, but being able to make long-lasting, good-looking repairs, alterations, and upgrades to your own clothes will allow you keep favorites around longer, alter any new additions, and give new life to old pieces. There's nothing worse than buying a piece, getting home, and realizing it doesn't fit quite right. Maybe you have a closet or drawer full of the "not quite right" rejects. Learning to sew can help you tackle those projects — and maybe getting into that closet or drawer will show you that you don't actually love everything hanging around in there.

As for the cost of learning to sew — it's zilch. There are great online tutorials everywhere you Google, including on YouTube.

8. Throw Out Your Expired Makeup

Remember that Shia LaBeouf meme? That's right: Just do it. I know you've got years-old expensive palettes hanging around that you don't want to throw away because every time you try, you think of the price tag and wince. I know you've got the tube of cheap mascara you wore once and swore you'd try again to see if it was any less horrific next time. I know you've got bottles and bottles of half-used nail polishes. But the thing is, if you don't use it on the reg, you need to let it go. If you truly loved it, you'd put it on your body. Also, you can spend your $15 on buying new products you'll actually love, and you can put them in all the clean, empty space the clutter was taking up in your makeup cabinet.

9. Getcha Some Glass Tupperware

Rubbermaid Glass Food Storage 6-Piece Set, $12, Amazon

One of the things you learn when you have to start making your own food and putting it in containers is that plastic containers will soak up (a) the smell, (b) the color, and (c) the essence of anything put in them. While it's tempting to buy cheap containers when you've got a budget to work with, there are glass containers that are affordable, and that will last much, much longer without any of the "fun" qualities that make replacing plastic containers necessary. If you're weighing a $2 pack of plastic versus this $12.35 pack of glass, trust me: Get the glass. Save yourself.

10. Get A New Phone Case

iPhone X Case With Air Cushion, $10, Amazon

We spend our lives with our cell phones. You may wonder Why a phone case?, and my answer is, Why not a phone case? You're likely to spend thousands of hours of your lifetime looking at that sleek little hunk of tech, which means that protecting it and keeping its look fresh can give your life a bit of unexpected good. Even if you prefer to think of your phone as purely a utility and not a tool of personalization, getting a phone case that shows off one of your interests or, heck, is just in your favorite color, is a small mood-booster you'll carry with you 24/7.

11. Put Useful Things In Your Bag

Okay, first, clean out your bag. Then replace those crumpled receipts with practicalities like ChapStick ($3), disposable travel toothbrushes ($5), emergency medication ($11 for a rad container), and pens ($2). Or create a bag emergency kit entirely suited to you, and put it in an easy-to-find pencil pouch inside your purse, or tote, or laptop bag. Think of things you always seem to need, but never seem to have. Change for tipping, extra tampons, condoms, gum... the possibilities are endless. But the point is you'll have a bag that's full of stuff you really need, so when you need it, you've got it — and eliminating that small amount of stress will do you a surprising amount of good.

12. Treat Yourself To A Rad Cleaning Supply

Antimicrobial Silicone Scrubber by Peachy Clean, $10, Amazon

Cleaning sucks. It just does. The payoff is a dream, but convincing yourself to clean, procrastinating on cleaning, and then actually cleaning are all awful tasks of ultimate drudgery that make it difficult to remember that clean really does feel that good. Thankfully, there's a potential solution: Engage the most curious, crafty parts of your brain by buying a cool and useful cleaning implement. That isn't a joke; there are cool cleaning products out there.

The Peachy Clean scrubber is one of those products. It's silicone and antimicrobial, so it takes out a lot of the yuck factor of sponges. It also smells like peaches, aka the dream.

13. Do An Easy Yet Fulfilling DIY Project

Not all projects can be DIY'd at $15, but there are lots of good options for flexing your creativity. Even if you don't have something you need to fix around the house, or don't need to make something useful, DIYing is good brain exercise. A fellow Bustler hunted up a list of sweet DIYs that cost $15 or less, including a wooden pallet swing, an organization rack, and a "drop spot," which is a designated spot in your home for things like keys, bills, receipts, and spare packs of gum, so you can get things out of your hands but still keep the other parts of your house clutter-free.

14. Buy Food Labels

Dissolvable Food Labels by FoodSafe, $13, Amazon

I don't know about you, but I have That Spot in my fridge. The one where things I don't use tend to hang out. Mostly containers of leftovers. My problem is that I forget when I made things, so I become instantly leery of any leftovers and can't bring myself to eat them.

The solution is food labels. Especially ones like these, which are dissolvable, so you don't have to scrub them in the sink for hours to get them to come off. They have a space not only for the date you made the food, but the date by which it should be eaten, making keeping track of leftovers — and not accidentally giving yourself food poisoning — much easier.

15. Clean Your Social Media House

Like a couple other items on this list, cleaning out your social media accounts is totally free, aside from the emotional labor, because it can be hard to unfollow and unfriend people. But if you're truly looking to upgrade your life, a good way to start is to log on to your social media and cut ties with anyone who posts or re-posts toxicity into your life. If they regularly make you angry, if they regularly make you feel bad about yourself, or, hey, if you don't remember who they are or why you followed them in the first place, delete them. Stay close to the friends you know, who make you feel good. Life: Instantly upgraded.

The start of a new year can feel like the start of endless possibilities, but the weight of those new possibilities can be surprisingly crushing. As 2018 gets rolling, try out some of these small life upgrades to give yourself a dose of self-care and get the year off to a positive start.