Gifts That Pay Off: The best gifts might be the ones you give yourself

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The holidays may be the only time of year people actually take Warren Buffett’s advice.

“By far the best investment you can make is in yourself,” the Oracle of Omaha says. And that we do, though probably not in the way he meant.

The typical American buys about $155 in gifts for themselves during the holiday season — that’s 13% of their total spending, according to the National Retail Federation.

Investing in yourself for the holidays can pay dividends when done thoughtfully, said Dr. Kristen Lee, a behavioral science professor at Northeastern University. But not all self-gifting boosts your human capital as Buffett encourages.

“When we invest in ourselves, especially in a way where it helps us to advance, the science shows that this is where we start to flourish and do well,” Lee said. “And we have to make sure to tend to ourselves — whether that’s buying a book or taking a class to further our education, or getting a massage or acupuncture to help recalibrate the mind, body and soul.”

In fact, when this MarketWatch reporter began asking readers what they wanted most for the holidays, the resounding response was spending more time and money investing in their own mental health and overall wellbeing.

It’s not selfish; it’s self-care. And when we give to ourselves, we’re more likely to give back to others, research shows, as self-gifting leads to better well-being, which makes us kinder.

“Any self-care effort is a worthwhile thing to invest in.”

Dr. Kristen Lee, behavioral science professor at Northeastern University

Indeed, for some holiday shoppers, “treating yourself” means getting treatment. “My best gift I gave myself is my therapist,” Laura Puller, a mother of two from Long Island, N.Y., told MarketWatch. “One hour every week that is devoted to me, and becoming my best self.”

Puller is lucky that her counseling is covered by insurance; otherwise, the weekly sessions would run $125 apiece. But Clarence McFerren, a public high-school teacher in Memphis, Tenn., has had to fork over copays running $20 to $75 a visit as he’s tried different specialists. Still, he agreed that therapy has been “the best gift” he has given himself, and “a life changer.”

Millions of Americans are dealing with mental-health issues each year, and more than half are not being treated — with most blaming high costs and a lack of insurance. Indeed, a 45-minute session runs $75 to $150 on average.

But there are affordable options, such as working with a practitioner in training. “You’ll attend sessions with a graduate student supervised by a licensed psychologist. These clinics typically charge on a sliding scale, which could be as low as $0,” Dr. Sanam Hafeez, an NYC neuropsychologist and teaching faculty member at Columbia University, told MarketWatch. These are often located near (or as part of) universities, which can be found by googling “[your city] psychology training clinic.”

Directories such as also sort therapists by location, what type of insurance they accept — and whether they charge on a sliding scale. Many local non-profit organizations such as the YMCA also offer discounted or sliding scale behavioral health and family services for kids and adults, Dr. Hafeez said.

And considering three in four Gen Z workers and half of millennials have quit their jobs over mental health issues, investing in therapy can pay off in getting to the root of workplace stress and burnout.

‘Me’ time

Puller’s therapist gave her weekly self-care “homework,” because she was so busy taking care of her job, her husband (they are now separated) and her kids that she wasn’t ever focusing on herself. “It started with adding on an extra 20 minutes to a Target shopping trip to sit in the cafe and grab a coffee,” she said. “I tried salt caves, yoga, meditation. It helps to refresh me.”

McFerren was prescribed exercise (he dances, kickboxes and lifts weights), meditation and breathing exercises. Before, “I would constantly put others before me,” he said, “but how could I be there for others when I could be possibly falling apart?”

But where do you carve out these extra minutes — let alone an entire therapeutic hour — for yourself? You can offload your most hated, time-sucking chores by signing up for a housekeeping service like Molly Maid ($75 to $96 for two cleaners for an hour), or getting a TaskRabbit to build Ikea furniture or hang your new TV ($56 to $143).

“The best gift I’ve given myself is hiring someone to clean my house every other week. Worth every penny,” said Deanne Goodman, a mother of two from Oceanside, Calif. and the host of the “In Happier News” podcast. She pays $100 for biweekly cleanings in her 1,650-square-foot home. “If I could afford to have it daily or weekly, I would!” she added.

If you are also dreaming of offloading some housework, first determine your budget and exactly what you want done (someone to just vacuum and dust, or is this person cleaning the litter box?) Then research agencies, and read reviews across a few sites to spot any red flags. Goodman got referrals from friends, and also checked Yelp for companies in her area with great reviews. and can also help track down housekeepers, which average $16.27 an hour, although the size and condition of your home can nudge that hourly rate up to between $20 and $40.

And paying for time-saving services like these has been scientifically proven to make you happier, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year. (In fact, test subjects felt happier after spending $40 on a time-saving purchase than they did spending $40 on something material.)

Or spend some mindful moments with a monthly subscription box tailored to your taste. The Therabox, curated by therapists, delivers self-care products such as journals, scented candles, herbal teas and sleep masks for up to $34.99 per box. Plant lovers can get a new houseplant in a colorful ceramic pot each month from The Sill for $35. Or lift your spirits with the Beer of the Month Club (starting at $29.95 a month for 12 brews) or Winc’s wine club ($39 a month for three bottles).

“Any self-care effort is a worthwhile thing to invest in,” said Dr. Lee. “We often don’t stop and celebrate when something goes well, or when we accomplish something, because we’re already onto the next thing. Appreciating ourselves, and being more generous with ourselves, can go a long way.”