Life Coach Megan Bruneau Spills The Best Ways To Treat Yourself On A Budget
With an estimated 67 percent of Americans at least a little anxious about paying the bills, and 58 percent worried they won't have enough money for retirement, it's becoming increasingly clear that being financially well is an integral part of overall wellness. Of course, money management isn't one-size-fits-all, so we're talking to people from all walks of life to find out how they achieved a healthy relationship with their finances. We hope it empowers you to live a life Well Spent.
Megan Bruneau, M.A., RCC, is a therapist and life coach who's been there. After struggling with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders for most of her life, she started studying the mind to break free of some of her toxic thought patterns. Today, the mindbodygreen Collective member and class instructor has a successful practice in New York City. Dubbed the millennials' therapist by Deepak Chopra and "the most authentic voice in the self-love movement" by Melissa Hartwig, Bruneau meets clients with honesty, compassion, and a hearty dose of tough love. We sat down with her to learn all about the role that finances have played in her journey.
What does financial well-being mean to you?
Understanding the value of money and really being intentional with how you spend.
What has your financial journey looked like up until this point?
I'm Canadian, so I was super lucky to have access to a really affordable education. I know a lot of people in the States don't! My parents were able to pay for my undergrad, which allowed me to spend my free time in college volunteering, doing all of my courses, and setting myself up to get into grad school.
During that time, I was both lucky and unlucky in that I got into a car accident and got a decent settlement that basically paid for my master's program. I'm honest about that because I feel like with this financial stuff, oftentimes people don't disclose everything or acknowledge their privilege. They're like, "I did it, so you can, too," but we all come from different backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses.
For me, I was very fortunate to not be in debt after graduation, but aside from having my school paid for, I wasn't spoiled. Growing up, there was always a focus on experiences over material things in my household. My dad was a pretty successful lawyer, but he really taught me not to lead with ego—not to think you need to buy things in order to feel like enough. I learned how to save and how to be frugal and intentional really early on.
Was there ever a point when you were stressed about money? What strategies did you use to work out of that?
There have definitely been a couple of periods when I've been in job transitions and have had to hustle. One was right after I got my master's and couldn't get a job. Then, after I had moved to New York, I ended up leaving the startup that I had come here to work for. The job had paid well, but I'd realized that it really didn't align with my values. It just wasn't what I came here to do.
So I was like, "Fuck it, I'm just going to take a risk and leave. If it doesn't work out, I can always go back to Canada." But I had to come up with $10,000 for my visa and start building a coaching practice in this super-expensive city.
This was in 2015. I had been a student from 2004 to 2011, so I knew how to live frugally. I just reverted back to student life, and it was really humbling. I didn't go out for drinks. I didn't go shopping. I paid for my basic expenses and spent the rest of my time hustling. I also picked up a part-time job. In the end, I borrowed $10,000 from a friend for my visa. I was so lucky to have this person who believed in me, and I've been paying them back since.
Looking back on that time, I think it was an incredible exercise in letting go of ego and just doing the work.
As a coach for executives, what sort of financial advice do people come to you for? Has your experience shaped how you help your clients?
We all have our vices, whether it's alcohol, food, drugs, Bumble, porn, work, whatever. And we do a lot to numb and avoid them—including shopping!
For example, when I first moved to New York and was working for that startup, I was miserable. I didn't know a soul. It was January and freezing. I had just broken up with my boyfriend. My roommate was terrible. I hated my job. I would leave work every day and would drop like $500 at Nordstrom on the way home. It was so weird because I'd never been a shopper before that. That was the first time in my life when I was like, "I'm just going to buy a bunch of clothes because they'll make me feel better," and that's what I would do every day. After a while, I woke up and realized that it was a crazy habit.
When you're shopping, you get wrapped up in that process. There's the dopamine hit every time you buy something, put something in the cart, or swipe your card. But then there's also the whole thought pattern of, "Well, if I buy this piece of jewelry or clothing, if I drive this car, or if I go to this place for dinner, I'm enough." It's very much attached to self-worth. I try to help clients get to the root of that and recognize their chronic shame.
I work with entrepreneurs, too, and they often have lots of money issues of their own. Some people don't realize that just because somebody else spent $2,500 on a launch party doesn't mean you should. They don't shop around. They don't do their research. I try to help them be a more discerning consumer. Another thing people do is get investors, which can be really helpful, but not if you treat it like free money. To be more intentional about that money, we look at things like opportunity cost, anticipate ROI, and look at case studies where somebody might've done a similar thing to see if it was worth it for them.
What wellness trends do you think are worth the money? Which ones aren't?
It's tough because it all depends on where you're at. For me, ClassPass is totally worth the splurge. I'm obsessed! It's my meditation, my fun, my self-care, and my movement. But it's not super cheap. It's still an expense every day, and if I were in a less abundant place, I would probably not do it. That being said, I'm not going to spend $45 on a class every day. That to me is crazy and too much.
Basically, I think if you're going to treat yourself, it should be a treat. Like, I definitely don't think a $12 juice is worth it. Honestly, I think a lot of the coaching isn't worth it! You have some people who go to one seminar and say, "I'm a life coach. Pay me $500/hr.," and they promise to these vulnerable people, "I'll change your life. I'll rid you of your depression." And then the person's spending their life savings on something that doesn't have that much value. People just have to do their research.
I'm a legit mental health professional, and I've only gotten to a place recently where I'm like, "OK, I can charge $300 per session," and I feel good about that because I do think I provide a lot of value. And part of the reason I charge that is so I can see my less privileged clients—the person who lives off the coast of Alaska and makes $8/hr.; the single mom—for a free or reduced rate.
Do you have any tips for people who want to practice self-care on a budget?
I'm totally the self-care-on-a-budget-girl. I would say for me, I love to go on long walks and listen to music or podcasts and audiobooks (I use Scribd, which is super cheap!). In terms of movement, if you don't want to pay for ClassPass, there are a lot of studios that have community classes. And if you're in NYC, Peloton has free walk-in, 30-minute rides.
Some acupuncture and massage places offer discounted services because they're a school of some sort, so students can practice on you supervised. And then things that are always free are journaling and meditation.
What's the best money you've ever spent?
revitalize 2014! It changed my life. That's why I'm in New York actually. I'm very grateful for that experience.
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