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How to Beat the Winter Blues on a Budget

Posted by MoneyKey on March 26, 2019
a couple of snowmen wondering how to beat the winter blues

Another February has come and gone, and with it, another Groundhog Day has passed us by. This year, Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow when he popped out of his burrow. For anyone familiar with this tradition, this means the country can expect an early start to the spring.

Although Groundhog Day is a much-loved custom in North America, one look outside your window might prove this rodent wrong. Snow, slush, or ice-rain may greet your peek through the blinds.

With a view like that, it’s little surprise you retreat back to the folds of your blanket. But too much time held hostage by winter can leave you feeling low. Cabin fever and the winter blues are two realities of a lengthy winter, and they may have you spending more money than you should as you try to boost your mood.

Here at MoneyKey, we don’t think you need to drop a fortune to find a distraction from the season. To make sure you protect your wallet from winter’s icy clutches, we’ve put together a simple guide on how to beat the winter blues.

What is the winter blues?

The winter blues describe the low feeling some people experience during the coldest, darkest season. While most people feel a touch of the blues now and then, it can be more than just a seasonal funk for some. Otherwise known as darkness depression or winter syndrome, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a clinical depressive disorder tied to the seasons, impacting  an estimated 10 million Americans.

Symptoms of SAD typically bookend the winter, largely in part because of the weather. Not only are there fewer sunny days, but the season’s extreme weather warnings may cause people to be less active and more isolated than they would be in the summer. These conditions may exacerbate negative emotions, causing people to feel sluggish and uninterested in things they usually enjoy.

person holding up an image of a sad face

Don’t throw money at your feelings

Whether dealing with SAD or run-of-the-mill blues, some people try treating their symptoms with excessive spending. After all, who hasn’t relied on retail therapy as a pick-me-up or used the promise of a sunny vacation as a distraction?

Unfortunately, these are expensive options in your fight against the winter doldrums. As a company committed to responsible lending practices, we encourage our borrowers to make smart financial decisions. And, depending on your budget and whether you’re using cash advance loans, impulse shopping and traveling might not be the right fit for your finances.

If you think you might have SAD, we encourage you to seek out a health professional to discuss your mental health. Otherwise, here are some affordable tips to help you keep your spirits and bank balance up until spring!

Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

1. Get more Vitamin D

There’s a reason why your late-winter fantasy may involve a sandy beach and the hot sun shining bright overhead. The sun is where most people get a large portion of their Vitamin D.

Several studies show there’s a link between Vitamin D and your mental well-being — people with Vitamin D deficiencies are more likely to experience depression.

Making sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D can be challenging in the winter. It’s not as sunny, and when it is, most people are bundled up under several layers to keep the chill at bay. Swaddled under coats and scarves, your skin can’t absorb as much as it would during the rest of the year.

When you can’t get your daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun, what you eat becomes an important way to meet your needs. Make sure you load up on foods high in Vitamin D, like:

  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Fatty fish, like canned salmon or tuna
  • Fortified foods, including some cereals and non-dairy milks
  • Certain vegetables, like mushrooms, kale, and broccoli

vitamins spilled out on a table

You may also want to consider using Vitamin D supplements to help you reach your daily recommended intake. Ask your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking anything to make sure this option is the right choice for your health.

2. Pack your body with other nutrients

Eating well goes beyond a single vitamin; it relies on a well-rounded diet rich in carbs, proteins, fats, fruits, and vegetables to give your body the fuel it needs. When you manage to hit your daily requirements for calories and nutrients, you’ll likely start to feel better — physically and mentally.

various fruits and vegetables

While no diet can completely cure mental health issues, it can help your brain perform functions that affect your mood and ability to think critically. Eating the right stuff helps you manage your emotions better.

The only problem is, it’s hard spending time in the kitchen whipping up something delicious and nutritious when you aren’t feeling your best. When the winter blues strike, you’re more likely to get takeout or polish off a bag of chips for dinner than slave away in the kitchen.

To make sure you don’t fall prey to UberEats or any of the other all-too-convenient meal ordering apps, you need to ensure cooking is the easiest option. Rather than committing to a meal plan that could take hours of prep on top of lengthy cooking times, opt for recipes that you can put together with minimal effort.

Here are some other tips to help you eat better:

  • Choose simplicity. These one-pot meals promise to be easy, quick, and delicious. Better yet, they’ll cut down on how many dishes you’ll have to clean after.
  • Use a slow cooker. You can set and forget these slow cooker meals, so you can have dinner ready and waiting for you as soon as you’re home from work.
  • Say no to sugary snacks. Although a chocolate bar or doughnut will fill you up, you’ll crash as soon as your body metabolizes all that sugar. This will leave you feeling sluggish, cranky, and hungry for more.
  • Stock up on bananas and apples. They’re nutritious, they need no prep, and they’re some of the cheapest fruits in the country. In 2018, the average price per month of bananas was approximately 58 cents a pound.
  • Stay hydrated. Swap out sugary drinks for water, fruit juices, and unsweetened tea or coffee to avoid consuming empty calories that do nothing but send your blood sugar crashing.

3. Soak up the “sun”light for winter depression

Without the sun, it can be hard to break up your day — especially if you get to work before the sun rises and come home long after it sets. You may settle into a grinding routine of going to work and going home to sleep before starting it all over again for weeks on end. The result? You may feel worn out and miserable.

Researchers studying the psychological effects of darkness suspect the lack of sunlight may be one of the reasons why people feel depressed during the winter.

fluorescent light bulb

If you suspect a lack of sunlight as the reason behind your blues, you may want to try light therapy. Some doctors believe sitting in front of a light box for 30 minutes a day may hold the answers. A light box is a device that shines a light 100 times brighter than the typical indoor light bulb and may be as effective as antidepressant medications when treating SAD.

While some official SAD lamps may be expensive, running as much as $500 for a single light box, you may find some for as low as $60. If you aren’t sure if this is something you can afford, check in with our educational resources to learn how to save up for a big purchase. Also, make sure to check with your doctor before trying light therapy.

4. Improve your sleep hygiene

Everyone has a night or two when it’s hard to fall asleep. Maybe there’s something stressful on your mind, or you’re glued to a TV screen until the early hours of the morning. By the time your alarm clock rings a few hours later, you feel terrible. For the rest of the day, your concentration’s shot and you’re irritated by everyone and everything.

One night of poor sleep can leave you feeling like a zombie, but an erratic sleep schedule may have long-term effects on your health. A good night’s sleep can help improve your immune system, prevent heart disease, and boost your mental well-being. When you don’t get enough of it, you could be doing serious harm to yourself.

person asleep under covers

Most adults should get anywhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, yet approximately only half of them get the amount they need according to one study. If you struggle with getting enough Zs during the winter, you may need to improve your sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is the culmination of your habits that help contribute to a quality night’s sleep and full daytime alertness. These habits may vary from person to person, but in most cases, they include:

  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time in the morning, even if you don’t have to work.
  • Limiting naps during the day. When you attempt to make up for a bad sleep by napping during the day, you run the risk of throwing your sleep schedule off track. If you choose to nap, you may want to rest your eyes for no more than 20 minutes.
  • Creating a comfortable sleep environment. Where you lay your head at night should make you want to curl up and fall into a cozy sleep. So consider making your bedroom a cozy refuge from the world. Use comfy pillows, switch out cold lights for incandescent bulbs, install blackout curtains, or play a calming soundtrack while you hit the sack — whatever helps you relax.
  • Removing tech from the bedroom. The bright screens of phones, laptops, and TVs can disrupt your circadian rhythm and keep you up longer. Most doctors recommend putting away these gadgets as much as one hour before you intend to retire as a part of proper sleep hygiene.

5. Get Moving

Tempting though it may be to binge-watch your favorite series wrapped up in a blanket burrito, this sedentary habit can leave you feeling blue if that’s all you do in your spare time.

Moderation is the key to everything in life, including physical activity. Balancing your time on the couch with active moments in- and outdoors will help improve your mental well-being. That’s because regular exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, and these “feel-good” hormones help boost your mood and ease symptoms of depression.

rolling up a yoga map

Now, when most people think about working out, they picture doing it at the gym, but there’s more than one way to work up a sweat. Some options that don’t involve cumbersome equipment or an expensive membership include:

  • Downloading a new podcast and listening to it as you walk around the neighborhood
  • Using a free app to stand in as a personal trainer, coaching you through at-home workouts
  • Going online to find a map of the trails in your area and hike your way through the woods
  • Signing up for Meetups to see if someone organizes group sports, hikes, and other activities in your area
  • Looking on Facebook and other online groups to find a workout buddy or a sports pick-up league
  • Finding a YouTube channel to follow along with yoga, Zumba, Pilates, or any number of classes

6. Find a new hobby

When the temperature’s less than ideal, your home is likely a refuge you aren’t willing to leave unless it’s for the essentials. Get up, go to work, drive home, eat, watch tv, sleep, rinse, and repeat. It’s all too easy to slip into this routine, but it’s a prime recipe for boredom. You’ll feel like you’ve hit a slump in no time.

If you’re feeling squirrely from your boring routine, it’s time to go on the prowl for a hobby you can feel excited about. Not only will it fill your time, but it will stimulate your brain as you try to master an unfamiliar skill.

sewing tools

What you decide to learn is totally up to you, but we’ve come up with a list of fulfilling hobbies if you aren’t sure where to begin:

  • Take a book challenge and read your way through 30 titles or more. Goodreads makes it easy to log and share your progress online.
  • Teach yourself how to sew. This is one of our favorite tips on how to be fashionably frugal as you’ll be able to repair old clothes and make new ones from scratch for a fraction of the price of replacement pieces.
  • Learn how to knit through online tutorials and free YouTube videos. Create an account with Ravelry, an online resource of patterns, to find instructions on how to knit your first scarf.
  • Find an affordable class with a community center and take up swing, salsa, or tap dancing.
  • Learn a new language with the help of a free app like Duolingo. Find an online community of other budding linguists to put your pronunciation to the test.

7. Don’t be a hermit

With the fridge fully stocked and your time spent learning new skills, you can easily isolate yourself if you’re not careful.

Although it may be unintentional, your time as a hermit can have a negative impact on your mental health. It may deepen feelings of depression, orlead to cabin fever — or a feeling of claustrophobia when you’re stuck indoors for too long.

four people laughing

Humans are highly social beings, so regular social activity may have a positive impact on your mental well-being. So make a point of scheduling time with friends and family.

Here are some other ways you can spend time with others:

  • Share a weekly dinner with friends. Make it a potluck with a rotating host to make sure no one has to sink a lot of money into this new habit.
  • If you can’t leave the house, find a welcoming online community to engage in. You may be surprised by the friends you make once you start posting regularly.
  • Host a movie night. If you plan on staying in to watch a movie, invite friends or family to join you. Their cost of admission can be a packet of popcorn.
  • Join a club through your library or community center. If not entirely free, these clubs are often offered at a much lower price than through private organizations.
  • Look for free community events in your area and become a regular attendee of concerts, pop-ups, and lectures.
  • Become a volunteer for a cause you believe in. Not only will you find like-minded people, but you may also find fulfillment in helping your community.

Although it may be a struggle to find the time at first, you’ll forget how hard it was to leave your house once you make a habit of volunteering or attending a free club. Before you know it, you’ll start to look forward to catching up with new and old friends.

Don’t let the winter blues linger

Sometimes, Old Man Winter can wear out not only his welcome but your patience, too. Stuck indoors for months waiting for him to leave can lead you to make poor financial decisions as you try to beat the winter blues.

Although they may be fun in the moment, these purchases aren’t always in your budget’s best interest. As an online lender of installment loans and personal lines of credit, we understand the importance of your financial health.

If you live on a tight budget, skip over costly band-aid solutions that do nothing to treat the real cause of your winter blues. Try improving your diet and sleep schedule in addition to filling your time with friends, hobbies, and physical activity. With a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep, you’ll be in a better position to handle whatever the winter throws at you.

You’ll also likely reach the spring with a better handle on your money. But don’t worry if the combination of the holidays and wintertime expenses cleared out your emergency fund. When we aren’t dispensing blues-busting tips, we’re helping people find online loans — just check out these reviews from past clients to see how we’re committed to providing a fast, simple, and friendly way to get the cash you need.

Get in touch if you think an installment loan or line of credit could help with an urgent and unexpected bill. Otherwise, dive into a new hobby and wait out the spring — it’ll be here before you know it!


Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other professional advice. For full details, see MoneyKey's Terms of Use.

Posted in: Financial Tips Lifestyle

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