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Survive the 'most depressing day' of 2013

Retail therapy is not the answer. Banish midwinter blahs with a frugal mood enhancer.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 21, 2013 11:49AM
Today is "Blue Monday," allegedly the most depressing day of the year. It's become an annual meme even though it’s not scientifically based. Cliff Arnall, the man who came up with the "formula" for figuring the deepest emotional trough of the year, apparently did so as a publicity stunt for a travel agency.

Even so, the idea makes sense. Mix together consumer debt from holiday spending, reduced light levels, cold weather (in many places), post-holiday letdown and failed New Year's resolutions, and you've got a formula, all right -- a formula for winter blues that could send you to the fridge and then to the couch.

Or to the mall. Winter is the time when 36% of us say we'll seek "retail therapy" as a mood elevator, according to a recent survey from

Another fun fact from that survey: Nearly half (45%) of the 2,166 people interviewed had gone shopping in the past year solely to improve bad moods.

Think of that: They didn't necessarily need anything, or maybe even want anything (except to feel better). But they were willing to throw money at an emotional issue in the hopes it might make things all right again.

Now that's depressing.

Positive (and cheaper!) tactics

Retail therapy is not the answer, especially since one of the problems many people face this time of year is a pile of bills related to holiday overindulgence.
Image: Worried Man (Corbis)
Instead, try a frugal mood enhancer. In a post called "20 cheap ways to make January special," Wise Bread writer Andrea Karim includes strategies that don't cost anything at all: volunteering, starting a journal, writing letters, watching a movie at home every night for a week, reconnecting with a long-lost friend.

Or how about getting a head start on spring cleaning? Not only will your living quarters feel more inviting, the work could spur you into getting rid of stuff you no longer use. Taming the chaos will let you "start out the year fresh and uncluttered," Karim says.

Perhaps one or more of these free or nearly free tactics will make a difference in your life:

Go outside.
Every day, even if it's only for a little while. Fresh air -- even if it's cold or snow- or rain-laden fresh air -- is a good change of pace, as is the chance to soak in such natural light as is available. Walk around the block three times, or to the local store for a small treat (think "hot chocolate" rather than "six-pack of craft beer"). If there's snow, use it: Make a snowman, have a snowball fight or shovel an elderly neighbor's sidewalk.

Get solvent.
Use free budgeting sites like or Adaptu to figure out your finances. That can mean creating a rapid debt repayment plan if you went off the rails during the holidays, but it can also mean getting a clearer picture of where your money is going and making short- and long-term goals. Note: Create a money goal at and be eligible for one of two $500 prizes awarded weekly through Jan. 31.


Social life or self-improvement
Have people over.
Fun at home can be really cheap. Play board games. Host a wine tasting: You provide cheese, crackers and glasses, and your friends bring their favorite inexpensive wine. Make a batch of cookies and serve tea. For more tips on frugal fun, see "8 cheap, extraordinary entertainments."

Or go out with people -- cheaply.
Look for places with free hors d'oeuvres at happy hour. Search for discounted social buying vouchers on the secondary market; some of them come in as low as $2 or less. (See "The cure for a Groupon goof.")

Get an exercise buddy.
Walking, cross-country skiing, Pilates at home with a DVD -- all are good ideas, but only if you actually do them. One way to make sure is to set up exercise dates with a friend. It would be rude to keep him or her waiting because you couldn't pull yourself out of bed on time.

Do a $0 makeover.
Tired of staring at the same four walls? Give your interior a fresh look. It can be as simple as moving the furniture around and switching art objects from room to room. If there's a chapter of The Freecycle Network in your area, have a look at what people want to give away -- maybe that cobalt blue vase is the splash of color your living room needs.

DIY spa night.
Put on your favorite music and have a warm soak with bath salts. Use a loofah on winter-dry skin and follow up with lotion. If your heels are really dry, rub them with petroleum jelly and wear socks to bed; it feels a little gross at first but you'll get used to it quickly. Look for recipes for facials using items like oatmeal and honey. (Quick aside to men: There's no shame in exfoliating.) A glass of water with lemon or orange slices will help further the day-spa image.

Got any ideas for midwinter motivators?

More on MSN Money:

Jan 21, 2013 12:21PM
The only reason today is the most depressing day is because of the inauguration.
Jan 21, 2013 3:26PM
Depressing - another 4 years of Obama and his "transforming our country into something it is not" and most people are clueless about what he is doing due to our Federal  Department of Education which is dumbing down our school age children, don't pray, say the Pledge of Allegience, don't learn about the history of our country, learn about the Constitution - a total liberal slant on everything and teaching nothing to help you survive in the real world.  Every person told they must go to college to succeed and run up $50K or more in debt.  LEARN A TRADE and make way more money, if you learn to be the best, ie: plumber, electrician, auto mechanic, tool and die maker etc.  I know all kinds of people who are supposedly educated and they can't find a job or function in the real world. 
Jan 21, 2013 3:55PM
Today.  Happy national squirrel day!
Jan 21, 2013 6:13PM
It sure is. 4 more years of stagflation. More economic woes, regulation, big government, higher taxes and misery under a Socialist agenda. Down right depressing.
Jan 21, 2013 7:38PM
I didn't watch the inauguration because it marks such a dark day in American history. However, our nation is much bigger than the one named, Obama, or Barry, or Hussein, or whoever he is. He can strut around all he wants, but one bad President cannot dismantle a nation who's history stands for freedom, entrepreneurship, and economic power. Though, he's doing his best. Second term President's usually don't get much of what they want, especially during the last two years because the focus always turns to the upcoming election. I, for one, will be counting down the seconds til Obama retires.
Jan 21, 2013 4:45PM
For me the most depressing day is of the year is my birthday. I sure I'm not alone, but mines is 9/11.
Jan 21, 2013 5:05PM
I'm really depressed, would rather be at work, the Patriot's just lost, It's cold out and will be all week.
Jan 21, 2013 7:56PM
Depressing- Obama  that is all i have to say.
Jan 21, 2013 8:04PM
were all the bush, romney, and mccain haters racist?
Jan 21, 2013 4:00PM
Dean Meyer - that was super funny - super truth too!
Jan 21, 2013 8:04PM
Monte50-Boy did you hit the nail on the about everything you said. I or anyone else who's in the know, couldn't have said it any better. I have decided to frame the Constitution and Bill of Rights and hang them right next to the Ten Commandments. My husband is a plumper and he's one of the smartest and most inventive man I've ever known. My father was the same and he was fisherman that passed 37 years of age in 1961. I'm sure he's turning in his grave at how our country has turned out. The only thing I disagree with is that we ALL should pray as well as say the pledge allegience.  We all need to continue to read. Read voraciously and continue to to learn and educate ourselves and our children. They're not getting the right education in our schools and unless we remember our history and the mistake that have been made, we are doomed to repeat  them. Remember "the rise and fall of the Roman Empire" we are now on that downward slide.
Jan 25, 2013 5:47AM
Sub zero cold, a flat tire, and maybe 10 hours of sunlight- that after
2 1/2 months of holiday hype.

Jan 21, 2013 6:48PM

Empirical proof that taxes are NOT too high, or it would have been April 15th.


Check and mate.

Jan 22, 2013 11:02AM
I see the right wing idiots are blaming their sorry lives on Obama.
Jan 22, 2013 3:31AM
Another Obama coronation. It don't get any worse than that.
Jan 21, 2013 5:22PM

the most depressing day of the year??? besides 2day????!!


try Nov 6th 2008 the beginning of the obama nightmare due to the stupidity and political correctness of idiot libs and the "I'm not a racist and I can prove it" guilty feeling white people and now we're reaping the nightmare all over again, we're finished as a nation, I above all people hate to admit it, but we, unfortunately are done, over, due to some azzhole's idea of utopia, a patently obvious racist black muslim pig with a chip on his shoulder the size of Mt. Kilimanjaro, thanx guilty white America, you've put the gun to your heads and pulled the trigger, now burn in the hell you've created, meanwhile it's really cold and nasty here in NY, not surprising

Jan 21, 2013 4:46PM
Good news in four years from Today we will have an american Born Presidnet Hopefull that will care for its future
Jan 21, 2013 5:50PM

I bet all these sour pusses that hate Obama because he`s black wouldn`t be

so nasty if they had put their money in the stock market 4 years ago and have

their money increase 85% before dividends.Sorry, you lose again.What`s it

like to always be on the losing side ?

Jan 21, 2013 5:58PM
well theres the inaugrination of emperor oboma amd some gangster mlk day.shoot me please no reason to go on.
Jan 21, 2013 4:50PM

Knowing that Obama is our Pres for 4 more years is enough to commit suicide.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.