An Occasional Sliding Scale

Last month, I did my first Sliding Scale Saturday. It was one of those early fall days where the sun is unbelievably golden and the breezes are just getting crisp, the yoga studio where my practice is located was buzzing with weekend classes, some people got massage who otherwise might not be able to afford it, and everyone involved left feeling stellar. It was an all-around spectacular day, and I’m telling you about it in case you want to do it, too.

This is really a post for Sliding Scale novices. There are many who have done far more than I, and I’d love to hear all about it! I have always wanted to offer affordable massage to people who need it, but, as a relatively new therapist slowly building my practice (i.e., not working a ton), I didn’t feel comfortable making sliding scale the foundation of my practice when I started out. I know some people who have offered sliding scale rates full-time from the start of their careers who are absolutely thriving. That’s totally an option, and I think it’s fantastic, but it wasn’t my choice. This little step-by-step is aimed at people like me who aren’t ready (or just plain don’t want) to commit to having a sliding scale practice all the time, but who are interested in increasing access to massage bit by bit. It took me a long time to realize that there are ways to dip a toe in without drastically changing one’s practice. This is how I did it.

Step 1: Determine What You’re Worth.

This is a lengthy discussion for another time. I’m sticking it in as a starting point because I think it’s important, when reducing rates, that we do so for the right reasons. There are a lot of reasons to do this – business promotion and increasing access to massage come to mind for me – but  please don’t do it because you don’t think you’re worth the full rate other people charge. If you think about massage, if you’re passionate about it, if you work hard, then you’re worth a good rate. Lots of people out there have this down pat, but I did a little waffling in the early days of my career, and I’ve seen some talented, well-trained people establish less-than-living wages because they think it’s the only way they’ll get clients, and it makes me a little squirmy. Shoot for the stars, or at least the standard going rate in your town.

Step 2: How Low Can You Go? Establish Your Scale.

Now that you know that you are awesome and totally deserving of the fairest rates in all the land, think about the lowest amount you can make and not feel put out. If that’s totally free, so be it, but if you’re going to be grumpy if you give an amazing massage and your client slips you a tenner as payment, set your scale higher. My base rate was $35/hour, but this will vary quite a bit both regionally and personally. If you have hourly expenses (e.g., space rental), add them to your lowest rate to set the base for your scale. Base rate + hourly expenses = low end of sliding scale. If you have a good relationship with the owner of the space, it is worth mentioning that you are offering reduced rates and ask if your landlord will, in turn, reduce yours.  I rent space in a yoga and movement studio owned by an amazing lady who was offering pay-what-you-want classes that week. She was enthusiastically on board for Sliding Scale Saturday and did not charge me for the space. You might not have the same luck, but you probably won’t know if you don’t ask.

Step 3: Set Your Limits & Book!

Having a day devoted to sliding scale is not the only way to do this. You may choose to offer a set number of sliding scale sessions a month. Lots of people offer sliding scales or reduced rates to certain populations (like students and seniors) on a regular basis. Again, I’m not saying you need to set limits – plenty of people offer sliding scale all the time, and it works out great – but if you’re afraid of feeling broke, or if you feel put out when you are paid less than what you feel you’re worth, be honest about it. I set four sessions on one day. It didn’t seem like much, especially since they went like hotcakes with a waiting list trailing behind, but it was a little something, and I plan to do it again and again.

Step 4: Reflect and Repeat.

I have heard from people who primarily work with sliding scales that the payments even out over time, that some people pay less and some people pay more than the going rate because they can. There’s trust involved. The framework I set, of limiting the discounted sessions, did not allow for such wide fluctuations. I knew it was unlikely that anyone would pay my regular rate or higher, because I wasn’t asking for that, for the generosity of some to make up for dips in the scale over time. I expected little; I got more than I expected. In a way, Sliding Scale Saturday felt like an exercise in generosity for everyone involved. While clients got a big discount, they all thought about what they could give and, in my tiny sample, they all paid more than the minimum I asked. Generosity. I got to offer a very steep discount as my base and feel like I was giving something. Dara at my studio gave the space. Generosity feels good. As does massage. It was a great day, and I’m excited to make Sliding Scale Saturday a staple of my practice.

If you’ve never tried offering a sliding scale, I heartily encourage you to work it into your practice. It’s entirely possible to try it out without overhauling your rates and your practice as a whole. If you’ve done it for years and are brimming with thoughts on the topic, I would love to hear from you. Comment away!


Megan Spence is a Licensed Massage Therapist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. She is continually astonished by just how much she loves her work. You can read more about Megan’s adventures in massage and various other things body-related at Bodywork Brooklyn.

3 thoughts on “An Occasional Sliding Scale

    • Jacinda, thanks for your question. The sliding scale idea came from the belief that some people need a massage and simply don’t have the money in the moment (I’ve been in those shoes many a time), so I laid it out there just like that. The yoga studio where I’m located was doing Pay-What-You-Desire week for classes, so I set it in that context:

      Inspired by the new people walking through the studio door, by Sacred’s offer of affordable access to feeling good, by my own deep belief that everyone deserves a good massage, I’m offering up Sliding Scale Saturday. Because, while my work is worth every penny of my regular rate, sometimes you just don’t have a hundred dollars. And sometimes, the days when you can’t swing the cost of good care are the days when you need it most. For that reason, I’m offering one-hour massages on Saturday for whatever you can pay….No questions about your finances or what you can afford. I am simply setting a sliding scale of $35-$100 and asking you to decide what you can pay. Honor system in effect.

      The email blast was very short and sweet — along the lines of “Need a massage, but don’t have $100?” And then leading into the booking instructions, which are outlined in the post on my site, but let me know if you have any questions.

  1. What a great post! I am a budding Money Coach and Reiki practitioner, who uses Reiki in money coaching sessions. I am interested in how people approach money, and have been exploring money issues in myself. It is challenging for me to do the first guideline, to Determine What You’re Worth. Part of it is that I am relatively new to this; part of it is that I am somewhat self-trained; but I think the biggest part of it is some old conditioning that is still having some influence on my current life. And telling myself I am worth it, or having someone tell me I am worth it, is worth about two cents! If I am still holding on to some old thought patterns, which are also patterns in my body, and in my energy body, the effect is profound.

    Added to this is my deep belief, coming (I think) from a true place, that fundamentally there is enough to go around, and if we open ourselves when people are in need, we will, ourselves, receive enough. And my desire to make my services available to everyone. But how to separate that from a tendency to perhaps undervalue myself, from a not-so-true or healthy place? Well, I actually have had some good experience with letting clients set what they pay. It needs to be done carefully – I let people know I have a sliding scale, but we don’t decide the rate immediately. I prefer to have had some interaction with the person, and preferably have done some Reiki together. Reiki brings us to that deep place of wisdom. I have clients do some simple breathing, and give them the guideline that what they pay should stretch them – so that they will value what they have received, but not strain them. Think of the way a good physical stretch feels great – challenging but refreshing, enlivening, and healthy. As opposed to stretching too far, which is just inflicting unnecessary pain.

    Anyway, I have done this with 3 clients and the results have been interesting: each time the client named a price which was higher than what I would have proposed. It is still to early to know if this can work as a business model. But I am enjoying exploring it.

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