Tips to Improve Your Finances

By Les Sweeney and Kristin Coverly
[Business Side]

We surveyed a random sample of ABMP members and asked them some straightforward questions about their finances. Here we share the results from the 1,269 replies and apply what we learned into tips to help you strengthen your money game.
Which of these best describes your massage therapy or bodywork practice?
                       50%      Solo practitioner
        12%  Independent contractor at a clinic or spa
        12%  Employee
         1%  Seeking employment in the profession
             3%  Business owner with employees
                     18%  Combination of the above
              4%  Other

How much did you earn in gross income in your massage or bodywork practice in 2016?
                8%  $0 or loss
                    22%  $1 to $9,999
          12%  $10,000 to $14,999
                 8%  $15,000 to $19,999
          11%  $20,000 to $24,999
                 9%  $25,000 to $29,999
                7%  $30,000 to $34,999
                6%  $35,000 to $39,999
            7%  $40,000 to $49,999
            7%  $50,000 to $75,000
        3%  $75,000 or more

How many hours of hands-on work do you do, on average, per week?
The income from your massage therapy or bodywork practice is:
                                  30%  The sole source of income for my family
                                                   48%  Additional income that is vital to
my household budget
                          22%      Additional income that is not vital to my
household budget

Which of the following best describes how you feel about money?

Les Sweeney: Since I have been with ABMP, we have occasionally run practice and income surveys of our membership, dating back to the late 1990s. Being a numbers guy, I find this information fascinating and useful to get a sense of how our members are faring in their chosen profession. I also like to compare results from survey to survey to get a sense of how the overall income profile of massage therapists has changed over the years. An important caveat to this data is that we always have to recognize a propensity toward “sample bias.” What does that mean? Sample bias is where the data collected in a survey under- or overrepresents a certain audience segment. Historically for us, our survey data skews older and more established, which isn’t hard to understand—people more “into” their profession are more likely to participate. This is not terrible; economists typically want to understand what the profession looks like from “mature” practitioners, rather than folks just starting out. Those can be captured separately, or segmented.
As evidenced in these first few data points, the majority of survey respondents (and the profession, in general) are independent practitioners; in spite of the mushrooming of employment opportunities in massage in the past five years, most people still practice independently, or do so in conjunction with practicing at a “job.”
And these therapists practice, on average, nearly 15 hours per week, with a median of 13. That number is slightly higher than in past surveys—we’ve been in the 12–14-hour range historically. That equates (according to the follow-up question) to an average income of approximately $23,600, with a median income of around $20,000. These are also slightly up over historical totals, but are close enough to not indicate a spike of any sort.
Nearly 8 in 10 therapists indicate that their massage earnings are critical to their livelihood—either as the sole source of their income (30 percent), or an important part of their household income (48 percent).
We also asked about members’ attitudes toward money. A common refrain we hear over the years is that therapists have a hard time with money. Nearly one-third of therapists described their feelings as “anxious” about money, while just slightly less felt either “excited” or “indifferent.” So, therapists are probably not that different in their feelings about money than the rest of the population.
Which of the following best describes how you feel about your level of income from your massage practice?
                            45%  Satisfied; I feel good about what I earn
                                     55%  Dissatisfied; I want to earn more
For those who answered dissatisfied, what do you think is the best way to change that?
                             30%  More clients/sessions
     5%  Charge more
                                   38%  A combination of the two
                         27%  Other

KRISTIN coverly: I like seeing that 45 percent of therapists are satisfied with their current level of income. That percentage is honestly higher than I expected it to be, but I’d love to see it pass the 50 percent mark on the next survey. Those who replied “other” when asked the best way to move from dissatisfied to satisfied indicated they want to increase their marketing strategies, decrease expenses, sublet their office space, learn new modalities, and add additional income streams like product sales and session add-ons.
Our survey respondents were on the right track: the options for increasing your bottom line are to make more, do more, or spend less. Your job is to see which of these components needs some of your attention (there’s a good chance all three need a little love).
• Make more: increase your per-session income by raising rates, selling product, or promoting add-on services and upgrades.
• Do more: increase your number of sessions through marketing campaigns that attract new clients and encourage current clients to come more often.
• Spend less: decrease expenses by lowering your big-ticket items like rent (change offices or sublet), technology (shop around for better rates on credit-card processing, cell phone, etc.), and supplies (buy in bulk when they’re on sale). Look at every item on your expense sheet and challenge yourself to decrease the amount you’re paying without sacrificing quality.

Which of the following comes closest to how often you raise your session rates?

Ls: OK, I’ll admit—these responses were a little surprising. And disturbing—over 40 percent of respondents had never raised their rates! A friend of mine in the field had great advice: “If your practice is full, the first thing you should do is raise your rates.” Why? Because your clients are telling you they value your work, and that, in essence, you’re a bargain. Think about everything you buy—what, if anything, is staying the same price? Just about nothing! I can only think of two areas that may not be getting more expensive—technology is one (think about computers, TVs, etc.). And in their case, they may not be getting cheaper, but rather just getting better at the same price (faster, bigger, leaner). The other example is ABMP membership—no change in the Professional membership fee since … EVER! But I don’t want to brag.
But the rest of the world is subject to inflation, or basic supply and demand. Been to a concert lately? Holy smokes. And more mundane items like coffee, food, rent. If you have a service people value, do not be afraid to charge an appropriate, fair price.
True or False: you know the balance in your business checking account off the top of your head.
                                                                                 72%  True
                                    18%  False
                     10%  Are you kidding?
Ls: You shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t know this to the penny, but you should probably know within $50 (especially if you have less than $50 in it). And what this leads to, of course, is you should be using some type of money-management or personal finance software that can help keep this info up to date. Quicken, Mint, or my personal favorite, Banktivity, are all good options.
True or False: You pay off your credit card balances every month.
                                                57%  True
                                       43%  False
KC: I think we can all agree that paying interest on credit card balances is one of the most frustrating ways to spend money; think of all the other, much more exciting ways you could spend those dollars! Something I did during a particularly lean time to make sure I was spending within my limits was to transfer money weekly to my credit card instead of waiting for the big lump sum that was due at the end of the billing cycle. That way, I kept up with my weekly spending, and I was much more aware of how purchases were adding up throughout the month.
Look at the big picture of your finances and evaluate all the interest-paying loans and balances you have—car, credit card, student loans, etc.—and focus on paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first. Also, consider consolidating your loans. As challenging as it may feel, setting financial goals to reduce the money you’re spending on interest payments and then working toward those goals every month will really pay off (cheesy finance pun intended).
True or False: I keep a safety cushion in a savings account to make sure I can handle any unexpected expenses.
                                                                               68%  True
                                           32%  False
Ls: Nearly 7 in 10 therapists keep a financial cushion in a savings account; I thought that number was pretty good—of course, we’d like it to be 100 percent, but that may not be realistic. What was really cool was what people shared about that cushion. I wasn’t able to crunch the numbers because of how the question was answered, but it appears the average amount was probably between $1,000–$2,000, with a wide degree of variance. If you compare this to the September 2016 GOBankingRates survey (, massage therapists stack up pretty well. That survey indicated that 69 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. MTs are the inverse—7 in 10 do have that. So, good job, people. Building up a cushion is hard, but critical.
Do you have a retirement plan in place that you contribute to regularly?

KC: I’m not surprised by these responses; sometimes saving for retirement can be the farthest thing from your mind when you’re focused on paying daily and monthly expenses—and creating that safety cushion referenced in the last question. But it’s important to start as soon as your budget allows. Most of the therapists who answered no indicated that they either plan to but haven’t gotten to it yet, or don’t know how to get started. It seems like it would make everything so much simpler if there was only one option, but—in a good way—you have a lot of choices for how you want to invest your money. Some options are specifically created for retirement—401(k), Roth IRA, SEP IRA, traditional IRA—while others are more general investing tools (bonds, mutual funds, stocks, etc.). Each individual needs to find the unique investing solution that works best for their situation.
I’ll leave the detailed explanations of investing and retirement options to the pros. To that end, I encourage you to hire a financial planner to help guide you through your options. To do your own research, I recommend you start by looking at the finance and retirement section of a bookstore (physical or virtual) to see which titles catch your eye and resonate with you. If you’re feeling intimidated, get a friend on board and work through the book or resources together.  

Retirement Planning
Here are some online resources to get you started:
• AARP Retirement Calculator:
• Investing 101:
• Retirement Investing 101:
• Investing podcasts:

Les Sweeney, BCTMB, is ABMP’s president. Contact him at and read his occasional blog posts on Kristin Coverly, LMT,, is the manager of professional education at ABMP and creates resources and teaches workshops for therapists across the country. Both are massage therapists with business degrees who care about you and your practice.