The Anatomy of a Fee: How to Achieve Financial Self-Care

What’s really included in a fee? Just because you’re charging $125 for a session doesn’t mean you’re banking that entire amount. That fee has to cover a variety of different expenses that many practitioners may not be thinking about—including things other than your bills. At the end of the day, setting fees that pay you what you’re worth is an act of financial self-care. 

In my coaching practice, I ask other therapists some key questions to help them make sure they’re accounting for all the necessary parts of their financial self-care in the fees they set. I encourage them—and you—to think about other elements of your fee outside of things you might already build into your fee schedule like court appearances, consultations, and no-shows. 

Key Questions for Financial Self-Care

Of course, your fees need to cover all of your expenses like food and rent. But practicing true financial self-care means that you’re also budgeting for things in your life outside of work that bring you joy. When setting your fee, make sure that it allows you to pursue other areas like time off and acts of self-care. The following questions are ones that I ask my coaching clients, and now I’m asking you. Think about all the things you charge for, and how much you charge. Then ask yourself—does your fee help you run the business you want to run, and live the life you want to live?

Can you take ample time off?
Consider how much time you need to take off from your practice for things like holidays and vacations. According to the Journal of Happiness Studies, people need about eight days off to truly recharge and de-stress. Eight days away from your office and email inbox gives you time to decompress, sleep in, and mix up your routine. When you come back from a true vacation, you’re less likely to experience professional burnout. Set up your fee structure in a way that allows you the breathing room to take the time you really need to recharge throughout the year—without it impacting your income. 

Can you pay business and personal expenses?
When I coach private practitioners on fee-setting, I notice they often forget that their small business must also support their personal expenses—not just their business expenses. In other words, they’ll consider the costs of their office rent and utilities. But, they don’t always think about that same fee also needing to cover their rent at home, groceries, and other bills. When you’re setting your per-session fees, make sure to account for all the factors of your lifestyle—even if that means raising your rates slightly to make sure you can afford the life you have, and the life you want. 

Can you contribute to retirement? 
No matter how much you love your job, you probably don’t want to work forever. Regular retirement contributions are crucial to ensuring that you can continue to practice financial self-care even as you get older. Play around with some online retirement calculators to see how much you should be contributing to your retirement. Then when you create your fees, make sure that those contributions are built into it. 

Can you afford quarterly taxes?
Small business owners in the United States must pay their taxes quarterly. (Our friends in Canada pay their business taxes once a year.) Make sure that your fee budgets for paying taxes in that cadence without representing a huge sum of money all at once. Some tax experts recommended setting aside roughly 30% of your income for taxes. If you have specific questions about how much of your income you should set aside, consult with a tax professional.  

breakdown of a fee wheel graphic

Can you cover health insurance?
If you don’t get insurance through traditional employment or your partner, consider setting fees that allow you to purchase your own. Research what it costs to get health insurance through the Marketplace, and factor that into your fees.

Can you work your ideal schedule?
A perk of being a practitioner who is also an entrepreneur is that you get to set up your schedule in a way that works best for you. Because so much of the working world operates on a 9-to-5 schedule, many practitioners automatically set their schedules up in the same way. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

You can shift all your appointments to the morning, and reserve your afternoons for administrative tasks. Or you can only work afternoon hours, or just the weekends. When you’re creating a schedule that works for you and your lifestyle, think about how many days in a week you want to work, or how many weeks each month. Then make sure that your fee for those sessions still covers your monthly expenses, and your ability to take time off when you need it. 

Can you enjoy self-care activities?
Ah, the joys of seeing practitioners practicing self-care! We all preach its virtue to our clients, but we often forget to use the self-care and coping skills we so frequently talk about. As you create your fee, make sure to account for the money and time you need to practice your own self-care activities. If you love throwing pottery or playing a group sport, carve out the time and money for it. When you’re creating your fee and laying out your personal expenses, make sure to budget for activities you enjoy—and that allow you to practice financial self-care as well.

Overcoming Money Mindset Blocks

Many practitioners I work with have to wrestle with a unique set of mental blocks to raise their fee to a level that supports their business and their personal lifestyle. When I do this exercise with my coaching clients, I frequently get pushback from practitioners who worry that they’re passing on their cost of living to their clients. While I understand the concern, I vehemently disagree. 

Think about what a traditional employer would have to pay you. Think about the benefits they would have to provide you, and the time off they’d have to give you. Now think about all the work you do in private practice, and how much you’re paying yourself for that work. Would you work for an employer that expected you work over fifty hours a week, with no health insurance and no time off? Probably not! You have to treat yourself like the valuable employee that you are. You, your clients, and your business will reap the rewards of your financial self-care practices. 

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