by Donald Quinn Dillon, R.M.T.

Are You Financially Fit?, MASSAGE Magazine

There are a number of ways to measure physical fitness, such as resting and active heart rate, VO2 max and maximum resistance tests. But how do you measure if you are financially fit? With physical fitness, awareness is key—which is also the case with financial fitness. Check your financial pulse:

1. Total income and business expenses last month, and for the last three years.
2. Personal monthly expenses—rent/mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, health/recreation, taxes, child care, savings/retirement, etc.
3. Break-even point, service capacity (how much you can work) versus actual services provided, contracting practitioner capacity/actual (if you hire contractors).

If you’re not sure of the answers to these questions, you many want to tone up your financial fitness. To be financially fit, we must be aware of our resources, so we can know how much we can extend ourselves and where we can fall back on if a crisis occurs. If we’re not aware of our financial picture, how can we make sound, logical choices about major expenses or future decisions? Look at how many celebrities or lottery winners, who make more money in a year than many people make in a lifetime, end up financially bankrupt. How is this possible? Financial awareness plays a key role.

Track your expenses to expand your awareness
So how do you tone your financial fitness? First, get a grip on your “ins and outs:” what income comes in, from all sources, and what goes out (expenses). Keep all your receipts and classify into six or seven groups to ascertain where your money goes. Tally up each month and enter into a spreadsheet. Do this for at least three months.

Now examine your spending habits. This analysis will give you important information regarding how you live, what priorities you have set (because that’s where you’re putting your money) and where you can make some positive changes. Do this every month. The 30 minutes a month you invest in this task will yield great returns in your life.

Some may ask, “But my accountant does my year-end for my taxes, isn’t this enough?”  No! To learn you are in negative cash flow is not something you want to wait until the next year to find out! If you’re on top of your financial statistics every month, you will be better prepared to stop the leak of money to nonessentials, plan for a vacation or electric table to save your back, and avoid financial decay. Remember, 4 out of 5 businesses fail within the first five years of start-up, and cash-flow is cited as the major cause.

One of my clients told me he discovered he was spending more than $400 per year at coffee shops. He then bought himself a thermos, made coffee at home and directed his newfound money to higher priorities. This small change made a big difference for him.

Live within your means, and learn how to expand your means
If you find your business is not generating enough income to sustain itself and provide for your personal expenses, you can generate further income or cut expenses. Ideally, try to do both for best results.

To raise income, see if you can comfortably treat a few more clients each week. This may mean being innovative in your treatment by using technologies, such as ultrasound, acupuncture, pressure bars and less-taxing techniques, such as long-lever myofascial release and Muscle Energy Technique, to lessen the direct impact on your upper extremities.

Strategies I’ve incorporated include using a bodyCushion and electric table to significantly lessen my strain during treatment. I’ve also arranged my schedule to work Tuesday and Wednesday as well as Friday and Saturday, so I have a rest day breaking up my weekly work. All of these innovations allow me to provide the maximum number of treatments I can comfortably each week, and they greatly contributed to the fact I am still practicing 17 years after graduation!

If you’re well-established and have overflow, consider adding an associate. Associating in a clinic is much more financially viable for new therapists than starting their own business, and they will learn greatly from observing existing business systems in action. Benefits to the clinic owner include offering more available clinic hours (lessening the need for you to be available at all hours), more diverse therapies and the offset of operating expenses. Another option is selling useful products that complement your massage therapy treatments.

If you’re treating as many patients as you comfortably can, then carefully examine your expenses. Perhaps you could cut back on eating out, decrease purchases on nonessential items or negotiate a better rate with your linen service. You may be able to share marketing and overhead expenses with a complementary practitioner, such as a naturopath, reflexologist, nutritionist or aesthetician.

If this isn’t enough, look at more aggressive approaches, such as dumping your car (with the associated insurance, gasoline and repair charges) for public transit. Downsize your home or apartment, or move in with a friend or family member and share living expenses. Some changes may take drastic measures, and they may feel counterintuitive to our consumer, gotta-have-it-now culture. However, you may find them more palatable than chronic debt and negative cash flow.

Save, invest and tithe for well-being and longevity
As with physical conditioning, you have to spend energy to get energy back. In fact, with the miracle of supercompensation, we paradoxically have more energy when we exercise than what we expend! This is also true with money.

Every book I’ve read on success and financial wealth describes the importance of putting money aside for yourself in reserve for emergencies, to care for you when you can no longer work and to contribute to the larger good. This process is called saving, investing and tithing.

Some may object, “But I don’t have enough money to cover all of my expenses. How can I put aside money for savings, investment and tithing?” Our culture, with its high cost of living, does breed a sense of scarcity, that there’s not enough to go around. Yet, in my experience, when I do as The Wealthy Barber author David Chilton recommends, “pay myself first,” I find the money is there. The universe seems to provide us with what we need when we take action.

I put 10 percent of my weekly earnings into a contingency fund for emergencies. I’m often amazed at, when I check the balance, how much it grows! You can do the same with an automatic account through any bank. Even $25 a month will grow over decades to be a formidable amount of money for you if illness or catastrophe ensues, or for your retirement when you no longer work.

As for tithing, I have a great technique to get rid of all those pesky telemarketers! Choose one or two charities close to your heart; this could be your church or a community organization. Decide an amount you can contribute on a regular basis, and then commit to making that contribution. I have an automatic monthly withdrawal from my account for the David Suzuki Foundation. Then, when you get a phone call from an agency you’ve never heard of looking for money, you can tell them you’ve chosen your preferred charity for your contributions—thank you and goodbye!

I encourage you to start with what you reasonably can. Over time, aim to eventually reach 10 percent of your gross income to distribute among your savings, investment and tithing accounts. You may not see much change in a day, but months and years will show the power you have with your money.

Being financially fit means being aware of your business and personal needs, living within your means while trying to expand your means and allotting money for contingency, retirement and worthwhile causes. Make sure to “exercise” regularly!

Donald Quinn Dillon, R.M.T., provides seminars, one-to-one coaching and business tools for massage therapists. He can be reached via his website, www.MTCoach.com.

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