Therapeutic massage: Rubbed the right way.

I had three massages in eight days. The circumstances were unusual and will likely never be repeated. But for a while I knew how the super-rich must feel: Really relaxed.

One of the three was my first-ever hot stone massage. I’d told my daughter that there should be Cold Stone massage, i.e., being rubbed with ice cream. She suggested that eating ice cream during a massage would combine the best of two very nice worlds.

The 60-minute sessions at Dynamic Chiropractic and The Vital Energy Center cost $35 apiece thanks to the magic of social buying. The other was slightly discounted ($97 for 90 minutes) because I bought a five-session package at New Seattle Massage.

Usually I try for an appointment every four weeks or so, but sometimes go for months without being rubbed the right way. However, the two social-buy deals were due to expire in early summer and I have to leave in a few weeks for a housesitting job in Alaska. And like my mom, I believe that waste is a sin.


Maybe it doesn’t sound frugal to spend $97, or even $35, on something non-essential. But the money comes out of the “treats” section of my budget. Some people do dinners out, shopping trips, basketball games, fine wine. I do bodywork.


A cost of doing business

Back when I was really broke and working some fairly physical jobs, I used to ignore the way my body felt. As physical and emotional stress built, pain would suffuse  the shoulder I’d injured in a long-ago car accident. Lower-back spasms bent me at a 45-degree angle. My jaws clenched tighter than a Main Line matron’s.

Eventually I’d deteriorate to the point where I could no longer lift my arms – never a good thing, and particularly inconvenient for someone who, among other things, had to clean an apartment building each week.

At that time I was slowly sinking into credit card debt due to an ongoing divorce. I tried to put every cent I could against the balance, which was like trying to melt a glacier with an Aim ‘n’ Flame.

But if I couldn’t lift my arms, I couldn’t keep my jobs. So I’d reluctantly scrape $35 or $40 away from debt repayment and spring for an hour of bodywork at a local massage school or any place offering a coupon. The relief was so profound that I would wonder why I didn’t do it more often.

I guess I thought that debt trumped pain.


Table for one

Now I know better. Massage is preventive medicine. It increases circulation and helps reduce anxiety and pain. Practitioners have given me tips on stretching, basic body mechanics and improving my workstation.

For me, massage is the chance to let everything go. I stop thinking. I float. It’s kind of like meditation except that while I do it, a licensed professional is working out all the ugly spots in my muscles.

Afterwards I’m simultaneously relaxed and energized. Massage reminds me that I actually live in my body. To me, that beats the hell out of shopping sprees or courtside seats. Frugality means saving where I can so I can spend where I want – specifically, on a massage table.

If you’ve never had this, I urge you to give it a try. Those lucky enough to live in areas with massage schools may find excellent deals. If not, then find yourself a reputable business that hires licensed massage therapists and watch for coupons and social-buy deals.

And please: Do not ask for a “happy ending,” even as a joke. You’ll be insulting the practitioner, who would be justified in ending the session early and leaving you to, um, your own devices. Don’t expect to borrow any emollients, either.

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  1. “And like my mom, I believe that waste is a sin.”-And wasting a few massages would be the biggest sin of them all! I completely understand what you are talking about. It is an investment in our health just as health food is. But I just can’t help but feel guilty about spending that kind of money on myself. Anna, my MIL, and I went once. OMG, it was wonderful. I have been trying to save on the sly to do this before she leaves for college. I’ll pray to the “fund” gods to help me.
    Great post!

    • Donna Freedman

      SonyaAnn: Some people say “God wants you to be rich.” I think God wants us to have massages.

  2. My sister is a massage therapist and she is amazing. I wish she lived closer to me!

    Good for you for splurging on yourself.

  3. Leah in the Interior

    So glad you are coming back to Ak for a bit!

  4. I have release point therapy done every month. I actually made it a goal for the year last year because the weeks would slip by without me having it done, and it makes such a difference.

  5. I really like your perspective: “Frugality means saving where I can so I can spend where I want….” I wish more people thought of budgeting as a way to get what you want rather than something that deprives you.

    I also appreciated the link to your article on social buying– I am going to check out all of the sites mentioned in that post today!

  6. I always enjoy reading about the ways people like to spend their money. I do not like massages (and even turned down a freebie from a colleague who was changing careers), but always spend on COMBED cotton sheets.

  7. Ro in San Diego

    I am getting ready to schedule my massage of the month tomorrow. I think I’ve gotten about $60 in free goods and services using coupons and rebates this week so my massage will be practially free. There’s a rebate check still in my wallet uncashed.

    Regarding social buying – San Diego has “Groupon” social buying network. Great deals! this weekend I’m enjoying a meal at a local ethnic restaurant – $40 meal for $20.

    I’m using a Restaurant.com coupon Friday for a posh local restaurant for lunch $10.00 coupon purchased for $2.00.

    Tommorow- party at the local Country Club for “regulars”.
    (They take Entertainment cards and our weekly meal is had for 20% off).

    The end of this week will be a good one, massage and gourmet food via coupons!

    • Donna Freedman

      I like the idea of a “practically free” massage. I, too, like to use money wisely (and sometimes sparingly) on essentials so that I can get the non-essentials that I crave.

  8. FranticWoman

    Yeah on the massages. I go every three weeks or so to combat pain. If I go to four weeks w/o one I can barely get out of bed. I used to think massages were a luxury item…but no more. I totally think of them as medical.

    I started seeing a myotherapist that does trigger point therapy (I’m hoping for something more long term in relief) . The funny thing is – it’s cheaper! even though she has extra training and certification. Plus I dont tip because she’s in a doctor’s office.

    Nice balance in your post. Frugal vs pain and mindfulness of what you are willing to pay for.


  9. Donna Freedman

    FranticWoman: Have you checked for social buying groups in your area, e.g., Groupon or Living Social? I have gotten some $35 massages that way. Usually you can buy more than one at the (often deeply) discounted rate.
    For more info on social buying, see “Big discount on small pleasures,” http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/FindDealsOnline/big-discounts-on-little-pleasures.aspx
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  10. Judy Voelker

    You have written exactly how I feel while getting my monthly massage therapy. I am forwarding this to my massage therapist for her enjoyment and my thanks. Have you tried acupuncture?

    • Donna Freedman

      @Judy: Thanks for your comment. I’ve never had acupuncture before. If my ship ever comes in, or if I ever get really generous insurance, then I’d give acupuncture a try. For now, the money from my self-care budget will go toward massage because it’s too wonderful to give up.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. Maharani

    I have a very well-paying but very high-stress job. One of my co-workers has a second business as a massage therapist-deep tissue. I have now committed to a monthly massage. She charges $60/hr, but brings her table etc to my house and often stays 2h, so actually it works out at ~ $30/hr. Its the best thing I ever did and helps immensely in dealing with the job stress. I love massage and its health benefits are manifold: its worth veery penny. When I get an extra paycheck (twice a year)-I treat myself to a biweekly massage. Money MUCH better spent than going to the mall!

  12. This post sings to me! Due to chronic health issues related to tight muscles in my neck and shoulders I seek weekly massage therapy at least once a week and sometimes two or three. It’s a must have in my budget and I will cut back on just about everything else in order to ensure my weekly visits continue. My therapist is the only health professional who has figured out how to help me deal with chronic pain. She’s a true miracle worker!

  13. I’ve been getting massages on & off since I was 16. I worked at a hospital & employees got them for 50% off. In my area, a massage runs $60-$80/hr + tip. I can’t afford that. And the massage schools have limited availability & no consistency. Now that I’ve paid off a huge chunk of debt, I’ve been able to make room in my budget for a massage once/month. It started as a treat, but is now deemed a necessity. I battle moderate to severe anxiety, chronic sinus issues & neck/shoulder/lower back pain from my desk job. I found a place that only charges $44.95 + a $5. If I check-in on Facebook, I get a free aromatherapy upgrade. I see the same therapist each time. She does just as good as the $80 ones. I also recently traded my photography services for two massages. I gave the BF one. She offered regular trades with the BF for meat from his store. Win!

    If my financial situation continues to improve, I may just up it to every other week. It’s so relaxing for my body, mind, & spirit!

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m budgeting for at least one per month. Unfortunately, the practitioner I’ve been seeing is leaving the state so it’s back to the drawing board in terms of finding a new place to go. Massage makes a huge difference in my health.

  14. Cakester

    Last Christmas the director of the senior nutrition service, where I volunteer every Friday, gave me a gift certificate for a massage with a therapist I knew. I just scheduled it. In two weeks I’ll get my first massage in a year! I was thinking of this article today and had to revisit it.


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