i offer care and services on a sliding scale, in order to increase access to people who might typically be excluded. the sliding scale is one way of acknowledging differences in wealth, income, costs, and privilege and actively address the economic disparities in our communities and society. sliding scale fee formats rely on honest self-reflection, trust, accountability, and community.
What is a Sliding Scale? How Do Sliding Scales Work?
Alexis J. Cunningfolk wrote a great blog post on their website, Worts + Cunning, that explains sliding scale services in a way that resonates with me. Please see the blog post here, for their explanation about the hows & whys of sliding scales.
Here is an excerpt from the post:
“Class and economic justice are topics that lots of folks struggle to talk about in the United States because most of us aren’t educated in schools or the culture at large to talk about money, access to resources, and what class actually is. Class, of course, cannot be understood as an isolated experience, but is part of the complex interactions of race, gender, ability, privilege, sexuality, and the myriad of identities we all hold. I think the sliding scale is a great way to begin a conversation about class because it frames the discussion from the standpoint of access.
First, if you’re unfamiliar with what class is and why it matters, please visit classmatters.org to learn more and check out the additional resources listed at the end of this post.
The sliding scale is a tool that allows for a product or service to be obtained at multiple price points based on the circumstances of the purchaser. Typically, the scale will be set in a chart. This method allows folks who would most likely be priced out of something to have the chance to take part in it. It also seeks to address the systemic inequalities of class in our culture. The sliding scale represents the idea that financial resources, including income, are not and should not be the only determining factor in whether or not someone can access services/care/etc.
Recently, someone shared with me the idea of sacrifice versus hardship when examining access. If paying for a class, product, or service would be difficult, but not detrimental, it qualifies as a sacrifice. You might have to cut back on other spending in your life (such as going out to dinner, buying coffee, or a new outfit), but this will not have a long term harmful impact on your life. It is a sacred sacrifice in order to pursue something you are called to do. If, however, paying for a class, product, or service would lead to a harmful impact on your life, such as not being able to put food on the table, pay rent, or pay for your transportation to get to work, then you are dealing with hardship. Folks coming from a space of hardship typically qualify for the lower end of the sliding scale. I find the idea of sacrifice versus hardship to be a very useful nuance when talking about class and access because it recognizes and respects that paying for something might still be a challenge even if it is just a short-term one, while giving appropriate space for those who are dealing with financial hardship.
Here is a general guidelines about how I currently price my sliding scale and to help you determine where you fall on it.
- The highest dollar cost reflects the true cost of the class or service. It is the cost that the practitioner would charge all students in the absence of a sliding scale. If you have access to financial security, own property or have personal savings, you would not traditionally qualify for sliding scale services. If you are able to pay for “wants” and spend little time worried about securing necessities in your life, you have economic privilege and power in our community. This price is for you.
- The middle cost reflects the practitioner’s acknowledgement that paying the full cost would prevent some folks from being able to attend, but who do not honestly find themselves reflected in either descriptions for the highest cost or the lowest. If you are struggling to conquer debt or build savings or move away from paycheck to paycheck living, but have access to steady income and are not spending most of your time thinking about meeting basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care, child care, etc., you belong here. If you, however, can ask others for financial support, such as family members, partners, or friends, please consider using those personal resources before you use the resources of the sliding scale and limit opportunities for others.
- The bottom cost represents an honest acknowledgment that there are folks whose economic circumstances would prevent them access if there was not be a deliberate opportunity made for them to access services at a cost that is reflective of their economic realities. If you struggle to maintain access to needs such as health care, housing, food, child care, and are living paycheck to paycheck or are in significant debt, you belong probably belong here and you deserve a community that honors your price as equal an economic offering as the person who can pay the highest tier. Even when the lower tier is still prohibitive, I will work with folks to offer extended payment plans and other solutions.
Please be mindful that if you purchase a price at the lowest end of the scale when you can truthfully afford the higher ticket prices, you are limiting access to those who truly need the gift of financial flexibility. Being honest with yourself and your financial situation when engaging with sliding scale practices grows strong and sustainable communities. It also respects the work of teachers and creators.
(Below) you’ll find a graph illustrated with three bottles. Each bottle contains sentences that describe a person’s current financial experience and class. The bottle on the far left is full of beautiful green potion representing the upper end of the sliding scale spectrum. Folks who identify most with the statements in the far left bottle qualify to pay for class tickets at the upper end of our sliding scale. The middle bottle represents folks who sometimes can pay for the upper end of the sliding scale, sometimes the middle, and sometimes the bottom half (depending on how many sliding scale options are available). The bottle on the far right represents the lowest end of the scale and folks who qualify to purchase class tickets from the bottom of our price spectrum.
At the end of the day, the sliding scale thrives on trust. Trust is a pretty amazing thing. I trust you to be honest in your assessment of your economic reality. ”
Resources on Sliding Scales
The Sliding Scale: A Tool of Economic Justice (2015) from Worts & Cunning Apothecary
How to Make the Sliding Scale Better for You + Your Clients (2018) from Worts & Cunning
Sliding Scale: Why, How, and Working Out the Who from Ride Fearless Money
Additional Resources on sliding scales:
Radical Tarot: Let’s Talk About Sliding Scales – This is a really important piece that covers privilege, resource access, white supremacy, racial income disparities, etc.
Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks
Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists by Betsy Leondar-Wright