On the Value of Astrology Part 2

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Considering Venus’ retrograde station is right around the corner (this Friday), it feels appropriate to follow up on the Value of Astrology episode astrologers Annabel, Elodie, and I recorded back on September 15. We had a lengthy and stimulating discussion about the value of astrology, including perspectives on:

  1. How much is an astrology reading worth?

  2. Where astrology fits in to the growing self-help industry

  3. Capitalism, millennials, and the potentials and limitations of the market

That said, the episode was structured to share important perspectives from two seasoned professionals in the field. But I realized afterward that I unintentionally left out where I stand on this topic and I thought it only makes sense to offer a bit of follow up on how I do business and why I charge what I do.

When I first began consulting clients, I took the approach that most of my fellow astrologers take—which is to get an idea of what a typical going rate is for the work I was doing and the service I was offering. Though there is a broad range, the average rate of an astrological consultation (regardless of skill and experience) runs between $100-$200. Considering the number of hours some astrologers put into the prep work before one consultation reveals that some (perhaps many) only make a minimum hourly wage once the consultation has finally been completed. Although there are practitioners who might feel comfortable with doing cold readings (interpreting a chart without analyzing a number of factors beforehand), most of the skilled professionals that offer high quality service spend time getting familiar with a chart before speaking to a client.

Astrology consultations aren’t synonymous with psychic readings. Though they might be similar to tarot readings, there is a considerable amount of structure that a practitioner needs to be familiar with to know their way around a chart. Much more than is needed to pick up a deck of cards and read a spread. Tarot has its value and the point isn’t to say astrology is better than tarot, but…

There is a reason why there are more tarot readers than astrologers

To be able to synthesize that information into something beyond a list of keywords requires a dedicated practice that many never put in. Much of the knowledge that astrologers cultivate comes from their investment in courses, modules, and texts offered by other professionals; but the expense is out-of-pocket and matriculating this craft is no cheap thing. Legitimate astrologers are just like any other professional that went to college and paid their dues to learn their trade.

But because anyone can read a few blogs, self-publish a site (or Etsy), and hang a sign up for business there can be a reasonable amount of skepticism about what you should or shouldn’t pay for such a service. And as a fellow millenial, I’m well aware that there is considerably less disposable income to spend among the individuals of our generation. Anyone who knows me very well knows I’m very fickle about quality and (like most consumers in our culture) will usually opt for the best of what I can afford (even if I have to save for it). That said, I also know not to fall for the often misleading notion that

The higher priced item is always better.

It really isn’t. But larger businesses want you to think so. Inflated prices give the impression that an item is more desirable, more valuable. It’s not untrue… but judging an offering solely by its price is a juvenile mistake. There have been so many times when I dished out larger sums of money for a product or service that I thought might be worth the investment and (like most) believed that the higher price reflected the quality of what I could expect because “you get what you pay for”. And I have walked away from many of those experiences disappointed, realizing that my expectations were a projection of my imagination.

Before I was a practitioner of the healing arts, I was a business school graduate. I majored in marketing and spent six years of my life in a relationship with an ambitious business person consumed with the goal of becoming rich and “successful”. The last years of our relationship, he spent all of his time and effort trying to emulate untouchable copy writers and business gurus such as Dan Kennedy, Bill Glazer, Jay Abraham [to name a few]. Direct marketing gurus such as these preach about the reflection of an entrepreneur’s prices and their self-value. The idea is that if you undercharge, it sends a negative message that you aren’t confident, don’t value yourself, and that you’re not good at what you do. The idea that people will pay for something they consider valuable is true—but only to an extent.

In our podcast episode, Annabel mentioned how she would save up all of her money to be able to afford classes with her teachers (years ago). In the process of saving, she would eat $1 pizza and scrape by to meet her goal. She placed value in her education and it was her priority.

It’s a great example of what people will do for something they really want. But I find that it’s not always the case and not everyone is as ambitious nor does everyone have the same set of circumstances. But the same idea floats around the community of professionals who practice anything considered alternative, holistic, or otherwise fringe.

While it’s not something most acupuncturists are willing to open up about, the expectations about what an acupuncturist should be charging is, frankly, a hot mess.

The numbers don’t lie

Graduates leave with advanced degrees, frighteningly large student loans, and little promise of being able to utilize their skills as full-time practitioners (unless their bills are covered by family or spouses). It’s the reason why a large number of acupuncture schools are on the government watch list. The funding for financial aid is being pulled from more and more institutions whose students aren’t able to get jobs in the field and make a living as practitioners.

Aside from “community acupuncture”, acupuncture students are taught to charge $100+ for treatments even though needles are not expensive and the cost of a treatment is one of the cheapest forms of medicine that exists. The rationale is that clients are paying for the practitioner’s expertise. The time and money that was invested into developing their skill justifies the high bill. Professionals charge for their time because

“Time is money”

The problem is, this doesn’t take into account what the client actually walks away with. For example, acupuncture clients require a number of treatments before desired results are achieved. Sometimes ongoing acupuncture treatments are necessary just to manage a health issue that is otherwise always there. Most clients cannot afford several treatments at $100+ each. Especially the clients who need it the most. The marginalized who are overworked, extremely stressed, and underpaid. Most insurance companies won’t dish that out either.

Even the clients who can afford it usually get tired of paying so much and tend to drop out of treatments. Marketing programs catered to acupuncturists and the like encourage practitioners to offer packages where people can pay larger sums up front (“for a discount on the typical treatment price”) or pay for said package in payments. But what happens when the client needs further treatments (and they often do)? They tend to drop out of treatments and don’t go back for acupuncture. Community acupuncture is a viable solution for all of this, but that is a topic for another day!

The thing is, value is abstract and capitalism has created a lot of greed. It’s harder to gauge realistic expectations of what something is worth these days. Over the years, my prices have gone up and down according to what I felt was reasonable, based on the time I had to give, my financial needs, my skill, and what other astrologers were charging. As I got more work writing horoscopes, I increased my prices because my time became increasingly valuable. But then came a point when I was able to get some of that time back and when I did, I wanted to make my services more accessible to people who really wanted to speak with me, but had a very hard time paying $165 for a consultation. That’s when I introduced a sliding scale. I’m still fond of the idea, but have since decreased my prices after further reflection on the rationale behind my fees. While I may raise them in the future, right now I find no reason to set my prices according to what other astrologers charge. Who made that rule up? Or rather, who decided on the average price?

Though it is by no means unreasonable to charge $100+ for an astrology consultation, I feel comfortable charging significantly less than any of my colleagues. Colleagues who have graciously acknowledged my skill and encouraged me to go further and continue honing my skill [when at times I secretly felt “less than”]. Considering that most people aren’t rich— and that most of my clients could benefit from an astrology consultation— I prefer to charge everyday clients a fee that reflects what they’ll immediately walk away with. My work as a writer and the fees I charge to media clients is another story.

It may in fact be under priced. I’m certain many of my colleagues would argue that it is. Especially because,

My prices don’t reflect my skill!

I don’t say that lightly. It’s not a statement filled with hubris. I take my craft seriously, but I also do my best to remain humble in my offerings. My work is not my identity. I practice astrology. I call myself an astrologer. But it is not who I am. My fees do not reflect my self-worth. I do not charge less because I’m a beginner or because I’m not good at what I do. I think my published horoscopes speak well about my work, though a horoscope has a very limited word count and is not customized for a client based on their birth chart.

  • I don’t make false promises to clients

  • I offer real advice and I’m honest about difficult stuff that is likely to come up

  • I don’t pretend to know everything because I’m human (not omniscient)

  • I don’t take away people’s power by making decisions or giving absolute predictions because I know that life and a chart’s symbols often play out in interesting ways (ways that we don’t always anticipate)

  • I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours on prep work before consultations

  • I provide whatever notes I take, free of charge (and they’re often very thorough)

  • I make myself available to answer questions during the consultation and offer to answer a follow up questions when I’m able

I feel fortunate that I’m able to offer my services at the prices I do because I’m not the sole provider for my family… nor am I the main provider! I truly love what I do, though it is still a job; and sometimes people need reminding of that. The idea that a spiritual service should be free of charge is narrow-minded and a value judgement (often from people who don’t know how much energy goes into offering such a service). Combined with the increasingly present culture of spiritual bypassing and brainwashing programs used by billionaire marketers (creating a one-size-fits-all for entrepreneurs), I felt motivated to share a more nuanced view about the value of a highly abstract service like an astrology consultation. It’s a humbling job and the pay check is even more humbling. But my love for the practice only grows and I think the authentic passion for my craft gives it considerable value. Don’t you want to hire someone who loves what they do?!