TV & Movies

How Phoebe Buffay Afforded Her NYC Lifestyle On Friends

Those massages don’t come cheap.

Phoebe Buffay's 'Friends' Salary, Spending, & Expenses, Explained
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Nobody on Friends embodied the New York hustle better than Phoebe Buffay. The funniest friend on Friends (yes, I said it) lived the boho-chic lifestyle that most city transplants dream of — but without Carrie Bradshaw’s budget.

Instead, Phoebe became a jack of all trades, moving from job to job. But none of those posts seemed to provide enough money for Phoebe to afford a decent living in Manhattan, even in the ’90s, making fans wonder how she could make ends meet.

Aside from Ross, Phoebe was the show’s only main character to live on her own. She claimed to have a roommate named Denise, which became a running gag when Denise was never seen or heard, causing suspicions among the group that she was entirely made up.

Regardless, her rent would’ve likely been more than Chandler and Joey’s place or Rachel and Monica’s (especially since they lived in a rent-controlled apartment), which once again puts into question how exactly she could afford her lifestyle.

She Raked It In With Massages

Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay and Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani in Friends episode “The One With Rachel's Assistant.”NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Phoebe’s most consistent job on Friends was as an independent massage therapist, which placed her in some hilarious situations. Because she often took up side gigs, fans might assume her massage work didn’t rake in the dough. On the contrary, Los Angeles-based massage therapist Sabrina Ortolano says that Phoebe could’ve made a good living out of that career.

“It’s interesting that Phoebe is often portrayed as poor and living in survival mode until landing a job at a corporate chain spa,” Ortolano tells Bustle. “If a massage therapist in private practice keeps their books full, they tend to do pretty well for themselves.”

Courteney Cox as Monica Geller-Bing, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay, and Paul Rudd as Mike Hannigan in Friends episode “The One Where Monica Sings.”NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

When Ortolano and her wife, Cyndi, started their private masseuse practices, they charged around $80 to $85 per hour. “New York tends to be more expensive, so it’s likely that Phoebe made well above that,” she says. “At the lower end, when working for herself, Phoebe probably made $90 an hour. On the higher end, as much as $200. Even in the ’90s.”

New York treats massage therapy as health care and requires 1,000 hours of training to practice on patients, so Phoebe’s rate would likely reflect that. However, since independent therapists choose their own rates, Ortolano says Phoebe could’ve even charged as little as $60 per hour. (Given the character’s laissez-faire attitude, it wouldn’t be surprising if she gave away good deals.)

Rent Was Affordable In The ’90s

Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay in Friends episode “The One That Could Have Been: Part 1.”NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

While renting an apartment in New York can be pricey, it was a bit more affordable in the ’90s, especially if Phoebe booked a good number of massages per week. “My first loft in L.A. cost $850 a month, and I could easily live on seeing just three or four clients per week,” Ortolano says.

In 1994, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York was around $1,500. If Phoebe’s roommate Denise were real and split the rent, that would’ve made it around $750. Even if Phoebe lived alone, it would’ve still been affordable for a full-time massage therapist.

She Worked Every Odd Job She Could

Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay in Friends episode "The One After the Superbowl" (Part 1). NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Phoebe had more worldly experience than the rest of the gang, thanks to her odd jobs. When she wasn’t giving massages, she also worked at a Dairy Queen, a phone telemarketing company, and as an aspiring musician who blessed Central Perk with iconic jams like “Smelly Cat.”

She even invaded her friends’ workplaces, working as Chandler’s temp secretary, Monica’s catering partner, and an extra on Days of Our Lives with Joey.

The pay for these jobs would have been all over the place, ranging from coffee shop tips to around $22 per hour as a secretary. Since they didn’t last more than one episode, it’s not likely that she would’ve made even a full year’s salary anywhere. But this money would’ve just been a bonus if she kept a regular massage schedule.

“The thing about being a massage therapist is that it allows you to make a living while working significantly less hours than most careers, so you do have more time to pick up other side gigs,” Ortolano says. “Phoebe was probably so interesting because she had the time to be.”

She Rarely Overspent

Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay and Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green on the Friends episode “The One Where Phoebe Runs.”NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Unlike some of her other friends (ahem, Rachel), Phoebe usually lived within her means. However, her reasons for doing so weren’t always financially motivated.

Phoebe was a champion for small, independent businesses. She even admonished Rachel for buying a coffee table from Pottery Barn (the horror!) and using a gift certificate for a massage spa chain (despite her secretly working at said chain).

But this lifestyle benefitted Phoebe financially, as most of her vintage, secondhand furniture would’ve been much cheaper than Pottery Barn, which later sold a Friends-inspired apothecary table for more than $1,100. As per usual, Phoebe was ahead of the vintage trend.