So I got my annual salary increase letter today. This is the first time I’ve gotten one at my current place of employment and I stared at the envelope with a mix of nervousness, fear, and excitement for a few minutes before opening it (yes, okay, I’ll admit I indulged about 10 seconds’ worth of wild fantasies about what if it’s something huge like a 10% raise?!?). The verdict? A three percent increase. Okay, cool, that’s nice. I’ll take whatever increases I can get! And then I started wondering what the usual annual percentage increase is for cost-of-living adjustment. Is it 3%? Usually a bit less? I believe my increase at my previous place of employment was 2.5% (maybe less? Whatever, I was making $17.25 so whatever it was bumped me all the way up to something like $17.80), but that was there. What was I supposed to make of the 3% raise here?
I got deadly curious about what the usual annual bump is and definitely wanted to ask someone about it. I have a coworker that sits right outside of my office and I will usually just poke my head out of my door to ask her things/make comments/participate in conversations other people are having with her. It would’ve been so easy to just ask her what the usual is since she’s been there a few years, but I sat and thought about it for a couple of minutes. I actually debated just quashing the desire to know and move on with my life.
Eventually curiosity won out and I got up the nerve to ask her what the going cost-of-living increase is. I needed to use her printer to make copies of something anyway so I super-smoothly (not) sauntered out there to do that and then just also super-smoothly (also not) happened to ask about money. Turns out the usual is about 2%, and my coworker also got 3% so we high-fived and got on with wishing the last 30 minutes of the day would hurry up and pass already.
This little story is innocuous enough, but I was surprised with how reluctant I was to ask the question. Despite absolutely wanting to know, it was going to be awkward and I didn’t want to do that. What if the usual raise is 4+% so I somehow got less than that? (And follow-up, oh shit, does that mean I’m a bad employee and also actually about to get fired? Fuuuuuuuck.) What if my coworker only got a 1% increase and I had to hide the fact that I got more? I already found out months ago that I make a not-inconsequential amount more per hour than some of my coworkers, which, yeah, is awkward as hell. Honestly none of us peons down at the low levels get paid enough but it feels hypocritical to complain about my salary when I might be making $2-$4 more per hour than someone else in the conversation.
I’m a personal finance blogger so my numbers are out on the internet for people to see and you think I’d be okay talking money in person. Nope, turns out when it’s in real life talking cold hard numbers like raises instead of general “oh buying coffee every day is not in my budget” money subjects, I’m just as scared of it as everyone else.
So here’s what I have to say to myself and to everyone else: no more of this fear, y’all. We should absolutely be open with talking money. And not just money in general, actual numbers. It makes others feel like they’re not alone with their money struggles/issues, and honestly coworkers (especially those of us at the bottom rungs) should be talking with each other about how much money they make. It’s gonna be awkward for sure, but I really think it’ll be better for all of us when we know how things are and can then walk in to HR with a stronger position when asking for a raise, or when negotiating pay for a new job.
I feel like it’s fairly easy for those of us in the personal finance blogging sphere to say we’re fine talking money, but today was a reminder, at least for me, that perhaps that’s not always the case. Granted, I’m not one of the many engineers or computer programmers bringing in a cool six figures—maybe talking money would be no problem for me if I were that secure! But for those of us making fairly average money, I think it can only be a good thing for us to be more open. Sure, I’m not going to go around voluntarily handing out this information, but if one of my coworkers asks, I’m going to try to be better about being honest.
Back to my raise and what it means for me: honestly I’ve been saying that after taxes my 3% increase will result in something like $5 extra per paycheck, which is a joke, but it’s not that far off. Day-to-day, this raise is going to be largely inconsequential. I mean it’s only 3% and I’m not making enough for 3% to make a visible difference: if I were making $60k this would be a different story. However, that 3% raise will be immediately reflected in my 401(k) contribution as well as my employer match. I raise my contribution by 1% every year, but that was in January and our fiscal year ends in June so the new salary goes into effect July 1. I am super excited about an increase there with no effort on my part!
None of the above is to say I’m not grateful for the raise I’ll get starting next week because I certainly am, as someone on a modest income in a high COL area. It’s just that sometimes I get stuck on the “modest income in a high COL area” part instead of the “hey I just got a 3% raise and also I’m making well above minimum wage!” part. I absolutely do make enough money to live, just maybe with not quite the gap between income and spending that I’d like. But I don’t have to scramble every day to figure out how I’m going to pay my rent and my bills and how and what I’m going to eat between now and my next paycheck, and I’m grateful for that every day.