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The Recession Finally Hits My House

This article was written by in Career and Work. 28 comments.

I work for a small Interactive Agency of twenty-four people. This is a company that managed to survive the dot-com bust and, like any company, has good times and bad times. Our president always makes every effort to keep great people, even if it means cutting her own salary. I consider myself lucky to have found a place there, not only because I love my work, but for the atmosphere and common sense of purpose.

Now, I consider myself even luckier. Yesterday, instead of twenty-four people, there were twenty-six. We simply don’t have enough work in process to keep going the way we were, so the management team had to find $60,000 a month to cut out of our operating costs. We had to let go of two project coordinators, ’cause we simply didn’t have enough to keep them busy.

Less drastic, but more personal, is the 10% salary cut that will affect everyone else for the foreseeable future. This will bring my before-tax salary of $80k to around $72k. I’m not going to complain about this. $72,000 a year is a lot of money, especially considering I don’t work under hazardous conditions, or with unruly children, and I don’t have to take steroids to stay competitive.

However, this will require my wife and I to tweak our budget somewhat. $72,000 is a huge salary for someone with no debts; unfortunately I am not that someone. It was that extra $8,000 that was enabling me to make so much progress toward finally erasing my credit card debt that began in 1997. As of today, the balance is down to $3,522. My first instinct for modifying the budget is to say, “Okay, let’s just ignore that credit card until things get better.” I know that’s not wise. The last finance charge on the card was about $37, and if I start making just the minimum payments each month, that number will just get bigger and bigger. It’s a complete waste of money.

But there are other considerations, too. My wife and I have things we want to do this year. In fact, we’ve already paid more than $1,000 to go to a conference in California, but we haven’t arranged any plane tickets or figured out where we’re going to stay for the vacation days when we’re not at the conference itself. And then there’s the pet sitter, the meals in nice restaurants, etc.

Or maybe this is the kick in the pants that I need in order to spend more time working on my freelance work. Given the different ways that a salary and freelance work are taxed, in order to make up the difference, I’d need to earn about $1,000 a month (putting half away for taxes the next April). I don’t imagine that’s going to happen anytime soon, but it does give me something to work toward. Flexo is always happy to have me write more for this site, and there’s a side business in Web Analytics that I’ve been flirting with. My two pro bono clients (I wanted to practice) have been thrilled with my work so far, so maybe it’s time I start courting paying clients.

As I said, I can’t really complain about my cut in salary. If it weren’t for the two car loans from 2006 and my history of dumb materialism, my wife and I would have quite a bit saved up. I have faith we’ll get to a point of having a three-month buffer, but it won’t be this year.

Published or updated April 3, 2009.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

These are definitely troubled times. I am sorry about your pay cut. I hope you can work out a good budget.


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avatar 2 Anonymous

“Yesterday, instead of twenty-four people, there were twenty-six.” Either you had The Bobs in, or you meant to say you went from 24 to 22.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

He’s got it right – yesterday there were 26, today there are 24.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

No, he got it wrong.

“Instead of twenty-four people, there were twenty-six.” means that the default condition of 24 people is now 26 people. I don’t think that’s what Smithee meant to say.

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avatar 5 Luke Landes

First sentence of the first para and second sentence of the second para:

I work for a small Interactive Agency of twenty-four people… Yesterday, instead of twenty-four people, there were twenty-six.

First sentence establishes the norm, even if the norm is new. Perhaps awkward, but accurate.

With that said and off the discussion — I’m sorry to hear about the pay decrease, Smithee. It sounds like you love your work, though.

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avatar 6 Smithee

I excel at awkward.

avatar 7 Anonymous

You can’t leave out the “yesterday” at the beginning of that sentence, Dustin. :)

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avatar 8 Anonymous

I was just hit with a 7% salary cut about two weeks ago – your new salary is nearly identical to mine – I went from $78k to just over $72.

I am very grateful to have a job, but my husband and I have spent the last couple of weeks tweeking our budget so that our efforts to aggressively pay down debt aren’t derailed.

I’ve also started freelancing (strategic consulting) and am still evening teaching courses at area universities, but those opportunties are much fewer lately.

Best of luck as you work through this!

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avatar 9 Anonymous

The company I work at laid off 15 people about 2 months ago. this past week we lost our biggest client. That means we had to lay off another 5 people. Luckily I haven’t been affected, and there have been no pay cuts – yet. In fact I got a nice performance bonus, so I’m counting myself lucky!

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avatar 10 Anonymous

A friend of mine who works in a company not to be named told me the other day that his department just got downsized from 14 people to 3. He also got a 12% paycut and took on 4 other people’s responsibilities. I went to school with this guy – terminal master’s degree, several professional association memberships, thousands of shows under his belt. I guess thank whomever you need to thank that your company is doing at least 24 people well.

Being multi-faceted is never a bad thing. The economy blows – we all gotta act accordingly.

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