Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is It Like This Anywhere Else, Or Do We Just Suck?

The title of today’s post sounds strong, and it is. Many of us know what it is like to work hard for something with little or no thanks, but when it happens on a professional level with money, it is harder to swallow. Let me explain what happened and I would like you to explain if this is the norm where you live, be it in another part of the USA or another country.

The Meeting
About two weeks ago I had a meeting with my boss to discuss what I earned for my raise and annual bonus. First of all, my boss is the best and I understand that her hands are tied with a lot of things. She has guidelines to follow just like everyone else. Nevertheless, long story short, I did great last year! In fact, I only missed a perfect score for my annual review by one mark, just one mark! When I heard that, I just knew that I would be rolling in the dough, so to speak. Then we moved on to talk about the really important stuff: money. I learned that I had earned a little over $2200 for my annual bonus and my raise was 4%.

The Disappointment
I thanked her and was trying to sound as gracious as possible. Besides, one friend of mine did not get an annual bonus at all at her job and another friend who works at my job cannot receive any more raises because she has hit the proverbial ceiling. Yet, the truth is that I was really disappointed. I worked my butt (for lack of a much better word) off last year and I had the paperwork and testimonials to prove it. I did plenty of extra work, expanded my original ten daily duties that came with my job to over thirty (you heard it right, I do three times the amount of work on a daily basis than my job originally called for), and I was creative in saving the company money. $2200 for an annual bonus was kind of like a slap in the face. I was hoping to make almost double that amount and take it to buy a cheap, but good, used car so I could get out from under the burden known as a car loan.

As for the 4% raise, that would not be too bad for someone who was rich or at least well off, but not for someone like me who lives hand to mouth and by all accounts would continue to do so for at least another year since I can’t get rid of the car loan like I planned.

The Breakdown
Well, I tried to buck up and look for the silver lining in the increasingly gray clouds and told myself that I could still find a good car for about $2200, especially if I buy it from someone who is selling it not for money but to get rid of it so they can get a newer car. I hopped on Craigslist,,, and Ebay to find a car for sale by the owner, as opposed to a dealership in order to avoid ridiculous doc/administrative fees and taxes. I actually found a lot of good cars for less than $2200 and was starting to feel like maybe I could still go along with my plans.

That’s when the following question hit me like 3 tons of bricks: Are my annual bonus and raise amounts being given to me in the gross amount (pre-taxes) or the net amount (post-taxes)? The answer would make a world of difference and I needed to find out, so I shot an email to my boss and asked her. She confirmed that I was dealing with the gross amount. I hate dealing with the gross amount. It means nothing to me and is synonymous with the imaginary numbers I used to deal with in Algebra II in high school as represented by i, but I digress. My heart sank probably for the third time. Actually, my heart sank so many times during this whole ordeal that I was ready to take up residence in my local cardiac clinic.

I went on every website I could to calculate approximately how much would be taken out, but they only gave estimates and were pretty wobbly and I wanted to know exactly what I would have to play with. Well, my friends, I found out today. Here is the breakdown:

Of the $2200 for my annual bonus, I only received about $1300. Uncle Sam (who I would like to disown, by the way) took 39%. 39%?! That’s $858!

‘But Erica,’ you say, ‘take your raise to save and buy that new car next year.’ Good idea! However, the 4% raise (which raises my base income by $0.60) is only worth $1200 annually, and when you divide it by the 12 months of the year it only equals an additional $100 per month, $50 biweekly. But remember, we are talking about pre-tax figures, so the money that I actually take home will probably only be an additional $30 or so.

That is what all of my hard work is worth: an additional $30 to take home in each check, and a glorious annual bonus of $1300. Well, since I have no money to put towards a new car, the good news is that between my bonus and the cash I have in the bank, I can pay the back payments on my car loan, a badly needed fuel injection and what I need to perform an oil, oil filter, and air filter change, gas to get me through the one and a half weeks, put $23 in savings, and pay the light bill. After spending the remaining $12 on the luxury of lunch for today and monthly feminine supplies, the balance will be $0. Lovely.  

My Conclusion
The truth is that I love my job. I like paperwork, computers, statistics, and not dealing with customers. What else could a paper-pushing math and tech geek like me want? My management team and colleagues are great because they really know how to leave me alone to do what I do. On the other hand, another truth is that in this country people oftentimes have to leave the job that they love in order to eke out a living by working a job they dislike because it pays more, and that is what I am now seeking to do.

What else can I do? My husband is still laid off, we need a bedroom set (not a new bedroom set, but a first one), our mattress is murder to sleep on, and the pleather sofa in the living room is starting to rip up. It is also difficult to keep food in the refrigerator, gas in the car, and keep up with auto maintenance, which is why I went back to doing it myself but I still have to buy the supplies. We live on $1600 a month and have $23 in our savings account right now thanks to my generous bonus as explained earlier. As a side point, no, my current job does not offer overtime to help me earn more money.

I was just online yesterday looking for a higher paying job, anything to make it easier. It took a lot of time to get to this point. I like my colleagues and the management team I am under. I have done some side work on, sold items on the Amazon Marketplace, received pennies for performing tasks for Amazon Turk, created this blog to earn money from ads (which turned into more of a hobby after yielding $0) and posted ads on Craigslist to offer all kinds of services to people, and signed up for Fiverr, all in an effor to receive extra money, but something has got to give. I just need to get a new full-time permanent job that pays more money, even if it means doing work that I do not prefer.

The Effects
My situation has really made me feel self-conscious around others. I don’t measure my self-worth or my relationship with my husband in dollars and cents, but I still cannot help but feel a little disappointed when I have to get my shoes from Goodwill because I cannot afford a pair of clearance shoes from Payless; when I overhear other couples discuss how they are going to take a cruise or a trip out of state when we can barely afford the gas to travel to the other side of town; when I walk past a jewelry counter displaying cheap engagement rings that are less than $100 that we cannot afford while my engagement ring is home in my jewelry box because it started to change colors a little after four months of wearing it; when I have to turn down every invitation to eat out with others because we simply cannot swing it; when others were in their warm comfortable homes this past winter while we were huddled around a cheap small portable heater to keep warm in an effort to keep the energy bill down; when my co-workers go to the cafeteria or elsewhere to have lunch while I have sometimes had nothing to eat because I needed to leave enough food in the house to eat dinner – my one meal of the day; when friends are able to get their feet, hands, eyebrows, and hair done regularly while I can’t even seem to get up $15 up to buy the supplies needed to braid my own hair; and when others in the grocery store are able to purchase whole pork loins, racks of ribs, cuts of exotic meats like bison and lamb, and seafood, while we have to buy ramen noodles, grits, pork chops, and chicken thighs.

I am not comparing myself to people who are rich, but just what the average person can afford. We usually cannot even enjoy the basic things in life. However, no matter how I feel on the inside at times, I try to be strong for my husband and keep it inside. Any woman whose husband has been unemployed knows how trying that situation is on everyone in the household. My husband already has bouts of feeling less than a man because I am the only one working now, but the feelings intensify the moment I say that we don’t have enough to take care of something because he knows that we would have enough if only he could find work. He has the car right now and is driving around to find work, and he really will do anything, even if it means making minimum wage or less.  I try to reassure him and tell him to focus on what he does contribute to the household and that what matters are his efforts to find work, but sometimes I can’t get through.

What is your experience?
What I’m dying to know is the following: Is professional life this sucky for anyone else? As bad as things are for us financially, we have, by the grace of God, been able to keep things together thus far. We are also able to enjoy spending time together doing very simple things, and I would not trade those moments for anything. Yet, the fact remains that currently my professional life sucks and his is nonexistent.

What about you? Are you able to purchase what you need with little care or are you also in a constant struggle? Do you feel like you are being fairly compensated, or is your income not equal to the work you put out for your employer? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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