I lost an offer over salary, and I’m regretting holding firm during negotiations

A reader writes:

A while ago, I had a really excellent interview with a company that advertised a salary range of below my current salary to above my current salary. I was so impressed with the team and manager that I decided that if I was given an offer, I would accept getting paid at my current salary, even though it would more than likely mean higher insurance premiums and giving up an annual bonus that’s typically over $9k. I’m also a single parent, and I know that moving to a new job without an increase in pay really isn’t a smart move. But that’s how much I fell in love with the job and the career opportunities it could open for me.

When I got the offer, it was at the bottom of the advertised range, which would mean $10k less than my current pay (not even including my bonus). I of course countered. They came back with an offer that was $5k less than my current pay and said they couldn’t do more than that because of their budget. Yet in a year, if I was approved, they would have the budget to give me a raise to what my pay is now. I was so disappointed that they couldn’t meet me at my minimum when they advertised a range that ended higher than what I make. I did the numbers on their second offer (including taxes, insurance premiums, and cost of commute) and I would take home around $1k less a month. That would leave my family bad off financially until I could get the not-guaranteed raise in a year.

I explained how accepting their second offer would put my family at a hardship and that I wanted to make this work and that I could go down to $3k less than my current pay. It would make things really tight, but not having to borrow money to make ends meet. This probably wasn’t the wisest negotiation move on my part, but like I said, I really wanted this job. Since I didn’t accept their second offer, they decided to move on.

I’m still at my current job that I’m not happy at, while going on interviews and fielding calls from recruiters. I can’t but help feel like I screwed this one up. On difficult days at work, I have this overwhelming sense of regret that maybe I should have taken the financial hit. And I want to call them saying that I changed my mind and I will work for what could be $15k less than what I make now (that’s including bonus). I guess I’m looking for validation that I made the right decision for my family and to keep on looking and eventually I will find another awesome opportunity. But a month after the negotiations, I’m still not finding that awesome job. Did I make the right decision? I’m also curious to see if what kind of candidate that they hired, as their offers are below the average for what people who do this work make in my area.

You almost certainly made the right decision. Accepting a salary that you describe as a hardship when you currently have a salary that works for you doesn’t make sense. And “at least I wouldn’t have to borrow money to make ends meet” is not a ringing endorsement.

Frankly, they probably made the right decision too — from their perspective, it doesn’t make sense to hire someone who will see the salary as a painful compromise and be unhappy with it. (That’s an additional reason that you shouldn’t call them now to say that you changed your mind; they’re likely to be pretty skeptical that it’s a good idea to bring you on at a salary that you really don’t want.)

Also, it’s a little sketchy that they initially advertised a salary range that they later told you wasn’t in their budget. There are legitimate reasons for offering a candidate the low end of a range and holding firm to it, but those reasons are things like “your experience and skill level puts you at this point in our range” — not budget. If the budget isn’t there, that range never should have shown up in their advertisement.

Hold out for something that pays you the fair market value for your work. Don’t second-guess this decision, which sounds like it was clearly the right one for you and your family. And don’t start worrying that you’ve passed up your one opportunity for a job you’ll enjoy. It’s only been a month — four weeks! That’s nothing. And meanwhile, you’re apparently getting calls about other jobs and interviews. Something else is going to come along that isn’t going to feel like a financial defeat.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 177 comments… read them below }

  1. Juli G.*

    You made the right decision.

    On the assumption that your job currently is a drag but not toxic… for me, the excitement of the new job would be completely negated if I needed four new tires or my son broke an arm or the stove stopped working and now I had to scrape to take care of that.

    You’ll find an exciting opportunity that won’t hurt your family and it will be a win-win.

    1. starsaphire*

      This, exactly. Emergencies can and do arise; if you’re already borrowing to make ends meet for everyday purposes, that sudden need for a new transmission or hot water heater is going to be a disaster rather than an annoyance.

      You’ll find something better! Keep looking. You have the confidence to know that your resume and your interview skills are good enough to get you an offer, so you’re already way ahead of the game there. :)

    2. LJL*

      You absolutely made the right decision. When you get the next job that is within your range (and possibly a raise) and is an excellent fit, future you will thank past you for turning it down. :-)

    3. INTP*


      Even if the job is somewhat toxic, actually. Being completely strapped for cash gives you the same kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop chronic stress that a stressful work environment does, at least in my experience. And if you had taken the job, you would be stuck there with that stress until you had put in a decent tenure (or get a job hop on your record), whereas now you are free to leave as soon as you find a job that meets your salary needs.

    4. annonymouse*

      There’s a great TED talk about motivators at work.
      Money isn’t a huge motivator PROVIDED THAT you earn enough NOT to worry about bills, food, shelter etc.

      By which I mean if you currently earn 40k and you get a job with a much higher salary then it doesn’t matter if it’s 100k or 200k – the extra 100k doesn’t double your performance, enthusiasm or motivation.

      You were right in not taking the job. All the extra enthusiasm and motivation would eventually be replaced with constant worry that just one wrong thing (serious car/house maintenance problem, sudden rent/mortgage increase, medical emergency) would leave you up poo creek without a paddle, boat or snorkel.

      Maybe in a year you earn your old salary – but then again maybe you won’t. It wasn’t worth risking your entire families financial security for.

  2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Also, it’s a little sketchy that they initially advertised a salary range that they later told you wasn’t in their budget.

    That’s really what stood out to me. OP, I think you should take a long hard look at this part of things and consider that maybe this wasn’t the perfect golden opportunity you thought it might be.

    1. Always Anon*

      To me this situation sounds like an employer who knows what the going rate for a position is, and wants to get good applicants, with the hope that they can win someone over during the interview process and hire someone below the going rate. And if that is the case, then it says a lot about how the organization generally functions.

      1. tucruwuw*

        I had a similar situation. I was approached by a company & one of my first conversations w/ the recruiter was salary range. Then I undersold myself, but the company was still interested. They had an extensive interview process including a technical project that had no solution (isn’t that fun). They liked to see how much time people spent before figuring that out. Anyway, after the final interview, the recruiter was on the phone before I’d even gotten home to negotiate salary & it was $10K (at least) than I was currently making. The only thing I could think is that they thought I’d enjoy the team so much I wouldn’t care about the salary. But to waste so much of my time was really upsetting.

    2. Down the road*

      Actually in some arenas, like government, the entire possible range for a position is often listed, the top end being the current salary cap for that position. If you hire in near the cap, your raise possibilities are limited unless that cap is raised. Typically hirers will avoid that, but the ad lets you know the position’s potential. Not saying this is a good idea for them to do, as it sets false expectations, but it is sometimes done as a demonstration of competitiveness with the market. The applicant can compare the range for Maintenance II across cities, counties, universities, school districts…

        1. Tuckerman*

          This can depend. I work for a University, which admittedly has lots of quirkiness in the hiring process. The University sets the pay ranges for each salary grade. So, if the position is advertised as a salary grade 2, as a hypothetical example, that corresponds with a range of 50-70K. But the employee’s salary and fringe benefits come out of the individual school’s budget (e.g. School of Nursing). That school can determine what is “in the budget,” as long as it is within the University’s salary range for that position’s salary grade.

          1. AnotherHRPro*

            This is what I came to say. They could have stated what the job’s official salary range is for the job. The Departmental budget may only be at the mid-point of the range. This was my experience when I worked at a University.

        2. Megs*

          I guess it depends on what “not in the budget” means. If I interview for an Attorney I position with the state (which I have been doing regularly over the last four years), the range will be listed at maybe $52-70k, but there’s no way I’d ever be offered more than $52k to start. I wouldn’t even expect to reach $70k any time soon since most state jobs are stuck at CoL increases at best – the $70k just means that in order for it to be possible to make more than that, I’d have to be rehired as an Attorney II.

          1. Jaydee*

            I see a lot of state government job postings with ***THE STARTING SALARY FOR THIS POSITION WILL BE $xx,xxx.*** in bright red, highlighted, bold, all caps, etc. where $xx,xxx is the lowest salary in the range for that job classification. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been practicing for a decade or haven’t even taken the bar yet, that Attorney I position will pay $52,000 to start.

          2. One of the Annes*

            I think it depends on the agency and its circumstances. At my old agency, I was helping Boss interview for a person to fill Position Name II, and Boss let me know that Boss had allocated up to X for the position. We would offer the person a few thousand less than X but could go up to X if the person negotiated.

            When I applied for Position Name III at the agency I’m now at, the range was listed as X-Z. I was offered Y and successfully negotiated (thank you for the negotiation scripts, Alison!) for Y + several thousand.

      1. Megs*

        That’s very common with state jobs here and I’ve learned not to negotiate, but I wouldn’t expect it with private sector employers – that’s just wasting everyone’s time.

      2. Bagworm*

        Just seconding this. Especially in government, they are likely even required to post the full range, regardless of what their budget can accommodate. The better employers will note in their ads that this is the full range and that, for example, new hires will rarely be offered more than, say, 20% above the bottom of the range.

      3. Xanadu*

        Came here to say this – here the range is huge (a job may go from 20k-80k) and then determined internally by competencies, needs, etc. However, because it’s a University, we also can’t change the advertising to constrict the band more to what we need. Very frustrating.

      4. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yes, but this and others’ comments on this don’t really apply here because the OP did not apply for a government position. If a private company does this, that’s different, so Alison and Countess are correct.

    3. Laura*

      This is definitely a big red flag! I hope OP can change his/her mindset and see this as a bullet dodged, not a missed opportunity.

    4. Anon Accountant*

      Yes this seems a little shady and you dodged a bullet. It doesn’t sound like they said “we apologize our posted range was a typo and an error. Does this range work for you”.

      The right job will come along with a good salary and benefits package.

    5. INTP*

      This isn’t that uncommon in my experience but I still think it’s ridiculous. When I worked for a staffing agency we had a client who had a range for every position but a policy that all people had to be hired at or below the midpoint for the position. I guess this is so people have room for salary growth, but why not just give out a range for people to be hired at where the maximum is the real maximum? You just offend and disappoint all your potential hires that way.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It’s not so people have room for salary growth. It’s bait and switch. “Salary growth” would mean advertising the position at the range you actually intend to pay, and then noting there is an opportunity for salary to increase with experience.

    6. JessaB*

      Yeh that’s kind of weird. I mean it’s not like the company got bought out or something and things majorly changed. They advertised a salary, they should be willing to pay it.

  3. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP, you got an offer! Some people job hunt for months without getting one at all. Even if you’re not happy where you are, this says to me that you should keep looking and try to find a new position that pays MORE than your current total compensation. You can afford to be picky, but you also have other companies (I’m sure that can’t be the only one) who would like to hire you away from your current job. This is an enviable position to be in, and thinking of it that way might make it more palatable to be choosy and take your time. After all, if you don’t, you might wind up in the same position six months from now, feeling like you need to move on.

    Good luck!

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      All of this. OP, do not just leap at the first thing offered to you. Take your time or you’ll end up in an even crappier situation that you may not be able to get out of.

      1. annonymouse*

        Heard that!
        I worked for a job where:
        1)The boss was hyper controlling, wouldn’t communicate and refused to acknowledge any thing positive I did or say “good job/good work” once in the 4 years I worked there.
        2) He cut my salary and hours. I was initially on 40k and earned raises up to 50k but then he cut my pay back down to 40k and my work hours from 38 to 28 a week – but I was still expected to get all the work done.

        Needless to say I was desperate to get out of there and I accepted a job outside of my industry – but still related – that didn’t suit me and where I wasn’t a good fit for the company culture.

        I was less miserable than at the first place but still really unhappy. I learned my lesson.

        I am now in a job in my industry that I love with coworkers that I get along with and a culture that is a great fit for me.

        A bad work situation is something you shouldn’t stay in BUT make sure you leave for a place that will make you happy and successful in the long term.

  4. K.*

    I would have a really hard time being happy at a job that paid me a salary that forced me into debt (“borrowing money to make ends meet”), no matter what the responsibilities or opportunities it might (and “might” is an important word here) eventually yield – and I’m single with no dependents.

    Money is important. It’s not everything, but it’s important. Everyone has a threshold. I don’t think you’re wrong for acknowledging that.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      This. Even with the career opportunities, you still need to be happy in the present to make those opportunities become your reality. Had the OP accepted that job she would be writing into AAM a few months from now with a letter that started with something like “What I thought was a great job opportunity….”

    2. Random Lurker*


      Challenging work, fun office environments, awesome coworkers, all mean nothing if you aren’t able to support your family. I’ve given these up in the past for more money, and I’ve sacrificed money to get these things in other circumstances.

      I’m older and wiser now. Money. Every. Single. Time.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I feel like there’s a cultural pressure at work here, too. People are told to “do what you love”, and lots of companies have an attitude of wanting to see ~~passion~~ for the job (and then treating applicants/employees who are concerned about the salary like they’re being “disloyal” or “not really caring about what they do”), so we have this attitude that even if it *is* important to you, you’re expected to pretend that it isn’t.

        Basically, we’re expected to care about the non-monetary aspects of the job the most and put that *above* the monetary part, and a lot of people get judgy about anyone who openly refuses to do that, but…employment is a business relationship. Money is a key factor of that relationship. It seems disingenuous, to me, to pretend otherwise.

        Wanting to be fairly compensated for your work is an absolutely reasonable stance to take. Period. Money matters.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes. ESPECIALLY when you have a family to support. It’s one thing for me, personally, to decide that I’m cool with a tight budget or low pay. It’s very, very different to say ‘well, we can’t pay for the electricity and you’ve got holes in your shoes, my darling child, but at least Mommy has fun co-workers!’ No.

        2. K.*

          Yeah, I have a problem with “do what you love.” There’s a strain of classism running through it – not everyone is privileged enough to be able to do what they love; if you can’t make a living doing what you love, you need – literally need – to find something else to do. Sometimes you just need a steady job to keep your lights on. I’ve taken survival jobs myself. There are lots and lots and lots of jobs that people do solely to support themselves – and that’s FINE.

          And that passion thing appears everywhere, and it’s nuts. No, a two-week receptionist temp does not need passion for the job (true story, I saw it in an ad). The job isn’t lasting long enough for the person to learn everyone’s names, and you want passion? Can’t they just answer the phones professionally and accurately? Why isn’t that enough?

      2. BeenThere*

        Show. Me. The. Money.

        Then I will mountains for you.

        Otherwise, don’t waste everyone’s time with the fantasy of great intangibles, they don’t pay the bills or help me retire.

      3. Rob Lowe can't read*

        Yes. I’ve been in my current job for 10 months. There are a lot of culture-type things that I really miss about my old job, but I am more than happy to deal with that because my current position pays me enough that I don’t have to worry every month about whether my rent check is going to bounce.

    3. LBK*

      Totally agreed. OP, in addition to doing these monetary calculations, do some quality of life calculations. How much happiness will it cost you when you have to be constantly aware of how each cent of your paycheck is going to be allocated? (As an obsessive budgeter even when I don’t need to be, let me tell you: it’s stressful.) How much happiness will it cost you when you have to tell your kids they can’t go to the movies with their friends or go on a school trip because you don’t have the money for it? How much happiness will it cost you if, god forbid, you or one of your kids gets sick or injured and you have to choose between paying medical bills and keeping the lights on? Do you think this job would generate enough happiness to balance that out?

      Personally, I think the old adage “money can’t buy happiness” is a load of crap. It may not buy happiness, but it buys food, shelter, heat and plenty of other things that are pretty essential to being happy. Your landlord and your utility companies don’t care how much you like your job – you have to pay them either way, and short of being a professional kitten snuggler I think it would be extremely hard to find a job that would balance out the stress of having to worry about those bills.

      You could either be unhappy and financially secure or unhappy and not financially secure. I know which one of those sounds worse to me.

        1. LBK*

          My sister pretty much used to be a kitten snuggler when she volunteered for the MSPCA – not a paid job, but getting to hang out with 40 cats for a few hours a week sounds like payment enough to me!

          1. Kairi*

            True, I had completely forgotten about doing that at the MSPCA! I wouldn’t need money for it, I’m currently renting and can’t have a cat, so agreed on it being payment enough. :)

            1. Jadelyn*

              I used to volunteer at a shelter when I was in college and couldn’t have a dog (because dorms). Spend a few hours every week running and playing with dogs? Hell yeah!

      1. K.*

        I have an ex who has a wealthy relative who liked to say that “the only problems money solves are money problems.” Ex hadn’t grown up with much and struggled in a low-paying field in an expensive city as an adult – he had basically never not worried about money. He finally told his relative “OK, but money problems are a REALLY BIG DEAL.”

        If you don’t have enough money and then you get enough money, damn right money bought you some happiness. Worrying about money is really, really stressful.

        1. esra*

          That drives me nuts. When people say the whole money can’t buy happiness/only solves money problems/whatever, I feel like they haven’t actually ever been insecure or hungry. Big empathy blindspot.

        2. CM*

          “The only problems money solves are money problems” makes absolutely no sense. Money can solve all sorts of problems. Yes, “money problems” in terms of not being to pay bills are a big deal. But on top of that… money means security, money means flexibility, money means not worrying about how much your ER bill costs, money means being able to pay someone to do things that you don’t have the capacity to do on your own. If someone said to me that “the only problems money solves are money problems,” I would assume that they have led the most privileged of lives.

          1. Kelly L.*

            When I started having a small amount more money, it was amazing how many problems I could fix with a lot less fanfare. A lot of what you can buy with money is time, and convenience.

            1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

              Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a person to come clean my house once a week so I can spend time relaxing with my family rather than cleaning or being resentful that chores aren’t getting done. (Though kids still need to learn cleaning skills.)

              Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy new subfloors that I know will hold up.

              Money can’t buy happiness, but it can turn car trouble into a minor inconvenience, rather than a major setback.

              Now sure, there are some parts of this that are better achieved by living well within your means, rather than simply a bigger paycheck. But the honest truth is that there is a minimum monthly income that is the dividing line between money is tight and money is not a problem!

      2. rock'n'roll circus*

        I mean, money to a point though right? I think there were several studies saying that wealth and happiness were exponentially related, for a single person, up until about the 78k point where it stops increasing at the same rate and almost levels off.

        1. Jadelyn*

          It sounds like that’s the point at which a person can live in a decent area, have a decent car, be reasonably assured that their bills are consistently covered, have or have the capacity to build up some savings, pay down/off their debts, support a family, and have some left over for fun stuff. Past that, yeah, money is just a bonus – but up until that point, it’s a big deal.

        2. LBK*

          I mean, yeah, obviously your quality of life probably won’t change that much if you’re making $1M vs $2M. My point is just that if money is an issue for you in order to afford basic necessities, the stress of that is going to cancel out or likely outweigh any enjoyment you might get from having a job you like. If you do the math out and decide, you know what, I can take a $10k paycut, still live basically the same lifestyle and have a better job, then go for it. That doesn’t sound like it’s even close to the OP’s situation, though.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ve always been skeptical of that study (although maybe it’s because I live in a high-cost-of-living area so their figure seems too low). I used to have very little money and now I have a pretty good income, and I have to say that I get happier and happier the more money I have. It’s because of having peace of mind and security, and also because you can spend money on things that make your life easier — things that definitely keep increasing way beyond $78k.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            (And it’s not that I wasn’t also happy at lower income levels. I was. But it’s always felt disingenuous to me to say it only matters up until a point.)

            1. LQ*

              I think the issue is that these studies often get talked about in an unnuanced way. Other things that matter are how you are living compared to the people around you. (In general you’ll be happier if you are the wealthiest person in a moderate income neighborhood than if you are the poorest person in a high income neighborhood.) It is also based on the cost of living, so 78K is a number that reaches across everywhere, that will vary based on what your local col is. It is also not usually that you don’t get happier but that the rate of happiness increase slows or levels. But you also have the ability to if you spend your money in the right way do things that make you happy (spending money on others, spending money on experiences, spending money on anticipating an experience…you are better off if you are anticipating a fancy vacation than if you are anticipating car repairs).

              Humans are complex and spectrum-ey, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t on a broader scale say some general things.

              1. Three Thousand*

                I like the definition of rich as “making more money than your brother-in-law.”

          2. LBK*

            Yeah, the COL piece is a big reason that number raises eyebrows for me. I’m pretty sure if you’re making $78k in Manhattan or San Francisco you could be a hell of a lot happier if you made more money. There was an article going around recently that for a single person to live comfortably now in Boston without having a roommate, you need to make $120k.

            I make good enough money now to the point that I’m not usually worried about it, but I’d probably be happier if I could afford to put away more in savings/investments for the future or if I didn’t have to make decisions between luxury items (eg, right now I’m debating if I go see a Broadway show this weekend or if I spend that money on setting up Global Entry for my trip later this summer, which is a total first world problem but I’d still probably be happier if I could do both).

        4. Murphy*

          I thought it was to the point where money is no longer a daily factor. That number could vary wildly depending on circumstances.

          1. Murphy*

            I also thought it was less about happiness and more about motivation. As in, pay your employees well, but find other ways to motivate them to do excellent work and be engaged.

            1. LQ*

              There are some studies that talk about things like this and they vary. One of the more interesting findings is that for tasks that are manual tasks (attaching teapot handles) the motivation can go up a long long way based on pay per work, but tasks that are more creative (what should our new teapot marketing slogan be) you’ll do better motivating people in other ways once they are past the base level (which is actually really hard to judge on a big scale, it is much easier to judge when they are paying you a couple dollars to come up with a creative solution to the candle holder).

    4. Pwyll*

      100% this. When I moved to a different state I took the first job I was offered because I loved the people and the position, but it paid 25% less than I paid in my home state, AND the new state had a MUCH higher cost of living. They refused to budge on the salary at the offer stage. For the next year I was miserable, even loving the people/work, because every time I got paid and saw the money immediately disappear, every time I had to use a credit card for groceries, I got more and more annoyed and bitter.

      And I didn’t have anyone to support other than myself. I can only imagine how much more it would have driven me crazy had I children to support. Hang in there and wait for the right job at the right salary!

    5. BabyAttorney*

      One of my favorite quotes: “Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it’s reasonably close to oxygen on the ‘gotta have it’ scale.”

  5. Overeducated*

    You did the right thing! Another opportunity will come along where you won’t have to choose between financial hardship and staying in a job you don’t like. It may sound only 80% amazing instead of 100% but if you can get a raise or better benefits you’d still come out ahead. You’re not at the point where you need to settle for just anything yet.

  6. IT_Guy*

    I was an IT Contractor for a government agency when they went on a ‘convert all contractors’ binge and basically forced the contractors to apply for government positions that they had created and refused to negotiate on salary. They implied that if you didn’t convert your contract would be terminated. I went through the painful application process and got offered a salary that would have been a 25% pay cut and they refused to negotiate. I went through this process twice! I just couldn’t survive on the pay.

    Of the fellow contractors that did go through the process and did convert (at a lower salary as well), almost all of them ended up leaving within a year of converting because they just couldn’t survive on 75% of the pay.

    OP, you did the right thing!!

    1. KR*

      That sounds really tough. I like working in government, but I do get weary of the culture of “We want all of this but we don’t want to pay for it, so we’ll just cut the funding and then wonder why nothing is getting done.”

      1. Katie the Fed*

        We’re having a hard time right now because my office went really cheap on the last contractor bid. So we’re getting people who, um, I’ll diplomatically say don’t make the cut. Or if they do, they stay for long enough to get enough experience to compete for a better paying contract and leave.

      2. Slippy*

        I can tell you from personal experience that it is not just government that does this. Private industry does this as well but faster.

    2. Dan*

      Which is why those “gov vs private sector” salary comparisons are meaningless to me. As an IT/software/data analytics guy, fed pay is not what I make in the private sector. This 25% paycut would be like going from a GS13 to a GS11. Oh hell no.

  7. Ruthie*

    I was so glad to see your letter today because I’m having the same regrets, except I took the pay cut! About two months ago I started a new job at $12,500 less than where I was at. It was an agonizing decision, but one I made because I my current financial flexibility (no family) and I wanted to break into the sector.

    Having less money is hard. I can still make ends meet without a major decline in lifestyle; but there is no room for extras and that’s tough. For example, I really need a new pair of shoes and lots of new work clothes because I’ve gained some “I’m not 21 anymore” weight, but it’s just not happening anytime soon.

    I’ve also already started a new job search. I have some concerns about the organization and management that normally wouldn’t be dealbreakers for me, but aren’t things that I’m willing to put up while making this much less. So it definitely decreased my tolerance for workplace conflict, though I wouldn’t call it resentment.

    That said, I needed to leave my old organization and once I got away, I saw it was even more dysfunctional than I thought. It’s a major relief to be doing work I enjoy in a healthier culture.

    Ultimately, this is hardly going to be one of the worst decisions I made in my life and I don’t think it was necessarily the wrong one. I know that if I stayed I would be having the same regrets as you. But the grass isn’t really that much greener over here. I hope that gives you some peace of mind.

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      Hey Ruthie,

      Just wanted to comment because I”m in the same place. Only I”m trying to pay down debt (two more years!) instead of having taken a paycut. My weight regularly bounces between the same forty pounds lost or gained.

      I’ve found skirts are a lifesaver. Paired with a pair of tights (Spanx–I buy two-three pairs per winter and the ones from three years ago still look new), and different tops. I also shop at consignment stores. I go to the higher end stores because higher end clothes still look great after many washes and wears than the cheaper brand items.

      I also do a modified wardrobe capsule. (Michigan weather makes it hard to do a straight-up 33 item capsule; mine is closer to 45). So far no one has ever commented that I tend to rewear the same items within a couple of weeks.

      1. rock'n'roll circus*

        +1 to less items, more higher end items. Since I started buying nicer things, they’re twice as much, but they last way longer. I used to have work shirts that started looking bad after 20-30 washes/wears. I now I have shirts / sweaters that I’ve worn almost weekly for 8 years!

        1. Elfie*

          eBay. I buy most of my clothes and shoes from eBay. I don’t care if they’re used, but I can get high-end labels or high street clothes for a fraction of the cost. I’m constantly dieting, so my shape is constantly changing, and I don’t want to spend massive amounts of money on clothes that I might not fit into for very long. However, I do want to look professional and look nice whilst I lose/gain/lose again/gain again the weight!

    2. TLV*

      Me too! Except I was out of a job so I figured making $3k less wouldn’t be that big of an adjustment. Except I forgot to factor in that I was also getting a car & phone allowance at my old job and have to pay $175/month for parking at my new job. And my rent just got jacked up $150/month with the possibility of going up another $250/month.

      I’m a little stressed out right now. But it’s still better than being at my old job.

    3. Alice*

      I just took a pay cut to get out of a horrifyingly toxic workplace. It’s been worth every penny.

      Have you looked at ThredUp? It’s an online consignment store with a huge range of clothes and shoes for women (and kids). It’s saved my backside as I’m trying to come up with new work outfits on the cheap.

      1. Kairi*

        +1 to ThredUp! I’m obsessed with it, and they tend to give 10% off as a regular pretty often so you can save even more money.

      2. Freckles McGee*

        Hi, Alice! Thanks so much for mentioning ThredUp. I’ve actually gained 30lbs from my (previous) toxic work environment. Although I’m in a much healthier environment and working towards losing weight, those cute summer clothes aren’t exactly fitting the way they used to.

        Also- good luck, OP! You definitely made the right decision. “Trust that the sidewalk doesn’t end” (as my mentor told me while job searching) — you’ll soon be in a better job with better pay.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    OP, salary negotiations are so tricky that I’m never surprised when someone feels like she screwed up.  I have the utmost sympathy for people in your position.

    That said, not only did you do the right thing, but you did an even better thing by not working for a dishonest employer.  They very much were dishonest.  As AAM said, if the high end wasn’t in their budget, they shouldn’t have advertised it.  That was their most brazen mistake.

    Their quieter mistake was hoping (and I’m confident they were hoping) that they could bamboozle someone like you into the interview process with the high range, and then oh OOPS we don’t have that in our budget so could you maybe work for less?  They wanted you to be emotionally invested, and you were, which isn’t your fault at all.   You should be!  But they were banking on that emotional investment in hopes you’d overlook the lower pay.

    Budget is one of those weird, vague excuses that could be true but could also be BS.  I’ve seen an employer clutch the pearls over a receptionist’s request to go from $34K to $38K but casually dole out bonuses and $20K raises to VPs in the same year.  While it’s true that salaries tend to be one of the biggest business expenses, $5K here or $10K there don’t make that much difference in the long run unless the business is truly struggling.  If it is, salaries are the least of its problems.

    I’ve learned the hard way, as a government employee who can access my coworkers’ salaries, that the budget is most often a lame, weak excuse.  

    1. hbc*

      On that fourth paragraph, amen. People are so short-sighted about this, too. Paying an extra $2 an hour to our lowest-level employees moves them from about 40-50% of the average for unskilled labor in my area to 90%. Could we get them for less? Sure, but then I’ve got people with no motivation to stay and hours upon hours of training for a constant rotation of newbies, and dealing with the fallout of newbie mistakes, and all the extra job searching and hire/resignation paperwork and whatnot. I’m thinking that extra $16/person/day gets made back really fast.

      When that receptionist at $34K leaves for a higher paying job, how much money does the company lose (in highly paid HR and hiring manager time, in job postings and temp agencies, in ticked off customers when the new person misroutes them until she figures out the phone system) to save $4K a year?

      1. BRR*

        Evilhrlady had an article or letter on this where someone got promoted and a 10% raise and was ecstatic. Then HR said it was an error and the raise would only be 5%. Using the math of $100K a year (far higher than the national median salary) that would be $5K a year. That if you use the principle of it costs an employer 1.5 times a role’s salary for turnover it would take 10 years before the company would “lose money” by keeping the raise at 10%. But do you think that employee is going to be staying ten years?

  9. Laurel Gray*

    OP, I’m just chiming in to wish you luck in your job search and tell you to stay strong! In less than two weeks I start a new job that pays 35% more. There was no negotiating because I did the maths and my research and came up with a figure both parties happened to think was fair. I’m leaving a good paying job at a great company with great benefits (and great colleagues) for a job with a great company and opportunities….and well, the rest I really don’t know yet. I’m staying positive about it all. I am also a single parent and salary is important. I think about the bills of now but also the goals I have for the future that require money. Money absolutely should be a significant part of the process when you change jobs. For the meantime I wish you sanity at your current job and a minimum 20%(my original goal) pay increase with the job you do accept. Keep us posted!

  10. BRR*

    You by far made the right choice. It doesn’t sound like you could make ends meet on the salary and that’s something that’s very important to be able to do whether you’re a single parent, single, married, or whatever else your situation is. From the sound of your letter I would place money that you would quickly become unhappy at being paid less, I think you strongly consider your bonus part of your salary so the salary hit would come across as larger than just the reduction from your base salary, and there’s a fair chance you wouldn’t get that raise in a year.

    That’s just the financial aspect. There’s also a possibility the job wouldn’t be as great as you think. I was very careful to be interviewing employers while job hunting and I’m not that happy in my current job despite no signs of anything during the interview. And a month later is not that long in job hunting time for most careers.

    And for the future, stick to your qualifications for salary negotiations.

  11. Elizabeth West*

    Yes, yes, you did the right thing. Being able to pay your bills and have some quality of life is a very important consideration.

    When I was job hunting, I got offered something I really wanted–it was a county job and it was in the criminal justice system, which I have an actual degree in. But the pay was very low, and it had MANDATORY insurance, which wasn’t accounted for in the salary. Unfortunately, there was no room for negotiation, since the amount depended on budget and election cycles, and they told me there hadn’t been any raises in the last five years. I tried to figure what I owe each month in bills and at the rate they were paying, I would have had around $14 left at the end of each month. And I was being VERY conservative on food–and it didn’t include taxes. :( Since I have no other income in my household, it was out of the question.

    It killed me to turn it down because not only was I interested in the field, but I really liked the people who would be my bosses. Though I found a job with better pay and benefits, I can’t help but think sometimes that the other one would have been amazingly interesting.

  12. DCompliance*

    You made the right decision. Good luck on your job search. I know it can be hard and frustrating and you second guess yourself along the way, but something will come pop.

  13. Lala*

    I sympathize. I remember interviewing for a bank job and finding out it was minimum wage and part time. I was working full time and $5/hr above the minimum wage. I almost took it because my workplace was so toxic and I am glad I didn’t… shortly after that interview our dog had a huge vet bill, my husband got laid off, and our rent increased! I would’ve been in the red anyways but these hits would’ve ruined our lives.

    It was almost a full year later that I had my next interview (I kicked myself so hard) and a job offer. I stayed firm to keep a slightly higher hourly rate (just a dollar) and committed to an additional 5 hours a week. I ended up gaining an extra $5000 a year to my earnings, even with my lost benefits I am still ahead $2750 a year. To top it off the job is perfect for me and sets me up nicely for my future.

  14. anon who needs a name*

    One thing I will say that telling an employer you need $X amount for your family may cause wariness because when it comes down to it, a lot of employers don’t care what your family situation is like and it’s toeing a fine line to pay Y candidate differently than Z candidate because of their family situation. I really don’t think outside considerations need to be brought up when negotiating salary. All you have to do is stay firm on your number and negotiation without bringing outside forces into play. I’m not going to tell a prospective employer I need $10K more because I have student loans and medical debt and live in a high cost area, just that $80K is my minimum requirement.

    That said, I think you made the right choice. I’ve been job searching and I’ve turned down some great jobs because they couldn’t or wouldn’t pay me what I want. As other people have said, you could love the job but you’re going to end up unhappy if you take a pay cut that significantly impacts your life. If you’re not miserable at your job, the best thing to do is stick it out until you find the right job that’s willing to pay you what you want. It might take longer than you want, but it’ll end up working for the best in the end. Good luck!

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes, in future I’d negotiate on the business case / going marker rate / what you bring to the table. But in this case it didn’t matter much at all because the end result – their budget couldn’t come up far enough to make your budget work – meant you needed to walk awy from this opportunity anyway.

    2. Stephanie*

      Yeah, that stuck out to me as well. For the next negotiation, I would definitely just keep it to discussions about market rates, current salary, and what not.

    3. Hoopla*

      I think though in a case where they say “our budget won’t allow us to pay you what we indicated as possible” that it is appreciated for one to not just respond with an essential “this is what I am worth minimum” but to also push the fact that they need a certain dollar amount. It makes things clearer when there is a “we can’t afford to pay you what you need” vs “we can’t afford what you want, let see how far down we can get you”

      Some employers could be rationalizing to themselves that they’d give her a raise in a year when the budget allowed because there isn’t any personal financial constraints, that the candidate is just holding out for their ideal salary. But for an employer to know that she just doesn’t want $X but needs $X then everyone can stop wasting time and part ways.

      1. anon who needs a name*

        I agree that they should push that certain dollar amount, but they don’t need to attach personal non-work related reasons to it. It’s going to cause a lot of problems if employees find out Jane was given a higher salary because she has kids versus Sue who doesn’t, just because Jane mentioned that during salary negotiations. Because then you’re not paying salary based on ability, you’re paying based on outside considerations that have nothing to do with the job.

    4. OP*

      I agree with your comments about how I should have not stated that about my family and kept the focus on how much value I would bring to the job. I let myself get too emotionally attached to the idea of the job when I should have kept my distance. Though, with how firm they were about the budget, I doubt it would have changed anything. Your words are definitely something to remember for future discussions.

  15. LQ*

    I try and remember that even the best most magic seeming jobs have stinky microwaved fish. Here a stand in for something that annoys you, might not be a deal breaker, but helps to remember there is no magic perfect job out there. Every job has downsides. The microwaved fish can help lessen the blow of I really wanted that job but didn’t get it.

    (This job paying 12K less a year? Doesn’t need microwaved fish, but it sounds like you might still be putting it on a pedestal, so to help you move on, think of the microwaved fish.)

    1. Confused Publisher*

      I would pay good money to have ‘Even the most magic seeming jobs have stinky microwaved fish’ on a poster or a t-shirt.

    2. BRR*

      I stated above that all of my employer’s downsides were hidden during the interview (not on purpose, just somehow didn’t show) and one is that people microwave fish EVERYDAY for lunch. Not that that’s a dealbreaker but I slip into BEC territory sometimes and it comes up.

    3. SL #2*

      Okay, real question here, I’m not trying to be snarky: does microwaved fish really smell that bad? I don’t notice it whenever someone microwaves fish, and once in a while, I bring in seasoned and grilled sole fillet leftovers from last night, which needs microwaving. I always sniff around to see if anything smells off afterwards, and I never notice anything…

      1. costume teapot*

        Omg, yes. It’s really really strong, and can be especially nauseating for people who don’t eat seafood and/or meat.

      2. Qmatilda*

        In my experience, there are people that will always feel fish smells and is “fishy” and the others than will never think so.

        I’ve never been able to smell fish (that hasn’t gone bad) as “fishy” but have good friends that can’t bear even fresh fish smell. Different noses.

        1. SL #2*

          There’s also varying degrees of “fishy” scents/taste, which would probably also factor into it. Salmon has a different level of scene and taste from catfish, etc.

      3. Stephanie*

        It can, especially when microwaved in your typical commercial-grade microwave that has only one setting of “This goes to 11.”

      4. Aurion*

        Different noses, I guess. I don’t mind the smell of microwaved fish at all, and only find microwaved cruciferous mildly annoying at worst (and usually not annoying at all). But AAM has educated me that my experience is far from universal.

        1. SL #2*

          Yes, I figured it was a different-noses type of thing, but I wasn’t sure… to me, the barbecue chicken being microwaved smells much stronger and much worse than my fish, but I also make sure to bring fish that isn’t particularly fishy anyway (sole fillets, salmon, etc). Plus I also don’t like barbecue sauce.

          1. Aurion*

            The problem is that no scent is universally liked or disliked, so no matter what scents are hovering around (be it perfume scents or food scents) the chances are someone isn’t going to like them. My parents were baffled when I mentioned that I learned (from AAM!) that fish is a widely-disliked scent. I personally find a lot non-fish scents lingering in the lunch room way more obnoxious than fish. Short of resigning everyone (myself included) to cold food at work, I just accept that some times some foods won’t smell good to certain people but smell great to others.

            I will remove myself (and my food) out of the vicinity of people who find it obnoxious (e.g. someone on the brink of a migraine, or if it just plain bothers them) if they’ve told me specifically, but otherwise I don’t worry about my lunch choices.

              1. Aurion*

                My cube is three feet from the kitchen/lunch room door, so even when the door is closed I smell everything. And my work culture is that tons of people eat breakfast at work, and we have a staggered lunch, so we have a rotating barrage of various food smells for about three quarters of the day.

                Luckily for me, I enjoy most food smells. (They just make me hungry.) I’m not usually bothered by the scent of foods I don’t like either, which probably makes me the best candidate to be sitting beside the lunch room.

      5. LQ*

        I think it depends on the person, but for me if I’m on the edge of getting a migraine it is one of the scents that push me over the edge. So I think of it as a really really evil smell. Though that it doesn’t bother some people fits this well too. For some people microwaved fish might not be a problem. For some people a 12K cut might not be a problem. And good for them. But NOPE for me! And I wish them well in the job and will keep looking for my own fish free zone.

        1. SL #2*

          Oh, your comparison was absolutely on point! But as someone who apparently isn’t sensitive to microwaved fish scents, I was just curious about what everyone else is smelling and what I’m missing out on. It’s like cilantro; I don’t taste soap when I eat it so I enjoy it a lot, but I know people who do, and I’m not even allowed to breathe in their direction after I’ve had it.

      6. BRR*

        It doesn’t bother everybody but it bothers a pretty large number of people. Enough people where it’s not a statistical outlier to hate the smell of microwaved fish (not just be annoyed by it but have it be a huge irritation). I think the three things to be cautious about microwaving are fish, curry, and brussel spouts. You may not notice anything but if you have a trusted coworker I might ask them.

        1. SL #2*

          I didn’t know that about brussel sprouts! My experience with them is “sauteed with butter and eaten at the restaurant as a side dish” rather than reheating them. Good to know…

          The coworkers I eat with are all down with fish and I’m not the only one who brings it in, but I wonder if the scent lingers any worse in the microwave than, say, the barbecue chicken.

          1. LQ*

            For me I feel like a barbecue sauce is stronger upfront but fades faster, I can walk away from that smell. But a fish smell hangs around just clinging to things.
            I do think your right that it depends on the fish and it depends on how it was cooked.

          2. Natalie*

            Cruciferous veggies (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc) can have pretty strong, unpleasant smells due to sulfur compounds.

    4. Legalchef*

      Omg. I just had an interview Tuesday for a job I am really interested in, but when I was walking from an office to a conference room there was clearly the odor of stinky microwaved fish! So yes – this is definitely true, both literally and figuratively!

  16. Random Lurker*

    I’ve been on both sides of this. I have walked away from a job that wouldn’t meet my salary needs. I have also rescinded an offer when I felt the candidate was being unreasonable in his negotiations. It’s very easy to second guess things – why did this happen? Should I have done something different? But in those cases, just as in yours, this was the right decision for both sides. When working some place, I want to feel valued. The best way to value me is pay. Same thing as a manager. I want you to feel incentivized when you come to my team. If you are coming to me at below what you feel you are work, there’s going to be resentment at some point.

    Good luck on your job search.

  17. Erin*

    It sounds like you would have traded one set of work problems for a different set of work problems…that would have bled into life at home problems.

    Right decision for sure. Hang in there! Keep doing what you’re doing with job searching and interviewing.

  18. Adam*

    I’m guessing best case scenario was that when they initially posted the listing that is what the salary range was, but changes in the budget meant it got changed after the fact (or maybe it was just a simple error). If I were in their position I probably would have mentioned that but who knows.

  19. Megs*

    Oh man, this is rough and I really feel for you. That said, I also think you made the right call. I was just reading an article in the Atlantic (link in next comment pending moderation) about how difficult it is to make ends meet in the US, even on a “middle class” salary. Staying out of debt whenever possible is huge. And listening to your gut is huge too: first you said you’d be happy maintaining your salary less bonus but they offered you way under than that. When you countered, they still came in low. You offered to go $3k under, but it sounds like you weren’t really happy with that prospect either. As much as losing out on this offer sucks, I don’t know that even the best job is enough if it leads to financial hardship.

  20. AnotherAlison*

    The purpose of going to work is earning a wage to support yourself. If you can’t at least do that, nothing else really matters.

    I certainly wouldn’t trust the “we can meet your salary next year” line, either. I think it always would have been “next year” with them. Bullet dodged.

  21. Joseph*

    Let’s simplify:
    >The *base* salary not including the annual bonus is $10k less than the OP is making now (or $5k in their second offer).
    >OP would forgo an annual bonus of $9k
    >The insurance premiums are higher. OP didn’t give the numbers, but it’s unlikely she would have mentioned it if it was a completely negligible amount, so let’s assume we’re talking about at least $20/pay period – that’s an additional $1,000 a year.

    So OP would be losing $15,000 to $20,000 a year by switching jobs?

    I can’t even imagine a scenario where I’d do that.

    1. BRR*

      Me either. I know they say you can’t put a price on happiness…but apparently I just did.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      After my layoff, I got my current job with a $15K paycut. My former boss took a $40K cut. The scenario was getting a job is better than unemployment, which for me was nearly running out before I found this job. And when unemployed, you’ve got poor bargaining power. Moving wasn’t an option for me, and my boss really didn’t want to move.

      So OP, hang on to your current job, and a better paying job will (probably) come along.

  22. Tuxedo Cat*

    I think you made the right call unless things are truly, truly, truly unbearable at your current job.

    A paycut of $12k/year is a huge chunk of change. I think, as amazing as this company seems, I would become resentful of any issues I would inevitably encounter whether that’s right or rational.

    1. Random Lurker*

      Even if you’re miserable, I’d strongly advise against this. I escaped Toxic Job for a 5% paycut. It didn’t really amount to much from paycheck to paycheck. But I moved to a company that was stingy about it’s raises. 2% was typical. So it took me 3 years before I was back (actually slightly above) what I was making at Toxic Job. In retrospect, it wasn’t worth it.

      1. Seattle Writer Gal*

        Completely agree. I took a paycut with promises of bonuses and equity to get out of a crappy job. After 4 years, no bonuses had appeared because new company never turned a profit and even with annual COL increases I was still making 10% less at new job after 4 years than I was when I started at Old Job.

        By then the job market had picked back up and I approached my boss about a market rate correction to my salary (with hard data to show the current range). Not only did he refuse to give me a raise, he refused to even discuss it and called me entitled for asking for a raise in the first place.

        I left shortly after that and the company went under less than a year after I quit.

      2. CeeCee*

        This is where I’m at now. I took my current job because I was in a super toxic workplace and needed out ASAP. It was a small cut (about $5k/year) but on a weekly level it wasn’t a huge difference, it still covered all my monthly money requirements and it seemed like a pretty good fit for me.

        Well, it’s a year later, my “Christmas Bonus” was laughable, my annual review is coming up and I’m not anticipating much of a raise (my boss/the owner doesn’t seem to really give them out unless you’re in his inner circle) and this job ended up being anything but a good fit.

        Now I’m struggling to find jobs that will get me back up to what I was making at my previous job. It definitely wasn’t worth it.

  23. Hannah*

    If you did take the pay cut, you might be questioning whether you did the right thing by voluntarily taking a pay cut right now. It was a hard decision, there was definitely not one obvious answer. But you should trust your gut. The decision was made and you felt that you were doing the right thing at the time. Don’t look back now!

  24. Mental Health Day*

    OP, you made the right call. As others have mentioned, this was a borderline bait-and-switch situation. (What else did they misrepresent besides the true salary range?)
    Secondly, if they don’t have the money in the budget now, it is unlikely that they will have it in the budget a year from now. (Here I’m using the phrase “have it in the budget” in the same sense that I suspect the employer is using it: “what we are actually willing to allocate for this position regardless of what’s actually in the budget”.)
    Not to be overly cynical, but it is not unheard of for companies to claim that they will “have it in the budget” later, and then when “later” arrives, suddenly circumstances have changed, your performance is suddenly an issue where it never was before, or the promised raise is somehow no longer justified.
    Cash on the barrelhead is the only way to go. Promises and maybes don’t pay your bills.
    Best of luck to you! Things like this are frustrating at the time, but I really think you will be better off in the long run.

    1. RVA Cat*

      I hate to say, but I’m guessing it’s in the “baritone budget” – they would not pull this on a dude.

      1. Mental Health Day*

        Yes, I suspect there is some truth to that and I don’t doubt that this more commonly happens to women. That said, I’m a dude and I’ve certainly had this crap pulled on me.

        I imagine that a lot of employers that do things like this are Equal Opportunity Swindlers that will say any god damned thing they think they need to just get a person to accept the job. And then, they rely on guilt, intimidation, and the employee’s fear of looking like a job hopper, to keep them there.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Employers do pull this kind of thing on dudes.

        The fact that overall, in the aggregate, women are more likely to experience this kind of thing doesn’t mean that women do every time or that men never do.

      3. AD*

        This kind of reaction seems to be happening a LOT on AAM lately. There’s no indication that OP is female, and as Alison said this happens to men too.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah — I don’t think it’s always particularly useful, so I’d rather people pull back on it unless we actually know gender and have some reason for the speculation.

      4. LBK*

        Can we scale back on inserting gender dynamics into situations where we don’t know the gender of anyone involved? It seems to be happening a lot more lately. I am all for it if we’re more certain it’s relevant, and I think the “Could gender dynamics be an issue here?” question is good and worth asking often. But categorical statements like this just plain aren’t true. It’s kind of frustrating and almost invalidating to read things that imply men don’t ever get screwed over by someone being a jerk – I’d think there are tens if not hundreds of letters right on this site that would prove otherwise, and I’ve definitely dealt with being undervalued or having promises not be fulfilled myself.

        I know that women have it worse, no question, and that there’s institutional sexism built into the system that men don’t have to deal with, but that doesn’t equate to men never having any problems with a hiring manager or employer. We don’t generally have to deal with issues related to gender, but there’s plenty of other motivators besides sexism for people to act like jerks.

    2. Dan*

      I’ve turned down offers where the starting salary was just too low.

      One job I had interviewed for (at the time, I considered it my “dream job”, but then found out first hand what dream jobs are all about. I learned my lesson with that one) posted an internal reference to a salary range. I was able to do some googling and figure out what that reference was. The top of their range was at the bottom of mine. I was going off of some numbers that I had got from a head hunter, so I was confident I knew what “market rate” for my skills were.

      When we had the salary discussion, the manager was impressed with my ability to do my homework, but then conceded they weren’t going to pay the top end. Um, really? The top end is $55k for someone with a Masters degree in a technical field. Those guys really wanted to pay somewhere in the $40k range. Um, no. (Except it was 2008, and I didn’t have a job.) They ultimately did not extend me an offer, and TBH, I was not disappointed.

      The job I found two months later paid $70k.

      During my last go, the offer I turned down was for a salary at the very bottom of the range we had talked about. It was, TBH, insulting. I flat out told them they had to do better than that. They upped it by $2k. I told them that I had just had an interview with Big Name in Town. BNIT extended me an offer that was 12% better than insulting offer. Better job stability too. I took it.

      Both professional jobs I have had are ones that offered me a fair salary. If I already had a job, there’s no way I’d leave it for money I don’t like. If I don’t have a job, then I have to take a serious look at what my expectations are and what the market is truly willing to provide.

  25. Christian Troy*

    Last year while I was about six months into my job search, I received an offer that was 15.00/hr. Multiples states away. No relocation. I was floored because they advertised the position on a national industry job board and I expected something better if they wanted out of town candidates. I tried to negotiate and counter offer but ended up having to decline it because I really couldn’t go into debt for a job at that compensation.

    I know you feel bad and that you messed up when you aren’t getting flooded with job offers, but taking a hit of 1,000 dollars a month seems pretty huge to me when all is said and said.

  26. Ignis Invictus*

    Best piece of job offer advice the younger me ever got was “don’t take a job if you’re going to be resentful on day one, and that’s exactly what lowball offers do, set you up for resentment from the get go.” And oh boy did it hurt to pass on that offer. Seriously painful. But, wow, it was absolutely the right decision even without the serendipitous (awesome) outcome. Ended up laid off from the (then) current job for seven months when the housing bubble popped, which on the surface sounds like I made a horrid decision passing on the other opportunity, except seven months later new job in a different state paid two to three (OT) times as much as I had EVER made previously. I’m in the auto industry, and this was in Michigan. EVERYONE got laid off at some point. The kicker is, dude who they hired after I passed that one up? Yeah he was laid off from that position, and had been unemployed for almost twice as long as I had been. And I know that because I reviewed his resume when he applied at my new workplace. A state away.

  27. Kristine*

    I had something similar happen to me. Interviewed for a great job– loved the work, the location, the hours, the sector, and all coworkers and manager seemed like great people. Except that the salary we discussed early on in the phone interview was suddenly almost 30% lower when the offer came in. I tried to negotiate and they wouldn’t budge an inch. The salary they were offering is less than what I make now and WAY below market for the area, work, and my experience.

    It’s been 4 months since I turned them down and I’m still at my old job…it gets hard sometimes when I think about would could have been, how do I know that how I’m imagining it would have been reality? The pay cut wasn’t worth the risk.

    1. Laura*

      And the key thing to remember in these situations is that a pay cut is RARELY worth it. You made the right decision.

      1. Kristine*

        It was closer to a 15% pay cut from what I currently make, but yes, every time I start to daydream about how great my job would be if I had accepted the offer I remind myself how much less money I’d have.

    2. Slippy*

      Look on the bright side, they could have been fibbing about the location, hours, and other stuff as well.

  28. Jerry Vandesic*

    1) They “advertised a salary range of below my current salary to above my current salary.”
    2) “They came back with an offer that was $5k less than my current pay and said they couldn’t do more than that because of their budget.”

    Their advertisement was a lie. This company is dishonest and unethical. You are lucky not to work there. It’s pretty simple.

  29. Stephanie*

    I’m going to echo everyone else in saying that you made the right decision. All of us, except for the very wealthy, are working for money, so it’s fair that you made a decision based on that.

    I took an untenable salary at my current job. My company tends to pay below market with the argument that they’re stable (true–they’re the biggest company in our industry and tend not to fire or layoff) and that they promote from within (also true, albeit promotions are very slow and political there). But it’s been pretty hard–I took a second job and was fortunate to live at home with family in the interim. I was in somewhat of a unique situation since I was going to apply to grad school in the fall and figured I could just scrape by until I left for school (and I was out of work previously and figured anything paid on my resume was better than nothing). But I wouldn’t have done this in a different situation, for sure.

  30. Nicole*

    I agree with Alison – something better for you financially will come along and you’ll be relieved that you didn’t take that other offer. It’s how things played out when I was looking for a house. I felt like I “lost” out on two great homes but looking back now I know I wouldn’t have been happy with either one compared to the one I ended up with. Good luck to you!

  31. BabyAttorney*

    This is an interesting thread to read and something I’m sure I will revisit. I’m preparing an application for a federal position…while the pay grade includes my current salary, the likelihood I would be offered a position at the step that is closest to my current salary is pretty low, so I’d be looking at probably at least a $10k pay cut.

    But…it would be a step into the federal government. That’s a pretty heavy weight on one side of the scale. How do you even figure out what the balance is??

    1. BRR*

      It depends what your current needs and long-term goals are. Can you afford that large of a pay cut? Do you plan on being in government forever? How attractive is the job’s duties and how do you like the people you’d work with? What is the role you want to end up in for a long time and how often does it open it?

      Or somebody who currently works for the federal government could give completely different (and better) advice.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Well, what else is on the scale? What is it about federal government that makes the salary cut potentially worth it?

      1. BabyAttorney*

        Good question.

        Loan repayment forgiveness after 10 years of public service without a tax obligation (if I were to stay that long) versus 25 years plus tax obligation. Getting into the fed gov’t is difficult, moving to new position once you’re in there is easier. Interesting work servicing a section of the population I am passionate about, potential to really make a huge change in people’s lives. Federal work in general is great for legal careers if I ever did want to get out and move back to private practice. The particular work would be excellent for improving my skillset. Generally a lot of cool opportunities for lawyers in the federal government. This particular position *does* have eventual promotion potential up to 3 steps up the scale, although I’m not sure of how or whether it actually happens. Job stability. A decrease in salary would also decrease loan payments on federal loans (PAYE/REPAYE).

        On the other side of the scale…
        I live outside of DC and 35% of my income already goes to rent/utilities, not even including the cost of metro/transportation. I also have a cat who has medically necessary treatments that are on the expensive side on a semi-regular basis. I have an old car that I put about $2k into per year for repairs (better than a car payment IMO). I have a space-consuming hobby which limits the size of apartment we could live in–we’d have to move out further to find something similar to what we have for the same amount or cheaper, and then transportation costs increase the further I need to travel for work.

        All told, this is also not including anything about benefits because I don’t have information about those costs. Or even if they would consider starting at a higher step in the grade. Part of me says I need an interview before I get too caught up in the calculation, but the other part points out that any jobs I apply to on this level of the scale will have the same potential problem and it’s relevant to know whether I should consider this pay scale off the table.

        1. Slippy*

          Just going to add in some info, it may be redundant, but it could help.
          Loan repayment – It has restrictions on types of loans and they have to be serviced through a particular bank. Make sure you get the details so that you know you are eligible. Also watch the payments like a hawk since the bank likes to screw them up since every month they screw up is another you have to pay them.

          House/Apartment – A lot of federal positions subsidize public transportation so it can save a bunch if you can take the metro/VRE. If your position does try looking at homes/apartments in Manassas to save $$$

          Offer – Government HR will typically offer you the minimum on the range but you should be able to negotiate with the hiring authority for more. If you do have an agreement for more than the minimum forward it to your HR contact and….expect for them to ignore it and negotiate from their initial offer.

    3. LawCat*

      If you get an offer, see if they will meet your current salary. Couldn’t hurt to ask.

  32. Argh!*

    I have done that and I didn’t regret it. They clearly didn’t value my expertise. I have also left a job when my request for a raise was denied. I was paid less than people in similar positions there but in different departments My next job paid double that salary. I would have liked to stay where I was but I have to take care of myself… and respect myself.

  33. Grey*

    It doesn’t matter how great the job or your boss is. The more you excel at the new job, the more you will resent your salary. Trust me. I’ve been there. With every goal that’s met or exceeded you’ll remind yourself of how much money they pay you and it will eat away at your morale.

    1. LBK*

      Not necessarily, if you have a manager that actually gives you raises commensurate with performance (I’ve had a few). Sure, you’ll plateau eventually for how far your role can expand and how much it will be worth, but I think you can go on for a while if your compensation scales accordingly with your achievement.

      1. Grey*

        I think that’s fine if your starting salary is close to your worth. But if the best you can hope for is a raise that still leaves you feeling underpaid and under-appreciated, you’re not going to be happy.

  34. F.*

    I think the only “mistake” you made (and I am using that term very loosely) was to become emotionally invested in the job (“fell in love”) before you were able to get all the facts and unemotionally analyze their impact on your life. At the end of the day, it is business. They have their business to run, and you have your “business” (household) to run. Like two businesses reaching a deal, you each have to put emotions aside and determine if the deal is right for you.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes, exactly this. LW, when we fall in love (with a job or a house or a person), we want to make it work, so we gloss over the red flags and regret if it falls apart. When you can get some emotional distance, I think you’ll see that this job was bad news and you’re far better off without it.

  35. CM*

    I think it’s really easy to romanticize a new job, especially when you’re unhappy with your current job. I find myself doing that. And I think that is what the OP is doing here. OP, you made a reasoned and logical decision about the salary you were willing to accept, and I think you were smart to stick with it. This may seem like the best job ever, but when you get in the door, every job has disappointing and frustrating parts. Combine that with a salary that you’d be struggling to live on, and I suspect you’d be having regrets about taking that job.

  36. Artemesia*

    Another vote for how smart you were to not accept that job. It is one thing to not get the raise you hoped for but to take a job at less than you now make as a single parent is almost never going to be a happy choice. You dodged a bullet. They advertised a range and yet somehow it wasn’t ‘in their budget’? uh huh. Bet it would have been in their budget for the right GUY. Bet you find something a lot better down the road. Don’t second guess yourself.

  37. OP*

    OP here. Thank you everyone for your positive words. I knew I was making the right choice for my family, but kept on beating myself over what happened whenever there was a difficult day at work. All of your comments have helped to reassure me that I really did make the right decision in not taking the job.

    I’ll make sure to post an update in an Open Thread when I do, hopefully, get another offer from somewhere that’s going to pay me at least more than what I make now.

    Thank you!!!

  38. Milton Waddams*

    Only you can know your own demand elasticity. (Although employers can make a good guess.)

    A lot of the trouble comes from people who ignore their own circumstances because the harsh realities of the market usually don’t live up to the American Dream fantasy; if you can’t afford to say no, you have no bargaining power — period.

    If the result of not having the job is eviction or foreclosure, while the result of not having the position filled by you in particular is mild inconvenience (as is usually true when dealing as a lone individual with a large multi-national), almost all the cards are in the employer’s hands.

    If you also work in a non-unionized, non boom/bust industry where the norm is to refuse to hire job hoppers or engage in wage wars, they can name their price at that point — that they talk to you about the job rather than just going straight to your landlord is really just a courtesy.

    So any time you have the luxury of being able to say no, guard it carefully. Whether that’s having another job lined up, owning where you sleep, being part of a union, or taking advantage of booms in a boom/bust industry, these are the life preservers that keep you afloat against the market current that is actively trying to drag you under.

    Right now, you do, as you are still employed — that’s a good place to be in, if you can handle it from a morale standpoint. It’s good to be careful!

  39. MissDisplaced*

    That’s just it sometimes. Yes, it may have been a good fit, but you should never take a job that pays you less unless you 1)don’t need the money that much or 2)want to step down to part-time or some such or 3)are career switching and willing to downgrade for a time. You especially should not take a job for lower pay if this causes a hardship!

    You did the right thing. Keep up the search, you will eventually find a job that meets both requirements.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I’d add 4) the new job is amazing, and you’re leaving an extremely toxic situation.

      1. Blackout*

        Agree with Anonymous Educator. For me, not coming home from work crying every day is worth a small cut in pay.

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