Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Truth: if you don’t ask, you won’t get

Last week, I tweeted something that’s been on my mind for a while now:

It’s something that I really try to practice in my everyday life… sometimes I go after things that are completely outrageous. And sure there are plenty of times where I don’t get what I want. But there are always those times, those unbelievable I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me moments where I actually do get what I ask for. And it’s because of those moments that I keep asking.

I think this is especially important when it comes to a career. I might be shy in my everyday life, but the workforce is competitive, and if you’re not actively asking for (and going after) what you want, somebody else is bound to get it over you.

Take your salary for example. Did you negotiate your starting wage, or did you just take what was offered to you?

In my experience, you are always worth more than the first offer. Every company expects you to negotiate, and if you don’t ask for more, the company isn’t going to just give it to you. I mean, you wouldn’t take the sticker price when buying a car from a dealership, would you? And if you buy anything off Craigslist, you would always try haggling – because you know they’re asking for more than they would accept. Right? :)

Sure, it’s hard at first – especially for women. I had such anxiety about it when I first entered the work force, and since then I’ve been called everything from greedy and bossy, to confident and assertive. But asking for fair compensation does not make you selfish or bitchy or aggressive. It makes you smart because you’re asking for what you rightfully deserve.

I have never taken a job offer without negotiating first, and I have never been turned down. In most cases, I end up $2,000 to $4,000 ahead. Sometimes I have it written in my contract to get an automatic raise after a certain period of time, or a year-end bonus. A few thousand dollars may not seem like much now, but in the long run, it can add up. Your raises, bonuses, and future earning power are dictated by how you negotiate your starting salary with a company. And that few thousand dollar gap has the possibility of becoming bigger in the future – leaving you farther behind how much you are truly worth.

Of course, when you’re negotiating your salary you have to have solid reasons why you think you deserve more. So try to evaluate your skill set and years of experience compared to other people in your field. Then try to formulate a salary range for your job. You don’t need an exact number, just a rough estimate. Check out websites like Glass Door and Payscale to help you get started. I also like looking at job postings on LinkedIn or Eluta, as well as asking friends and family to find out what other companies are willing to pay for a similar position.

Related: How 20-somethings should ask for a pay raise

The worse thing that can happen is they say no

And so what? If they say no, and you are comfortable with the salary being offered then go ahead and take it. But before you do, perhaps you can try to negotiate an automatic raise after a certain period of time, or more vacation time in lieu of a raise. I’ve only successfully negotiated more vacation time once in my career, and it was because they said no to my salary pitch. But now that I look back on it, that one extra week of vacation was worth way more to me than a few extra thousand dollars a year. so I was extremely happy.

Nobody works for free, and the reason that most of us have a job is to generate an income. You deserve to be fairly compensated. But if you don’t ask for it, you likely won’t get it.

Thoughts? What has your experience been negotiating your salary?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. Eddie says:

    I negotiate every pay raise. Every year in July we sit down, and it goes back and forth for about 2 weeks or so before we tie up the loose ends. In my early days, I took a lot verbally, but today I demand everything in writing. Great post Krystal.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Yes. I took a verbal agreement early on in my career too (for a $5k pay raise after my probation was over). I initially wanted it in writing, but my boss said no to worry about it. I trusted him because I was young and new to the work force… but wouldn’t you know, once my 3-month probation came around, he went back on his word and I felt like I couldn’t trust anything he said to me from then on. I ended up quitting a few months later and taking a job that paid me much more than just that $5k raise.

  2. Honey Smith says:

    I work at a public institution, so salary ranges are posted with the job description and it’s not possible to ask for more than the top of the range (which they usually offer anyway). I applied for another job at my institution that should have been a step up in terms of pay and they offered me $600/year more than I was making. I tried to negotiate for the top of the range (~$8K more) and didn’t get offered a penny more; I turned it down.

    I’ve been at my company 4.5 years and no raises for anyone.

  3. Kbaby says:

    I work in unionized environments so our wages are already negotiated with annual raises and other benefits including a variety of leave with pay options. So grateful! I’ve just made it past my 8th year of working for this comapny so now i also get 1 month of paid vacation time. And next year i get an anniversary gift from my employer. Although i cannot negotiate a rate of pay that may be higher than my colleauge who performs the same work, i can always try to apply/compete for higher roles.. This helps build teammanship and noone feels like ’emily’ got that secret raise, she must be sleepin with boss. Ha ha
    Also overtime Is paid for any work above 37.5 hrs per wk.. Last yr i earned an extra 20,000$ in overtime that i volunteered for.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Wow an extra $20k in OT?! That’s amazing, good for you. I haven’t been paid for OT in years… I think the best I can hope for is banking hours for extra time off.

  4. I’ve only been full time for a couple of months (besides working for the military, good luck negotiating with them!) so I haven’t yet had to ask for a pay raise. When it came to talking about salaries for my new position (with a small company) my boss asked me how much a nurse normally got paid. I gave him the top end of a first year nurse’s salary. He said done and we moved on. Now I’m kind of wondering if I should have asked for more. ; )

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was asked for an expected salary/wage for a professional technical position applied. I reasoned with the market average in the city/town for the similar occupations (government websites), and the approximate figure of my present salary. But it turned out with replied “That’s slightly higher than we can offer and would you mind if the wage is lower?”. Now if you are one of those “not so recent” graduates with internship experience, but has been struggling with finding a permanent employment (or even going to an interview) in your discipline. To me, you better take whatever wage given to start out rather than not being able to get into the field you want. For some people, the desire to have a “dreamed career” can actually hurt them finanically and time delay to be “upward mobile”. However, as a “late 20-somethings” reader, I do understand your points in your article.

  6. Melissa says:

    I work at a part time while I am finishing school. My job unfortunately doesn’t do pay raise with there employees. I am looking for a new job, hopefully one in my area of interest and with better pay.

  7. Vicky says:

    Do you think it’s possible to still negotiate after you’ve signed the contract but have not started working yet? Would that be considered unprofessional, or would it be okay if you said “I’m excited about the position but have been doing more research, and would like to negotiate about the salary etc…”

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I’ve never done it after signing the contract, but I have called/e-mailed in to say that “after reviewing the contract and responsibilities of the position again, I would feel more comfortable at $XX,XXX. Would it be possible to amend the contract?” Or something like that. I mean, it never hurts to ask, right? Even if they say no, you still have a job!

  8. SA says:

    This has been on my mind for weeks… I haven’t been able to work up the courage to make a pitch yet. I’m in a weird work situation and I feel like if I ask my supervisor will think I’m conceited.

  9. JC says:

    I have question and not sure how I could negotiate….
    Few months ago, I was invited as a consultant by my previous client. We have never created a written contract, all the deals and promises just gave out via sms or verbal agreement.
    However, after my role is finished (already gave out my consultation works)….my client is telling me that he is not the only one hold the company and it’s not just him to make the decision to pay me the consultant fees, but he “promise” when their business get started, they will hire me in their company. Tricky is…they also hired a researcher who I’d worked with but he already got paid from my client.
    I do not care about what he said the “promise”…I just want them to pay me back, as we do not have a actual written contract, but we have emails/sms…..what should I do?how can I negotiate or talk to them?

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