Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Stand up for yourself and your money

When I first moved to Vancouver, I took a job that paid me 15% less than my job in Victoria. It doesn’t seem like a ton, but when you’re making less than $50,000 that’s a huge amount. But I did it because 1) I wanted to move to Vancouver and establish myself with a very reputable organization, and 2) my boss promised me what amounted to a 12% raise after I passed my probation period.

I didn’t stay very long with the organization, but I learned some very important lessons that I still think about today:

1. Get everything in writing

I was young when I took this job, and I believed my boss when he told me that I would get a raise after my probation period ended. He was one of those managers who made a really good first impression, knew exactly what to say, and filled up the room with his energy. I was definitely the opposite of him, and remember timidly asking if we should put that into my formal offer letter. He quickly brushed me off and said that he’d get it done. He told me to trust him. So I did.

2. Nobody cares about your money more than you

Once my 3 month probation period passed and I didn’t notice a difference in my pay cheques, I brought it up with my boss. He assured me he would file the paperwork to make it happen.

The next time we got paid, I still hadn’t seen a change. So I inquired again, and he told me that it “wasn’t high on his priority list.” I thought, okay. No worries. This minor administrative task isn’t as important as other issues we were dealing with, but it was one of the reasons why I accepted the job. 12% may not seem like a big raise to him, but it was huge for me. And as the weeks went by, I got more and more disgruntled.

Related: If you don’t ask, you won’t get

Six weeks after I was supposed to have gotten the raise, I went into his office and asked about my raise again. It was rightfully mine, and I told him that. “Well aren’t you greedy,” he said, and dismissed me from his office.

I was in shock. I was mad, and I wasn’t going to take it. How dare he accuse me of being greedy when all I was asking for was what he promised me!

3. Fight for what’s right

Eventually I realized that he never intended on giving me that raise because he had never gotten it approved and didn’t have the authority to set my salary. But it was what was promised to me, so I kept fighting for it. Every week I would bring it up with him (always politely, never forceful), and each time he would make a comment about me being “bossy” or “aggressive” or his favourite, “greedy.”

Three months later, I finally got my raise. But it was only for 5% – not the 12% I was promised when I accepted the job. He said that it was all he could do for me, and I wasn’t going to be getting anything else. I nodded, thanked him for pushing my “raise” through, and promptly started looking for work elsewhere.

Related: How I landed my first job out of college

Two months after that, I left for a position that paid me a much better salary. But I often look back at that job and think about how much I learned in the 8 months I was there. I learned how to stand up for what I knew was right. I learned how to be assertive (not bossy or greedy), and I learned that the next time I negotiated something with an employer, to get everything promised to me in writing.

Have you ever had to stand up for yourself at work before?

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. I already stand for myself at 2 job. The forst one they choose to offer me a 3 month contract and when I sign it, it was 1 month contract. After a month, they didn’t want to sign a contract but they wanted to keep me working without a contract. I left.

    The second job, they didn’t want to offer a raise so I left.

  2. Stockbeard says:

    I sometimes wish I could fight a bit more for a better salary. I tend to just accept what I get. Good for you that you tried so hard to get that money, and became stronger/wiser in the process!

  3. I’m in this position right now, with commission payments. Been at the company 6 months soon and still nothing is changing, and just recently found out they misled me from the beginning and had no intention of paying me that salary. I also got a small boost but it didn’t come close to what was promised.

    I posted recently about negotiating salary, and it’s SO important to get everything in writing. The most power you have in negotiations is when you’re taking the job and working with HR…because your managers can promise things but might not have any power!

  4. Dana says:

    I applied for a job that was a few levels above my skill and when I interviewed and received and offer I was thrilled. The agreement was that I would start at the position that was lower (which was within my qualifications) and progress after a year to the next level – with more pay and responsibility. Great I thought.. I did get everything in writing but the wording was vague “upon completion of 1 year and to the satisfaction of management”…. 1.5 years have gone by – my boss started me of with a checklist – problem with that is the job changes and some of the things on the checklist are out of my control or do not ever come up or have become redundant. After performance review with my boss and not getting anywhere I set up a meeting with him to “revise this outdated checklist”… it was successful but I’m nearing year 2 with no promotion in sight…. have me work for less saves the company money. Lessons learned? Standing up for yourself is valuable and lets your boss know that you are not a pushover – it moved me closer to the promotion but not quite there yet.. Also having things is writing is key but also ensure that what is in writing is specific enough to hold ground.

  5. Infosavvy Canada says:

    I always enjoy your posts. You are god at storytelling especially money part :) Thx

    Personally, I get other 2 points right in my life however struggle when it comes to caring about myself..

  6. So says:

    Longtime reader, first-time poster. Great blog and good for you for fighting for what’s right! You’re right, you’re the only one that cares about your money. It’s so hard for women especially to negotiate and ask what they deserve.

  7. This is so absolutely true. Everything should be in writing. I didn’t know this when I first started working either, but learned that it’s actually pretty rare for a direct supervisor to be able to actually approve salaries on their own.

  8. This sounds similar to my first job at No Frills (a supermarket). When I was promoted to manager, I was promised a pay raise. 3 months later and I was still earning minimum wage. I followed up every week until I finally got the pay raise I deserved. Persistence definitely pays off.

  9. Giovana says:

    Great advice here! You are absolutely right and we should all fight for what we deserve. I agree with some of the comments that many women have a hard time negotiating their pay when they first start with an employer but I 100% agree that nobody will care about your money as much as you so we should all push for what’s fair based on your experience.

  10. Bryan says:

    This is a general question and I don’t mean to take over the thread, but how do you stay disciplined with your budget? This has been a huge struggle for me.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      Hi Bryan! For me personally, I stay disciplined by making goals for myself every month, and updating my budgeting spreadsheet at least a few times each week. Having to enter in every single purchase I make into my spreadsheet is motivating for me, because I can see how much I’m spending (and how much I could be saving if I stay on track).

      This is more general, but what really helps me is understanding why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m choosing to save my money and I’m choosing to stick to a budget because it affords me the opportunity to pursue what I love to do – which is travel, and spend time outdoors. I don’t see a budget as a way of depriving myself, because I get to choose what I spend my money on. And when I can see my monthly expenses aligning with those goals, it’s really satisfying. :)

  11. Kate says:

    This post (or, rather, your former boss) enrages me to no end, probably because it hits so close to home for me. I recently left a job I’d had for 4 years with an otherwise amazing company because I’d been told several times by the CFO (my boss) that I’d be seeing a pay increase “when …” When performance evaluations were complete; when the new fiscal year rolled over; when I completed my bachelor’s degree. Heck, I even did the annual corporate budgets at work which included my increases for employees – including myself – and still nothing! After years of working my ass off and continually delivering added value so the company could save a few bucks, I realized “when” was never going to come. I’d defended my stance and justified my reasons for receiving a wage increase at my last performance review and when my boss told me wage increases just weren’t going to happen last year because of the downturn in the economy, yet, having also been in charge of payroll for the company, it was plain as day that others had received raises AND the company was still hiring executive managers, I finally walked away. I have to admit it felt pretty damn good when the owners of the company told me it was a huge loss for them and that they’d screwed up.

    Gone are the good old days of “work hard and it’ll pay off in the end”. Most private companies are only interested in looking after the bottom line and their owners’ bank accounts.

  12. Kate says:

    I forgot to mention, a male supervisor would never tell another male that he was being “bossy,” “aggressive,” or “greedy” if that male were to push for a wage increase. These accusations are such classic demonstrations of utter misogyny on the part of males in positions of power and it’s completely disgusting. Good on you for fighting for yourself, and please never stop doing so.

    Okay, rant over …

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