A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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When Taking A Pay Cut Means Overhauling Your Budget

For the past week, I've been neck deep in new job stuff: HR forms, training, meetings, and actual work. Although I hesitate to get too excited this early in the game, I have to say that so far this gig is at least ten thousand times better than my previous three jobs. I don't have to talk on the phone, I don't have to lecture or give presentations, and miraculously, my boss seems to assume that I'm intelligent enough to turn on my computer and change my password without needing a 30-minute tutorial.

Plus, I get to read interesting papers all day long and help other scientists articulate their ideas. Editing is a Type A introvert's dream.

But as I think I've shared before - if not here, at least on Twitter - this job pays $10K less per year than my previous one, and the benefits aren't as good. Thus, we'll have to completely overhaul our budget to accommodate the realities of my new paycheck. (Note: I wrote about debt payoff recalibration last year, too, when my paycheck increased. You can find that post here.)

A deep dive into my new gross vs. take-home salary

At $50K per year, my gross income will be $2083 per semi-monthly paycheck. I'm planning to shovel a substantial portion of that income into insurance, my 401K, and my HSA. 

A few considerations:

-My benefits won't kick in until March. At that point, there will be 20 paydays left in the year.

-For my 401K, my employer will match up to $3K per year (it vests immediately, which is awesome). I want to take advantage of that and contribute $4500 of my salary for a total 2019 401K contribution of $7500.

-I intend to max out my HSA this year. That's another $7000. Between employer contributions and wellness incentives, I'll be responsible for approximately $5000.


I don't know exactly what my new paycheck will look like, but I used the SmartAsset Federal Paycheck Calculator to get a ballpark estimate:

Gross pay per paycheck: $2083

Taxes + FICA: $235
Health Insurance: $139
401K: $225
HSA: $250

Estimated semi-monthly take-home pay: $1236

The adjusted monthly budget

If I've calculated all of this correctly, our new combined income will be approximately $5460/month, nearly $600/month less than what we were bringing home with my old job. But on the other hand, my student loan is paid off, so that's $200/month that we don't have to worry about anymore! (But on the other hand... our rent is going up by $100/month. Sigh.)

So here's what the tentative new budget looks like:

What does this mean for our debt payoff plan?

Basically, it just means that it's going to take a little longer to eliminate our last student loan, especially because we've reprioritized our goals a bit. 

First, as I mentioned in my 2019 goals post, we've decided to build up our emergency fund to $10K. Between the high cost of living in our town, talk of a possible recession, and my growing mistrust of employers in general, I feel like we need more of a cushion in the event that one of us is jobless for a few months. I hope that won't happen, but I also want to plan for the possibility.

So that's the first step. We should be able to reach this goal by August of this year (unless we end up with a high tax bill... ugh). 

Next, we'd like to get rid of our ~$2500 Thousand Trails loan, which carries a higher interest rate than the student loan. Again, we can take care of that by the end of the summer.

After that, we'll be able to pay $1500/month to Fortysomething's student loan. Taking into account bonuses and side hustle income, that loan will be paid off in 2021.

Have you ever taken a pay cut? How did you adjust your budget to accommodate the change in salary?



  1. "But on the other hand, my student loan is paid off..." gotta feel awesome to say. :)
    Congrats on the new job and workable budget.

  2. I've been lucky enough never to have to take a paycut, but I'm glad your decision is working out for your happiness. And that you seem to have been able to make it work for your budget. Your rent is insane, as you probably know, but I'm in Phoenix where $1,000 is outrageous for a one-bedroom. On the other hand, your taxes are crazily low, so I guess you can enjoy that aspect? Way to go on taking full advantage of the matching funds, by the way.

  3. I'm happy for you that your boss speaks to you like you are an intelligent humanoid - always a big plus.

    As someone who recently took a pay cut in order to work closer to home, I really appreciate this post. It was $4,000! It was a tough choice, but I try to tell myself I'm saving that much in transportation and wear on my car....

  4. My pay cuts were always "half my salary or more goes to supporting family" so they're a bit weird and different but I always say: You can find ways to earn more money (raises, promotions, side gigs) but you can't pull respect out of a half baked potato of a boss. Getting better work and a better boss makes such a quality of life difference that puts a spring in your step, it makes it much more possible to find ways around the budget thing if it's not too huge a cut.

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  6. Your COL is crazy high! My mortgage payment (taxes, interest, insurance, principle) isn't too much more than that. I think you've come up with a workable solution to your change in salary. When it comes to a job, money isn't everything. I took a paycut five months ago. Never once have I regretted it. I have also found that a lot of things (gas, clothing, food) have offset the decrease.

  7. ok, I gotta know (nosey, sorry!)...does food cover groceries + dining out?

  8. Let's see hub's was laid off after every 4-5 months summer work for the first 11 years we were married. So yes I have been where you are. Just hang in there and adjust. I can understand your mistrust.