What Do You Want / You Can’t Have it All

I was texting with my childhood friend. She lives across the country in a house that her now-husband bought. She is pregnant and due in a few months. She has a stable job in a public-service role that she loves, and she spends her free time with friends and traveling the world. I’m sure she’s not happy all the time– she had quite the traumatic childhood and has overcome a lot– but she seems content with life and stable enough to enjoy it.

Her and her husband are jointly making probably $60k-$70k a year, but they make it work. They can make it work because they live somewhere more affordable than here.  Explaining to her that my concern du jour was that I have a job offer that pays $70k less than my current role just didn’t compute. It probably doesn’t with most of my readers too…

Together, my husband and I today make about $250k. We have yet to do our 2016 taxes, but I imagine after taxes we take home around $12k-$13k a month. That should be well enough to live a good life, even here, but it handcuffs me into earning the chunk of that income, and makes it even more difficult to consider a job where I’d earn $70k less. If that reduces my income by $4k a month, that reduces our income to $8k a month after taxes, and that’s not sustainable here if we want to live the life we want.

I am open to a lower-paid job, but if I’m going to be doing practically the same role, even if the company seems like a better fit, I just am not sure it makes sense to take such a substantial pay cut. Sure, I can negotiate them up a bit, but they aren’t going to meet what I’m at today. Am I overpaid today? Yes and no. I did receive another job offer when I took this one that was paid even more — but the company was larger and the role was different. As my role gets smaller and smaller, I’m most certainly overpaid for what I do today, and this means that my company sees no value in keeping me or investing in me since it would be better for them and cheaper for them for me to walk (or, eventually, for them to lay me off.)

If I were to take a job that paid under $130k, I’d want it to be something completely different. The problem is there really aren’t a lot of jobs out there like that — either they’re $60k-$80k for still-stressful but less senior roles where you manage a particular task or program over and over, and your objective theoretically is still to move up to better-paid management (with all the stress that comes with it), or they’re $100-$130k and basically the same job I have for a lot less salary. And, although money isn’t everything, I haven’t been paid that low in years, and cost of living has gone up. Even though I am able to save a good $6k per month right now, I can’t live in a 1 bedroom apartment forever. (Well, I can, but I don’t want to.)

My loose plan all rests around making as money as possible and putting away as much money as possible for as long as I can. If that’s really my goal, then I should stay in my current job until they ask me to leave. If I stay until June, I will have saved an additional $15k or more. That’s not a downpayment here (that would be $300k), but it’s  also not nothing. If I keep my head down, really do my best work and try my hardest to the point where I’m adding a lot of value, maybe I can stay through the end of the year–saving $55,000, and putting me over my $500k goal.


Even though my ego is shot, having gone from running a department to running a tiny sliver of it, constantly being on the chopping block with everyone who knows my income clearly looking at me like someone overpaid enough to not be worth their time, I still have a job. I still do work, I still do some good work, and I’m learning how to be better at other elements of my job, at least to the point where I communicate well with other teams and showcase my successes. I really thought I’d be fired by now, but so far removing me is more of a risk than keeping me around. It won’t be that case forever, but in the short term I have high visibility in the business, so it’s hard to just show me the door without a major failure.

That said, the second we have a bad quarter or two and there is a mass layoff I’m 99% sure i’ll be on the top of the list. But that wouldn’t be so bad either — typically layoffs like that come with some severance and a reasonable story to take to future employers, especially if you’ve been with the business for a while before you are let go.

I just often look around at my 800-square foot 1 bedroom in a nice but basic apartment complex and think that no matter what I do here, I’ll never be stable enough with the amount of income needed to afford a house or to have the life I want for my family. Can we survive here? Probably. But I don’t want to just be surviving. As my friend pointed out, with our salary we could live like kings in her neck of the woods. We probably wouldn’t make that much there, but still, a dollar goes a lot further in most parts of the country.

So why don’t we just move? Sometimes, I think we should. But, for now, the jobs are here for me, and family is here for him. It would be hard for him to move away from his family, and I’ve gotten so used to living away from mine it would be hard to live closer to them. And, after traveling all across the country, I can say for certain that there is no other place that makes me this happy – with the right blend of urban, semi-urban, suburban and the great outdoors. This is such as special place (and that’s why it costs so damn much to live here.)

I really don’t know what to do right now. I’ve made a pact with myself that I can leave my role starting in April, as I’m pretty sure unless my performance skyrockets and the company is doing so well they don’t care about my current salary, I am out the door no later than this July. Still, staying to July has its benefits, especially over going to a company that will pay me much less for the same role, or even, quite frankly, a more stressful role with less resources. It might be a good move, however, because I think I’m a really good fit for the company culture, the subject material, and it’s somewhere I can see myself staying for a fairly long time. And it’s 15 minutes from where I live, which would add a huge increase in my work-life balance, especially at the end of the day where I’d like to have time to come home, enjoy a relaxing dinner with my husband, maybe even read a few chapters of a book or clean this mess of a house.

Decisions, decisions.

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6 thoughts on “What Do You Want / You Can’t Have it All”

  1. Re: “I still do some good work, and I’m learning how to be better at other elements of my job, at least to the point where I communicate well with other teams and showcase my successes. I really though I’d be fired by now, but so far removing me is more of a risk than keeping me around. It won’t be that case forever, but in the short term I have high visibility in the business, so it’s hard to just show me the door without a major failure.”
    I absolutely agree w this passage. I truly think that as long as you’re getting better they want to keep you around because you’ll eventually become a marketing diva for them. And a role model for the entry level ppl if they don’t see you as that already. Which I suspect they do since you have high visibility.
    Also it is -really- hard to hire good ppl. I’m sure their looong search for your new boss confirms that sentiment. So rest assured no company that’s growing and doing reasonably well is letting anyone go. Hope you get some reassurance from this. <3,
    P.S. Some disclosure, I'm an entry level engr at a tech giant getting 135K+50K RSUs/yr.

    1. Thanks. I agree w/ you, I think it would be hard for them to let anyone go who is not clearly doing a bad job at the moment. I’m on the cusp of that at times, so I have to be careful, but with my new boss I have the opportunity to basically give her “no reason” to fire me independently of a formal reduction in force. It’s a bit different in startups then tech giants, though, because every headcount has to perform – there just aren’t unlimited resources. Still, for the morale of the company just firing people out of the blue goes against this particular company’s culture. It hurts really bad to always feel like the higher ups at the company feel like hey make a mistake in hiring me, and I do want to prove them wrong, but it’s basically impossible at this point — I’ll always be that bad hiring choice that they’ve learned from, yet I’m still at the company. I just worry about my story as well leaving the company if I do stay… I’m basically getting an annual or bi-annual demotion at this point. Even if I do my current job really well, I still have to answer why I wasn’t able to be successful in a more senior role. Walking would feel good right now, a breath of fresh air, but staying is good for my bank account, and it doesn’t hurt to have a solid job on my resume for at least 2 years or even 3.

  2. Hi! I’ve been reading your blog lately after getting interested in personal finance; I can’t say I’ve followed your whole journey, so forgive me if this is something you’ve already thought about from top to bottom. But after reading your last post and then this one, I have to wonder if you’ve taken a good vacation recently. If I were you, I would take some of that giant chunk of savings you have and take a trip somewhere on your low-COL list of places you could consider living. I hear you say you’re happiest in the Bay Area, but then every entry in this blog says you are not happy at all, but instead profoundly depressed and unable to enjoy your time or your life. I think there must be other places in the U.S. where you could find more day-to-day happiness, even if the weather is less perfect. (The southeast comes to mind as an area with warm, sunny weather, but lower COL–I’ve never been there though, just brainstorming; personally I live in the Midwest but I know not everyone can take the winters.) I think you should get serious about moving to a more affordable place, and do it by taking some trips and trying some places out. Because what you’re doing seems really…unsustainable, I guess.

    (Also none of my business AT ALL but as a concerned reader, I think you should see a therapist about how you seem to want to retroactively fix your childhood lack of security by attempting to buy security by endlessly making more and more money. It’s sad to read about and makes me worried for you. As for your own future children, a six-figure salary isn’t necessary to give the next generation a happy, secure childhood–you can do better than your own parents did with a lower income than they had!)

    1. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that long term staying in this region might not make sense. I actually am very familiar with many other parts of the country — I grew up on the east coast, spent my college years in the midwest, and have interned in a few other regions, plus visited most major and minor cities in the country. I really do genuinely love it here — as depressed as I sound now, I’m a whole lot worse in a region where it isn’t sunny often, and my husband hates hot weather so that removes most of the US as an option. I also know that a six-figure salary is not necessary to give my future kids a happy life, but life does cost money, and that’s why I’m trying to save now so I’ll have options later on when I do have kids. I’ve never been good with money, but my guiding principle is that the more I save before I have my first child, the more flexibility I’ll have to work part-time or freelance when I’m a mother and make less money… even if it’s painful now. I’d rather set myself up for more flexibility later. This isn’t sustainable and it’s tough because I don’t know what’s next, and I feel lost without having a clear path in mind, plus still having the ego hit of going from a high earner (who probably doesn’t deserve it) to a much lower-paid role that I may not be any better at. So there’s that.

  3. I get that it’s more expensive so the salary comparisons aren’t the same, but at the same time you’re pointing that out, you’re also noting that you’re saving around $6k per month. Which is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it does show that you’re still doing pretty well comparatively. I doubt too many are able to squirrel away that much monthly, even in areas where housing and such is much more affordable.

    It also means that you do have some wiggle room in terms of potentially looking at lower salary jobs. Yes, you could be saving less, but what you’re doing now is not bringing you any happiness. There’s a definite ‘cost’ associated with that, one that, frankly, the higher income you’re bringing in does not seem to be covering.

    1. I totally agree — as in, right now, I can afford to save $6k a month. But, I’m living in a 1 bedroom apartment that’s about 1.5 hrs from work, I’m not yet investing $50k+ into IVF, I don’t have daycare to pay for which can cost $20k per year per kid, and god forbid anyone in my family have an unexpected illness… I could have bought a new car, but I bought used. I could be living in a 2 bedroom or a house or living closer to my work and saving less, but I’m choosing to save more, for now. But my concern is long term that $6k will quickly be eaten up with the real cost of having a family… so, for now, I try to save as much as possible… either I stay here and have a good cushion when having a family (because I’ll need it) or we get out of dodge and have a nice down payment saved for a house without eating into our retirement savings. So, yes, I could make less… but right now seems to be prime earning time of my life, and I kind of want to fight for that savings as long as I can… because this won’t last forever.

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