big potatoes, good ideas

Big Potatoes (and Asking for Them)

Big Potatoes

In my last post (Small Potatoes) I calculated the total amount of money I’ve legitimately earned or saved thus far in 2015, not counting my paycheck from my actual job. And the grand total was…$779.25! For me, that’s like a month’s rent plus a couple weeks of groceries. Nothing to sneeze at.

However, while these small potatoes definitely do add up, they only add up so much. And they take a lot of time to collect: that $779.25 took nine months to earn/save, and it represents a lot of hours sitting on the subway traveling to research study sites and schlepping textbooks to the post office to mail them to Amazon Marketplace buyers. Even though $779.25 is a lot of money in one sense, it’s probably not much money per hours worked.

So with that in mind, today’s post is about big potatoes – not the extra little earnings here and there, but the money that for many of us makes up the bulk of our income: our wages or salary from our full-time job(s). And more to the point, it’s about how a very small thing can sometimes make a big difference in potatoes.

That small thing is: asking.

I won’t get into too many details about my job, but the short story is that I’m a graduate student and so my paycheck is technically a “stipend” rather than a salary or hourly wage. This means that my university is paying me to do research and/or to teach, and/or do other stuff, depending on the semester. Typically this amount stays pretty stable, but it can also change, and for me it recently decreased due to shifts in my funding sources [insert mysterious details of the budgets of academic institutions here]. I will say that the reason for this change does make some sort of logical sense from my university’s point of view, but from my perspective it essentially meant I was suddenly doing more work than before, for less money, which makes no sense at all.

It’s hard to ask for things. Really, really hard. It’s hard because it means you have to admit that you need or want something from someone (which might mean you are – gasp! – not a fully independent human being). And it’s hard because they might say no, and then you’d have to emotionally and psychologically deal with that.

I did it anyway, though. Twice: once in July and once earlier this month. I explained to those in charge that I felt I should receive more stipend money, and I gave reasons.

And I got it. Both times. In July I asked for $1800 and got it, and a few weeks ago I asked for $3100 and got that too. These figures are not arbitrary, by the way – they were based on calculations that made sense to the people I was asking. But I am 100% sure that if I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have gotten any of this money. That means I basically earned $4900 from making two well-thought-through but ultimately very simple requests. (To be clear, this is not a monthly raise of $4900, just a one-time “bonus”, for lack of a better word.)

So, compare that to the $779.25 that I ran around town for nine months to scrape together. $779.25 for countless hours of work versus $4900 for about twenty minutes total of swallowing my pride and taking a risk.

Obviously, it isn’t the case that anyone can always get $4900 from their boss anytime just by asking. It worked for me this time only because of the specific circumstances I was in. There may well be other times in the future when this tactic isn’t applicable or doesn’t work.

But it worked this time, and it was a valuable lesson for me. As they say, you don’t make what you earn; you make what you negotiate. And, I would add, negotiation can bring in some pretty big potatoes.

Have you ever asked for more money and gotten it (or not gotten it)?
If so, I’d love to hear about it – leave a comment below!

5 Comments on “Big Potatoes (and Asking for Them)

  1. Thanks! I feel like this was really good practice for possible future situations when I’m negotiating salaries or raises.

  2. Awesome work here Sarah! Would be interested to know the reasons you were able to negotiate this? I’m paid very well already and figuring out ways that I can invest and generate residual income through property / stocks and other investments however love learning from others 🙂


    1. Ah, that’s a good question. Academia is a strange animal, and I don’t know that the details of this situation would apply to any other context. But it basically boiled down to explaining that I felt I was worth more than I was getting paid, and coming up with a number that made sense to my department head. I think the key is presenting the request in a way that will seem logical to the person you’re asking.

      1. Cool, yeah that makes sense Sarah have actually had my yearly performance appraisal today and asked what reasons are considered when people are promoted.. For me if you’re delivering extra value then sure asking for extra is easily justifiable and if you get it great ..

        Well done for sure though! 🙂

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