This guest post from Robin is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. It’s a follow up to her June story about the real cost of work. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income. Want submit your own reader story? Here’s how.

Recently I submitted a reader story about my job as a crime analyst and how I struggled with paying off my student loans and paying for housing due to my low paying government job. I wanted to write this follow up because my financial situation has drastically changed in the short time since J.D. ran my article.

A Lucky Break?
Shortly after I sent off my story to J.D. I received some incredible news. I was offered a different position, doing the same work, at another police department! This left me with a difficult decision but with options.

In order to leave my current job I would have to give up my time in the pension fund. Local pensions do not transfer between cities, so I would lose my time that counts toward vesting. A year and half before I would be guaranteed a pension (though a very small one at the ten-year mark) is difficult to give up. I would be starting over in the new pension system and have to work another ten years before becoming vested at this department. However, the retirement requirement for the new department would be 20 years, rather than the 25 years that the current job requires.

There were a lot of other comparisons to make that weighed on my decision.

  • Healthcare is much cheaper, yet the exact same policy, at the new department.
  • The commute is longer which means more gas and maintenance expenses for my car.
  • The initial offer for the new job came in at exactly what I was making at my current job ($38,000).

While I was disappointed with the initial offer, I decided to make a counter offer in the hopes that I could put some personal finance advice to work and negotiate a better salary.

Learning to Negotiate
I spent several days getting job specifications and pay scales from police departments all over the country and prepared myself for what scares me more than anything: talking money with a supervisor.

I went into the negotiations realizing that government jobs usually have firm pay scales and there is often no chance for getting a better deal than the salary posted in the job posting.

I walked into the meeting with shaky hands full of job postings with salaries ranging from $28,000 to $67,000. The pay scales vary wildly depending on the state, the size of the police department, and the financial stability of the city or state. I decided to aim high and ask for $60,000. There was really no scientific basis for choosing that number; it just sounded high enough that they could bargin down and low enough from the top salary in my job posting package so that I didn’t sound as if I was ridiculously greedy.

The meeting went well and I was told I would get the final offer by mail within a week. On the way out of the office, I wasn’t sure if it was the right move to ask for over $20,000 more than what I had originally been offered. I had a stable job and didn’t need to change agencies, so I wasn’t desperate to take the first offer that came along. I decided that no matter what happened, I would be proud of myself for taking the chance and turning down the initial offer and countering. If nothing else, I gained some experience in negotiating.

A week later the offer letter arrived. I opened it slowly, fully prepared for the $38,000 pay rate to be in the first line. Imagine my shock and surprise when I read that they would be willing to start me off at nearly $57,000!!! This was a nearly $20,000 increase from the initial offer that would never have been available had I not made a counter offer.

In one simple letter, I was able to alleviate the stress I’ve felt for the last decade about staying in a low paying job that I love. I’ll still be able to make a difference in an urban community and be able to achieve some of my personal goals like paying off debt and saving for a home.

By the Numbers
So here’s the breakdown of my average old paycheck:

  • Bi-weekly pay: $1500
  • Total Deductions for medical, Union Dues, Pension costs, and Taxes: -$625.00
  • Take Home Pay: $875
  • Student Loan Payment: -$200
  • Commuting Costs: -$150
  • Total left: $525 ($1050 per month for rent, phone, food, and anything else I need or want)

And from my new paycheck:

  • Bi-weekly pay: $2175
  • Total Deductions for medical, Union Dues, Pension costs, and Taxes: -$425.00 (higher taxes but lower pension and medical costs)
  • Take Home Pay: $1750
  • Student Loan Payment: -$200
  • Commuting Costs: -$200 (increased mileage)
  • Total Left: $1350 ($2700 per month — more than twice what I took home before!)

I am so grateful for being able to have this opportunity and for realizing that it was in my power to negotiate my salary. If I hadn’t read so many personal finance articles, I wouldn’t have known how to ask for a better pay rate.

I wanted to share my good news because I read over and over how in order to get out of debt you can cut back or you can make more money. It sounds impossible to just increase your money coming in but this is proof it can be done.

Now I need a plan for the new $1650 increase in monthly pay. There are worse problems to have…

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After more than a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Henceforth, unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed or edited.

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