Conventional career wisdom says that you should be making more in five years than you are now — and if you’re not, you’re probably not being as aggressive as you could be with salary negotiations and pay raises.

But truth is, there may be times when your career path will be paved with a pay cut here and there, and that’s perfectly normal. In some instances, it may even be needed to grow to the next level professionally.

So when does it make sense to take a pay cut?


    Switching to a new field mid-career is a bold and invigorating move. After all, it’s quite likely that the career you chose at 21 isn’t the one you’ll want to stick with until retirement. But just remember that making the change may come at an opportunity cost, as you may have to slide down a few rungs toward the entry-level end of the scale. View it as a temporary reset, though; once you’re in, you can focus on getting back on the upward earning trajectory.


    Believe it or not, this can happen. If you were lucky enough to land a position with an employer who had deep pockets, be realistic about the budgets and the ability of a would-be employer to pay as generously. While everyone should be paid what they’re worth, keep things in perspective if the right opportunity comes along. Do a little research on job sites to determine what the going salary is for your position so you can manage your expectations.


    It doesn’t take more than half an episode of “Shark Tank” to learn that people who start their own business or turn their side hustle into their only hustle are unlikely to make a lot of money right out of the gate. That’s because you’re pouring every available resource you have into getting your business off the ground, with the first sacrifice typically being your own salary. This is totally normal and often necessary to work toward future success.


    If your particular industry has been on the decline, your company may be tightening its purse strings — including for salaries. In past years, businesses in both the private and public sectors have had to implement across-the-board pay cuts as a way to avoid layoffs. It might not be ideal, but having a job is better than not having one, and taking a pay cut might be what’s required one day to keep yours.

    “It’s quite likely that the career you chose at 21 isn’t the one you’ll want to stick with until retirement. But just remember that making the change may come at an opportunity cost.”


    Lots of people make the transition from city to suburbs at some point, whether to accommodate a growing family or just to escape the big-city grind. If you’re looking to move outside a commutable area — or maybe even to a different state — be open to a salary that’s not exactly on par with what you’re making. The cost of living could be cheaper in the area you want to move to, which means you could be paid less but will also pay less in everyday expenses. So take some time to do the math to see how much a pay cut would actually affect you.


    If you find yourself utterly spent at the end of each day, on the verge of burnout or just never with enough time for important “life” stuff, it might be time for a change that could also mean a smaller paycheck. For instance, your company may allow you to reduce your schedule, switch to part-time status, or take a less-demanding position, but these options are likely to be accompanied by a reduction in pay. If you can’t make changes at your current job, taking a new job that is more flexible or less intense may also mean you take a pay cut in return for better work/life balance. That trade-off may just be worth it.

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