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Make the Most of Your Pay Raise

Written by Hank Coleman - 6 Comments

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Despite high unemployment and lingering financial turmoil from the recent recession, American workers continue to earn pay raises each year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical worker earned an average pay raise of 1.9% last year, and they are on tap to earn a similar raise in 2012.

These annual pay raises will help wages keep up with inflation. While a 2% to 3% raise may not seem like a lot of money at first glance, it can equal $1,000 or more per year for a family earning $50,000. But the real question remains, what should you do with your new pay raise after you earn it?

If you do not take an active role in putting the money to good use, then you are more inclined to simply find it disappearing into your monthly budget before you can even realize the money is gone. Below are five ways to help you put your new pay raise to good use.

Pay off high interest debt

Using a new pay praise to pay off high interest debt is typically a wise move. Having credit cards that charge you 18% or more in annual interest can quickly start to add up. Paying off credit cards with a high interest rate with a pay raise is like earning the same amount from an investment.

If you were paying 18% each year in interest on a credit card and paid off that card with your new pay raise, it is just like having earned 18% annual rate of return on your money. While the stock market zigzags like a roller coaster, paying off your high interest debt can be as sure a return as possible.

Build up your emergency fund

One thing that I personally struggle with is having a fully funded emergency fund in place. Most financial experts recommend that you have three to six months of living expenses set aside in an emergency fund. What many people do not often realize is that six months of expenses is actually quite a large amount of money in many cases. It can quickly equal $10k-$20k for some families. Living on your previous income and saving your new pay raise is a great way to help boost your emergency fund if have not quite reached your goal of six months of living expenses.

Boost your retirement savings

Using your pay raise to build up your retirement savings can be a great plan. You have until April 15th of each year to finish contributing to an IRA. If you receive a year-end bonus or a pay raise at the beginning of the year, you can put that money to good use by finishing up maximizing your retirement account contributions.

A pay raise is also a great way to build up to maximizing your 401(k) retirement plan contributions. In 2012, you can contribute up to $17,000 to your 401(k). That is a lot of money, especially if you are just starting out in your career. But, you can incrementally increase your 401(k) contributions each year until you reach your maximum contribution level. If your small increase is timed with your new pay raise you won’t even notice the difference.

Double check your insurance coverages

Do you have enough insurance coverage? Far too many people find themselves underinsured in many aspects of their lives. Do you have umbrella insurance to protect yourself from being sued? Do you have flood insurance on your house? According to FEMA, over 30% of all home damage from flooding occurred on homes that are not in a federally designated flood zone. Purchasing flood insurance if you live outside of a flood plain is very inexpensive. Spending money now on the proper insurance coverages can help you save on insurance in the long run.

Splurge on yourself a little

I am not talking about spending your entire pay raise by purchasing things for yourself. But, you did earn the money, and you should enjoy it. Many financial experts recommend taking a small portion, such as 10%, of your raise or any year-end bonus you earn and spending it on something for yourself. Doing so will help you stick to your other plans for the rest of the money. This is similar to having a cheat day on a diet. If you are too strict with yourself and how you spend your money, you will be more inclined to fall off the wagon and be resentful to your new financial goals.

Are you one of the lucky ones that will receive a pay raise this year? What will you do with your new pay raise? Will you just absorb it into your monthly budget, or will you use it to increase your financial wellbeing? Living on your previous year’s income and using your new pay raise to accomplish your financial goals is a great use of the new money. What do you like to do with a pay raise?

Published on January 19th, 2012 - 6 Comments
Filed under: Debt Reduction,Planning,Saving & Investing

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. Great article. The emergency fund is one of the most valuable financial strategies a person can have. I know mine helped keep me sane a couple of years ago.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 20th 2012 @ 4:55 am
  2. As it has been said many times, avoiding lifestyle inflation and taking your raises to apply to paying down debt and saving/investing, will yield a much higher return in the long run!

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 20th 2012 @ 7:47 am
  3. I am really interested in putting my raises back into other business ventures. Then, after it is all said and done, I can make even more money and more raises! 🙂

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 21st 2012 @ 1:44 am
  4. Annual raises are nice… My employer hasn’t done one in 2 years due to the economy.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 21st 2012 @ 10:17 am
  5. I should get 3% and my 401k contributions are set to auto increase when the raise kicks in.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 22nd 2012 @ 12:02 pm
  6. Excellent post! We recently moved from the U.S. to Australia, and we’re waiting to see how the economy affects raises here. Once our Great Debt Snowball of 2012 is done, we plan to contribute more to our retirement funds.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 23rd 2012 @ 3:52 am

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