How to Handle a Pay Cut: Bulletproof Your Budget

My Pay Was Reduced by 75%. Now What?

With stay-at-home orders and normal business flipping on its head during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people lost jobs, went on furlough, started doing remote work, or had to readjust their lives to accommodate a pay cut.

When Arron Ramsey’s hours as a programmer were abruptly cut from full-time to just eight hours a week, it took him by surprise. He’d viewed his job as pretty solid, with plenty of opportunity for future growth—he’d worked the last 29 years for a large, established hospital. But when they cut down on elective procedures, they started furloughing staff.

“It was this sense of impending doom,” Arron said. “Some departments were dealing with reduced hours, working four days a week instead of five. When we got the news from human resources that we’d be going down to one day of work a week, it was just really quiet.”

This meant a 75% salary cut, and he was just two weeks away from closing on a new house.

Arron Ramsey was about to close on his new house when he got word of a 75% pay cut

“It was a long drive home. You just start wondering, am I gonna be able to pay the bills? Can I close on this house?”

How to Handle a Pay Cut

When Arron got home, he sat in front of the computer and started running some numbers. He’d been using the budgeting tool You Need a Budget (YNAB) for the last few years to manage his personal finances, so he pulled it up on the screen to make his plan.

He set up his budget to see how far his money would last paying for the essentials. He ran some scenarios of how much his new inflow would be, how much vacation time he could cash out, and how far his emergency fund would take him.

“I was thankful to have all that in YNAB right there in front of me. Before this, it would’ve been just a big blob of money.”

Wondering how to create a budget for uncertain times? See how here.

He split out his categories and put the most important at the top. Others, he completely defunded:

Arron’s Essential Categories:

  • Housing
  • Electrical
  • Water
  • Sewer
  • Food
  • Car payment for son
  • YNAB (of course)
  • DMV (will have to tag my truck)
  • Dropbox account
  • Property taxes
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime

Categories Defunded Post Pay Cut:

  • Vacation
  • Funding Christmas
  • Clothing
  • Eating Out
  • Gifts
  • Fitness
  • Stopped funding Automotive maintenance (but kept the current balance intact)

“I’m Going to be OK”

By the end, he had a solution that would last him through December—nine months from now.

“It was a stressful afternoon but by 9:30pm, my blood pressure finally went down.” Arron said. “I’m going to be OK.”

Along with his short term solution, he walked away with some important truths (this list was originally posted to the Facebook Fans group where we found Arron’s story):

  • I’m still employed.
  • I still have health insurance benefits.
  • This is only temporary.
  • Deep Eddy grapefruit vodka is awesome.
  • YNAB says I’ll still make closing.
  • YNAB says my kids won’t starve.
  • YNAB says I can make my house payment.
  • YNAB says the lights will stay on.
  • YNAB says I can do this.

At the time of this writing, it’s been just over a week since the news of his furlough hit. He’s still closing on his house, though his lender needed additional assurance for the loan with his income suddenly dropping.

“It’s weird being 46 and calling mom and dad to ask for help, but they were all over it.” His parents ended up cosigning on the house.

“There’s no playbook here. We’re all kind of going at it one day at a time,” Arron said.

He’s looking forward to using the extra time for packing and a non-stressful move where he can take his time. The silver lining here was better work life balance at a time he needed it most.

"I’ve accepted this could be a long-term thing for a little bit. But I’m not stressed about it. I’m back to looking on the positive side of things."

Arron and his two kids on vacation in different times.

He sings praises of the Facebook Fans community—where there are lots of people talking about the new financial challenges together, sprinkled with some ironclad positivity.

“Everybody is going through this. There’s no use stewing over it, you have to go on with life. Get plugged into a community. Reach out to family or friends, and stay strong.”

If you’re struggling with a sudden change of income, resist the urge to crawl under the covers and hide. Make (or review) a budget, reduce your cost of living wherever possible, and explore the idea of using this misfortune as motivation to change your life by applying for higher paying jobs or finding a side hustle that you can start while working from home.

Hope is on the horizon, so keep your head up and your eyes open!

While some people have lost partial income, we realize others have lost their jobs completely. If you have a story of hope to share, we want to hear from you. Reach out to for a chance to be featured on our blog. And if you don’t have a budget, build one today using YNAB’s free trial.

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How to Handle a Pay Cut: Bulletproof Your Budget