“There’s just not enough room in our budget to pay you more,” my boss told me during my last round of contract negotiations at the TV station where I worked. “We’d love to give you more money, but I don’t have it to give.” It was the same old song and dance he’d given me during my last three contract negotiations. That’s why I was making a mere $3,000 more a year than I was when he’d hired me away from a competitor’s station four years earlier.

I knew it was all a lie.

Our station had done so well in the ratings – climbing to the coveted #1 spot in the early and late evening news spots – that the managers had all received generous quarterly bonuses a few weeks prior. He had the money to give me – he just didn’t want to.

How To Ask For A Raise That Isn’t A Raise

I knew my boss would be hard pressed to give me the salary increase I wanted. As I left his office, once again feeling dejected and underpaid, I resolved not to give up. I went home that evening and started plotting a new course – a way to get a raise without letting my boss realize he was giving me more money.

The Hidden Raise #1: Better Health Insurance

Each month, I paid out more than $150 in premiums for my employer-sponsored health insurance plan. My insurance plan was actually worth much more than the $150 I paid; my company paid 70 percent of the premiums.

What did I get in return? A health insurance plan that cost me a $25 co-pay for every trip to my doctors, a $750 deductible before they’d pay for any major expenses, and a $1750 out of pocket maximum that had drained my bank account after complications during the birth of my first child. I knew some of the executives in my company had the option to upgrade to a better health insurance plan, one that had a lower co-pay, a lower deductible, and a lower out of pocket max. And that’s what I aimed to get.

My request: When I went into the office the next week, I asked to be upgraded to the company’s executive-level health care plan. The catch? I didn’t want to pay any more a month on premiums than I already was.

Why they said yes: It took a few phone calls to human resources and the big wigs in New York, but my boss was ultimately able to grant my request. Instead of paying for 80 percent of my premiums, my employer was now paying for close to 80 percent. The reason they agreed was simple: businesses can deduct health insurance premiums paid on behalf of their employees, meaning my “hidden raise” would have a minimal impact on the company’s bottom line.

What I saved: Under my old plan, my employer was paying $350 a month toward my insurance premiums. Under the upgraded plan, the $150 a month I paid didn’t change, but my company was now paying nearly $500. The result was a hidden raise of $150 a month, or $1800 a year. Additionally, I calculated the switch to the better insurance plan saved me an additional $1000 the first year I was on it.

The Hidden Raise #2: More 401(k) Contributions

When I first began working for my employer, the job came with fabulous benefits, especially with regard to my employer-sponsored 401(k) account. The company matched half of all my contributions up to 6 percent of my salary. But, when the recession hit, my company dropped that match to a quarter for every dollar I contributed to my account, up to just 3.5 percent.

I wanted to go back to the good old days.

My request: I asked my boss if the company could increase its contributions to my 401(k) account to the pre-recession levels.

Why they said yes: My boss thought this was a brilliant idea. After all, contributing to an employee’s IRA had many of the same tax benefits for the company as paying insurance premiums. Human resources, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic. Our HR rep worried giving a boost in benefits might be perceived as discriminatory to my lower-paid peers. Ultimately, the company agreed to lesser terms than I requested, giving me a 50 percent match up to 3.5 percent.

What I saved: The previous year, under the lower matching policy, my company had made about $300 in contributions to my 401(k). Under the terms of my hidden raise, my company doubled its contributions.

The Hidden Raise #3: More Vacation Time

My company, like most employers out there, had a tiered system for earning additional weeks of vacation time:

  • 1st year employees: 5 days of vacation time, 3 sick days, 1 personal day
  • 2nd – 7th year employees: 10 days of vacation time, 5 sick days, 2 personal days
  • 8th – 15th year employees: 15 days of vacation time, 7 sick days, 3 personal days
  • 16th+ year employees: 20 days of vacation time, 10 sick days, 5 personal days

At the time, I was wrapping up my fourth year with the company, meaning I was entrenched in the second tier of time off for several years to come. I wanted an upgrade to the third tier.

My request: I asked my boss for an amended upgrade to the third tier of time off. I wasn’t as interested in the additional sick or vacation days: rather, I simply wanted the five extra vacation days afforded by the higher level.

Why they said yes: While this was one of the most important facets of my plan to get a raise – whether my boss realized it or not – it was met with the least-enthusiastic reception by my supervisor. He didn’t exactly relish the idea of having me out of the office an additional five days every year. As he started explaining why this wasn’t a good idea, I promised not to use my additional time off during the Holy Grail of the TV news industry, ratings time (February, May, July, and November). He hemmed and hawed, asking for a while to think it over. Ultimately, he said yes.

What I saved: At the time, I was making about $140 a day on the job. Those extra five days off every year equated to $700 of paid free time every year. Of course, I didn’t end up saving more money at all with this option, although I’d argue I saved my sanity, which was far more important.

Reader, have you ever tried to negotiate for a salary increase? Did you use any unconventional ways to get a raise?

Libby Balke

Libby Balke