Guide on What to Do When You Get a Pay Raise: 12 Tips

By Paulina Likos · July 21, 2022 · 9 minute read

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Guide on What to Do When You Get a Pay Raise: 12 Tips

If you received a raise at work, first things first: Congratulations on this recognition for a job well done! Your first impulse may be to celebrate with a big purchase or party. But rather than blowing your salary bump right away, it’s wise to be strategic. Take a little time and consider how you might use that extra cash. It could help you reach some short- and long-term financial goals.

To help you decide what to do with a pay raise, here is a guide that will show you some options and expand your thinking. Read on to learn 12 tips and be better informed as you make your decision.

How to Financially Handle a Pay Raise

1. Using It to Get Rid of Debt

Your raise may be able to help you get rid of some debt that is dragging down your finances. It’s worth noting that some debt can be good, like a mortgage on your home, which tends to have a relatively low interest rate. Every time you make a payment, you are building equity and wealth.

But if you have debt that carries a high interest rate and doesn’t have a long-term benefit, you may want to get rid of it ASAP. Credit card debt is the classic example of this. Interest rates on new cards are currently around 19% or 20%, which means this kind of debt can grow quickly. With a raise, you can pay that debt down sooner rather than later. This can help free up your finances to focus on other money goals.

2. Using It to Build Your Emergency Fund

Having extra cash is a perfect opportunity to build an emergency fund if you don’t have one or if yours could use a boost. Financial experts advise having at least three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses in the bank. This can tide you over if, say, a big medical bill or car repair hits or if your family were to endure a job loss. A raise can allow you to set a lump sum of money aside or motivate you to regularly allocate toward your emergency fund so you are financially secure in times of need.

3. Re-Evaluating and Updating Your Budgeting

When you get a raise, you may be wondering how to manage this extra cash. There are probably a lot of wish-list items tempting you to increase your spending. Instead of shopping, it may be a good time to reevaluate your budget to see how you can best put your money to work.

Typically, budgets recommend that you first allocate funds toward your mandatory monthly expenses like mortgage, rent and other bills. Next, don’t forget to pay down debt, followed by adding some money to your emergency stash if needed. Have you also thought about retirement funds? Make sure to figure out how much to save every month and put some of your money to work in a 401(k) or another retirement fund. With the money that’s left, you can spend as you see fit, invest it in the stock market, make charitable donations, or decide other ways to use it.

If you need more guidance on budgeting, look online at different techniques, such as the 50/30/20 budgeting rule, or test-drive some apps that help you see where your money is going and determine how to best manage it.

4. Avoiding Lifestyle Creep

If you are contemplating what to do with a raise, one thing to sidestep is lifestyle creep. That happens when a person makes more money but also spends more of it, typically on luxuries. So if you get a raise and then rent a more expensive apartment or sign up for a luxury-car lease, that’s lifestyle creep. You have bought into some of life’s finer things, but you may wind up just breaking even. In fact, even with more money, you may feel as if you are living above your means.

It can be smart to avoid this behavior because you don’t want to spend every penny you make. That’s not a healthy financial habit; it doesn’t help you build wealth over time. Yes, you can allow yourself to enjoy some discretionary spending (more on that in a minute). But if you let lifestyle creep happen, it may be hard to make ends meet and find opportunities to save for longer-term goals.

5. Re-Evaluating Your Retirement

When you get a raise, you have a prime opportunity to increase your retirement savings. It may not sound like fun compared to taking a vacation, but allocating money this way can be a good financial strategy to reach your goals. If you have, say, a 401(k) plan with your employer, you can increase your monthly contribution and possibly snag the employer match, too, which is akin to free money. While it may not feel like a fun use of your raise now, your future self will thank you when you see how well your retirement savings are growing.

6. Invest in Yourself

Consider how your raise might help your long-term wellbeing, your mood, and your quality of life. Would it be wise for you to get in better shape? Have you been having trouble sleeping for a while? Do you feel hungry to learn a new skill? A bit of extra money might help you resolve those situations. Sometimes, not having enough money is a common and valid reason for not doing more of this kind of self-care.

Maybe, with your raise, you can now afford to take a few fitness classes and learn some moves you can do on your own. Perhaps you can work with a therapist on what’s keeping you up at night. Or maybe it would bring you joy to take some guitar lessons or pursue a continuing-ed class in a topic that has always fascinated you. Putting a portion of your raise to work this way can be rewarding on so many levels.

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7. Considering Inflation

Inflation has been very much in the spotlight lately. It soared to 8.6% in May 2022, which was a 40-year high, and some financial experts expect it to persist for some time. Defined as the gradual increase in the prices of goods and services in an economy, inflation is something many consumers are familiar with. It’s why your money doesn’t go as far when you buy groceries or fill up your gas at the pump. When inflation is high, your purchasing power declines. Simply put, your dollar doesn’t go as far.

If you get a raise during a period of high inflation, do the math. If you receive a 10% raise and inflation is 8.6%, then you are staying (just barely) ahead in terms of your finances. That raise is helping to protect your money against inflation but unfortunately it won’t stretch much further. This perspective is good to keep in mind so you don’t overspend and wind up with debt.

8. Preparing for Taxes

Getting a bump in your salary can impact your taxes; it may nudge you into a higher tax bracket. If this is the case, your tax rate will rise, and you may need to pay out a higher percentage in taxes. Typically, this will only take your effective tax rate up a couple of percentage points, but it can make a difference to your bottom line.

To offset that, you may want to adjust your withholdings with your employer. If more money is withheld during the year, you could owe less or get a refund at tax time. This could help you avoid an unpleasant surprise (namely, a tax bill) come April.

9. Saving up More for a Large Expense

Are you saving for a far-flung vacation, a wedding, a home renovation, or a new car? If you have a big-ticket item on the horizon, you may want to put part of your raise towards that goal. It can be a good move for your finances in the long-run. The extra money can help you afford what you are saving toward. You can sidestep debt as you make your dream a reality. By doing so, you’re likely improving your credit and building wealth — it’s a win-win situation.

10. Investing Your Money

Investing your hard-earned money is historically one of the best ways to build wealth. The S&P (Standard and Poor’s) 500 has gained a bit more than 10% per year since its initiation in 1957. Compare that to the current standard national savings account interest rate of 0.1%, and you’ll see how big an impact investing can have on your wealth.

Why not allocate some of your raise in this way? By creating an investment portfolio with stocks, bonds, and/or exchange-traded funds and other assets, you can compound earnings on your money over time. The earlier you start to invest, the longer your money has to grow exponentially. This can be a vital part of making your financial plan.

11. Funding and Starting a Side Hustle

If you dream of building your own business from a hobby someday, you could use money from your raise to start a side hustle. If, say, you love making pastry, you might invest in cookware that will take your game up a notch. Or if creating apps is your passion, perhaps there’s a weekend class that could boost your skills. Keep tabs on how much money you allocate toward this side hustle and make sure these funds put you on a path to building a business.

12. Enjoying Your Financial and Career Successes

Many of these tips for using your raise wisely revolve around paying down debt, achieving long-term financial goals, and building wealth. But of course, do use a portion of your raise to reward yourself. You’ve received a financial award because of your hard work and dedication. You deserve to treat yourself! Whether that means having a fantastic dinner out with a couple of close friends or buying a coat you’ve been eyeing for a while now, you should find a way to mark this happy moment.

Managing Your Finances with SoFi

Getting a raise is an exciting life event. It shows that your hard work has paid off and your career is making progress.

Along with managing your work life well, we bet you’d like to manage your money well, too. Consider opening a bank account online with SoFi, and see how your money can grow faster. When you sign up for Checking and Savings with direct deposit, you’ll pay no account fees and earn a competitive APY.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.


How do I avoid spending too much after I get a raise?

Create and stick to a budget. Even though you are making more money, you still have to be conscious over where your cash goes and avoid lifestyle creep, which involves spending more as you earn more. This can make it harder to achieve your financial goals.

Is it okay to treat myself when I get a raise?

It’s definitely reasonable to treat yourself when you get a raise; you earned it! But it’s not a habit that you want to get out of hand. You want to make sure you’re spending within your means and not accumulating debt.

Can a pay raise be a negative?

A raise can potentially be a negative if you spiral into unreasonable spending. You could wind up with debt to deal with. Also, take note if your raise pushes you into a higher tax bracket. If so, you may want to adjust your withholding so you don’t get a surprise tax bill when you do your income tax returns.

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