scorecardI left California for Las Vegas. Even after a $39,000 pay cut, my house is bigger, my 401(k) contributions went up, and the quality of my life improved.
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I left California for Las Vegas. Even after a $39,000 pay cut, my house is bigger, my 401(k) contributions went up, and the quality of my life improved.

Jane Zhang   

I left California for Las Vegas. Even after a $39,000 pay cut, my house is bigger, my 401(k) contributions went up, and the quality of my life improved.
Careers6 min read
  • Alli Peck made $184,000 as a program manager at an engineering startup.
  • In 2021, she and her husband moved to Las Vegas, subsequently quitting her job and taking a 20% pay cut.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with 35-year-old Alli Peck, a mechanical engineer and program manager. Her salary and employment history have been verified by Business Insider. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I worked in the corporate world for 10 years as a mechanical engineer and program manager.

It was a rough start. My first job was at a startup that designs and develops medical devices, and I made a huge mistake in my first salary negotiation. I had two job offers, and the startup asked how much the other offer was. I said $68,000, and they offered to pay me $68,500.

They probably would've paid me a lot more if I hadn't told them a number. Given that I have a bachelor's and master's degree in biomedical engineering, that was way too low of a starting salary, I later found out.

But I was three months out of school and needed a job really badly.

Learning this lesson was hard: Don't ever say the first number when you're negotiating — ask for a range or a budget they're working with. If they push you for a number, say, "I'm interviewing at companies that are offering X amount," and give an amount that's about 15% more than what you're currently getting paid.

I had to keep negotiating at every job to catch up

My next job was for another medical device company in the Bay Area. This time, I negotiated and was offered $85,000.

I had disadvantaged myself by starting out at $68,500; it's hard to negotiate a 25% raise going from job to job, but that's essentially what I had to do to catch up to my counterparts who, five years in, were making $120,000.

A year later, I landed a job at a company I'd applied to three times before. I made $93,000 as an engineer, and after four years and a role change to project manager, I'd worked my way up to $140,000.

I also received stock as part of my compensation package and annual bonus. The value of the stock rose steadily and it was a huge booster for me financially. In 2019, at the age of 30, I was able to take $105,000 in stock and use that as part of a down payment on a house on the beach.

After the pandemic hit, I started working for another startup that said I could be fully remote. I negotiated a huge pay bump and started making $167,500, which increased to $184,000 after I got a 10% raise.

We moved to Vegas on a whim

In 2021, a few months after starting that job, my husband and I were at dinner with a friend at a Las Vegas casino and met a couple who mentioned they were selling their house in Vegas.

They showed us photos and I fell in love. My husband and I hadn't even been talking about moving, but I got the couple's phone number, and the next day, we made an offer on that house and put our house in California up for sale.

By October 2021, we had sold our home in California and started our new life in Vegas.

Expected to come back to the San Francisco office

In January 2022, the startup said they wanted everyone to come back into the office in San Francisco.

We agreed I would work Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays in the office, so for a while, I was flying between Vegas and San Francisco every week. It was around four hours door-to-door, each way.

My husband and I even bought an RV and tried living in an RV park in San Francisco for two months. But it was too expensive and wasn't sustainable.

My husband and I had a really serious talk and decided it was time for me to start looking for a new job.

Despite the pay cut, still a smart decision

I found a remote job at a large company based near Seattle and sent a message to a recruiter. Within two weeks, I had an offer.

They offered me $145,000, a 20% pay cut from the $184,000 I was making at the startup. The change was shocking. After all, who takes a 20% pay cut?

But my husband and I did the math.

Money is a regular topic of conversation for us. I didn't grow up very financially literate, but my husband has taught me a lot about money; we go on walks with our dog every day, and we talk about finance, our investments, our debt, where the biggest interest rate is, and what our priorities are.

We decided that taking the job would be a smart decision for us for a few reasons.

For example, there's no state income tax in Nevada, so my take-home pay was almost exactly the same. I was making around $9,000 a month after taxes at both companies, give or take a few hundred dollars. I also negotiated a $25,000 starting bonus for myself.

In the Bay Area, I was working about 65 hours a week, not atypical for a startup. Meanwhile, at the remote job, I would only be working 40 hours a week.

The property tax in Vegas is half that of the Bay Area. I was paying $5,300 a year in property tax on my house in California. Now, I own a house triple the size of my California house and I'm paying only $4,200 a year in property tax.

The cost of living is also so much lower. My husband and I go to Trader Joe's in Las Vegas twice a week and spend $80 twice a week, or $640 monthly. In the Bay Area, we were spending over $1,000 a month on groceries.

Because of this lower cost of living, I was able to contribute almost $2,000 to my 401(k) retirement plan every month and save more for the future, rather than live paycheck to paycheck as we had in California with two car payments, our mortgage, utilities, HOA payment, student loan payments, credit card payments, and food and gas.

I love everything Vegas has to offer

We love Vegas. Back in the Bay Area, I had a two-hour daily commute. Now that I have two hours back in my day, I go to yoga in the morning and have time to cook for myself at home, which helps me save even more money.

I lived in a 1,000-square-foot townhouse before, and my husband and I could hear each other's work calls in different rooms. Now my house is 3,500 square feet, and I love that I can have space in my house to do content creation and podcasting. I also have a huge pool and amazing neighbors.

And there's a lot to do here — some of the best entertainment in the world, some of the best sports in the world. It's still close enough to California where I can visit my parents when I want. And I like the weather, the dry climate, and the fact that it's sunny every day.

I miss the ocean, but the move was worth it

Our house used to be a five-minute walk to the beach, and every morning I would wake up and walk to the beach. Whatever issues I was facing and whatever stress I felt, looking at the ocean and how big it is just helped me put my problems in perspective. I miss that.

Still, the move was totally worth it, thanks to the friends we've made here and the businesses we've started. We were able to start a real estate investment portfolio with multiple rental properties because of the money we saved with the lower cost of living.

Salary is a very small piece of the puzzle. You really need to look at your expenses, your take-home pay, and your financial goals. If you are saving for something huge like surgery, a house, a car, or a vacation, maybe a pay cut wouldn't be a smart idea.

But if you're like me and you're transitioning to a place with lower expenses and lower taxes, it can make sense. It's important to look at the whole picture.

If you took a pay cut after being laid off or fired and would like to share your story, email Jane Zhang at janezhang@businessinsider.com.




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