should I take a pay cut to pay for much-needed software for my team?

A reader writes:

I am a member of a two-person team, and we need a new software tool badly. It will save us many hours per release cycle and will improve the quality and usability of our product by a dramatic amount. Another reason my teammate and I are so invested in getting this tool is because it will give us far more opportunity for learning and actual career skill improvement than sticking with our old, antiquated toolset (some of the software is literally a decade old!). The tool was approved at the end of last year, but it has still not been ordered, and I found out today that there might not be room for this tool in our department’s budget after all.

My teammate and I will be making a case for the tool this Friday, with hard information and numbers on how it will save us time and improve our product, but I’ve gotten the impression that it might still not be enough to convince the upper managers.

Would it be out of line to volunteer to take a pay cut for this year to cover the cost of the tool? It would not be an unmanageable or unreasonable amount of money for me (spread out over the rest of the year), and it would be a one-time cost and not a recurring annual cost.

Don’t do this.

First, it’s going to come across as “I know better than you do how the company should be spending its resources and since you won’t make the right call, let me make it easier for you.” It’s also such an unusual thing to offer that it’s going to seem … well, not naive, exactly, but just sort of unaligned with how this stuff generally works.

Second, it might not matter, because salaries and software often come out of completely different budgets.

Third, it could have consequences that you don’t yet realize. You’re thinking of this pay cut as you essentially “paying for” the software yourself, but you’d be setting yourself up for any or all of the following possibilities:
* Your company could agree to the cut for one year and then freeze salaries next year, which could mean your salary wouldn’t be raised back to its current level, despite your agreement.
* If your company provides 401K matching based on your salary, you could receive fewer matching funds this year than you would otherwise earn.
* If you found yourself looking for a job for any reason, and the company insisted on knowing your current salary (a ridiculous but not uncommon practice), you could end up with a lower offer than you would otherwise have received.

Fourth, in addition to all this, they’re simply unlikely to take you up on your offer. When they choose not to order this software, what they’re saying is that they’ve judged other expenses to be higher priorities. Those decisions about priorities won’t change just because you make this offer.

Fifth, if they did take you up on your offer, they’d be revealing that they’re a pretty messed up company, because they should not allow you to personally shoulder an expense like this. Not unless you’re an owner or partner, and possibly not even then.

Ultimately you’ve got to accept that this one just isn’t your call, as much as you’d like to be able to make it happen.

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