Out of Pocket Work Expenses

When I came into this industry, I had just left a full-time retail job where I was making $13/hr. The word ‘savings’ didn’t exist in my vocabulary, nor did the phrases ‘rainy-day fund’ or ‘30% credit card utilization’. I was legitimately living paycheck to paycheck and it was honestly the only life that I knew.

So when I finally got my first ‘big girl’ job making $47k, I thought that I was hot stuff! I remember taking my boyfriend out on a $200 dinner (a super foreign concept for me because again, $13/hr) and signing a lease for a $1500/month apartment (don’t ask, just know it happened and that I never missed a rent payment - adult AF).

Ballin’ on the BIGGEST of budgets.

Life was great. I mean, I was still living paycheck to paycheck (because again, $47k in Northern Virginia), however, it didn’t hurt as bad as it did back when I was making $13/hr.

Fast forward a couple of months and it was time to book my first travel accommodations for an out of state work conference. I was SO excited! It was my first time traveling for a job and I felt that this was what corporate dreams were made of - or so I thought.

It had been 4 months since I started and still no one had mentioned anything about a corporate credit card. Where was my corporate credit card? I thought that fancy corporate jobs came with a corporate credit card? So when I was told to book my flight and hotel, I wasn’t sure where the money was coming from. One thing I knew for certain - I ain’t have it. Could you believe that I had to first spend my own money to book everything and then later get reimbursed AFTER the event? Did my job understand how credit card payment schedules work? Even if I had the credit on my credit card, I wouldn’t receive the money to pay the bill until about 1.5 months too late.

I could’ve scraped a few pennies together (aka called my parents) so that I could book everything, however, I knew that I had to handle this situation like an adult. So, I went to Finance. I had to put aside whatever internal shame and guilt that I was feeling and speak up about my issue.

Well, it’s a good thing I did. A couple of days later, an email went around the office stating that [a] a house account (aka a shared company credit card) would be available for those who need it to book their accommodations and [b] a pay advance would be available if requested.

Now, I’m sure I couldn’t have been the only person who faced this problem - but I sure was the only person who spoke up. Long story short, I was able to book everything that I needed and definitely learned a valuable lesson: There would be times where I would need to come out of my own pockets for ‘work-stuff’ and wait (ew) to be reimbursed.

And as I sit and talk about this experience with my peers (6 years later), it seems that many who work in corporate environments actually still face this dilemma when it comes to purchasing anything for their job. Age doesn’t play a part in this, nor race or gender based upon those I’ve spoken with who are currently or have experienced this problem. And I can’t even blame it on a lack of financial literacy - especially since I’m not the type to count the money in someone else’s wallet nor tell them what they should be doing with their coins. So many factors come into play when it comes to why some folks just simply don’t (or can’t) have a large chunk of money on reserve.

But what I can tell you is that when you enter the corporate world, having some sort of funds set to the side could help you out in situations like what I experienced. If you transition from a low paying job and have been used to living check to check, it’s rare that you already have a nest of money that you could rely on. You’re probably like me - still trying to adjust to a new salary while undoing your past financial hiccups.

Before you start a new role (whether it’s with a startup, large corporation, etc.), do not be under the impression that a corporate credit card will be available for use whenever it’s time for you to travel (or just generally pay for anything).

Let’s do some math just to give you some perspective on just how much you may end up spending out of pocket when you’re asked to travel on behalf of the company. I’m focusing on travel here because it’s a pretty hefty expense that I’m assuming most of us incur when starting in a role that will require travel of some sort.

Hotels seem to run on avg. $250+ a night and often times you’re staying 2-3 nights.

Add in flights (idk, somewhere around $300). Oh, and you gotta check your bag on both flights unless you’re flying Southwest ($30/flight).

Then you’ll need transportation (hello $40 - $50 airport Uber rides - one way of course). And then all those miscellaneous Uber rides that you’ll be taking (let’s just say a total of $120).

And then add in all the food you’ll need to buy ($150 maybe - be mindful that’s breakfast, lunch and dinner at a minimum spread across 2-3 days).

Hotel Check-In Hold
Oh! And don’t forget that pesky hold on your card when you check into the hotel (that’s about another $200 that’ll just be held and unavailable to you).

Conference Ticket
And you better hope that you weren’t asked to purchase your own conference ticket. Have you seen the price of tech conference tickets? I’m not even gonna place a value here. Just know, I would have tears.

One work trip that lasts 3 nights could cost you somewhere between $1500 - $1600. For my first corporate trip, I had to fly to Vegas (of all places) and stay 5 nights. Ya’ll, I was NOT prepared for that life. And even if I had that much open credit on a credit card, again, I wouldn’t have been reimbursed until after the trip and during the appropriate pay period for reimbursement.

I’m not here to scare you out of traveling for your job. Honestly, do it! It may be a great opportunity for you. However, if you’re anything like me coming into an unfamiliar world, this could be all very overwhelming if your finances aren’t sound.

When you start your new role, consider setting some money aside for work expenses early on so that you can handle the expenses later down the road. And if that doesn’t seem realistic, reach out to either your Manager, Payroll or HR to see if an alternative to paying out of pocket up front is available. It’s relative to the company but it honestly doesn’t hurt to ask.

CareerApril Speight