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I recently asked how to estimate signing bonuses and got some good advice. But now I find myself in a slightly different situation.

I've been offered the job, and I am very happy with the offered salary and benefits package. However, even though I live in the same area as the new job (no relocation), I am a student and the funding that supports me will be discontinued at the end of May. I won't start at the new job until several weeks later, and so that leaves a gap of time for me with no income.

Is it reasonable for me to request a modest signing bonus just to cover things like rent and living expenses over that multi-week period? The offer that I was given did not include a signing bonus and the HR director mentioned that such bonuses are usually only paid out when an employee is leaving an old job that had some form of back compensation which would be missed by switching. When relocation is involved, they pay for that separately but this was not needed in my situation.

I definitely don't want to appear greedy or money-grubbing, but I also don't like the idea of starting the job off by going in debt just to finance regular living expenses.

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    Not really on topic for this stackexchange site – sdg Feb 19 '12 at 16:59
  • signing bonus is usually paid when you start working, not when you sign (the term may be deceiving a bit). So it won't help you much. Anyway, it seems to be totally off-topic here. – littleadv Feb 19 '12 at 20:06
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    I don't understand how it's off topic. In the faq, one of the first bulleted items is "Best practices for saving for retirement, education, and other goals", and job-related strategies should certainly be in those 'other goals' (job-offer even appeared as an existing tag). And in the section called, "What kind of questions should I not ask here" it specifically says, "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face," which clearly fits this thread. – ely Feb 20 '12 at 18:05
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    @EMS off topic because the question is about negotiation and career planning, more than it is about money. Belongs on a career discussion site. – sdg Feb 23 '12 at 13:06
  • @sdg I appreciate your opinion, but it's not about career planning. It's specifically about the financial considerations to give to negotiating a signing bonus, which is a very specific personal finance question. – ely Feb 23 '12 at 18:33
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You asked about a signing bonus and were told the conditions that would be required to get one. It does not appear that you will qualify, but you do have another option.

Ask if you can start earlier. Some times they can't change the start date. They might have a contractual issue with the customer and the customer is setting the start date. Other times they are waiting for somebody else to retire or transfer. But ask.

Tell them starting earlier speeds up the training process. For you it can make the transfer of insurance benefits sooner.

Keep in mind it could be a few weeks before you get your first pay check. How were you planning on bridging the gap?

  • This is exactly the problem I am facing. I don't think it's a wise idea to start immediately after my graduation: I've been working extremely hard and a small amount of downtime is probably healthy prior to the new job. But then, I'll have a ~3 week period with no income and it's either (a) use debt to float myself until my first pay check or (b) request a signing bonus just to cover those costs... it would basically be like 'relocation' expenses, in the sense that I'm agreeing to go income-less for a while to take their job. – ely Feb 20 '12 at 18:08
  • @EMS - but it seems like its being your choice, so why would they pay for it? – littleadv Feb 20 '12 at 20:41
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    @EMS: If you want three weeks off after graduation, your best bet is to save enough ahead of time to cover your expenses. While you can ask an employer for a signing bonus, they are under no obligation to give you one. – Bruce Alderman Feb 20 '12 at 22:05
  • I appreciate the candid answers. I didn't know that signing on to a job was viewed this way. I assumed that for many non-commodity jobs, it was understood that a new worker needs to take time to get things in order before officially starting. Even if I started on the first possible day, it would still be several weeks before the first paycheck. I guess I figured employers must need to take that into account when hiring a new employee in any situation other than ones where the employees can be very unskilled and are in high supply (basically easily exchangeable). – ely Feb 20 '12 at 22:31
  • As a grad student, my stipend is calculated such that it literally is just enough for someone to use it to live month-to-month. I'm already ridiculously frugal, live with roommates, and eat lentils and beans like @mhoran_psprep suggested. It's definitely not feasible for me to cut back on expenses to save for 1 month's rent, especially not with school ending only a few months from now. Even if my savings rate was only 10% of my monthly income, it would take me many months to save 1 month of rent, meanwhile saving at 10% would make it extremely hard to pay my basic bills. – ely Feb 20 '12 at 22:36
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I was able to request a modest advance on my salary when I started my first job out of college, for essentially the same reason. Alternatively, you might consider requesting a small personal loan from friends or family. If you have a credit card that can cover things like grocery expenses for that period, this may also be the appropriate time to use it. Buy cheap food, like lentils and beans. :P

In the future, once you earn some money, you should keep around a few months' worth of essential expenses in a saving account to avoid this situation. :)

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