New Normal: Living With a Pay Cut

"Everything was down to bare bones," Bartel said. "I have never known a time when a driver couldn't walk out the door one day and have a job somewhere the next. That isn't happening anymore."

Bartel has given up on saving for her retirement and is just praying every day to see a rebound "because I have run out of notches to tighten the belt."

"I can't afford to put anything away. I can't afford to live," she said.

But like many others in her situation, she is thankful to still be employed.

"I'm complaining, but I'm not. I thank god every single night that I still have a job and I still have a roof over my head. But it gets a little frightening," Bartel said. "I'm 50 years old. I haven't had to worry about this kind of thing since I was in my 20s. And I'm not alone there."

Michael Santus tells a similar story.

He is the finance manager at a classic and exotic car dealership. His first two years on the job, everybody kept talking about a new sales record that broke. Then the recession hit.

"We had a general manager who just walked into my office one day and said: We're cutting back and we need to reduce your salary by $1,000 a month and if that doesn't work, we understand and you don't have to work for us anymore," Santus recalls.

Like that, his salary went from $56,000 a year to $44,000.

"I'm actively perusing other options," Santus said. But in this economy that is easier said than done.

Luckily his partner Andrew Littorno got promoted and the couple now leans more heavily on his $78,000 salary. But still there are sacrifices: less money going towards retirement, smaller Christmas gifts and no more occasional splurges on things like iPhones.

When the pay cut happened, "we [had] just built a new house and bought a new car and done some other things," Santus said. "That has really sort of curtailed a lot of savings. That $1,000 was really earmarked to go into savings every month. That sort of has just not happened."

Still, Santus is very thankful to have a job.

"It's almost like the pool of jobs have dried up," he said.

Justine Ketola also saw her paycheck get slashed.

She is a freelance publicist and marketing professional. For the last four years, about a third of her salary has come from doing publicity and advertising work for a three-day music festival.

This year, it took longer than usual to negotiate her fee.

"It took them a really long time to commit to their budget," Ketola said.

In the end, she got a third less in pay than past year -- about $2,500 less. The event organizers were worried that their ticket sales aren't going to be what they were in the past.

But by that point, Ketola needed the job and had no choice but to accept the lower fee.

"I felt very against the wall. I felt very cheated," she said. "I was very upset, very betrayed."

Today she is struggling with credit card payments, has downgraded the type of gas she uses, put off buying a new digital camera and has cashed out her $8,000 IRA retirement account to pay bills.

"I jokingly say," she added, "at least I'm freelance."

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