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Are you leaving a million dollars on the table?

(MoneyWatch) So what if you don't negotiate salary? It's never that much money, right? For instance, if you get a salary offer of $45,000 per year, and were able to negotiate it up to $47,000 per year, that's only $2000 per year, less than $40 per week. And $40 a week is nice, but it might pay for a babysitter or a dinner out, but not both. And that logic probably drives the 41 percent of people who don't negotiate their salaries.

But we work for a long time and this year's salary is often based on last year's salary -- even when you change jobs. So, that distance can expand over time. ran the numbers for the following two scenarios:

Person A. Initial job offer of $45,000, no negotiation. Receives a 1 percent raise each year.

Person B. Initial job offer of $45,000, negotiates a salary of $50,000, and continues to negotiate raises, receiving 4 percent increases every 3 years.

At the end of a 45 year career, the difference in their total lifetime earnings? Just over a million dollars. A million dollars--that's a lot to leave behind on the table because of lack of negotiation.

But, don't panic. There are some flaws in this scenario and no matter where you are today, you can start negotiating tomorrow.

First of all, just asking for more money does not mean they will give it to you. When I had people reporting directly to me, I always made my final salary offer first. I hate salary negotiations from both sides of the table and I also knew that anyone who worked for me would have the ability to see all of their coworker's salaries. So, no matter how skilled a candidate was at negotiating, that first number that came out of my mouth was final. Take it or leave it. I'm not the only manager that operates that way. So, there's a possibility that attempting to negotiate would do you no good anyway.

Second, maybe in the past you got a job and stuck it out for 15 to 45 years, but not any more. People change jobs often, especially in the beginning of careers. So, you'll probably be leaving the job you are in today within the next few years anyway. Lots of companies have policies and practices that make big salary bumps hard internally, but easy for external candidates. Just because you didn't negotiate with your current job, doesn't mean you can't negotiate with the next job.

Third, salaries don't always rise. During the boom times when the economy expands, it's pretty easy to snag a better job at a higher salary. In times of depression, recession, or simply a "jobless recovery" you may end up taking your next job at a salary cut.While this isn't good for anyone (except the boss!) it also mitigates the differences between negotiators and non-negotiators.

So, what to do?

Negotiate anyway. Ask! Try for a crazy increase: The worst thing they'll say is no. 

Ask long before annual increases come out. Lots of people think the best time to ask for a big raise is when their boss says, "Good job this year! Your getting a 2.5 percent raise!" In reality, it's the absolute worst time to do so. Why? Because all the money for the year has already been allocated. If you have a case to make for an increase, do so three or more months before you expect your annual increase. That's when your boss has money to allocate.

Don't get discouraged. The answer won't always be "yes." Just because it's no, doesn't mean you're a bad person, a bad employee, or are underpaid. It may mean you already have the highest and best offer. It may mean there is no money in the budget, but if there were, you'd get it. It doesn't mean your boss hates you. It just means that your salary isn't going up today. But, that doesn't mean you can't ask later.

Treat it as a game. Salary negotiations are very serious, but try to see it as a game and not as a making yourself vulnerable. Use the skills that landed you the job in the first place to negotiate a great salary.

Remember, not negotiating your salary can have a cumulative negative effect on your bank account. No one wants to be the one that left $1,000,000 behind, so ask!

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