I’ve been self-employed since I was 25-years-old—read: “no benefits.” For years I’ve listened to people talk about how great it is to work for a company “with benefits.” So I’m sometimes a little surprised to see the very people who crow about having access to the extras do very little to take advantage of them. Do you have a benefit plan where you work? Are you using all the stuff you could be using to your advantage?
The most obvious benefit people leave on the table is the savings-matching program many companies offer. You stick 4% of your income into the retirement plan and your company comes up with another 2%. That’s free money. Walking away from it is like turning down a raise.
So why don’t people check the box to participate in their company’s savings matching program? Some people think it’s because they can’t be bothered to do the paperwork. The real reason, I think, is because they don’t want to part with that spending money to come up with their 4%. They’re failing the marshmallow test big-time.
“Free” money for retirement savings isn’t the only thing benefit-hounds fail to sniff out. There are the medical benefits, stress therapy and employee assistance plans (EAPs) that seldom get called into action. Sure, you put in a claim if you’ve had to take the kids to the dentist or if you need a new pair of glasses. But what of massage therapist, the orthotics, the lawyers, eldercare specialists, and dieticians covered under your plan? Do you even know what you have access to?
Every penny you don’t have to spend out of your own pocket is money you can put into your company’s savings matching program so you can get the additional money they’re offering.
The thing about company benefits is that they’re a use ‘em or lose ‘em affair. Typically there’s an annual limit (vision usually has a two-year limit, and some benefits have a life-time limit), and unused benefits can’t be carried forward.
It’s a new year and a new opportunity to tap those benefits for everything they’re worth. Go sign up for that retirement savings program. I promise that after a month or two you won’t miss the money. And wouldn’t a massage feel good just about now?