These are the employee benefits you should take advantage of
Are you using all the benefits that your employer provides? Do you use all your vacation time? I can't believe it, but Americans leave hundreds of millions of vacation days unused each year. Vacation days are part of an employee's benefit package! Letting vacation days lapse is just like saying "don't worry about paying me for that week I worked, I'm giving it away for free!"
After learning about just how many people let their vacation time expire, I got to thinking about other benefits employers offer, and how easy it is to forget about them or not take advantage of them. This list obviously isn't exhaustive, but here are some common benefits employers offer.
The Big Three: Insurance, Vacation and Retirement
I know that when I finally got a (single) full time job (at the ripe old age of 29) the benefit I was most excited about was health insurance. I no longer had to buy my own. Most employers that offer health insurance offer some kind of choice of plans, so make sure to do your homework. Read about the plans, assess your situation and compare with private insurance.
Some employer sponsored health insurance plans will pay you to get an annual check up. Screenings are voluntary and confidential, and allow you the opportunity to speak with a doctor about health concerns. My employer offers $100 (pre-tax) for the screening, and even allows spouses on the plan to complete it for an additional $100!
Employee Wellness Programs
Both the public library I worked at and the university library I currently work at have offered wellness programs. At the public library it was fun challenges-they set up walking "routes" and had us track how much we walked in a particular time. Participation was voluntary and every week we got a bag of goodies delivered to our desk.
This year the university asked each participant (again, completely voluntary) to chose one health related thing to work on for 12 weeks, and then track it. I worked on cardio activity. The point wasn't to lose a certain amount of weight, or work out x times a week. It was to get you to start changing unhealthy habits. At the end of 12 weeks participants got to choose either a Fitbit Flex or 12 weeks of Weight Watchers. I chose the Fitbit and have be so pleased with it! Last year the prize was a pedometer and water bottle so I didn't participate. I do have to pay taxes on the cost of the Fitbit, but $10 is a much better price than $80!
If you are offered vacation time at your job, take it! It is part of your compensation package. Especially take it if your employer has a use it or lose it policy. Make sure that you follow your employers guidelines for requesting leave. Also, don't be rude to your coworkers when you use it. If only a few people are able to get extra time over the holidays off, don't request it for every single holiday of the year. And don't leave your coworkers in a lurch if you have a busy season.
If you have the sniffles, a cough, a cold or something worse, then use your sick time. First, no one wants to be around someone who is sick. Second, it's a real dick-move to get your coworkers sick. If you feel like you can work, but have a noticeable cough or sniffles, see if you can work from home (if your job allows it.)
Many employers will offer their employees 3-5 days paid bereavement leave to attend the funeral of a relative. This isn't necessarily a benefit for only full time employees. I was lucky that last year both my full time job and my part time job offered me paid time off when my grandmother died.
If your employer offers a matching retirement contribution, you should work your budget so that you take it. Or work up to taking the full match. This is free money that goes into your retirement account. Not only is it free, but it will compound until you start taking distributions. It will give future you a huge peace of mind.
Access to accounts
401ks might be the most common retirement account, but depending on the industry there might be other options. Some plans allow you to contribute pre-tax dollars, thereby allowing you to pay less in taxes each year. Investor Junkie has a great write up about 7 of the most common employer sponsored retirement accounts.
Conferences, workshops, webinars
Librarians in my state have to be certified. While it is up to the librarian to keep up with certification, most libraries will try to facilitate the certification process. Libraries aren't the only profession that requires certification-lots of others do as well. Ask your boss if there is any compensation for professional development. If they won't pay for your study materials or courses, perhaps they can give you a certain number of hours on paid time to study.
Some employers will reimburse you for classes related to your job. Universities often offer tuition credit to their full time employees-allowing you to complete a degree over time by only paying fees. Or, just to take classes of interest even if you don't want it to lead to a degree.
Discounts Around Town
If you work for a major employer in your town, businesses might offer you a discount. I live in a university town that also has a pharmaceutical company. Many businesses around town offer discounts to employees of both the university and the pharmaceutical company.
Even if you don't work for a large employer, business around your work might offer a discount. When I worked at a mall in high school, the food court and the bookstore gave mall discounts. When I worked at the public library, the coffee shop across the street and the food truck that parked in front of the library gave a discount. It never hurts to ask!
Other places that might give discounts:
Apartments: Apartments might have move in specials, monthly discounts on rent, or lower deposit fees.
Cell phone providers: Most of the major cell phone service providers offer monthly discounts on plans (though, there are several cheaper alternatives to the big boys-Consumer Cellular, Project FI, Boost Mobile...do some research to see if it is worth it!)
Car dealerships: Offer deals on buying new cars
Mechanics: Offer discounts on oil changes, percentage off repairs.
Sam's Club: Gift card to sign up/renew membership. (I did this last month and got a $25 gift card!)
Bank accounts: Waive monthly fees (though you should never bank with a bank that charges you to hold your money for you.) Some also offer incentives to use them for mortgages or refinances by offering free appraisals.
Gyms: Monthly discounts.
University employees often get free tickets to college sports games, or at least a discount on purchasing tickets. I work at a Big 10 school, so no free football or basketball tickets, but all women's sports tickets, soccer and baseball are free to full time employees.
I am so excited about this. One campus in my university system offers free Comcast Xfinity to their students. It also works with my work email. I can stream live TV PLUS it comes with an HBO subscription. Once I verified it worked with my staff email address, I canceled our HBO subscription saving $15/month. Our potential savings are in the hundreds (maybe thousands.) Now we can watch the Cubs at home instead of going to the bar, as long as the games aren't blacked out. Also, the Americans. And so many other shows that we usually wait to come out on Netflix. If you work for a university, or are still a student, check out Xfinity on Campus to see if your university participates.
What type of benefits does your employer offer?
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