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

Insurance

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.

Health Screening

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!

Leave

Vacation

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.

Sick

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.)

Bereavement

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.

Retirement

Matching

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.

Personal Development

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.

Tuition Reimbursement

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.

Restaurants

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.

Entertainment

College Sports

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.

Cable TV

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?

The post Are You Using All of Your Employee Benefits? appeared first on Project: Beach Life.

RELATED: Don't make these mistakes online!

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6 rules to follow when shopping online
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6 rules to follow when shopping online
1. Make sure that the website you are ordering from is secure
"Many websites will have a seal at the bottom stating that the website is indeed secure and will not make your information public under any circumstances. A site that has 'https://' at the beginning of their web address as well as a padlock symbol is typically a site to trust." -My Broken Coin
2. Search for product reviews beforehand
"Returning items to online stores can be a major hassle. So why not find out what others think of the product before you purchase it online? For example, before buying a new laptop, search for comments and complaints associated with the brand. If there are more negative reviews than positive, and the same problem is reoccurring, then it may not be a brand worth investing in. This will save yourself from buying something that would have to be returned to the store soon after receipt." -My Broken Coin
3. Look for promo codes before checking out
"Who doesn't like saving money, especially on necessities? Almost every retailer will have some sort of promotion available, so ensure you look for one before purchasing. You may not find every code useful or relevant to your purchase, but there are plenty out there that could save you money. So, before you check out ensure you search your retailer for voucher codes and see how much you could save." -My Broken Coin
5. Check and double check your shopping cart
"When shopping online, it's incredibly easy to get side-tracked and accidentally add things into your shopping cart. For example, you may double click on an item and not notice that you've order two of it until it's too late. As well as this, if you've visited a site before but abandoned your cart before purchasing, the site will sometimes have saved your items when you visit again. Thus, it's incredibly important that you double check what you're buying." -My Broken Coin
6. Track your order
"Many sites give you the option to track you orders. This is especially handy when you need your order by a specific date (before Christmas, in time for a birthday party, etc.). Stay on-top of your order's location at all times, including the cities that it is arriving in and departing from every day. A lot of online trackers go through FedEx or UPS and are typically very accurate." -My Broken Coin
4. Price-match whenever possible
"Price-matching and price-comparison is the one of the best strategies for saving money while shopping online, as you will be able to purchase items that you otherwise would not have been able to afford. Retailers are in constant competition with each other to offer the best price and product to customers, so find the one that's offering the best deal." -My Broken Coin
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