They say that a penny saved is a penny earned. Unfortunately, a penny earned isn't always saved. With the high cost of living expenses, bills, school tuition, family care, car maintenance, general inflation, a still-struggling economy and worst of all, debt, it's a wonder how some Americans manage to save any money at all.
Even so, they might be leaving a huge source of savings opportunities untapped in the form of company benefits.
A scarcity of savings
The financial demands of everyday life often mean that people must live hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck, with barely enough income to survive. Setting aside some savings green, whether it's for that rainy day next week or that retirement fund four decades from now, can become an impossibility -- an intangible goal that's set aside for months or years.
In a July 2011 poll of 2,700 people by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), 64 percent of respondents said they would borrow from family or friends, sell their belongings or disregard other monthly expenses in the event of a $1,000 unplanned event -- anything but dip into their savings.
Thirty-six percent replied that they would turn to their financial reserves, but there's no indicator how soon, if ever, they'd be able to replenish that money.
There are plenty of ways to rescue your budget and save some money in the process -- and you need look no further than your own workplace. Many companies offer benefits and compensation plans for employees that sadly go unused by many working professionals.
Check out these 5 benefits you should take advantage of.
Retirement benefit plans
Once perceived as an alternative to Social Security pensions, it's quickly becoming the norm for employers to offer retirement benefit plans. A 401(k) provided directly by employers can help their employees set aside cash directly into their retirement funds.
Like all important financial decisions, there are some pros and cons to consider before building your savings portfolio:
- 401(k) contributions are pre-tax dollars, which means an employee's deposits to the account aren't taxed until distribution.
- A high contribution ceiling that's increasing: Starting in 2015, employees are free to funnel $18,000 per year into their 401(k)s if 49 years old or younger, and up to $24,000 if 50 or older.
- Employers will generally match a percentage of the contribution or the employee's salary -- up to 6 percent on average.
- Don't be pressured to choose between Social Security, personal savings or a 401(k) for your golden years; you can build up and manage all three to your personal preferences.
- 401(k)s are a great way to assemble a nice post-career nest egg. However, pull out those funds prematurely and you could be faced with hefty 401(k) withdrawal penalties.
- Limited time to withdraw. Ambitions to continue working post-retirement are noble, but beware: Make sure 401(k) savings are withdrawn by age 70 1/2, or you could be taxed more than if you retired on time.
Employer-sponsored retirement benefit plans are a great way to plan ahead for your post-working years, though contrary to popular belief, only one-third of Americans take advantage of them through their jobs, according to the Department of Labor.
Employer tuition assistance
Continued education can be invaluable for anyone looking to obtain personal knowledge and growth, and advancing your professional skill set. It's never too late and never a bad time to get into student mode and hit the books.
However, tuition fees and student loans also come at a high value that can be cost-prohibitive. What better arrangement than if your boss paid you to go to school?
Most employers offer tuition reimbursement for employees who enroll in matriculating classes or job-training seminars. If it's directly related to your current position, you might be fully compensated. It's also one of the best win-win situations for employee retention; continued training sends the message to superiors that you're on the job and eager to grow and expand your career skill set.
However, like with any company-backed program, check with your human resources department to see how much schooling they'll cover. Some employers might also have restrictions regarding the types of courses you can pursue and might even mandate a minimum GPA in order to qualify for reimbursement.
Automatic savings transfer
It's one of the simplest, most straightforward ways to direct income from point A to point B. If you've already made arrangements with your bank to automatically transfer money from your checking to savings account, getting your employer on board to do the same can only help both your bank account and personal savings discipline.
Sign up for direct deposit and specify to your employer that a portion of your paycheck be allocated to a savings account or other destination of choice.
This option is one of the simplest and most direct ways to save money because it divides and then diverts funds directly from one bank account to another, without any prerequisites or fine print to consider. No matter if it's $50, $100 or $700 a month, you can change the amount of money transferred to a savings account automatically. Plus, the savings reserve is fixed and won't devalue itself depending on market conditions.
On-site child care benefits
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that a middle-income, two-parent household will spend $39,420 on child care and education alone up through a child's 18th birthday, grossly diminishing a family's ability to save money for other necessities. But the advantages of an on-site, workplace day care are many, not the least of which is the shared belief that happy kids make for happy workers.
Bloomberg cited a study of hundreds of workplace-sponsored day care programs, and over 1,000 employees, who not only claimed that bringing their children to work was more affordable, but increased revenue.
Discounts, fringe benefits and other perks
Like a book of coupons that go unredeemed, you could be missing out on some valuable discounts offered through your employer. Many companies strike membership deals with local health clubs, and concert tickets, airfare and travel fees might be discounted for you.
With a little planning, research and follow through, conserving money though your employer is simply a matter of partnering with your workplace and carefully managing your paycheck and the resources provided to you. Expenses might add up, but in time, so can your savings account. Check with your human resources department and inquire what programs and incentives are available to you.