When it comes to work, there’s a lot more on the line than just your salary. If you don’t pay close attention to what your employer offers up, you could be leaving valuable benefits (many of which are monetary) on the table.
Take, for example, the following: According to research from the U.S. Travel Association, Americans workers on average fail to use even five vacation days a year, leaving about $224 billion in unused vacation time to be wasted.
Besides taking the rest of the year off to make up for wasted vacation time, here are a few other things you can do right now to make sure you’re cashing in on everything your job has to offer.
1. Ask about employee wellness initiatives
Many employers these days offer wellness initiatives as a way to alleviate some of the lifestyle factors that may lead employees to develop health issues and to help combat the accompanying increase in health care costs. According to a RAND Employer Survey, approximately half of U.S. employers offer wellness promotion initiatives that include things like wellness screening activities to identify health risks and interventions to reduce risks and promote healthy lifestyles, onsite weight loss intervention programs, weight loss competitions, smoking cessation activities and personalized phone support from health coaches. Onsite vaccinations and healthy food options were also high on the list of health incentives. Besides the fact that these initiatives are employer-sponsored measures aimed at keeping you healthy, some come with the added benefits of health care discounts or cash-back prizes, so it would be foolish to not take part.
2. Always meet your match
It’s time to check in on your retirement account (and make it a regular habit). Contributions made to an employee account are made on a pre-tax basis, which means there are tax incentives for joining, and if your company matches an amount — either in full or at a percentage — that’s free money that your company is offering up to you.
Want more on retirement? Learn how to save a million dollars for retirement on a $50,000 annual salary.
3. Find out about freebies
Discounts or cash-back on a gym memberships. Matching charitable contributions. Employee discounts on company merchandise or stock options. Many large corporations offer some or all of these benefits to their employees, so it’s worth doing a little digging to find out if yours does.
4. Take advantage of tax breaks
If your company offers access to flexible spending accounts (commonly referred to as FSAs), you’ll be able to set aside pre-tax dollars for qualified healthcare expenses and prescriptions, even daycare and qualified transportation needs. Just be sure that you use up all the money you set aside in this account by the end of the year, since any money that you don’t goes straight back to your employer. If you have a Health Savings Account (HAS) available on a high deductible plan, then the unused money isn’t forfeited at the end of the year. You could even start putting away money for future medical expenses like having a child or funds for retirement. Another less common but sometimes available perk is a transportation savings account, where employees can put aside pre-tax dollars towards an account specifically designed for travel expenses. These are particularly popular in large cities, like New York, where public transportation is common and can be expensive. If your company doesn’t offer a TSA, ask about the possibility of gas reimbursement, instead.
5. Go back to school
Some employers offer to cover some or all of the expenses related to tuition or class fees.. Even if yours doesn’t have a policy, it never hurts to ask. Assuming that the course you’re interested in will further your career and make you more desirable in your current job, they may be willing to help you out.
6. Sign on the dotted line for life insurance
Especially if you have a spouse or kids who rely on your income, it’s a good idea to have a life insurance policy in place in case something should happen to you, and many companies can help. Most offer some sort of term life insurance package for little to no additional cost to you — as long as you’ve signed up for it.
7. Hook your family up
Many companies offer added benefits for your entire family, not just for you. From daycare reimbursement to college savings plans, it’s worth checking with HR about what they can do to help you set your whole family up for financial success. Many 529 plans these days are also offered through payroll deductions, so that cash comes right out of your pay before it even hits your checking account and you have a chance to miss it.
8. Opt for the disability insurance
Disability insurance is a great perk to have (especially when it’s covered by your company) in case something should happen that keeps you from working for an extended period of time. If your company offers either short or long-term disability plans, sign up. For women, this may especially come in handy if they plan to get pregnant in the future. Find out why here.