Learn from Smart Women

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Imagine this. You’ve landed a good job with benefits.  During your first week of work, you attend orientation and the human resources manager gives you a presentation on all of the amazing work benefits you now have available to you.  It all seems like a blur.  So much information in one session. You take the thick glossy packet of information the HR manager hands you and promise yourself that later, you’ll take it out again and read it carefully.

Fast forward 90 days.

Now, you’re eligible for most benefits that the company offers.  You sign up for the essential benefits like health, dental, and eye insurance.  Maybe you even opt-in to pet insurance for your precious pup.  You take a look at the HR benefit packet from orientation, but you don’t quite muster up the energy to go through it.

Have you been there?  Sure, most of us have.  You sign up for the benefits that you need and vow to explore the company’s other great benefits in detail when you get more time.  In reality, your time going forward is limited.  And when you get the chance to review them, you may not understand how they work or why you should sign up.


When we start a job, particularly in this economy, we’re just happy to be working and want to dive into our new work responsibilities.  As time passes, you become more concerned about the next raise than with the labyrinth of benefits your employer offers.

But truth is, funds are tight – for you and your employer.  Your pay raise may not happen any time soon due to employer budget constraints.  Meanwhile, your paycheck seems like it’s not getting you to where you want to be as quickly as you’d like.

Sound familiar?  You may want to take a second look at your comprehensive compensation with your employer, meaning not only your salary but all the other perks you’re eligible for.  You could possibly already have benefits at your disposal that could help you make or save thousands right at your finger tips!

1) Take Advantage of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

EAP is a suite of employer prepaid services that supports employees with practical everyday life issues.  While EAP programs differ by employer, many of them offer free counseling, a 24/7 crisis line, and access to financial, legal, and emotional counseling.  Counseling can include parenting or relationship issues, personal improvement, work issues, stress, depression, healthy living, and more.  Your EAP program may even offer adoption, education and child and elder care resources.

I didn’t fully understand the power of EAP until I had to use it. 

When my fiancé (now husband) and I were planning to get married a few years ago, we read a lot of advice in wedding guides stating that even the happiest of couples should invest in premarital counseling to prepare for this big life transition.  So I set out to find a premarital counselor through my then employer’s EAP program.  We found a local premarital counselor whose hourly charges were $180 per hour.  But because I’d signed up through my employer’s EAP program, we had 6 sessions for free.  That saved us $1,280!

2) Accept Your Employer's Free Money for Retirement 

It’s getting harder and harder to find employers that will match employee’s retirement contributions but if yours is one of them, jump on the opportunity.  If not, as I am sure you’ve heard before, you’re missing out on free money!

Here’s an example.  In my first job, my employer would contribute up to 6% (which is an excellent matching amount, by the way).  That means that if I contributed 6% of my salary to my 401K retirement account, my employer would also contribute 6%.  To give you a clearer idea, let’s say that 6% of my bi-weekly paycheck was $180.  I would put in $180 into my retirement account and my employer would also put in $180 giving me a total of $360 every two weeks going into my retirement account except that I only had to give half of that amount and the other half, my employer gave to me.  Over a year’s time, that would be an extra $4,320 I’d earn just for participating in the full employer match!  (And that’s not even counting interest or gains on the invested money.)

Your employer may not offer a 401K but if there’s any retirement account available at your job where your employer also contributes a piece of the pie (no matter how much), you should seriously consider participating fully.

3) Flexible Spending Account

The Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a great savings plan that allows you to save money on taxes just by signing up and spending money on medical services and medicine (even doctor’s appointments co-pays, contact lens, and contact lens solutions).

Essentially, it’s a benefit that allows you to pay for medical expenses tax free.  A flexible spending account can help you even if you don’t usually spend a lot on medical related items.  I only started using it a few years ago, but when I realized how great it was I wondered why it took me so long to get on board!

Here’s how it works.  You sign up with your HR department during the period of open registration.  You tell them the amount you’d like to set aside for a year’s worth of medical-related costs (check with your employer to see which products and services are eligible and the maximum amount you can contribute).  There’s just one catch. You’ll want to think well about the yearly dollar amount you contribute to your FSA because if you don’t use it all within the year, you’ll lose it.

Let’s say that you want to set aside $200 to cover your doctor’s appointments co-pays for the year.  Every time you get paid, your employer will take out a prorated amount, in this case, maybe $7.69 biweekly, out of your paycheck to start building a savings fund for these costs.  By the end of the year, you’ll have $200 saved in this account to pay those costs but here’s the good part: You can start using your $200 as soon as you sign up for FSA, even if your savings account is not fully funded.  What’s more, is that at tax time if you normally make $40,000, only $39,800 will be reported on your W-2 as taxable income.  Sweet!

As you can see, there's more to your paycheck and employee benefits that meet the eye.  While your pay raise may still be a valid possibility in the near future, don’t miss out on these three employee benefits and the chance to boost your funds in a new, free way.


Miranda Reiter is a certified financial planner and founder of She & Money Financial Planning. She helps women get out of debt and save more money to build the financial lives of their dreams. 


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