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, school tuition, family care, car maintenance, general inflation, a still-struggling economy, and -- worst of all -- debt, it's a wonder 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, 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% of respondents said they would borrow from family or friends, sell their belongings, or disregard other monthly expenses in the event of an unplanned $1,000 expense -- anything but dip into their savings.
The remaining 36% replied that they would turn to their financial reserves, but there's no indication of how soon, if ever, they'd be able to replenish that money.
Five company benefits you should take advantage of
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.
1. Retirement benefit plans
Once perceived as an alternative to Social Security pensions, retirement benefit plans are quickly becoming the norm. A 401(k) provided directly by employers can help their employees set aside cash directly into their retirement funds.
As with 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, or up to $24,000 if they're aged 50 or older.
- Employers will generally match an employee's contribution up to a percentage of the employee's salary -- up to 6% 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.
- Although 401(k)s are a great way to build a nice post-career nest egg, if you pull those funds out prematurely, you could be faced with hefty early-withdrawal penalties.
- Starting at age 70-1/2, you must begin withdrawing a minimum amount from the account each year. Otherwise, you'll be penalized 50% of the amount you were supposed to withdraw.
Employer-sponsored retirement benefit plans are a great way to plan ahead for your post-work years, yet only one-third of Americans take advantage of them through their jobs, according to the Department of Labor.
2. Employer tuition assistance
Continued education can be invaluable for anyone looking to gain knowledge and enhance their professional skill set. It's never too late to get into student mode and hit the books. However, tuition fees and student loans also come at a high cost that can be prohibitive.
So what better arrangement than getting paid 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, as with any company-backed program, check with your human resources department to see how much schooling they'll cover. Some employers may also have restrictions regarding the types of courses you can pursue and might even mandate a minimum GPA in order to qualify for reimbursement.
3. 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 funds and then diverts them directly from one bank account to another, without any prerequisites or fine print to consider. No matter whether it's $50, $100, or $700 a month, you can change the amount of money transferred to a savings account automatically. Further, the savings reserve is fixed and won't devalue itself depending on market conditions.
4. 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 claimed that bringing their children to work was more affordable.
5. Discounts, fringe benefits, and other perks
Just as books of coupons often go unredeemed, you could be missing out on some valuable discounts offered through your employer. Many companies strike membership deals with airlines, insurance providers, and local health clubs, for example.
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.
This article originally appeared on gobankingrates.com.