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3 Ways to Stretch Your Employee Benefits Dollars

Timely advice for open enrollment season at work

By Nancy Collamer

Last month, I spoke about employees transitioning to part-time work in “semi-retirement careers” at the Retirement Readiness Seminar hosted by The Conference Board, a business research nonprofit. After sharing my thoughts, I heard some of the nation’s largest employers explain what they’re doing to better prepare their employees for the future.

I was surprised, and a bit hopeful, to hear about their “financial wellness” initiatives (webinars, financial counseling services and the like) since rising out-of-pocket health care costs, debt and stagnating wages can reduce employees’ willingness to sock away money for retirement. In a recent survey from LIMRA, a group of life insurers and financial services firms, 59 percent of workers said what they pay for health benefits affects how much they save for retirement.

By offering financial wellness programs, employers hope to reduce employee stress, improve productivity and bolster everyone’s bottom line. That brings me to you and your employer’s benefits.

Fall is benefits enrollment season, so now is the perfect time to review your plans and make smart choices for the year ahead. As you review your benefits, here are three tips to help you stretch your dollars:

1. Carefully review your plan changes for 2016. Most employers tweak their benefits annually by altering, adding and eliminating features. Unfortunately, in most cases, these tweaks end up costing you money, especially when it comes to health insurance. But sometimes, employers improve benefits through new offerings (such as adding vision care) or by sprucing up existing programs.

One area where you might see a more generous perk in 2016 is in your 401(k) retirement plan, particularly compared to a few years ago.

According to a October 2015 report from the Aon-Hewitt benefits consultant, about 42 percent of (primarily) large companies currently offer a dollar-for-dollar match to their workers’ contributions, up to a specified percentage of pay, typically 6 percent. In 2011, only 25 percent did. And before 2013, the average match was just 50 cents on the dollar.


So make the time to really review changes coming to your 2016 retirement plan and your health plans. By doing so, you’ll be better positioned to maximize your benefit dollars, while minimizing the impact of any premium increases.

2. Take advantage of employer-sponsored educational programs about our benefits. Increasingly, benefit plans have become notoriously complicated. That’s why many companies now host webinars and conference calls during enrollment season for employees. Make the time to attend them.

Your firm might have particularly valuable sessions to answer questions about its retirement plan and other financial matters from debt management to general budgeting. If so, take advantage of them. People often pay steep fees for this kind of financial advice and the information you learn could help you secure your financial future.

3. Don’t forget to grab the “smaller” benefits. I’m talking about those miscellaneous extras like reimbursements for smoking cessation programs, gym memberships or public transportation rebates. Sure, they’ll require you to fill out some forms. But a few minutes of your time now could save you hundreds in the year ahead.

And now, I’m off to go fill out a fitness reimbursement form myself. After double-checking my husband’s benefits, I discovered that we’re entitled to $150 for joining a gym last month.

Photograph of Nancy Collamer
Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement. You can now download her free workbook called 25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act on her website at (and you'll also receive her free bi-monthly newsletter). Read More
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