How we use our Employment Benefits to Maximize Every Dollar

bene

There is more to your job than just your salary. Most people receive some kind of benefit at work. Whether they are non monetary like a flexible schedule or more tangible like an employee discount, we get more from our employers than our paychecks. Here are four valuable benefits that we use (or have used in the past).

401K Match: For 5 years, I worked at a company that offered a 100% match for retirement contribution up to 6% of your salary. From the first day I started working, I made sure to contribute at least the 6% that would get me the 100% company match. Anything less would seem like I am leaving free money behind. I left that firm over 4 years ago and no longer receive a match at my new place of employment. However, my husband does receive a similar benefit (100% match up to 5% of his salary) and we make sure to take advantage of it. So now, when he contributes 10% of his salary, his account is actually receiving a deposit of 15%.

Graduate School: I often discuss my journey to becoming debt free and instrumental in all of that is the elimination of my student loan debt due to the high interest rate. I graduated 2 years ago in May from a program that cost $75K. However my loans were less than $50K thanks to the tuition assistance I received when I first started the MBA program. I did switch jobs in the middle of graduate school, which contributed to the balance of my loan, however, I am $28k closer to completing my payments as a result of being able to benefit from the tuition program early on in my studies.

Cellphone Discount: We have a family plan with 3 lines for smart phones that gives all the users unlimited data and text. If that sounds pricey, it’s because it is. However, my carrier offers an 18% discount to employees of my organization. Every 2-3 years, I recertify my employment by providing a either a scanned copy of my badge, a pay stub or some other form that would indicate I still work there.

BJ’s Wholesale Club: A BJ’s membership costs $50 a year for 2 people. Given the savings opportunities that buying in bulk offers, not to mention the low gas prices, that is already a fantastic deal. However, my husband’s job offers a discount where the membership costs less and is for a longer period of time: $40 for 16 months. Per month, the discounted price is nearly 1/2 the regular advertised price.

How are you maximizing your employee benefits?

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I Create my own Sales

While I have a 9-5 where someone else tells me what to do and how to do it, I like to see myself as a “boss” in every other aspect of my life. I make my own schedule with my real estate work, I set my own prices for my rental properties, I determine what stocks I want to invest in, and sometimes, I create my own sales. I can’t always wait for a retailer to decide they want to unload a product. And while I’m at the prime of my life, I am past the stage of my life where it is acceptable for me to get trampled at black Friday sales. Yet, I refuse to pay full price for anything. So how do I reconcile the two? Here’s a story…

cashback

My husband is an Oakley fan. I don’t know if he was always partial to their sunglasses or if it’s a by-product of his military service, but Oakleys are to him what Hondas are to me: when it’s time to upgrade, you just get a better model of the exact same make and style. So when the lenses of his sunglasses were scratched beyond recognition after 3-4 years of use, we went on the hunt for a pair of lenses (since the glasses are custom built, you can just replace whatever parts are damaged without purchasing a new pair). Unfortunately, the model that he has was no longer manufactured by the company and thus, parts were not available. They had a 2.0 version that was very similar but the newer parts were too big to fit into the old glasses.

I don’t know if most people know this but Oakley offers a trade-in program where you give them your old pair and they give you 25% off any new pair you purchase. So he built a new pair of sunglasses that are very similar to the ones he wished to replaced, albeit a little bit bigger, and the total price came out to $200. With the trade-in discount of 25% off, we got $50 off the price for a total $150. We then charged that $150 to our American Express card which had a $30 cash back for Oakley in the form of a statement credit. That statement credit hit almost immediately (I got a phone alert that it had been processed as soon as the transaction posted), so we ended up paying a total of $120 for a pair of $200 sunglasses, and to top it all off, we got 150 rewards points towards our points balance that we will use as we see fit going forward. Just in case you were not keeping up with the math, that’s the equivalent of 40% off. We did not have to wait in line or get pepper sprayed like Walmart unruly shoppers.

Nothing we wanted at the store was on sale, but we got a great deal anyway because every decision we make and every time we pull out our wallet, it’s a very deliberate move. There are no impulse buys or last minute decisions. Everything is well-planned.  Do you ever hear the phrase: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail?” It’s not just a cliche.

Thursday Wedding Tip: Cut Your Biggest Expense

Once you start planning a wedding, everyone will tell you the same thing: food and beverage will be your biggest expense. Whether you have a big or small wedding, aged steak or backyard barbecue, you will spend the bulk of your money on your caterer. So what is your biggest path to huge savings? Cutting your guest list. This is a taboo area for many people. We don’t want to offend our friends and family. We don’t want to make people feel left out and we want to follow etiquette. But at what point does making things right by our our friends and family cross the line into doing something that is harmful to us?

I have no interest in the “this is my day” rhetoric of self-centered bratty brides. I do, however, have a lot of interest in making sure that people do not take on more than they can chew. What purpose does it serve to spend more than you can afford so other people can be happy? All your guests and their flavor of the month +1 are not vested in your life past the point of celebration. When you return from the honeymoon, your utility bill will still be waiting for you. (One month, well before our solar days, when we had electric heat our bill was $620. Thanks National Greed Grid!) You still need to put food on the table, and you still need to save for retirement.

Sure, there are some people who will say: “If you can’t afford it have a smaller wedding!” or my absolute favorite: “Don’t get married!” Of course. I will put off getting married until I am able to pay for your sister who I haven’t seen in 10 years or spoken to in 5, to come to my wedding. /snark

People just love to make brides and grooms feel guilty about setting boundaries by using negative terms such as bridezilla or by calling people selfish. But is the couple really the source of issue? Because, if you think about it, what other kind of event do you go to where you think you can demand to bring people? What other events do you go to where you call the host and find it acceptable to suggest changes to the guest list? None. Your job’s Christmas party? You tend to find a babysitter or you stay home. If your neighbor invites you to a barbecue, do you say “my sister was wondering why she wasn’t invited” or do you just go?

The point of a wedding celebration is for the couple to celebrate the beginning of their (hopefully) lifelong journey with those who are the closest to them. It’s not a block party. Most importantly, as the hosts, they decide the guest list. Not you. You don’t have a say unless you’re writing checks. Period. It is extremely disrespectful, entitled and self-centered to think that you can dictate how others spend their money.

In an attempt at guilt-tripping you into doing their bidding, people will even go as far as giving you the following friendly reminder: “Don’t let this go to your head. Do you really want to ruin friendships over a one-day party? If you were really my friend, you would invite my neighbor’s cousin’s dog along with the litter of new born puppy from Forks, WA.” (Twilight reference FTW!) In those cases, you have my blessing to tell them: “Do you really think I’m dumb enough to let a one-day party put me in a financial hole? If you were really my friend you would be more respectful of my boundaries and be appreciative that I consider us close enough to invite you.”

Why should you cut your guest list? Let’s do some math:
Say you’re inviting 210 people at $100 a piece. But you decide to cut out 10 of them. That’s not just $1,000 in savings. There are administrative fees, for me they were 19%, ($190), there are taxes (6.25% where I am which means $74.38 since the administrative fees are taxable), non-taxable automatic gratuity 15% ($150). 10 less people means 1 less table, therefore, 1 less centerpiece. Centerpieces can range anywhere between $50 to $150. I’ll put them right in the middle at $100. That’s another $106.25 saved with the florist (keeping the same tax rate of 6.25%). Cake costs up to $6 a person if you want anything above basic scroll work (i.e. fondant, fresh flowers etc.), so that’s $63.74 for cake including tax. Don’t forget to budget for favors at $3 a person so there goes another $31.87. If you want those nice chiavari chairs, they will cost between $7 and $10 to rent depending on where you are and who you’re getting them from. But for to avoid complicating this any further, let’s assume all that good stuff is already included in your $100 package (it’s not but humor me).

Have you been keeping track? You can check my math if you want but I’m up to $1,616.24. “It’s just 10 more guests!” doesn’t sound as trivial if I remind you that this is probably a month’s rent for a lot of people, does it?

Frugal Fridays: Reception Details

This is my version of throw back Thursday: Some of the best finds from my own days of wedding planning.

reception

It’s the little expenses that creep up on us. That’s what every couple is told to watch out for. You budgeted $2,000 for your dress but the slip is $120, the bra is $80 and a veil is $300. Oh you think that garter is cute? That will be $30. It never ends. And that’s not just your dress. The reception costs will sneak up on you as well. Your keepsake box will run you $15 to $30. Don’t forget taxes, shipping for the things you can’t get in town, etc.

I couldn’t allow the unexpected to bust my budget, so I hunted for deals like a man lost in the Sahara hunts for water. Here are some of my deals:

1) Small gift bags for my favors: less than $70 for 100 from Amazon
2) Matching color tissue papers to stuff them: $9 for 100 from Amazon
3) ‘Mr. & Mrs.’ wood chair hangers: $15 (50% off sale) from Amazon (I never actually used those as I forgot I bought them!)
4) Personalized hanger* – $3.99 (+$10 for shipping). This was a one-day sale. These are usually $19.99-$25.99. from Etsy

*All items except for the hanger were shipped for free, saving me a lot of money as well. 

Wedding Finance Tips: Getting Hitched in the Black

I live in the northeast and spring has officially started, although you really can’t tell just looking at the weather (it’s supposed to be a brisk 25 degree day today). Unlike our more favored friends in the south, true wedding planning doesn’t begin until spring as many brides do not like planning for winter weddings. Because of that, I decided that the change in season should help usher in some new topics: Weddings! At the very least, they will be in season, at most they are expensive and you might find some tips to help you save thousands.

wedding budget

The average cost of a wedding in the US is approximately $25,000. It certainly doesn’t help that, we are not taught to haggle for anything unless we’re buying cars or houses. We see a price tag and we are sure that we either have to pony up or find a store we can afford. However, that’s what the sales people want us to think. If we don’t haggle, they make more money so they’re not going to tell us that we can get any kind of discounts. When it comes to weddings, things are even worse. They play on our emotions to better deplete our bank accounts (or for the more impulsive among us, inflate our credit card balances).

There are many thrifty wedding blogs out there. However, I struggled to find advice that was sensible. It seems that there was very little balance between having a nice wedding and having a cost effective wedding. Some of the advice ranged anywhere from “don’t invite any of your cousins” to “make your own wedding dress”. I felt that some of the tips were not always helpful. What if I like (most of) my cousins and I am not crafty enough to make my own place cards, let alone a wedding dress? Wanting a cost effective wedding doesn’t mean I have to walk down the aisle with paper flowers or ask my guests to bring their own cakes. Furthermore, most people will tell you that what you save in the little DIY projects is not enough to offset the stress of time constraints and the million other things you can’t outsource. The truth is, while weddings are big business, couples still have leverage and that leverage can be used to hold on to some of our hard earned money.

1) Negotiate yesterday, negotiate today, negotiate tomorrow. No price is set in stone. Everything you pay for can be negotiated to a better price or something else of value can be added to your package. Here are some things I negotiated for and got:

  • 10% off the catering
  • Complementary up lights from the venue
  • My photographer had a Picture/Video/Photo booth package. I didn’t care for the photo booth and requested he replace it with a DJ. (He never said that was an option, I asked.)
  • I negotiated for a bigger flush mount album
  • The baker was offering 10% off for anyone who booked their wedding on the day of the wedding show

2) Look for packages. They want and need people to come and spend money. So if you do the leg work for them they will reward you.

  • My groom gets $40 off his tuxedo for every adult rental. There are 7 males in my wedding party. With only 1 boy, the 6 men add up to a free tux for him.
  • My make-up artist will give me a discount for every one of my girls.

3) Remember that you’re not the only one who needs a break. Weddings are expensive for everybody. Not just the bride and groom. Remember that your attendants have to spend a lot of money to be a part of your special day and they are doing you a favor. Be kind to their budget.

  •  My female attendants got 20% off for buying their dresses at the same store I got my dress.
  • I told them what color but I did not impose uniform shoes on them because I wanted them to be able to use what they had in their closet if that option presented itself.

4) Learn to say ‘No’. Unless someone is financially contributing to your wedding, do not allow them to dictate what happens on your day. Many people do not have boundaries and will try to give their 2 cents regarding who should or should not be invited. How this centerpiece would look better than that one, etc.

5) In direct contradiction to #2: be careful with the packages offered. It is important to consider the packages. However, not all of them will be for your benefit. Some packages need to be assessed against other non-wedding related options. Wedding stores tend to have a huge mark up on everything. While something like a bridal gown can’t really be found elsewhere, other things like your shoes and jewelry are easy to purchase from a non-wedding vendor. Because I wasn’t hasty, I was able to discover that the 20% discount offered on accessories from the store I got my dress from was not the best deal in town. I ended up finding my accessories for 1/2 of what the dress maker sells them for.

6) Give yourself time to shop around. We waited too long to get the MOB dress so my mom ended up paying a surcharge for a rush order. On the other hand, I shopped around for my dress, tried them on and knew exactly what I wanted. But because I had time, I was able to wait until there was a tax-free week-end in my state to make the purchase. This tip not only gives you time to find options, but it also gives you the bargaining power. Being pressed for time will stress you out and the people you deal with could take advantage of your situation to upsell you on things you don’t really need.

The tax rate in my state is 6.25%.

7) Remember that some things will only be used for a few hours and are really not all that important. *GASP* Did I just say that there might be something in your wedding that may not be that important? Yup! And I’d say it again. Do you really need to spend $50-60 on a card box? You will use it only for the purpose of collecting congratulatory cards from your guests. Unless Bill Gates is one of your guests and you know his renown generosity might attract a thief so you’re looking to get a finger print scanner hooked to that thing, what’s wrong with a $15 one? Keep it close to you and have one of your parents drop it off in a secure location for you. Once you’ve made your rounds and closed the box it has no more value. Same goes for a garter that your new husband is going to throw at a bunch of guys tackling each other for a piece of your undies. It serves no other purpose and you shouldn’t get anything over $12. There are many small expenses like these that can add up, be mindful.

8) There’s a right way and a wrong way to borrow for your wedding. If you’re putting your wedding on credit, stop. Just. Stop. You probably can’t afford it. Consumer debt is a huge problem in a consumer-driven society. People continue to get things they can’t afford at the expense of necessities. So far I’ve paid for everything on my credit card BUT a) I pay the balance in full every month (resulting in no interest) and I get 1.5 points for every $1 I spend. After 25,000 points (which take 5 years to expire) I get $250 in cash deposited into the account of my choice. So I’m essentially getting paid to use my credit card. If you are getting charged interest at the end of the month and/or you don’t have an incentive from your credit card company, you’re doing it wrong and the wedding is costing you more than you think.

The interest rate on credit cards can be as low as 7% for those with good credit and as much as 21%+ if your credit is not that great.

9) Know your (artistic) limitations. Overconfidence can make you penny wise and pound foolish. The people on etsy and pintrest, make it look easier than it is. Just because you think you can follow instructions from youtube on how to do that elaborate pop-up invitation doesn’t mean it will look the way you want it to. If you end up buying high end paper, ribbons and an industrial grade laser printer only to turn around and have to place a rush order for your invitations because your product was hideous, you end up spending more than you would if you had simply purchased the invitations to begin with. If you got a lifetime membership card to the talentless club at birth like I did, cut your losses and don’t attempt what you most likely cannot do.

I was able to save $150 on my invitations. I talk about that a little more in this post.

10) Cut out transportation costs. If a place of worship is not critical to your wedding proceedings, or if your religious officiant is willing to go anywhere you request, you can eliminate the need for your limo by having your ceremony and reception at the same place. Some places charge you an additional fee for the ceremony set up, so you can probably try to negotiate a further discount on your venue by asking if they will offer you a package deal/price.

Most limo companies run packages between $375-450.

These are you 10 tips for today. I hope they serve you well. They’ve certainly helped me. I am having the wedding I want to have, while savings thousands. Saving doesn’t mean I have to “settle” for things I don’t want. Ultimately, this is a one-day celebration of your love. The rest of your life is what matters most, don’t start it in the red.

Top Government Discounts

If you know of any government employees, current or former military members, you’ll want to pay attention to this list. These are all the companies that offer a wide range of discounts to those who have served the American public one way or another. The discounts range anywhere from 5 to 25% on their services and products. If you qualify, please contact the company to find out more information. Click here for more information.

(The list was updated in November of 2015 so it is fairly recent. Happy shopping!)

 

 

 

Don’t Pay People For Tasks You Can Accomplish Yourself

appraisal-repairs

Two days before Thanksgiving (the busiest cooking day of the year) my dishwasher died. I called in a Sears technician who charged me $60 to tell me that it will cost $350 to repair the dishwasher (LOL what? No). I had to tell him on the spot whether or not I was going to accept the repair or reject it. Otherwise, I’d be charged another $59 for him to come back again if I later chose to repair the appliance. While I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid costly home repairs, I always make it a point to know what all of my options are. Before he showed up at 2 pm, I went online to check dishwasher prices and they were on sale, so I was ready with an answer. Since the sale prices for the ones I was considering were between $250 and $400 (from $400-$550), I knew it would be worth ordering a new one and, as a result, declined the repair.

I got online and immediately ordered a new dishwasher. But here’s what the $300 price tag does not cover: the connecting cables ($20), the delivery ($70), hauling away the old one ($15), 5-year complete warranty ($150) and installation ($200). Doesn’t seem like such a good deal anymore, does it? Well, I’ve never been faced with a transaction I where I could not find a cost-cutting measure. So I ordered everything except the installation. I mean, how hard could it be to install a dishwasher? Last night, I found out.

When the delivery man came in and pulled out his box-cutter, my adrenaline was pumping! I could barely contain myself because of the various possibilities: I was either going to have wild success and save myself some good money or it was going to be a complete disaster that could range from causing damage that costs more than $200 to repair or end in the death of one of us through electrocution. No big deal.

We had dinner before starting the job, because what sense does it make to do any of this on an empty stomach? The fact that I wasn’t hungry throughout the process probably kept us from fighting. I got under the kitchen sink to turn off the water supply, while my husband went to the basement to turn off the power. This turned into it’s own adventure, because none of us knew which switch operated the dishwasher. The genius builders decided to label 4 of the switches “appliances”, causing us to trip everything from the fridge, to the oven and the microwave, before we finally cut power to the dishwasher (of course it was the last one).

I will spare you the details, but let’s just say that after 90 minutes, 3 Youtube videos, 2 leaks under the kitchen sink, and 1 unfortunate incident of my husband accidentally hitting himself in the face with the wrench, we have successfully installed a functioning dishwasher for $0! Sure, we invested the time into doing it, however we learned a lot, which is invaluable. If nothing else, we at least know which switch powers which appliance now.

I don’t encourage you go around hooking up your own appliances to high voltage electricity if you don’t know what you’re doing, however, I do recommend that you consider doing certain things on your own so you don’t have to spend money unnecessarily. We have the tendency to crack open the yellow pages the moment something breaks. Give it a shot first. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve when you’re not afraid to try.