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Pattie Lovett-Reid

Chief Financial Commentator, CTV


Are you one of the frustrated Canadians that didn't get a raise this year?

Even more frustrating, you might be leaving money on the table and not even realizing it. 

If this is the case, you will have been hit twice financially and while a lack of salary increase will have an impact on your purchasing power, you can't entirely control that.  What you can control, however, is making sure you maximize your benefit entitlement. 

It is all about putting more money in your pocket – directly or indirectly.

When was the last time you went through your benefits plan to fully understand what you are entitled to? Every year during the annual enrolment period, I sit down with colleagues and go through their employee benefits package only to find, in some cases, thousands of dollars of unused benefits. 

You owe it to yourself to go through line by line in order to fully understand what you are entitled to and what you are not.  

The three most overlooked benefits include:

Not taking advantage of your employer's retirement savings plan. This can happen for a number of reasons: people honestly don't think they will be with the same employer for more than five years, retirement may be down the road, and it isn't a cost they want today. While benefits may vary, growing in popularity is the matching of contributions. In other words, free money. It is like receiving an annual bonus that has forced savings component attached to it. By contributing to a group RRSP, you'll also reap additional gains, as your contributions will be made on a pre-tax basis. The advantage here over an individual RRSP is that you don't have to wait for the tax break at the end of the year. More money can start working for you sooner.

Maximizing your employer's profit sharing program. Find out if there is a plan available that would allow employees to share in the business profits. Also explore share purchase plans where the your company offers some sort of financial incentive to purchase shares; typically by either contribution matching or discounts. There is normally a vesting period or minimum holding period to encourage employee retention and limit trading activity. This is a great way to save money for retirement, or even a home.

Ignoring benefit perks. You might not require medical or dental coverage and opt for an annual health care spending allotment. There could be paid maternity leave, gym memberships or smartphone plans -- even catered lunches on high-volume business days. Health care spending accounts could be a use-it-or-lose-it scenario. Ignorance isn't bliss and you could find yourself paying hundreds more each year than you need to.

Employee benefits are only of benefit if you use them. Don't leave money on the table.