What Not To Do: Leave Money On The Table

What Not to do - leaving money on the tableI was jumping around the personal finance websites that I usually frequent and I stopped to read “No-Brainer Benefits to Take Advantage of at Work“.  It was written by my blogging friend DC from Young Adult Money.  There were good tips in the article about how you should be taking advantage of everything your employer provides you.  I am lucky that I have a great employer that provides me with awesome health care and a quality 401k.  I am happy with what they provide.  DC’s post reminded me that I needed to do an audit of my 401k to make sure I was taking advantage of the company match.   To my surprise, I found that they had upped their match and I wasn’t taking advantage of it.  Just plain stupid!

 

Lesson of the Day: Do NOT Leave Money on the Table!

That is right, I was simply just leaving money on the table.  I wasn’t taking advantage of free money that my employer was giving me.  There is no excuse for it, except for forgetfulness.  I have been so busy with the blog and my baby son that I just forgot to audit the account when the year started.  My employer changed their contribution and I didn’t even realize it.

When I was paying down my debt, I reduced my contribution in order to have some extra money to push toward the debt.  It was a wise decision for me because I was paying more in interest than I was gaining in the stock market.  I did not stop contributing, but just reduced the amount.  After I paid off my last credit card, I took 2 months to build up my accounts again and then started contributing more to my 401k.

This is the issue with set-it-and-forget-it type of accounts like those for retirement.  You setup the contribution once and it is then taken out of your paycheck each and every time, but you rarely audit the accounts and the contribution to make sure you are maximizing your earnings.  So, take my advice and make sure you are getting all the free money that your employer may be giving you.  There is no point not to do it and I don’t know anyone that wants to leave free money on the table.  I sure don’t and this was just an oversight on my part.  Everyone makes mistakes.

Have you audited your retirement accounts lately to make sure you haven’t left any free money on the table?

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About the Author Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress maintenance and support company, along with another blog, Eyes on the Dollar, which is another great personal finance blog.

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36 comments
DC @ Young Adult Money says May 31

Oh man! I’m glad you got your 401k back up to “match” level! Ironically I haven’t double-checked for some time now that our match rate is still at the same level it was last year. I would hope they’d send an email or make a big deal out of it, but I suppose they could quietly raise it. I better check! Hope you have a great weekend!

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    Grayson says May 31

    You are the reason why I did DC. I just noticed it and realized I hadn’t checked the company policy in a while. Thanks DC!

    Reply
Pauline says May 31

I have deliberately left company match on the table because you couldn’t touch the account until 55 and I wanted to retire by 40 at the latest. Yes, it could have been a nest egg left there but I was more into aggressive saving to buy real estate. I would have to run the numbers to see if it was worth it.

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    Grayson says May 31

    I always feel that you have been an out of the box investor Pauline, but it is really working for you. You are awesome!

    Reply
Laurie says May 31

We just recently started again contributing to Rick’s 401k. Because of our debt load, we were super focused on trying to reduce the debt, but then we realized how stupid it was to leave money on the table. 🙂

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    Grayson says May 31

    It is good to do both. I still invested while paying my debt, but my contribution was just less.

    Reply
John S @ Frugal Rules says May 31

Glad you caught the match issue leaving that free money on the table is generally not a good thing. As you know I do not have that issue these days, but still deal with a similar issue in that I have little time to check on our portfolio these days. It’s just one of those things that falls by the wayside. I just need to carve out some time and do it regularly.

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    Grayson says May 31

    That is one thing that I am getting better at. With my Betterment account, I don’t have to watch it. My 401k, I have the ability to choose a lot of different funds, so I try to make sure I am investing in the right ones.

    Reply
Ryan @ RLD Investments says May 31

One of the things I always try to stress to people is this same idea, don’t leave money on the table. It’s already hard enough to make it these days, if you don’t maximize every opportunity you’re not going to make it. When I pay attention and focus on really maximizing stuff, not only do I really get what I am looking for, but I feel much better about my accomplishments as well. That’s what I call the win-win.

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    Grayson says May 31

    I agree with you Ryan. I was getting the original match, but just left the other money on the table. Oops!

    Reply
Thomas @ Your Daily Finance says May 31

My wife and I both were leaving money on the table when we first started our careers. We just didn’t put anything in our 401k. Plus her company offered their stocks at a discounted price for her, so double whammy.

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    Grayson says May 31

    Ouch. Good thing you are putting it in now, but you lost those years of contributions and compound interest.

    Reply
Johnny Moneyseed says May 31

Walking away from “free money” is like opening a birthday card from your grandma, and forgetting to take the $20 bill out. You wouldn’t leave physical cash in a birthday card, so why would you leave money unclaimed?

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    Grayson says May 31

    Nice analogy JM. I don’t leave cash lying around, so I shouldn’t have left this one. I didn’t know they had upped their match, but I have should have been more vigilant.

    Reply
Kendal @ HassleFreeSaver says May 31

Better late than never, eh? I should contribute more of my monthly income to retirement. I’m currently taking advantage of my employer match but I can likely afford another 6 percent contribution. I’m so green on investing that I’m hesitant to take the plunge, however. Someday!

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    Grayson says May 31

    I just contribute up the the max that my company will match. I then invest the rest in my own Roth IRA that I have control over. That makes me feel better.

    Reply
krantcents says May 31

I think you can do both debt repayment and invest for retirement. It may take some sacrifice, but losing years of not investing is very detrimental.

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    Grayson says May 31

    I still invested while I was paying off my debt, but my contribution was not as much as it is now.

    Reply
Matt Becker says May 31

I would forget stuff like this all of the time if I didn’t set reminders. Google calendars is really awesome for setting alerts for things that need to be handled at a specific time. I would really be lost without it.

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    Grayson says May 31

    I need to take a better advantage of my Google calendar. That would be quite helpful.

    Reply
Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says May 31

Glad you caught it! No one likes to walk away from free money, although it’s easy to do. 🙂 The other mistake I see lots do is never update their beneficiary forms. People designate and then forget about them. Have a great weekend!

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    Grayson says May 31

    I love free money, so I need to make sure I am taking full advantage of it. My beneficiary forms have recently been updated, but I do need to put my son on them as well.

    Reply
DJ - MoneyforCollegePro says May 31

I had this issue with my automatic savings plans. I have numerous savings plans setup through INGDirect to funnel money into a savings accounts for yearly expenses (Taxes, Insurance, HOA Dues, Etc) but I don’t check them that often until I make the yearly withdrawal. Come to find out, my yearly total had decreased and I was putting way too much money into these accounts each month. Not necessarily money lost, but money that I could do other things with.

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    Grayson says May 31

    Auditing accounts is very important and I have been guilty of forgetting. I am getting better and am working on coming up with a method to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

    Reply
funancials says May 31

The biggest mistake I’ve made (financially) wasn’t leaving money on the table, but instead, accepting free money and then throwing it back on the table. I was maxing out my 401(k) and my employer was matching and also added annual profit-sharing bonuses. But then…

I was faced with a great opportunity that required leaving the company 3 months before I was fully vested. I lost over 50% of my 401(k). It still makes me sick to think about.

Was it the optimal decision? No. But, I’m extremely happy where I am and I’m still sitting pretty.

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    Grayson says May 31

    Ouch. That doesn’t sound good, but you made the best decision for you and that is important. Life is not all about money.

    Reply
CashRebel says May 31

oh man! That’s always frustrating when you realize you’ve left money on the table. But at least now you can fix it and know that your retirement savings is 100% optimized. Now that you mention it, I should probably double check my work retirement plan allocation…

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    Grayson says May 31

    I am glad that I got it taken care of. It was an easy change to make and now I am getting the full match.

    Reply
Canadian Budget Binder says May 31

There are people at my work that don’t take advantage of the pension and that’s their choice. I’m on top of things when it comes to matching and checking in and auditing because I want to know what’s going on. I’m still learning about investing but I do like to know if there are any changes. I’d hate to leave money on the table as well. Good thing you caught that.

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    Grayson says May 31

    I know there are people that don’t take advantage of the 401k, but I just can’t leave money on the table. I was already getting a match, but when they upped it, I wanted to get the full match.

    Reply
Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide says June 4

Don’t forget any FSAs you should be taking advantage of!

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Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says June 4

Glad you’re back up to the full match now! Rock on, Grayson!

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thepotatohead says June 6

Doh! That stinks Grayson. At least you caught it and corrected it. I’m still perplexed at those whose company offers a 401k match but yet they don’t contribute anything to a 401k. They are so easy to set up and its free money!!

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    Grayson says June 6

    I agree. I am glad my situation was that my employer just upped the match, so I get more free money!

    Reply
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