Are You Walking Away from Free Money on the Table?

free money on the tableEveryone has their preferred method on building wealth and financial security. Some folks like to get frugal, cut expenses, and make the most of their current income. Others prefer to not worry about the little costs because they’re focused on increasing their earnings instead. These two ways of handling money create a spectrum, and most of us fall somewhere on that spectrum rather than being 100% in one camp or another.

But there’s another way to better your personal finance habits that often gets overlooked. You don’t have to pinch pennies and you don’t have to launch your own side business; you simply need to take advantage of opportunities that essentially create free money. There’s no budget magic going on and you don’t have to pick up a side gig. All you need is to know where to look for these opportunities to pick up the free money that’s on the table.

Finding Free Money with Your Full-Time Job

The easiest place to start is by checking out what your full-time job has to offer you. The most obvious place to start is with your retirement options. If you have access to a company-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) or Simple Plan IRA, it’s likely to include an employer match of something like 3%-5%. As in, your employer will match your contributions to your account up to that amount. That’s the easiest money there is to be made! You’re essentially being rewarded for saving (which is going to create a reward for you in you future as it is).

But there are some less-obvious places to look for free money at work. Consider your other benefits. Do you have access to special savings accounts like HSAs or FSAs? Can you get reimbursed for certain work-related expenses, like your commute or wardrobe? Are you on the most appropriate health insurance plan offered? Are you using up all of your vacation days every year? The answers to these questions should be available to you in your employee benefits package (as HR for a copy).

Taking the Tax Deductions and Credits for Which You Qualify

While you shouldn’t try anything funny when you file your tax return, you need to ensure you claim the things to which you’re legally entitled. There are countless credits (and even more deductions) that you can claim to ease the burden of your tax bill. Some of them act like an employer match and reward you for saving. At the very least, when you file you should use a well-known tax software that will help you claim everything you can without raising major red flags with the IRS. If you have your own business, it’s probably worth it to take your return to a professional. You’re likely to end up walking away with enough free money from Uncle Sam to easily cover the cost of having a tax expert help you.

Signing Up for Birthday Clubs

Yes, this one sounds kinda ridiculous – but birthday clubs are a great way to score freebies and free up your own cash for other purposes. Many establishments will send you coupons for a free item in your birthday month (Starbucks is a good example – become a member of their little club and get a free drink around your birthday). It might be a little thing, but it can be really fun to treat yourself throughout the month your birthday falls in with free stuff from your favorite restaurants and retailers.

Making the Most of Credit Card Rewards

If you’re responsible with your money, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to score hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars’ worth of freebies from credit card companies who offer ridiculous sign-up bonuses. For example, if you’re an avid traveler you could easily use credit cards to pay for the airfare and accommodations for your next trip. Or you could use credit card rewards to boost your savings; companies like Fidelity offer cards that put 2% back straight into a retirement account for you.

Track All Your Accounts With Personal Capital

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Obviously, you shouldn’t be signing up for credit cards every other day or using them for anything but purchases you needed to make anyway. You must be responsible and aware of your actions. Remember, you’re using credit cards as a tool to claim some free money. Take advantage of what the credit card companies are offering – don’t let them take advantage of you.

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Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and blogger who loves to chat about personal finance. She's passionate about helping millennials manage their money while learning to live well on less.

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  1. says

    People leave free money on the table with flexible spending accounts more than any other item you mentioned. It seems they fear the use it or lose it rule more than they like saving money on taxes.

    In the past I enrolled many employees in these plans (or attempted to do so). It amazed me that people would consistently walk away from an illustration showing a $700 savings for fear of leaving $100 in the account unused.
    Kevin @ Growing Family Benefits recently posted…Purchasing Life Insurance on Children’s FatherMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks for sharing that experience, Kevin – too many people don’t fully understand the potential benefits of FSAs and like you said, it’s a major area where people are walking away from savings and money they can claim.

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