Today wasn’t a good money day. Heck, this week has not been a good money week.

To begin with, there is Putin messing up my plans for early(er) retirement. Heck, Putin may be messing about my – and yours – plans for retirement at all.

All this stuff about Crimea, and the political tensions and uncertainty it creates, is doing the stock market no good at all. Knowing the Russians and their preferred method of diplomacy (usually sending tanks) this could get much worse.

Then we took a hit on some CFDs. John has been dabbling a bit; and, yes, we know that this is very risky despite knowledge and research. We also have smartened up enough to know that you only put in the money you can afford to lose. Still, losing really sucks; even if you write it off as ‘learning experience’.

Then today, on my way to my hairdresser, I bought a single instead of return ticket for the tram. This costs me £3.20 more than I should have spent.

Doesn’t sound much but the expense was completely un-necessary and happened because I wasn’t paying attention. Annoying!

So how do you think I felt when later today, talking to my friend, I learned that she got a great discount on her new bike through my employer’s benefits scheme?

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

‘Putin may be messing up my retirement plans’ – I thought – ‘but I’ll check out the employee benefits my employer offers. And if it’s worth it I’ll use them.’

This also made me question my attitude to benefits – and taking advantage of these – more broadly.

I remember a conversation with my dad when he was getting on a bit. His current account was with a bank that offered very little as benefits and interest.

‘Move your account.’ – I chided – ‘This other bank offers so much more.’

He refused. His pride didn’t let him see his own interest. Somehow he thought that loyalty is higher than fiscal interest.

In this case he was wrong.

Is it possible though that I’m like him?

My history with using benefits that are offered and due is at best patchy and at worst plain silly. It contains:

  • Failure to take advantage of the childcare vouchers system that could have saved us a mint; and I had all the documents, I just did nothing with them for three years and then our son was at nursery school.
  • Didn’t notice for nine years that our child support has been underpaid.
  • Had no idea what perks our bank account offers; these are very useful for me and include free Airport Lounges pass. Still took me good several years to start using them as if it somehow better to try and finish your presentation surrounded by screaming children.

I’ll stop here because I start feeling embarrassed.

Now, you know that I believe anything can change; this includes my knowledge about and attitude towards employee benefits.

Naturally I tackled the matter as I approach most things in life: as a researcher.

Even a simple search brought up loads of information about employee benefits and estimates of the savings. If I only knew thirteen years ago that using the blasted childcare vouchers could save us close to £900 per parent. And it is all simple: you just pay for the vouchers before paying tax and national insurance.

I mentioned my friend and her bike, right? Well, if I knew my employer offers this I could have saved…

…enough guessing. Time to check what my employer offers.

Wow. My employer is really going for this stuff. It turns out I could get discount on:

  • Food and drink in very popular coffee bars, bars and semi-fast food places;
  • On travel and accommodation; in fact I can get up to 40% off Hilton rates;
  • On theatre and concert tickets;
  • On gym membership, hair and beauty treatments; and I can even get 30% off a session in a local skiing place;
  • On buying bikes, books stationary etc.

…and on and on the list goes.

When you think that the only thing I got a discount linked to my employer were our mobile phone contracts (turned out that Vodafone offer 20% off to anyone who either works at a university or a hospital, or knows someone who works there).

This is awesome! Turns out, my employer is offering really great perks and now I know about them.

Now the trick is to keep checking because according to my sources things change fast.

Do you know what the perks your employer is offering are? If you don’t, this may be worth checking; after all I was pleasantly surprised albeit still cross with myself for not doing this sooner.

photo credit: Chris Pirillo via photopin cc