Home > Saving Money > Don’t Leave Free Money on the Table

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I was guilty of not taking the 401(k) match for several years while paying off debt. I rationalized it by telling myself all my money needed to go towards the debt. I know some would argue that, though I still kick myself for not taking the free money. Unfortunately far too many leave it on the table.

  2. I didn’t know kids get graded on turning in their homework! I think back in my day if we didn’t turn in homework we got an incomplete or maybe even failed the assignment. I think one of the biggest ways people leave money on the table is not asking for discounts or price reductions on services. Its so easy just to ask every six month or so.

  3. If you don’t have credit card debt, then I think it can be a wise strategy to get a credit card with a good rewards program and use it, so long as you don’t increase your spending and you pay off the card every month. All of the electronics in our home purchased over the last five years have been paid for by cash back rewards from our credit cards.

  4. Sometimes people think retirement savings is a boring topic, and that it just makes it more difficult to live in the present. But in reality there are some huge tax shelters out there in the form of HSAs, 401ks, IRAs, etc. It’s free money in the sense that you are keeping more in your pocket. And yes, same goes for fees!

    • When you take tax considerations into account, contributing to a 401k or similar really is a no brainer. Not exciting now, but it will be in 30 years if you keep contributing.

  5. Before I retired a few years ago I taught at the local university. My students would often tell me that they just forgot to bring assignments with them. When I set it up to allow my students turn in all of their assignments online, as well as in class, all assignments were turned in.

  6. Flex spending accounts have saved me a good deal of money. I think many leave money on the table there because of the “use it or lose it” aspect that many of those plans have. But if you’re organized and can do a good job predicting health/dependent care expenses, it saves a lot. As for 401k matches, it boggles my mind that people are in essence saying NO to free money. I generally hear the excuse that they cannot afford to save…I don’t think they can afford NOT to save.

  7. We have a Marriott rewards card which is not a credit card but one the keeps track of our hotel stays. We always try to stay in a Marriott owned hotel when we vacation or visit relatives to get the points. Then every year or two we have enough accumulated to pay for a weekend stay. We also signed up for a loyalty card from a couple of restaurants we frequent. One sends up coupons for buy one get one 1/2 off meals or sometimes a 30% off entire check coupon. The other always has coupons in the paper which gives us $10 off a $20 purchase so we use that. The neat thing is that the entire cost of the meal – pre coupon – is credited to our loyalty card so that several times a year our meal is free and all we have to spend is the amount of the tip. We are building a new house and are shopping for appliances. One store gave us a heads up that the appliances we chose are going to have a big rebate (up to $1000) if we wait a couple of weeks to purchase. Only problem is we might have to take delivery too long before the house is ready for occupancy so I’m desperately trying to think of a way to work that out.

    • I’d talk to the store. If you are going to be spending a lot of money, I bet they could find a way to hold off delivery for a little longer. Best of luck with finishing the house.

  8. I’m so envious of people who get an employer match! I think I could set up an HSA, but as an S-corp it’d be a huge headache. And our expenses are so hard to predict in that area. So I skip it, thereby probably leaving some money on the table.

    • I am an S-Corp and the HSA is not difficult to report on tax returns. If you have an eligible health care plan, it’s really easy to set up the account also; just like opening any other bank or brokerage account.

  9. I think those kids who didn’t turn in their homework become the adults that don’t take advantage of their 401k match! I was so surprised when I found out how many of my colleagues, all professional optometrists, don’t contribute to get the match or neglect their 401k entirely! Even if you don’t have a good 401k plan, there is no reason to give up the free money.

    • I think there are tons of professional, supposedly smart, people who don’t take advantage. Doctors are no exception. All that time spent in school was not to learn about finance. I would love to see a study about homework vs parents who leave free money on the table!

  10. I’ve had the same problem getting my oldest to do homework. No trouble with the youngest, but he’s heard us nag his brother about homework for years 🙂

    I wish more employers would match 401k contributions. It seems like it’s becoming a rare.

    • It’s one of those things I think that employers took off the table during the recession but never added back after the economy was doing better.

  11. Personal Capital saved me a ton of fees a while ago – I had funds with low-ish fees, or so I thought – but I had no idea how much it added up to over time. I didn’t even have to move the money to a different company, and all it took to get them in a lower fee fund was a phone call. So that was about 15 years of paying more feed than I should have.

    Honestly, I am surprised that only 25% leave 401k money on the table – I would’ve bet it was at least half!

  12. Great post Kim! I contribute up to the max employer match on my 401K even though I am aggressively paying off a $350K mountain of debt! Then again, my employer matches 150% up to 6% – and that’s practically unheard of. Another way I keep more money in my pocket is by negotiating everything – as I discussed in my most recent blog.

  13. I left money on the table years ago when I invested in a mutual fund with extra money rather than an ETF. This was before I was a financial advisor and I knew ETFs had lower fees, but when I went to search for one, I was overwhelmed with the options and had no idea how to pick the right one, so I went with a mutual fund instead.

  14. I just realized last week that I had $950 in employer incentives left to earn for my HSA. I took a few hours on Friday and did the required activities to earn it….looking forward to seeing that deposit in my HSA…..CHA CHING!

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