Pension Envy and the Company Match

With the crisis going on over in Europe, austerity measures going on around the world, and people having to prolong their retirement dreams due to decreased income and terrible market returns, I have been reading a lot of material that focuses on an increasing phenomenon known as “pension envy.”  From what I’ve been able to gather, the envy is mostly direct at government employees (at least in Canada) who have guaranteed pensions waiting for them at fairly early ages relative to the average age of retirement in the private sector.  While there may be some legitimate beefs with the salaries of government workers going forward, I have to say that this pension envy is seriously misplaced and that there is no reason for it in most cases.  While everyone sees teachers, policeman, fireman, and civil retirements hitting the golf courses at 55, they don’t see the hundreds of dollars that automatically came off their paycheques every month in order to fund their pension plans.  Personally, I automatically have about 6-7% of my wage taken off my net earnings, and then this amount is immediately matched by my employer (the provincial government).  This money is then placed in the control of a 3rd party that handles the investments and distribution of our pension funds.  Basically, my union just mandates the common sense that everyone should practice, but most don’t.

TM Says, “Only You Can Prevent Pension Envy”

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The vast majority of companies out there today have some sort of “company match” up to a certain percentage when it comes to saving for retirement.  Most of these are at the very least 3%, while some climb as high as 15-20%.  This means that if you choose to put a certain percentage of your earnings into a retirement account, the company will match your contribution up to a certain overall percentage of your gross or net earnings.  This is an absolutely fantastic deal, and should be the core focus of any pension plan if at all possible. I actually wish that as teachers, we had the ability to opt out of our automatic plan, and have self-control over our retirement funds (keeping the generous match of course).  I just like having control over my own assets, and I believe I would avoid the common mistakes of either not saving enough, or taking out retirement funds in order to on a consumer binge.  These mistakes stop people from realizing a lot of “easy” money.

I’m No Expert, But Seriously…

The company match should be one of your very first steps in your financial plan.  It doesn’t even matter what you invest it in (well, it does, but that’s another story), by far the most important part is just making it a priority to max out the company match.  If money is just a tool, then naturally you should use it where it will do you the most good right?  This is usually where it will do you the most good, since your employer is giving you an automatic 100% Return On Investment (ROI)!  There is an argument to be made for paying down credit card debt, and high interest consumer debt before contributing to a retirement, but I think any other priority is crazy.  Contributing to this plan will give you WAY better long-term returns relative to saving for a down payment on a house, paying off students loans, buying real estate, or even purchasing gold (as opposed to what Glenn Beck might have you believe).  I’m not knocking these types of asset classes, I’m just saying that a 100% ROI is unbelievable.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Don’t depend on a government pension going forward no matter what country you live in.  Currently there are big time problems generating the necessary political will to address the huge financial problems that governments are facing around the world, and while there may be a strong probability there will be something left to help you out in retirement, I wouldn’t want to have to depend on that.  Instead, make sure that your nest egg has been nicely growing (preferably using your employer’s money as well as your own) so that any government-supplied money will be a nice little bonus (hello winter in Panama).

The Juice Is Worth The Squeeze!

Instead of being envious of government people who are only guaranteed these nice pensions because their unions force them to be, take responsibility for your own financial affairs.  You should immediately check if your employer offers a company match, and if you are close to maximizing their contribution.  If your employer doesn’t offer this benefit, make sure you take this into consideration when comparing overall compensation packages with other potential employers within your sector.  Use money as a tool, become a capitalist, and beat those pesky teachers to the golf course while laughing at their meagre retirement package!


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12 years ago

Well said. Mrs. SPF and I both have government pensions as well (being public servants). We however pay closer to 9% each pay to fund ours. Worth it in the end!

12 years ago

Im depending on the government for everything! We are the 99%! Huh rah!

12 years ago
Reply to  Sam

hahaha. Somehow, I doubt that… Yes, responsibility is the key. If only more people subscribed to the same motto.

Like SPF, we have a similar situation. Both my hubby and I have defined benefit pension plans from work that we contribute to every paycheck. Our employer also matches the contribution. It is a great bonus towards our retirement.

12 years ago

Thanks for publishing this, TM – I’ll send you many readers from the UK. Have been having this debate with people over here. I myself, contribute 10% at source, this is matched by my employer and I also pay 7-8% National Insurance (this builds the social security funds in the UK).

Barb Friedberg
12 years ago

Agreed!! TAke responsibility for your own financial well being. Pensions in this country are rare and getting rarer!

12 years ago

It’s been an ongoing argument in the US also. My parents are both retired teachers worrying about where this will all end up. It’s very much become a pro union vs. anti union stance. Of course, like you said many of the anti union folks don’t realize or care that teachers pay into the retirement fund.

12 years ago

It would be a good idea that everyone save for their retirement, but alas, it doesn’t happen in the private sector. Good for you that you are saving even if it is mandated.

12 years ago

In Australia we have compulsory retirement funds that employers have to contribute 9% into. You can also personally contribute money and if you earn less than 60K the government will match dollar for dollar up to $1,500 (on a sliding scale). It isn’t a bad systems, at the very least it helps to ensure people have something to help them live on when they do retire.

12 years ago

I look at the CPP as a tax, which it essentially is since most of that money is used to pay off current pensioners instead of being put away for my own future. I liked Sam’s quote, but, I don’t know what will happen in the 30-40 years when it’s time to get back what I’ve put in.

I also take advantage of the RRSP match that I have with my employer. Why would you pass up extra money? ;)

12 years ago

Just to be a little pedantic ;) , one has to keep in mind that “the hundreds of dollars that automatically came off their paycheques every month in order” did originate from the taxpayers, if we’re talking about public employees, so while it might be “their own money” it has a different qualitative aspect as taxpayers, unlike consumers, cannot say no.

12 years ago
Reply to  Teacher Man

The only salary that would reflect everyone’s subjective preferences would be what they would be allocated on a voluntary basis, i.e., by customers instead of taxpayers. ;)

Otherwise, there is no solution to determine what’s fair because it breaks down into one person’s opinion against another. We can argue all day over what the role of the public sector should be, but the only objective fact here is that taxation does not reflect people’s true subjective preferences, for if it did there would be no reason to tax. People certainly don’t need to be taxed to buy iPods or whatever.

12 years ago
Reply to  Teacher Man

The thing is, the money isn’t actually being put away for me. I don’t know what the future will be like, so I will be happy if I can get some of it back, but I don’t want to count on what I don’t know. Maybe the young people of the generation will vote to end CPP benefits cause taxes are too high, or something like that. ;)

For company matches, 100% agreed! Don’t know why people wouldn’t take advantage of that. They are not that common though; I am pretty lucky to have one at my own company.

12 years ago

I don’t know. The public system can outcompete any private system by running at a loss. However I like the competition that comes from the Internet. Never before had so many people had a voice before, or such easy access to information. I hope this can continue and that neither government nor big business clamps down on this freedom.

12 years ago

Good discussions… I added this to the roundup :)

12 years ago

I am in the US, and work for our state government. We have a pension that you become vested in at 5 years (I have been working here for a little over 3). It is mandatory, and it is 6.45% of our paychecks with a matching 6.45% from our employer. I checked just last week to see how much I would receive each month when I retired if I only worked to 5 years, and the estimate is $350.

11 years ago

Most people working in the priivate sector have no pension. They work at lower salaries than government employees, have far less job security, no automatic wage increase, no labor unions holding the public hostage. Worse yet, they are forced to pay for the gold plated pension plans of government employees AND they are forcced to guarantee the gambling losses of government pension funds in the stock market. What kind of capital is needed to support a retired teacher hitting the golf course at 55? Annual payout is many tens of thousands and thus milliions of dollars are needed to support… Read more »

[…] don’t appear to matter a whole lot, I’m not sure I even really need to worry about what my pension fund is invested in. However, there might be some merit in slightly overweighting my personal retirement […]

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