Perking Up

Kristine Hayes

EACH SPRING, I WATCH a fresh crop of college graduates transition from the world of fulltime academics to the world of fulltime employment. Eager to begin “adulting,” many of them focus on the salaries offered by their employer-of-choice and give little consideration to the various benefits that supplement that salary.

That’s a mistake. As someone who’s been employed fulltime for the last 26 years, I’ve learned the importance of performing a cost-benefit analysis on the perks offered by various employers. I’ve had three different jobs—and three different employers—during my working life. Each one offered its own unique blend of salary and benefits.

My first job was at a state-run educational institution. The salary wasn’t great; I made some $16,000 a year. But the job came with a lucrative benefits package, including the opportunity to participate in the state pension plan. I worked there just long enough to become vested in the plan, before moving on to a higher paying job. That pension, when I start drawing it at age 70, will provide me with roughly $1,500 a month for life.

My second job came with higher wages. I made more than $34,000 a year, but the benefits were limited. The 403(b) plan didn’t kick in until I’d been employed for 12 months and the matching dollar amounts were meager. The job also entailed mandatory overtime and weekend hours. The time-and-a-half wages were nice—until it came time to pay taxes. After 18 months, I began looking for another job.

Twenty years ago, I accepted my current position at a small, private liberal arts college. I took a $5,000-a-year pay cut to take the job, but it provided a generous retirement plan and a substantial number of paid days off, as well as a tuition remission program for dependents—a benefit worth tens of thousands of dollars, but which I was never able to take advantage of.

I was, however, fortunate to get grandfathered into a particularly lucrative retirement health-care program. It’s a benefit no longer offered to new employees. If I leave my job after turning age 55, the college will continue to pick up the employer-paid portion of my health insurance premiums until I reach 65. Then, at 65, the college will provide me with a generous stipend to cover any Medicare supplemental plan I choose to purchase. That coverage will continue for the rest of my life.

Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a college in Portland, Oregon. Her previous articles include Aiming High, Hidden Gems and Keeping It Private.

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