Laura Niebauer Palmer - The Penny Hoarder

As I was sitting in an HR class listening to my professor explain the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees, it hit me:

I was being screwed over by my company. Big time.

When hourly employees worked more than 40 hours a week and should have earned overtime, the company treated them as salaried -- so they didn’t get the extra pay.

On the flip side, when someone had a doctor’s appointment and had to leave early, the company only paid them for the actual hours they worked.

This is illegal, and the higher-ups knew it. They were taking advantage of their employees’ lack of knowledge.

Unlucky for them, I was getting my degree in human resources. They had messed with the wrong employee!

I contacted the Department of Labor to file a complaint.

While my coworkers and I eventually received back pay for all the overtime hours we worked, the damage had already been done. Many of us quit, knowing we couldn’t work for an employer that could deliberately do that to its employees.

5 Money Mistakes That Could Affect Your Paycheck

Most companies don’t willingly deceive their employees. But mistakes do happen.

I know because I’ve worked in HR for more than 10 years. Human error is inevitable.

You work hard for your money and it’s important to understand where it’s going. Here are five items to watch out for:

1. Exempt vs. Non-Exempt

An exempt employee is paid a salary, which doesn’t fluctuate.

Let’s say you work 50 hours in a week. Those 10 hours over 40 don’t matter; you receive the same amount of pay as if you worked 40 hours.

Conversely, if you work 35 hours, you still get paid as if you worked 40.

A non-exempt employee is eligible for overtime for any time they worked over 40 hours in a week.

Overtime is paid at time and half, so if you normally earn $10 per hour, you would earn $15 per each hour worked over 40 hours in a week. Conversely, if you only worked 35 hours in a week, you’ll only be paid for those 35 hours, unless you used vacation or sick time.

If you’re not sure which category you fall into, ask your HR department for clarification.

I’d recommend scheduling a short face-to-face meeting to address any questions, then following up with a short email summary of the outcome. This way you have proof in case you ever need it.

2. Overtime Pay

Many companies have automated timekeeping systems, and employees believe their pay is being calculated correctly.

For the most part, it is -- but not always.

I once worked for an employer whose system calculated overtime incorrectly; we had to manually override it with the right information.

Another company I worked for had employees write down their overtime on a sheet of paper -- talk about room for error! Sometimes we couldn’t decipher the handwriting, and occasionally the sheet went missing altogether.

If your numbers don’t seem to add up, stop by your HR or payroll department. They can walk you through the calculation.

One employee would come in every payday and ask me to go over her paycheck with her. While this may seem a little extreme, I sat down with her each time until she was satisfied everything was calculated properly.

Diligent employees catch errors.

3. Benefits Changes

Once a year during open enrollment, most companies change certain aspects of their benefit plans.

Rate changes, plan changes, election changes... there’s a lot of change going on, which means more chance for error.

Always check your first pay stub after open enrollment. Make sure your plan, number of dependents and rates are all correct.

4. Raises

During my first year in HR, I had to calculate and import raises for my company. I messed up -- badly -- and gave 400 people the wrong raise.

I thought for sure I’d be fired.

Out of those 400 people, only about 25 noticed the error and came to HR. That means 375 people didn’t notice they’d received the wrong amount of money.

Don’t be one of those 375 people!

Make sure to get your salary change in writing and check that your first “new” paycheck accurately reflects the change.

As for me, I felt awful. By the next payroll, though, I’d resolved all the issues and, thankfully, wasn’t fired. (My takeaway: I never touched payroll again.)

5. Tax Exemptions

All of us complete a W-4 form when we start a job.  

Based on the number of exemptions you choose, the W-4 impacts the amount of tax taken out of each paycheck. If you take fewer exemptions, more money will come out of each check; when you take more exemptions, less tax comes off the top.

Don’t look at this form as a static document -- you should revise it as needed.

When you first fill out your W-4, you’re at a certain point in your life. Six months or a year later, things may have changed.

Life happens: People get married, have children, get divorced and their children grow up. All these events may affect your taxes.

You can make changes at any time to a W4, and I suggest reviewing it at least once a year. I do so at tax time; I’m already looking at all my tax-related documents, so I might as well make sure everything is updated correctly.

While many companies try to do everything properly, mistakes can happen. Make sure you’re knowledgeable about where your hard-earned money is going -- so you can keep more of it in your pocket.

Your Turn: Have any of these money mistakes affected your paycheck?

Laura Niebauer Palmer is a coupon-aholic who works in HR and just started her own blog at www.centsofpower.com. She enjoys finding creative and fun ways to make and save money, including mystery shopping and being a contestant on “Wheel of Fortune”!

When my husband and I moved across the country last year, he had a job lined up -- but I didn’t.  

Living in a new state without a full-time job, I tried to think of ways to bring in some income. My love for bargain hunting really got me thinking…

Thrift stores and garage sales are amazing places to find a needle in the haystack, a lost Picasso or a first edition Hemingway.  

While we hear stories of those lucky few who hit it big on “Antiques Roadshow,” I decided to focus on more common items people tend to throw away.

Specifically: board games.  

And not even complete games, but the tossed-aside, falling-apart, missing-pieces games which most people pass up.

Not me. I saw them as potential moneymakers!

In fact, I ended up making $250 from these board games in just six months.

How I Make Money With Board Games

Have you ever started to set up a board game and wondered where the heck a certain piece(s) went?!  

It happens to everyone at some point -- especially with those tiny little houses in Monopoly!  

Sometimes it isn’t a big deal. You just use a bottle cap to replace a checker piece, or use a die from another game to replace a missing one.

But what about those pieces that are especially important to the game? Or, if you’re like me, the ones that just drive you crazy if they’re missing? Like cards from that special edition Uno or the dog (my fave!) from Monopoly?  

After buying a missing card for a Snorta game from eBay, I decided to try reselling this type of game piece myself.  

Since I knew there was a customer base, I saw an opportunity to make some extra money. Now I’m hooked!

What Board Games to Buy

It’s a relatively inexpensive venture -- you can buy games for bargain prices at garage sales or thrift stores.

The concept is simple, but trying to determine which games are worth buying can get overwhelming.

Having a bunch of generic black and red plastic checker pieces doesn’t do you much good. But if you had vintage clay checker pieces, it might be a different story.   

A great way to start feeling out the replacement game piece market is to type in “replacement game pieces” in eBay and sort through sold items.  

You’ll see pieces for games new and old, and you can get an idea of what people are willing to pay for them.

Speaking of old… Keep in mind: Vintage doesn’t always mean valuable. Do your research! Sometimes it does, but never assume a game’s worth something just because it’s old.

Monopoly is a great example. Yes, a few vintage Monopoly games are worth a fortune, but many more are barely worth anything.  

On the flip side, almost every component of certain special edition Monopoly games can be considered valuable.  

For example, I recently bought the “Lord of the Rings” Monopoly game at a thrift store for $1.99. I took a quick glance inside and saw pieces and money scattered everywhere.

But all the tokens and the “ring” were in the box -- and that was all I needed to know to make the purchase.  

A lot of the play money and most of the houses and hotels weren’t included, but what was left made for a nice little profit. Here’s what I earned selling these pieces:

Tokens: $9.50

Instructions: $1.50

Ring: $9.99

Die: $1.50

Chess is another wonderful opportunity, especially if the game is a special edition or themed set.

I once found an incomplete Harry Potter chess set, but there were plenty of pieces left to make a nice profit. I made $4.50 per queen and $1.75 for a pawn.

The $3.99 investment definitely paid off.

Once you find the games, all it takes is a quick online search to see whether the pieces are selling, and for how much. I just check eBay’s app while I’m shopping.

How to Sell Board Games

Keen to try it for yourself?

An easy way to start out is to go “shopping” in your own game closet.

It’s a simple way to test the waters and get a true sense of the selling process, while committing nothing but a few minutes of your time.  

Who’s Buying?

There’s a wider customer base than you may think!

You’re targeting resellers who need a component of the game to sell theirs as complete, crafty folks who need pieces for art projects or jewelry, and people who need to replace a missing piece.

Where to Sell

Since I already had a highly rated eBay account, I started there.

But there are other avenues for selling and even repurposing game pieces. Etsy and Bonanza also are great options. I’ve seen mystery boxes of game pieces on Etsy for $12!  

Prepare Your Listings

It’s very important to take clear pictures of the items and write a detailed, honest description.  

Even if the items aren’t in the best condition, be honest! They could still sell -- I’ve sold Clue score pads with missing pages.

Shipping

While some sellers include shipping into their purchase prices, I prefer to charge shipping separately.

You never know where someone will be buying from and what the true shipping cost will be.

Also, when someone sees an item listed for $1, they’re more likely to click on it than if it’s listed for $4.99.

When the shipping charge is rolled into the total, it can deter those who wouldn’t have to pay much for shipping, anyway.  

Bundling

Try to determine whether it’s more beneficial to sell pieces individually or in a bundle.

If you’ve posted a bundle but it isn’t selling, break it up and try to sell pieces individually. If your individual pieces aren’t moving, bundle them. Play with it and see what works.

Selling game pieces is relatively low risk, since prices are so low. It’s an easy and fun way to make some extra cash!

Your Turn: Will you go through your old games and see if the pieces are worth selling?

Laura Niebauer Palmer is a coupon-aholic who works in Human Resources. Her goal is to find fun and creative ways to make and save money. Some of her faves include mystery shopping, teaching writing and being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune!

While struggling to write my work department’s monthly newsletter, I decided to browse our company’s internal website for inspiration.  

I ended up stumbling onto the employee discount page. I was amazed at the breadth of discount codes available for eco-friendly flowers and gym memberships. There was even a $20 credit for a local food delivery service.

I work in HR, but I was still unaware of the savings available to employees. It got me thinking: What other deals don’t we know about that are available through employers?  

Turns out many companies offer a gold mine of savings. Why not save some of the money you’re working hard to earn?

Check whether you can get any of these six money-saving ideas through your employer.

1. Company Discounts

You’d be surprised about the discounts your employer might offer.  

I switched phone carriers a few years ago. I remembered seeing a flyer saying if we mentioned our company name when opening an account, we’d receive a $50 credit.  

When I provided the code to my new carrier, I received the credit and was told I also was eligible for a 20% monthly employer discount.

It saved me $11 per month. What I thought would be a one-time discount ended up saving me hundreds during my employment!  

Many employers offer a variety of discounts, from cell phone plans to gym membership -- even pet insurance.  

Your company may have internal discount pages for employees. If not, just stop by Human Resources. They should be able to give you a list of all your eligible savings.  

2. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)

There tends to be some confusion about how FSAs work.  

Essentially, if you have medical, dependent or transit expenses, you’re paying for, you could be saving money!  

These accounts let you set aside pre-tax money for eligible expenses: costs such as co-pays and prescriptions, dependent care (daycare) and work-related transit spending (train passes, parking fees for the work parking garage).  

Each year, I know I’ll need contact lenses, so I make sure to set aside money to cover that expense. Everyone’s different, but if you know you’re going to have certain expenses, take advantage of the tax savings.  

It’s important to remember these accounts may have a “use it or lose it” caveat.

Basically, use all the money set aside within a certain time frame -- generally by the end of the calendar year with a potential grace period -- or you’ll forfeit the money.  

3. Medical Bill Saver

Some companies have a service within employee medical plans people don’t know about -- it’ll negotiate medical bills on your behalf.  

If you’ve ever received a huge medical bill and got caught in the doctor’s office/insurance company phone tangle,  you know what a pain it can be.  

This free service can save you not only money, but also the massive headache!

The best part is it may not be limited to just employees -- it might work for spouses, children, parents and if you are feeling generous, parents-in-law.  

4. Wellness Programs

Whether these programs are administered through the employer or insurance company, there’s a trend toward rewarding healthy employees.

In fact, you could be receiving savings from both your employer and the insurance company.  

One company I worked for lowered my monthly insurance premium if my blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI were in healthy ranges.  

My insurance plan also had a program to award points for activities, such as walking and my yearly physical. I could then redeem for gift cards! It was a win/win for both my health and bank account. (Not to mention if you sell them on Raise…)

Many companies also offer discounted gym memberships -- or even have an office gym. My current company has a workout area called the “MeltAway” room, a great place to melt away the pounds and stress!

5. Reimbursements

If you’re thinking of continuing your education or volunteering your money or time, see if your employer has any assistance programs.  

In my line of work, there’s a specific certification I wanted to get -- but it’s pricy.  I found out my employer would pay for classes to prepare for the test. I’d have to pay for the actual exam, but would be reimbursed if I passed.  Talk about motivation to pass!  

Thankfully, I did, and now I have an invaluable certification for the rest of my career at no cost to me.  

If you’re interested in volunteering, check if your company will help out.  

One company I worked at allowed employees to “pitch” their volunteer organization. If the executives were “sold,” the company would make a donation to the volunteer organization of the employee’s choice.  

Another company offered each employee two volunteer days -- in addition to their paid time off! They could volunteer without touching their vacation time.  

6. Free (or Greatly Discounted!) Office Equipment

One day, my husband came home and asked if we needed a desk.  

He saw my perplexed face and told me his company was remodeling their office -- and he could bring home his old desk for free!

When offices upgrade equipment or remodel, there’s the possibility you could score discounted or free office decor and equipment!  

A co-worker recently mentioned to the IT manager she was looking for a good deal on a printer.  It just so happened we were about to upgrade the office printers and didn’t need the old equipment.  

She asked if she could pay $25 for the printer. They said sure -- and threw in a bunch of free ink!  

Not all employers offer the above benefits, but it can’t hurt to ask.  You never know what perks your company offers until you do!

Your Turn: What work perks did we forget? Let us know in the comments!

Laura Niebauer Palmer is a coupon-aholic who works in Human Resources. Her goal is to find fun and creative ways to make and save money. Some of her faves include mystery shopping, teaching writing and being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune!