"Mise en place" and open enrollment
I learned about the concept of “mise en place” during a cooking class I took several years ago. In cooking, the term means to lay out all the ingredients and supplies you need before you start cooking. It makes so much sense—be sure you have eggs BEFORE you cream together butter and sugar, or else your cake recipe could end up a disaster. It helps you be organized and efficient.
I think of any open enrollment period—where you pick your company’s benefits for the following year—very much like “mise en place” in cooking. Don’t wait until 11:50 the night the elections are due to decide what your elections should be. Lay it all out ahead of time, know all your needs and challenges and make the decisions in a well-thought-out manner, giving yourself time to make adjustments before the cake goes into the oven. What are a few items to lay out and review ahead of hitting “submit”?
Here are five questions to ask yourself when reviewing the retirement plans your employer offers:
Have you reviewed your 401(k) investment options?
It’s been a volatile year, and your portfolio may be out of balance. Depending on where you are in your career, it may be time to change your asset allocation. It is also a good time to review all the investments and look for opportunities. For instance, with rising interest rates, some of the bond funds may be more attractive than they have been in 10+ years.
Are you maximizing your 401(k) match?
Some companies will stop their match once you max out your contribution for the year or hit an income limit. You don’t want to miss out on any employer match, as it could be seen as "free money" that can help better grow your long-term wealth. Do the math (or have your advisor do it for you) to confirm you are maximizing the employer match.
Are you contributing after-tax dollars that you can roll into a Roth IRA?
If you reach the pre-tax contribution amount, and your 401(k) plan and cash flow allow, consider contributing after-tax dollars to your 401(k). Many plans allow for an in-service withdrawal at year-end, enabling you to take those after-tax dollars and contribute to a Roth IRA. For high-income earners, the Mega Back Door Roth strategy can mean significant Roth contributions that may be used tax-free in retirement.
Is there a deferred compensation or other non-qualified plan in which to participate?
If your cash flow allows and you are in a high tax bracket, you may want to find out if there is a non-qualified plan to which you can contribute additional dollars. Non-qualified plans have risks that traditional qualified plans do not, so it’s important to understand the nuances of the plan before contributing.
Is there a discount on an employee stock purchase plan?
If your company offers a discount on employer stock, you may want to consider purchasing some. Again, it could be seen as "free money" that may help you compound growth more effectively. However, be wary of how much employer stock you hold, given that a significant portion of your livelihood is tied up in one company, and maintaining good diversification is important.
Answering these five questions takes considerable thought and planning. Don’t wait until the last minute to decide to bake a cake only to discover you’re missing some key ingredients. By laying everything out ahead of time and carefully weighing your options, you can rest assured that you will have made the best open enrollment decisions for your unique situation—this year and in the future. Remember: mise en place!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Abigail Rosen, MS Financial Planning
Abigail (Abby) Rosen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional with over 17 years of experience in the financial industry. Prior to her career in finance, Abby was an officer in the United States Navy. Abby is responsible for managing client relationships and coordinating all aspects of client service for the team. Abby specializes in working with corporate executives to help them take full advantage of their available benefits, implement in respect to employer stock concentrations and manage their stock option strategies. She has a designation in Global Financial Planning.
She graduated with a Bachelors of Arts from the College of the Holy Cross, and received a Master of Science (distinction) in Financial Planning from Bentley University. She was 2020 Citizen of the Year for her work as Treasurer of the New Jersey Psychological Association, Foundation, is Treasurer of the Harding Township Educational Foundation (HTEF) and a Girl Scout Troop Leader.
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