There’s no free lunch (except in retirement plans)

We’ve all heard the saying, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”  It’s used to remind us that there is a cost to everything even, or especially, if it is hidden from view.  The phrase actually comes from the once-common practice of saloon owners advertising a “free lunch” for patrons who would purchase a drink at their establishment.  Of course, the fare offered at these banquets was heavily salted to induce patrons to imbibe more of the money-making beverages.   Social critics at the time were keen to point out the hidden costs of this “free lunch.”  The average price of drinks where a free lunch was offered were higher than at other establishments.  Less obvious, but just as consequential, were the societal costs associated with higher rates of alcohol consumption.  And so, as an admonition against thinking that you can get something for nothing, the phrase, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” entered the American lexicon.  The phrase achieved its current popularity when the free-market economist, Milton Friedman, used it as the title of a book in 1975. For sure, nothing comes for free.   But when we’re talking about saving for retirement there is something that comes as close to a “free lunch” as you can get, and that is the employer match in your 401(k), 403b or other employer sponsored retirement account.  As employers have moved away from providing a life-long pension to retired employees, they have stepped up with a commitment to help their employees contribute to their own retirement accounts and the “Employer Match” was born.  The Federal government supports employers by making the “match” tax deductible. As of 2016, 66 percent of workers had access to an employer sponsored retirement plan, yet only 49 percent of workers participate in the plans available to them.  And worse, of those taking advantage of the employer match about one in four is not getting… | Read More »