Let’s face it – teachers are not the highest paid professionals out there. But today I want to show you how you can thrive on a teacher’s salary. I’m going to share some tried and true tips that have worked for me in my single days, as well as the tips my husband and I have been using in the past year to raise our son on just his one teacher income since I’ve been staying home.
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Look at your finances. When I received my first teaching paycheck in 2007, I was bringing home $1,600 a month. That may not sound like a lot, but at the time I thought I was rich! That was quite a bit more than anything I had made in college.
Now that you know how much you make, take a good hard look at your budget. Where is your money going each month? It’s easy to do things like rent or mortgage, utilities, student loans, your vehicle payment, and fixed expenses like insurance. But don’t forget about eating out, that daily coffee habit, groceries, gas, and more.
We do our budget with an Excel spreadsheet, but there are many free options out there as well.
If you feel like you have too much debt to ever be able to truly stop worrying about money, you need to check out Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. (Yes, it really is possible! Andrew and I had over $70,000 in debt when we met 4.5 years ago. Today we have $0 with plenty of money in the bank for a down payment on a home at some point!)
Start Cutting Expenses
This is not going to be a pretty topic by many people’s standards, but hear me out… Now that you’ve actually looked at your expenses each month, look at what you can cut out. Do you really need that large coffee from Starbucks each day? If it costs you $5 a day, that’s $25 a week or $100 a month.
Do you really need that new top from Target? Yes, I know it’s cute – but don’t you already have a full 20 (or more!) outfits to mix and match to wear to school each day. I promise your students will not judge you if you wear the same shirt twice in a year. (Ok, actually, they might. But they would judge you whether you wore the exact same outfit each day or if you wear something different for all 180 days. Kids will be kids. 🙂 )
What about all those memberships you have? Do you really need them? If you haven’t gone to the gym more than once a month for the past few months, why are you paying $30+ a month for the membership? And what about that cable subscription? Chances are you’re paying $50 or more a month for it, but do you really ever watch TV? If not, cut the cord and save yourself some money. (Can’t cut the cord? Consider a Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscription instead!)
Before you make a purchase, really think it over. Give yourself 24 hours before you hand over your hard earned money. Is it a need or a want? You’d be surprised how much you can save just by really thinking about whether you actually need something or not.
Do you sometimes go shopping just for something to do or to unwind? I’ve been there too! But how often does this “oh-I’m-just-going-to-look” turn into “oops-my-cart-is-full”. Stop going to the store. You don’t really need those things if you’re going in to wander aimlessly. Cut the trips to the store, and you’ll find you have more money in your pocketbook each month.
Shop Clearance & Second Hand Stores
Yes, I realize the last point was to stop shopping. But sometimes you need to shop because you actually have clothes that are falling apart or a special occasion is coming up. With that being said, here are some tips on how I save money on our shopping expenses.
I would say that 90% of my wardrobe is clearance or sale items. I tend to not pay more than $10 for a pair of pants and $5 for tops. And I only go shopping if I actually need some new clothes, not just because there is a sale or I want something new.
Did I dress professionally as a teacher? Yes! I was actually surprised by the number of parents and fellow teachers who commented on how “put together” I looked as a teacher. Even when I was pregnant as a school administrator and needed to invest in maternity clothes, I was able to buy everything I needed for just $100. Yes, it takes a little extra time and effort, but it allows us to put more money toward other purchases and pay down debt.
This one has literally saved our family at least $200, if not more, each month. It’s probably the easiest thing we’ve implemented to make sure we can thrive on a teacher’s salary. We meal plan. I created this free printable to help with our meal planning. You can choose to meal plan for one week, two weeks, or an entire month at a time. By only buying exactly what you need at the grocery store to cook your meals, you’ll be less tempted by the extra “sales” and goodies that often tend to fill our cart.
This also allows you to plan out what you will take to work each day. It may be leftovers or pre-bought meals, but – either way – it’s one less thing to have to worry about each day. Look at what’s on the calendar, pack, and go!
Ask for Help
Yes, we can all use more books and supplies for our classroom! I totally get that. But – looking back at the number of books I purchased for my own classroom over the years – I really wish I would have looked at alternatives. I taught in some very low income schools where the free and reduced lunch was anywhere from 50-100%. I also taught at a school that had a very high homeless rate, even though the free and reduced number wasn’t very high.
Yet I know there were parents at each of these schools who would have been willing to help out if I had asked. Please notice I said asked, not nagged. If I had sent an occasional note home asking for certain books or school supplies, I know parents would have pitched in. Give it a try in your own classroom before you spend your hard-earned money!
Maybe the parents in your school can’t help you out. Then try this – turn to social media. Again, don’t beg – but put a brief request out. Chances are you have many family members and friends who would be glad to pitch in anywhere from $5-20 to help you out with buying school books or supplies for your students.
Now rethink those gifts you are giving students at each holiday. Yes, maybe the pencils you got on clearance last Christmas are a good gift idea. (Do pencils get eaten or what happens to them?) But does each student really need a $5 gift from you? Or could you find a way to do something that requires no money, but just a bit of creativity and your time? Get creative! There are so many free printables and ideas on Pinterest that you are sure to find something that works!
If you’re interested in seeing more about how my husband and I thrive on a teacher’s salary – you can read this post with 12 ways we save money on one income.