Starting your teaching career is overwhelming. There’s calming your own first day of school jitters, organizing your classroom and planning lessons. But, a tremendous source of stress comes from deciding how to set up your short and long term finances. How do you live off your paycheck? Can you really plan for summers off? Why is there so much pressure to plan your retirement now?
It’s a lot to digest and figure out—but take a deep breath because living frugally isn’t the only way to survive. Here are five easy ways to get a handle on your finances now—with peace of mind that your future will be abundant . . .
1. Understand all your retirement options.
“While it sounds counterintuitive to think about planning for retirement as a first-year teacher—you’re essentially setting yourself up for financial freedom in the long run,” explains Ashley Feinstein, financial expert and founder of The Fiscal Femme. “Plus, many plans include great tax advantages that allow your money to grow tax-free.”
While every state’s offerings will vary, knowledge is power. Here’s what to expect:
Pension Plan: With most public service jobs, a certain percentage of your salary is automatically contributed to a pension. At retirement, you earn a salary from it for your lifetime. “Pensions are defined benefits plans which means that you will know exactly how much you’ll be earning in retirement from the plan—no matter what happens with the market,” explains Feinstein. It’s also important to note that every state has different requirements to qualify. You can read more about your specific state here.
403(b), 401(k) or IRA Plans: If the pension in your state isn’t great or you’re not sure if you’ll still be teaching come retirement age—your school may also offer a 403(b) or 401(k) option. “You determine how much to contribute per paycheck—typically as a percentage of your income—and that money is invested tax-free until retirement,” explains Feinstein. “Separate from your work-sponsored plans, you could invest in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Your earnings in vary based on how your investments perform.”
2. Plan an annual budget.
A teacher budget often looks different from other professions because many teachers are only paid 9 or 10 months a year. And even if your paycheck is prorated for the entire school year, you’ll want to account for things like classroom spending and any income from sideline or summer jobs.
“Figure out how much you plan to earn over the next year,” recommends Feinstein. “Then take the number that actually hits your bank account—after taxes and other various deductions. This is what you have available for your financial goals and lifestyle.” Then look at each of your expenses on an annual basis. Picking up breakfast twice a week for $10 a pop? That’s $1040 a year.
After you do this for everything from your cable bill to your weekly date nights, you’ll have a clear picture of where you can adjust!
3. Pay yourself.
Typically, you earn money, live your life and have every intention to save anything that’s leftover come the end of the month. Funny how it never works out that way—even when you get a raise.
“Once you look at your year of spending and earning, it’s important to make paying yourself the priority,” says Feinstein. “Set up an automatic transfer to your savings account. If you don’t think you have enough money to do that, start small. Set up a transfer for $5 per week. In a few weeks, check back in. Did you miss that $5? If not, up the ante!”
This way, when you want to plan that fab trip over winter break, it seamlessly comes out of your budget without sacrificing anything else.
4. Explore student loan forgiveness options.
Teachers with federal loans are great candidates for Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness. This program erases all federal student loans after 10 years of teaching if you’re on an eligible repayment plan and make 120 certified payments. Now, private student loans won’t qualify for forgiveness, but can be refinanced at a lower interest rate—saving you thousands over the life of the loan.
5. Give your money some love.
Make it a priority to check on your money goals. “I recommend creating time every two weeks for a ‘money party,’” says Feinstein. “You’ll look at how your spending went over the last two weeks, check in on your goals and tackle any financial to-dos. You might have been putting off calling your bank to negotiate away a fee or cancelling a subscription you no longer use. Your money party is the perfect time to deal with these tasks.”
And make it fun! Put on some music, sip your favorite beverage and reward yourself when you’re done.
Veteran teachers, what would you add to the list? What financial realities do you wish you had known as a new teacher?