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The Educator on FI/RE interview series features educators who are looking to reach financial independence. They come from a variety of roles and at various points on the path. It’s my hope that these interviews build community and help show other educators what is possible. It’s a chance to learn from others and seek feedback – reply in the comments below.
Today’s interview features Diana, from freefunfamily.com. She’s passionate about her work (as you’ll read) and supporting a family on a single educator income in a high cost of living area. I know you’ll enjoy this one!
Tell us about you.
I am a 37-year-old American mom of two (aged 7 and 3), married to a Korean man who is a full-time dad (and has been since our oldest was 9 weeks). Living in a Washington, DC exurb on one educator salary is no easy task, but we make it work for us. I love to read and write, dance, and hike. I currently write a blog about frugal living, family life, and debt repayment.
In addition to my main job in education, I work part-time as a crisis counselor for a suicide hotline and am becoming certified as a group fitness instructor this month. You can earn more in education-related side gigs (as highlighted in a recent post on Principal FI’s blog), but I would burn out pretty quickly doing tutoring or teaching extra classes. I try to stay a full, human person as well as an educator, not to just be defined by my vocation. However, it’s not always easy because education is more like a calling than a job. I often end up using my education training and knowledge in my personal life.
What do/did you like most about working in education?
I love public schools and have spent most of my life learning or working in them! I have worked in education for 14 of my 15 professional working years–10 years as a high school English teacher (three different high schools), 3 years teaching English as a foreign language in Korea (mostly high school, but taught students ranging from kindergarten to post-master’s adults), and for the last year, I’ve been an administrator in my district coordinating the Dual Enrollment program, where high school students access college courses while they are still in high school (they are enrolled at both their high school and the partner institute of higher education).
Education is mission-driven to serve kids. What greater good could there be in the human world? My mission as an educator is to create opportunities for students to think, wonder, and explore their passions. I’m lucky I get to do that every, single day. Furthermore, by serving kids well, we serve society and the future. Frederick Douglass wrote, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Every time we are successful with lifting children up, everyone wins.
What do/did you like least?
A great principal I work with quoted his college economics professor once as saying: “Education is the only good where the consumer demands less than what he paid for.” I found that idea to be a pretty good summary of the cultural problems that surround public education in the United States (and is well suited to a blog about personal finance). What it means on a basic level is that students pay for college, but don’t want to attend classes; we lecture our children about getting good grades, but never crack open a book around them; politicians give lip service to the sacrifice and dedication of teachers and then turn around and call unions selfish.
I don’t like to play the game of comparing educational systems from different countries (having worked in two) because our educational system is a product of and needs to serve our culture, but many of the countries people compare the US educational system to unfavorably have a strong cultural and economic investment in education. I wish people in the U.S. recognized the incredible value of investing resources in educating our children, even if only for their own self-interest. Few public goods have as impressive a ROI (return on investment).
What is your Why of Financial Independence? (Why are you learning about or seeking FI?)
I grew up with parents who earned high incomes (both were Ph.D.-holding scientists), but didn’t know how to manage their money. We were in heavy debt; they fought about money and resorted to money tactics totally out of sync with our social status (stuff like digging out coins from the couch before going grocery shopping for the week and wrote bad checks, hoping for the “hold” from the bank to be timed correctly for payday). I had a kind of generalized anxiety regarding finances and consumerism as part of my childhood. I have spent a huge portion of my late twenties and thirties worried about how I could financially support family members (who are not at all accustomed to our level of frugality) if they end up unable to support themselves.
I never want my kids to worry about if my husband and I will be able to retire. I want them to develop a healthy relationship to money and wealth building from a young age.
- FI Curious – Just learning and becoming interested in financial independence
- Future FI – On the path, but still learning. Destined for financial independence!
- FI Success – Financially independent!
I would say I’m Future FI, although it is very difficult to project completely when my timeline for even partial financial independence is at least 15-20 years out!
I have a lot of knowledge of personal finance and frugality based on childhood interests and years of reading (I opened my Roth IRA at 19 years old with Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund and tried to avoid as much debt as I could). However, it’s only in the last few years I have seriously begun to work on growing my income as part of our plan. My husband is a full-time dad and that’s working well for our young family, so a few years ago I had to figure out how to do what I love (educate kids), but earn a bit more than a classroom teacher to meet our financial goals. I began getting my post-master’s administrative credential in 2014, and was promoted to my current position a year ago. I love what I do: supporting students throughout the county as they take their first steps into postsecondary education. I work with amazing teachers, administrators, and educational leaders throughout the system to deliver a high-quality program and develop new opportunities for students. I also spend lots of time with my counterparts at our partner institution (a community college) to develop/improve our course offerings and programs.
My job is well suited to my interests and talents (English/math double major who read course catalogs thoroughly and sincerely since the age of 12), but I never would have known it existed if I hadn’t started down the path of exploring the career ladder for educators that Principal FI highlighted.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing.
Currently, we are on what I call a negative baby step in the “FI” blogging world–consumer debt repayment. We should be out of all debt but our mortgage by the end of 2020 (barring major negative life crap, in which case, it will take a little longer). After that, we’ll establish a large emergency fund (6-9 months of expenses), build towards maxing out retirement accounts and college savings for our kids, and paying off our mortgage early. However, we also plan to travel internationally every year with our family, give generously to charity and people in need, and enjoy our individual hobbies/interests throughout the journey to FI.
Tell us about your path to FI.
- What are your successes/wins?
- What are your challenges?
Income has been a major barrier for us, earning well under the US average for a family of four while living in a high cost of living area. Even though we live fairly frugally, this has resulted in overspending. However, it was our choice to live on a low, single income. That part is improving with my promotion, but teachers think administrators earn a lot more than they do. I moved from the 10-month to the 12-month calendar, and my raise only just barely goes above what my technical hourly rate was before. However, based on the current salary scale, I will break six figures within the next 7-9 years, assuming I perform well and there are no dramatic adjustments to the pay scale. That feels pretty awesome!
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
When and how we will be financially independent will depend primarily on 1) the structure and economics of healthcare in the U.S. as we get closer to FI, 2) retirement benefits of the school system (pension and insurance future), and 3) how much we need to support relatives (both mine and my husband’s) along the way. I want to be able to enjoy life and retire comfortably before I am 65 (I have a possible target of 57, based on my current preferred scenario; my husband will be 64 at that time).
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
I’d love to retire from full-time work, but continue to work
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
Consumer debt repayment–we’ve paid off about a third of our $36,000 debt. We should reach this (and another $7K in student loans) by the end of 2020. If you’re curious, check out the blog!
Who/what inspires you?
Honestly, I know it’s corny, but I’m inspired by children. I was inspired by the children I taught when I was in my classroom and became even more inspired as a mother. My kids are turning out to be really neat people; I hope I can be worthy of being their parent.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
I know Principal FI is trying to elevate our profession (and I agree that the pay and benefits are generally good enough that you can become financially independent with a bit of purposeful hard work), but I say milk the “poor teacher” myth for what it’s worth. What I mean by that is enjoy not having to feel like you have to meet certain societal expectations about your wardrobe, home, and car. Frugality is fashionable with teachers. Buy secondhand and be proud. Clip coupons. Because everyone knows that teachers are not compensated as well as they should be, you can use that to your advantage by asking friends and family to choose less expensive entertainment options (like meeting at a house instead of at a restaurant or going to a free concert in the park instead of to an amusement park).
(PFI Note: I love this advice. Freedom from spending expectations is a real benefit.)
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
I’m becoming more and more interested in ethical consumerism, but I’m finding it difficult to square with the desire to get out of debt as quickly as possible. I’d love some thoughtful recommendations on reading in this area or how to negotiate problematic global capitalism landmines when I need a new phone (the old one is 5 years old and well past its usefulness) and the best price for a replacement is Walmart. (I just broke down and bought the phone from Walmart, but I don’t feel good about it.)
Where can readers reach you?
Thanks to Diana for sharing her thoughtful perspective. That Frederick Douglas quote is always one of my favorites and informs my personal approach to education, too. I was hooked!
Make sure you check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, and give her any feedback you have on ethical consumerism.
If you missed the other posts in the series, check those out on the Educator on FI/RE page. Last week’s interview featured two educators using the principles of FI to grow their family and build a strong financial future. So many interesting stories!
If you are an educator interested in sharing your story, please contact me. I’m always thrilled to feature stories of educators on the path to financial independence – no matter where you are in the journey!