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I’m thrilled to share our very first Educators on FI/RE interview. As explained here, these will feature educators in a variety of roles, using a variety of approaches, at different points on the path to FI. I’m excited to share these stories, and to watch the community support each other.
This month’s interview features a teacher who has chosen to go by CJ. She was one of the first readers to reach out to me. Through an email exchange, we talked about her financial picture. Our conversation led me to start thinking about this series. Thanks, CJ!
Some of these answers were pulled from email and fit into the format, while others were added by CJ once I proposed this interview. Hopefully, her voice comes through loud and clear – any tone failure is likely mine. Without further delay, I’m thrilled to turn it over to CJ:
Tell us about you.
I’m a high school business and marketing teacher living in a medium-sized town just outside of a larger metro area. We
I’m married to a high school counselor. It’s his second marriage and I got two great kids in the deal. They’re both teenagers. It’s not always easy working all day with teenagers and then going home to them too!
We live a great life but realized we are in the same typical patterns you read about once you start paying attention to personal finance. We’re ready to take charge of our finances and get more intentional about life.
What do/did you like most about working in education?
It matters so much! I never doubt that I make a difference. Every single day I have a kid that needs me and those connections are so fulfilling.
What do/did you like least?
What makes it great also makes it hard. I’ve done other jobs and nothing is as consuming as education. That’s good but also bad. I never doubt I matter and sometimes I feel like I can’t give enough. I’m not good at disconnecting from it so it can drag me down when I let it.
I somehow stumbled on and read your post about burnout and how your FI work changed things for you, and I wanted the same. It’s why I first emailed.
What is your Why of Financial Independence? (Why are you learning about or seeking FI?)
I don’t feel like I have this totally figured out yet. Mostly I want to be financially independent so I can choose things. I’m pretty sure it will be something in education. I don’t want to retire super soon, maybe just a little early. There are parts of my job that I want to be able to say no to and I don’t feel like I can now. I keep dodging the department chair job because the stipend isn’t worth the pain and politics. At some point, I won’t be able to dodge and I’d like to be able to really threaten to walk away.
(PFI Note: I pointed her to this post by Frogdancer Jones.)
I want to be financially independent so I can work on what I choose when I want to work on it.
Still working on it. (smile)
FICurious – 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 wish I could say FI Success! I guess I’d say between A and B. I’m still working on a plan but I think I’ve got what I need to make it work someday. My husband is with me, which is great. I think it would be hard if we didn’t agree.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing
My husband is a high school counselor. We both make about the same in our day jobs. He works for a friend’s construction company in the summer. I tend bar one night a week on weekends and a few days a week over breaks and summer. Our income this year will probably be about $145,000 total. That’s nothing to complain about it but we work hard to get some extra.
In recent years we have worked the extra for money
We might get a pension but it’s not much. Since I started education late I don’t see myself working until full age. The local papers are also always full of stories about how the system is stealing from taxpayers so I don’t even know if it will survive. We aren’t counting on it. That might change if it’s still around when we get older.
We do have a thing in our district that 6% of our pay goes into a target fund account. It was something they put in place when they started to gut the pension benefits. Jointly, we have about $75,000 in there. No other investments right now. I know, I know.
We have about $48,000 in savings that I’ll talk more about later.
We bought a home three years ago that Zillow says is worth $285,000. Our remaining mortgage is $197,000. Combined we have $11,000 in student loans left. We own two
(PFI Note: A calculation with those numbers including the house but 0 for pension gives a Net Worth of about $184,000 including primary residence.)
Tell us about your path to FI. What are you successes? Challenges?
I mentioned we’re just starting, so I’ll talk about how we got to this point. In college, I studied business. I’ve always worked an extra job so I was fortunate between that and some scholarships to get out of undergrad with no student loans. Then I started working in human resources as a recruiter. I traveled a lot and didn’t enjoy the work because I only connected with people on a superficial level until they signed. Then someone else got to develop and support them. I wasn’t bad at it but it wasn’t for me.
I actually left that and did some serving for a while. It’s amazing what you can make as a server at a good hotspot in a big city. That job is rough though. Especially as a woman, the stuff you get from old ladies and male customers really
I went back and got my teaching degree in a one-year MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) program. I worked when I could during the program but that just covered living expenses. I acquired about $25,000 in debt for the degree. Then I got my first job which paid me $31,000 a year. The work felt like it fit me better though.
I switched jobs twice to move to a place I liked more and get a little higher salary. After ten years, I earn $58,000 a year. I also met my husband in the same district and he makes about the same. As I mentioned, we both work other jobs so our income is more.
The job is intense though. Parts of it can be demoralizing. Your principal matters so much. I had a great one, but then we’ve had a lot of change. After year 8 or so, we were both frustrated and not sure we wanted to keep doing it. We came up with a business idea and it sparked us to pay more attention to our finances.
We put a lot of time and energy into the possibility. We knew we’d need some savings to get it started. We got serious about our spending and saved up about $48,000 in just under two years. Then, the opportunity fell through. It was crushing. We weren’t sure what to do and have just recently decided not to pursue it anymore. The window closed.
Thinking about leaving helped me realize that I love my job and want to stay but need more choice and control. I don’t think my husband will stay in education, but he’s okay for now. While trying to decide what we’d do next financially, I started reading some things online and now we’re focused on building financial independence with what we have now and we’ll continue to look for other changes.
That’s where we are now. We are flexible people so I expect it to shift but know having a plan will help us make better decisions. The possibilities are exciting and daunting at the same time.
So, I guess our successes would be saving up the money. To get there we eliminated other stupid debt (other than the truck loan.) We also do a good job of earning extra income.
Our challenges will be starting later than I would like. In our mid-30s we are behind where it seems like we should be and haven’t invested anything really. Travel will also be a challenge in our plan. We love to travel. It isn’t expensive travel and we use travel as a replacement for exchanging gifts. We’d be able to save more if we traveled less, but I think it would cause problems with our life.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
We’ve talked about this a bit. Our goal is to own a house with no debt. Then we want to have enough to live on $60,000 a year with no mortgage payment. So, our FI target would be $1,500,000 according to the 4% rule. We’ll start there, but I think we can do better. We know that isn’t a final target but something we can work to for now.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
What I will do is teach as long as it feels positive and rewarding to me. Then I’ll probably work with a non-profit or something else that helps kids.
My husband would love to do something in home construction. I’m not sure if he’ll switch soon or wait until we reach FI. I guess it depends on how the plan settles out.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
This year our goal is to set-up and put as much as possible into our 403b. I can’t believe we have nothing in there! I think we can maybe get up to $30,000 or so total. We might get more, but there are some things the girls want to do that can impact that. Our daughter is very good at soccer and might make a traveling club team. We want to support that but it isn’t cheap. Hey, it might lead to a college scholarship so maybe it will pay off?
Anyway, we set up $1000 a month for each of us. I’m looking forward to seeing how it impacts our first paycheck. So, minimum we will hit $24,000. Then we’ll try to find $6000 more.
Who/what inspires you?
I know this is a cheesy teacher answer, but it really is my students. What some of them deal with and keep going is amazing. I have a student with a mom who has mental health issues. She takes care of her sisters every day, makes sure they get to and from school, and then works in the evenings. And, she still never misses an assignment. She will run a Fortune 500 company someday.
That’s only one story. If she can make it work, what excuse do I have?
What one thing do you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Maybe because of what I just wrote but I wish we’d focus more on the fortune we do have than on the tough parts of our job. I say that partly to make sure I do it myself.
I at least feel lucky to have a job that I’m passionate about. Sure I don’t get paid like a plastic surgeon but it’s enough to live a pretty good life. I think if we can make some good choices we can reach financial independence. That’s actually an incredible privilege to say.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
Yes. We have that $48,000 in savings. We have decided to keep $20,000
(PFI Note: CJ and I have discussed this part extensively, but we mutually decided not to include most of it here.)
Should we just pay off the student and car loan? PFI asked about interest rates: 5% for student loan, 1.9% car loan. Our mortgage is 4.25%
We have also considered starting an investment account.
Thank you for any advice and for reading my story. I’ve got a long way to go but I’m glad to have found this idea when I did.
A huge thanks to CJ for being first! Please share your thoughts with her in the comments below.