Can I Survive on a Teacher’s Salary?

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Can I Really Survive Living on a Teacher’s Salary?
With what seems like America’s education system going haywire and teacher’s battling to keep a decent salary is it really possible to survive living on a teacher’s salary? Our family has battled this question a lot. Obviously your answer depends on how much you actually make, how many are in your family, etc. Unfortunately one simple blog post can’t give everyone the answers they seek.
We know teachers who are making 6 figures – this article is not for you! In fact more than likely, this site is not for you as you probably cannot relate to surviving on a low-income salary! Although please feel free to stick around – we do have some great resources to offer! Perhaps I should title this “Can we raise a family on a teacher’s salary?” as that seems to be more the question in our case.
My husband is the teacher in our family which traditionally puts him in the “breadwinner” category. His salary is our main income. Thankfully now through blogging we have found it a little easier to make ends meet but we still struggle. So let me tell you about us.
hand holding crisp new dollar bill
My husband is an elementary school principal now at a small private school. I stay home with the kids and blog among other things. Pretty much if there’s a way to turn some cash I’m working on it! We are a family of 5. My husband is an 11th year educator with a master’s degree. His first 10 years of teaching he made a gross of about $33,000 and just under $23,000 take home pay after taxes and insurance – it was tight but we found a way to make it work.
Now, eleven years and three kids later we still seem to teeter on good and bad months.
The answer – with a lot of creativity, tears, and hard work. And sometimes – that’s just not good enough. We pre-plan as much as possible! If we are having a good year (or good months!), then we save that extra and set it aside. We use the same method to be able to afford vacations!
It’s tough, it’s REALLY tough – and most of you that are reading this know that first hand! If things were consistent it might be easier to make our situation work, but one illness can quickly set us back – for years. For example, a few weeks ago I ended up in the emergency room (long story short they found something and I’m going through a lot of testing right now) – just ONE of those bills was $2000. That’s our entire income for the month – in just 1 bill! That’s something I couldn’t plan for.
mom dad child hands holding piggy bank
So are you thinking about becoming a teacher? Have I deterred you yet? In this economy you have to be able to provide for your family – I’m not saying get rich – just meet basic needs like affording food! DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Research the schools and districts you are interested in. Plan ahead for emergencies – if you don’t have kids or are making a few extra dollars – save them!
Look at your job situation. Are you happy? I’m not talking about the money – is what you’re doing now what you want to be doing in 5 years? If not, you may need to start looking for a big change. Think outside the box.
Look around the house and see what you can sell. Textbooks, kids toys, household items, furniture, etc. You can try a garage sale, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook groups, Etsy, etc. Our local fleamarket offers a $5 table to sell your stuff on a certain day of the week which is another alternative.
Do you have a specialty you can offer? Teaching music lessons, lawn mower, physical therapy, tutoring, sewing, babysitting, etc. We almost always have needed some sort of second side income – every little bit here and there helps!
pool and tropical plants at Pixar
Sit down (as a couple if you’re married) and look at your budget and what you’re spending. CUT BACK! It’s tough – I know. Cut out your extras that you don’t need. If you don’t have the money to spend remind yourself that every time you buy something it’s money you don’t have to pay for it. That scenario doesn’t necessarily work when you need to buy groceries, but see if you can even cut back there.
Occasionally we decide that for 3 weeks we are not buying groceries – we try to completely eat what’s in the back of our pantries and freezer.
I have found that a collection of things have helped contribute to keeping our head above water financially when it comes to a tight income. I am continually striving for a better way to do things, a better budget, more income, creative saving, etc.
Be Strong Bookmark
Sometimes we’ve almost called it quits and tried something completely new altogether, but then maybe the children in my husband’s classroom wouldn’t have the extra help they needed. My that child wouldn’t have finally received a much needed Asperger’s diagnosis. Maybe that child wouldn’t have learned how to read. Money is very important, but it isn’t quite everything.
So keep at it – keep trying – keep looking for better ways to do things and save or make money! My husband has been a teacher for just 6 years now and I can say that somehow our family is learning how to survive on a teacher’s salary! It is NOT easy, sometimes it seems completely impossible, but we just keep trying!
Part of what keeps me going is knowing that this is my husband’s calling – and I can see that. But I am thrilled to have “met” so many of you online who are in the same boat as we are. It feels like there is a community of support and that support sometimes makes all of the difference!

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  1. Adelina Priddis says:

    It's definitely not easy! We do a bit of everything you've mentioned. We knew going into teaching that it would be for my husbands happiness not to get us rich though. I was just telling some friends yesterday (another teacher as well), that I'd rather be poor with a happy husband than rich with an unhappy husband.
    The worst part is when the unexpected occurs. We saved a little money to do a small home remodel, but found termites, and the small became large. We're lucky to have some awesome family that is always there to give a lending hand.

  2. Wow! I started at $32,000 in 2002 and now I am up to $53,000. I do have my masters, but nothing extra is going into my pay. This is my 10th year teaching, but I feel like I went up more than $4000 in 6 years. Where does your husband teach?


  3. The Teachers Wife says:

    Ali he teachers in central FL. He has his master's too but they no longer give him his "step pay". His raises IF he gets them are about $500 per year (this year was only his second raise in 6 years teaching).

  4. I'm sorry to hear that. I teach in NY. It is definitely eye opening to see what other teachers make in different states.

    Thank you for sharing all the tips and deals you find! It really helps!


  5. Jennifer - Mommy to 2 says:

    I don't know how you two do it! We are a 2 teacher income with two kids…as you know. We bought into a 2 expensive house at the height of the market that isn't worth close to what we are paying. Mortgage takes up almost all of one check. Childcare takes up 800 a month. It's crazy. We didn't expect the housing market to crash so bad (thought we'd have equity by now) and din't expect to have backwards pay. My husband just got his master's degree and the price tag that comes with it. He was talking to a higher up in the county and she just lost two people that were below her (probably people making double the teacher job). I want to scream "ask her for the job!" lol It's only a 3 yr grant position with no guarantee of it getting funded again, but 3 years at a higher pay and a foot in the door to possibly be an AP somewhere. That would be awesome. A girl can dream right? It just would be nice to not have to worry about our future with money. Thankfully, we are okay right now, but if anything drops we are in trouble.

  6. The Teachers Wife says:

    Jennifer I'm not always sure how we do it either! As you can see this month we were a bit stressed! We did the same exact thing with our house, bought it and now our loan is much bigger than our house is worth. BOO! Thankfully ours is *only* half our paycheck but considering we only have 1 paycheck that's a lot! LOL. Most of the time we are pretty good sports about the lousy pay but sometimes like this month we get very frustrated!
    Oh yeah that 3 yr grant position DOES sound nice – if he passes it up Craig might want it!! 🙂 LOL It's tough around here with all the red tape to jump through for those AP jobs!!
    As for childcare eek! That's why I haven't even bothered looking for a job because it wouldn't be worth the difference for me to send the kids off to school. Landon is part time and the only way we can swing that bill is because I've been saving out of our taxes since he was born for it! I'll just flip when that runs out!!

  7. Joy Tamsin David says:

    I teach in NY and make 59,000 after 16 years. We're the lowest paid district in the area, have worked without a contract for 10 years. I don't think it's low compared to you, but compared to the districts around us it is.

    I would never encourage anyone to go into teaching right now. And it's not due to the salary. The real problem is that thanks to politicians on both sides of the aisle teachers have become the scapegoat for societies problems. I'm seeing it more and more on a national level.

    I've never seen teacher morale as low as it is now.

  8. The Teachers Wife says:

    Thanks for commenting Joy! You're right teacher morale is very low thanks to our meddling politicians who know nothing of what they are doing! It seems the school systems in general are trying to take over where parents are lacking which is most certainly not their place!

  9. I am student teaching this semester and have just started looking for a job. I have been researching the districts near me and their pay. The county I already live in with my parents happens to pay the most of those around here. So, I'm definitely hoping to get hired here. However, I'm already starting to get scared about managing finances after looking at the pay scale and doing exit counseling for my student loans. I guess I will be right there with you guys in a few months time. Granted, I'm not married yet nor do I have children. However, I am in a relationship and am beginning to wonder if we will ever be able to afford to live together and without help from our parents.

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