What to Do When Your Salary Doesn’t Pay the Bills

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Realizing your salary doesn’t pay the bills is a crushing feeling of despair. Take a deep breath and don’t panic. Try to step back from the situation and creatively look at some of the ideas we’ve listed below to help you through this tough time.

What to Do When You Realize Your Salary Doesn't Pay the Bills

When my husband started his first year of teaching at a salary of about $35,000/year in a Florida public school we knew things would be tight but figured with the small district pay raise each year it would start increasing every year and eventually we’d be able to pull ahead.

Fast forward a few years past the birth of 2 kids (including a life threatening emergency delivery), over $30,000 in medical expenses thanks to lousy school insurance, a seemingly permanent pay freeze with no step increases and we were drowning, and drowning quickly. Add on to that the stress of a HORRIBLE Title 1 school my husband was working at and having a child diagnosed with Asperger’s (and Sensory Processing Disorder) – we were STRESSED.

I think the only thing that kept me sane during that time was starting Surviving a Teacher’s Salary. It was an outlet and a distraction for me.

Don't give up your dreams, but you might have to look for a new angle. Surviving a Teacher's Salary

We weren’t worried about clean clothes or keeping up with the latest thing, we were worried about the money it would cost to go to the doctor. We were concerned about going in debt just so we could buy groceries. It was an AWFUL feeling to wonder whether it was worth the cost to take my child to the doctor. It was heart wrenching knowing our insurance did not cover therapy my son needed.  We drained our entire savings account trying desperately to get him the care he needed.

Once that ran out we had to make a tough choice and put a pause on his therapies. We were fighting to afford food, medical expenses, and pretty much everything else that came our way. We had no cell phones, no internet even, and no cable tv. Our expenses had been stripped to the BARE MINIMUM and we STILL couldn’t make it work.

I couldn’t even entertain the idea of going to work either. Not because the cost of childcare would have been outrageous compared to my expected income (which was definitely a factor) but because at the time we could not find a stay at home mom or childcare provider (or even a church!) willing to take my son with Aspergers. To say it was TOUGH is putting it extremely mildly. We kept our struggles to ourselves and worked hard the best we knew how – we’re not afraid of hard work and long hours. But after several years, we realized something.



Finally admitting this was the first step towards healing our intense stress. Don’t get me wrong – there were (and are!) still worries and concerns and scary steps ahead. We were giving it 200% percent and we were drained – it seemed like such a devastating situation. I can’t tell you how many nights we cried because we just didn’t know what to do next.

My husband struggled with the fact that his teaching salary couldn’t cover our family expenses and medical bills. His dream was to teach but it just wasn’t supporting our family. We didn’t qualify for any assistance thanks to a teacher’s salary being just over the limit for our family at the time. We sat down and realized things couldn’t get much worse. We HAD to make a change, and a drastic one.

We tried many things over the years to help keep us afloat which I’ll list out for you below but ultimately we needed something more – we moved across the country for a better opportunity for our family. Although my husband is now a principal at a small private school and the pay is only a little bit better than his starting teacher salary, it does include a less stressful job for my husband, a good education for our children, and a happier family. We were SO desperate that we KNEW we had to try something different. And you know what?

It was the BEST CHOICE we’ve EVER made!

We still fight medical bills – it’s our never-ending nemesis. You can read our post on tips for dealing with medical expenses.  Not for a moment do we regret having the courage and guts to do something drastic for our family. We moved away from family, moved over 2000 miles away, went from a big city to a town of 20 houses and a bunch of cows – just to make things work for OUR family.

I also started working full time on my blog which was a big benefit. It was scary as heck but it was better than the alternative. Just because your salary isn’t working for you doesn’t mean you have to give up your dream, you just may need to look at it differently and be willing to try something different.

You are only limited by your own creativity and courage! I KNOW it’s hard – we’ve been there – but sometimes making a scary decision is better than making NO decision. Below are a few things we’ve learned as well as some additional supplemental income ideas.

Do not put yourself in debt, you need a better option. Surviving a Teacher's Salary

Some VITAL Things We Learned:

  1. Family is the MOST important thing you have – don’t lose that. FIGHT for it.
  2. Sometimes “just getting by” financially is NOT enough.
  3. Sometimes DRASTIC decisions need to be made.
  4. Sometimes you need to think outside of the box and step back from your situation to rethink things.
  5. It’s not all about the money, but it is.
  6. Don’t give up your dreams, but you might have to look for a new angle.
  7. Do NOT put yourself in DEBT – you need a better option.

Alternative Income Ideas:

Over the years I have done everything from delivering phone books and flowers to temp work, nannying, restaurant work, mystery shopping, online surveys, and now blogging. If you’re truly desperate for a job you’ll try just about everything! Here are some ideas (supplemental or full time) that I’ve personally done that you can try depending on your income need. Remember, don’t be afraid to admit things aren’t working and look outside the box. It’s HARD but it just might be better for you!

Online Surveys & Programs – When we first got internet and I was home with the babies I spent a LOT of time researching and doing online surveys and programs! Although it’s EASY money it takes time and is an “extra” income – not a full time income. I easily made a few hundred bucks a year though which helped covered holiday gifts plus some. My favorites at the time were Swagbucks and Opinion Outpost.

Mystery Shopping – You can read my post on mystery shopping but yes, this can be a legitimate source of income! Although we didn’t make a huge income on it we had plenty of free dinners, bowling, movies, and any other shop we applied for. For us, this was HUGE because it was the ONLY way we could afford any type of entertainment!

Babysitting/In-Home Daycare – Watching even 1 extra child in your home is a great way to make a little income. Make sure you do your research though on licensing in home daycares (a great idea for some!). I watched kids at my house and at their house for several years to help keep us financially afloat.

Home Businesses- Because this is such a HUGE area I’m including everything from selling essential oils, Plexus, Pampered Chef, Usborne Books, and any other HOME based MLM business – as well as Etsy and homemade creations. There are a TON of opinions out there. For the MLM businesses – yes, you can certainly make a side income out of it. There’s no get rich quick scheme going on and some people definitely do sales better than others (I am NOT a sales person!).

Do your research – some require you to pay membership fees up front which I’m not a huge fan of, some require you to spend so much a year, etc. If you’ve discovered an amazing talent you have make it work for you! Turn to Etsy, local craft fairs, and other small shops to turn your talent into profit! Do your research though so you don’t get burned with copyright issues or other legalities. The more unique your product (usually) the better! Look for a market that isn’t over-saturated. Reselling on eBay is another potential income opportunity!

Teachers Pay Teachers – If you know how to design and create some worksheets and other awesome teacher related resources you’ll want to make sure you sign up for your free Teachers Pay Teachers account and try your hand at selling your work there. It’s been a nice passive income for us and you get out what you put in. It takes a lot of time to create these resources and people make anywhere from pennies to over a million a year (crazy right?!). I wish we had more time to create resources for TpT but it’s our back up plan if we were to ever need to fall back on a creative income.

Blogging & Vlogging- Although I could have kept this under home business I wanted to put this one separately since there’s also so much buzz about blogging. I know brand new bloggers who are landing $20,000+ their first year in and I know bloggers who have been blogging for 5 years barely making $400 a year. And of course you see bloggers/vloggers in the news who are making millions each year.

Here’s our post on how to start a blog.

This business idea is a whole different post but if you’re considering it keep a few things in mind – it’s extremely time consuming but can pay off. You need to find a niche you’re good at and go with it. It’s NOT for everyone and hours can be insane. You have to understand computers, be flexible to learn and keep up with change.

Virtual Assisant (VA) – Being a VA is a wonderful way to make some extra side cash – especially if you know your way around social media or a blog dashboard. It’s a great way to make an income on your schedule without being boggled down with the ins and outs of running a blog. You can choose to create content to sell or be hired under a blogger to do tasks for them each week. You can search Facebook or google for VA jobs and boards.

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  1. Reading this was extremely helpful. My husband and I got married this summer and since we both had outside agency temp jobs we decided to try something new. We packed up and moved 12 hours from family and friends so I could teach in SC. The pay for a first year is horrible compared to the north and my husband has not found anything in the last 4-5 months for more than 3 weeks. He has resorted to substitute teaching which pays a whopping $68 dollars a day before taxes if you have a bachelors degree. I am going to look into some of your suggestions. Thank you for your post.

    1. hello Crystal
      As I read your post tears fill my eyes and I am thinking someone understands my struggle. I am recently married my husband a mason hurt back resulting in sciatic issues. With less than $400 remaining in my salary after bank deductions we were relying on his income until the accident. Now we are drowning having to manipulate funds. Reading this really help me give me hope. I will begin looking for a part-time job that will help offset some of the bills.
      please email me with any other ideas.

      1. I’m so sorry you’re in this struggle right now. I can completely sympathize with stretching budgets farther than they should go and have to “rob Peter to pay Paul” kind of scenario. And it’s exhausting! Hang in there and keep your head up! Don’t forget to take time for yourself too which is SO important! Keep trying to find ways to make it work and hopefully you will find a good stride to keep up with until things get better. Hope your husband heals soon!

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