Welcome! This is the first interview in the series under the new name: Educators on FIOR. I changed the name (from Educators on FI/RE) as part of my embrace of FIOR and after realizing previous interviews were all about wanting options rather than racing towards early retirement.
Today, I’m happy to feature Keith, a school custodian. I’ve always believed that everyone working in schools is an educator. As a school principal, I’ve seen first-hand the power of a committed custodian. Keith appears to embrace the role, and I’m thrilled to share his story.
Tell us about you.
Hi, I’m Keith. I’m lead custodian at a large public elementary school. I’ve been in that role for almost fourteen years now. Before that, I served in the Navy for 20 years and then was the night custodian for eighteen months before being promoted.
I have a wife of 20 years and 1 kid who just moved out on his own. He’s training to be an electrician. We’re proud of him.
What do you like most about working in education?
Cleaning bathrooms and those classroom calls to clean up vomit. Okay, you probably don’t buy that.
Those aren’t my favorite things but I’m glad to do them. It makes the school better for the kids.
I love working in schools even more than I loved serving our country. When people ask me what I do, I tell them I support public education. I consider both service to our nation.
Young kids are amazing. Thanks to a skin condition, I’m not the most normal looking guy. Elementary kids don’t care. They’re kind and happy to talk.
I especially love looking for those that might be disconnected or feeling lonely and making sure they have an adult who cares. Working in the cafeteria at lunch is a great way to do this. I get the opportunity to help turn kids around.
The principal and teachers will often ask me to connect with a kid who is struggling or lacks purpose. It’s usually a boy and we’ll find him a job. It’s unbelievable how contributing to something lights kids up.
I’m honored and thrilled to serve in that way.
What do you like least?
I’d like to clean fewer bathrooms and never clean up vomit again.
I also wish some teachers didn’t act like they know more than the rest of us because they have a degree. I may not have gone to college to learn about teaching, but I’ve got a lot of life experience. I’ve also worked around kids for 15 years now. I do better with hard kids than the new teacher who just told me I should be mopping the floor instead of talking to kids at the lunch table. Yes, that happened in the last week of school this year.
Oh, and I don’t like that schools spend money on “English Language Learner” programs. I think all education should be done in English. It would help kids learn our language quicker and that money could be used on other things. Instead, we have two whole classrooms and five staff members working on that.
(EFI note: I personally believe from both reading research and personal experience that validating students’ native language and dual-language acquisition of literacy (in particular) is more effective and powerful and worth every penny. Keith and I have discussed this. We both agree that multilingualism is a huge benefit. He just disagrees on method. I left this in because it’s Keith’s viewpoint. No flaming in the comments, please.)
What is your Why of Financial Independence?
I had a rough childhood. My parents were constantly broke and we moved a lot because of that. I never wanted my family to experience that.
While I was in the military we moved a lot. I saw the impact that had on my wife and son. Even though it wasn’t for money reasons I realized I was giving them the same thing I’d hated. Once I did my twenty and got out, I never wanted to be forced into that choice again.
Financially independence lets me make those choices on my terms. I want to control my life not have it be controlled by others. That takes money.
- 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!
We are financially independent now. I get some money from my military service and we make a good living from working for the school. We’ve got plenty of money saved up. Now that our son is out on his own and I’m confident he won’t need financial support I don’t actually need to work anymore.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing.
I’m very security conscious so I won’t share actual numbers. The military makes you paraniod about these things.
Between my military pension, my salary, and the bookkeeping work my wife does at home we make six figures. It’s more than enough.
Our net worth is seven figures. We own our house outright and a small plot of camping land at a nearby lake we love. We’ve got more than anyone really needs.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
My biggest success is having raised a son that never wanted for anything but still had to work for what he got. He always had an earned allowance and was expected to work as soon as he was able. We bought his first car (a junker) and fixed it up together. It was great family time and life learning.
My family has never wanted for anything. Though we were lean in the early years and had to move a lot we were always comfortable. We’ve been saving for over twenty years.
After leaving the military, I found a job I love that lets me give back but doesn’t require me to work more than my daily hours. I have friends that work corporate life. They make more money but they also never stop thinking about work.
I go and work hard each day, then come home and live my family life. That’s a success.
What are your challenges?
I’ve already mentioned the moving often for the military. We took care of that. I don’t have a lot of complaints.
I guess I should admit I have a love of muscle cars. I’ve spent more than I should on buying old cars and getting them fixed up. After I drive them for awhile, I get bored and sell them. Usually for a little less than I put into them. I don’t pretend it’s an investment. It’s an expensive hobby that ends up (so far) not being all that expensive.
I’m looking at this ‘68 Camaro right now…
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
I’ve got all the money I need right now. I used to obsess over being a millionaire. Now I am and it doesn’t really change anything.
I just want enough money that my wife and I can live a long life, take care of any health things that come up. Hopefully we have grandkids and can spoil them and make sure they never want for anything.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
My plan for now is to continue working in the school. They’ve asked me to take over supervisor work many times. I did my management time in the Navy. I want to work and help kids, not lead people.
I made mistakes when I was a kid. I bullied a kid with special needs. I’ve never forgiven myself and now I do everything I can to make up for it. I’ll work in education as long as they let me and make sure I help and support kids who aren’t just normal kids from good families.
I’ll quit when my body won’t let me do the physical work. Or when I have to work for a principal who is a jerk. We’ve had 9 principals in 15 years. Some have been great and I’ve managed to work okay with the ones who aren’t. I know there are some bad ones out there.
(EFI note: Check out the guest post I did about bad new leaders!)
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
The ‘68 Camaro is calling me. Each time I purchase a car I use a sinking fund that I fill with earned income and current paycheck savings. That keeps me from touching our savings for a ridiculous hobby. Right now I’m saving for my next car.
Who/what inspires you?
I love this country and the opportunity it provides people. We have kids who move here from other countries. Horrible dictatorships or fleeing famine. Those families moving from halfway around the planet through god-knows-what conditions and all they want is America. That inspires me.
The way those kids work their behinds off once they get here is amazing. All the school staff that works hard to make sure those kids can live our dream. I’m inspired every day.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Take control of your money as soon as you can. You’ve got enough to make it.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
No. I just want to thank them for what they do for kids every day. Our military, first responders, and teachers do the most important jobs in our country.
Thank you for your service Keith, both in the Navy and in schools. I can’t imagine the number of lives you’ve impacted.
And, thank you for sharing your story with the EFI readers!