Welcome! The Educator on FI/OR interview series features real educators working towards financial independence. They are at different spots along the path and have their own reasons, challenges, and successes. And we get to learn from them all!
Today, I feature Darrin, a middle school counselor. I think anyone who voluntarily works in middle schools is brave or a little crazy – maybe both. I also think it might be the most important time in a kid’s life.
Tell us about you.
My name’s Darrin and I’m a middle school counselor. As I was typing that out, I heard it in my head like an AA confession. Maybe it is? Middle school for 19 years.
My wife is a nurse and we have a daughter in high school.
What do you like most about working in education?
My parents divorced when I was in seventh grade. I went to a junior high, which doesn’t exist in my area anymore. Having your parents divorce is hard. Having it happen in junior high is harder. Kids are not forgiving at that age. Even my friends either didn’t care or used it as a way to “mess with” me.
I was in a bad place. I’m not sure how bad it would have gotten if I hadn’t had a teacher notice me withdrawing and struggling. He sent me to see our counselor. I was in such a bad place I couldn’t even try to pretend I was too cool for a counselor. She was amazing and worked with me and my parents to make sure I got through the next few years of junior high. By the time I went to high school, I was okay. Shout out to Mr. Austin and Ms. Geary.
I only share that because it’s why I went into counseling and chose middle school specifically. It’s a rough time for kids. They’re quirky, struggling, and almost not in control of their own brains. They need adults who care and can forgive them while also having high expectations of them.
Kids know who is faking it. They need someone to believe in them. I love being that person for kids who need it.
What do you like least?
I don’t like how many bad decisions seem to be made for adults instead of for kids. Initiatives that seem to serve a superintendent’s resume before he moves on. Watching bad teachers do damage to kids because the administrator won’t dismiss them or the union is protecting them. The great teachers being given the easier assignments while the newer, struggling teachers are given impossible tasks. I work with great people and almost all of them are amazing and give and give and give. But sometimes I just get so heartbroken knowing we could do it better.
What is your Why of Financial Independence?
I want to be financially independent so I don’t need a paycheck and can take the brave stands. I try now, but there are times where I stay quiet because I might lose my job. I hate that.
We spent too much money for too long and I have a daughter to put through college and a wife I want to enjoy retirement with. I need my job and it feels like a trap sometimes. I never want to do it for that reason. I still love it but know I will do it better when I have financial control of my life.
- 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 guess I would say “Future FI” now. That future is still pretty far off but I can at least see it now.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
My biggest success is turning the corner to a path to FI. For most of my life I spent every dollar I earned. My colleagues and my union constantly told me how underpaid and poor we were. It made me feel both hopeless and justified in spending everything we brought in.
It took a long time to realize that as a counselor (we are paid the same as teachers) and with my wife working in a hospital we were doing okay. Better than almost every family in my school.
Once we embraced that, we started paying off our debt and spending less. We stopped leasing cars and bought used ones. I coach a sport and my wife works an extra shift here and there. We mostly just stopped spending so much mindlessly. Small adjustments added up quickly.
After two years, our net worth just went positive earlier this year.
What are your challenges?
Time. I’m 41 and my wife is 43. Our daughter is 16.
We have almost nothing saved for retirement or college. We are saving money each year and starting to invest in our retirement accounts. We’ll be able to help our daughter in college. We will get there, but it’s not going to be early retirement. I hope to be financially independent by 60.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
We want enough to retire and be comfortable. We can access a pension at 60 that will give us a few thousand each month. Our goal is to save at least 1.2m over the next 19 years.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
Right now I don’t see myself retiring early. I want to help kids for as long as I can. If I were to hit my FI number, I would just be more reckless at railing against the system. If I were suddenly rich, I’d start my own free counseling service to help kids.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
I’m going to max out my 403b this year. We also are going to contribute enough to my wife’s 401k to get the match. We’ve been doing that for 3 years. We are trying to hit 30k total in investments.
Thanks to Educator FI’s article on 457 (which I read when it was still Principal FI) I’m looking into that too but it’s probably a next year goal.
Who/what inspires you?
My daughter inspires me. She is strong and amazing. She takes after her mother that way.
I watch her be strong and supportive with all her friends as they work through all the crap kids face today. If you don’t have a teenager you probably don’t realize how brutal it is right now. Social media is doing horrible things to our kids. Somehow, she handles all of that and lifts her friends up when it gets to them. It’s amazing.
If we are talking about finances I am inspired by people who start with nothing or worse and get it together. Even though our circumstances are very different and we work in different countries, I love reading Burning Desire for Fire and am inspired by what she has accomplished. (Featured in Educator on FI/OR 4)
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Don’t let others decided what you can or can’t do financially. My biggest regret is feeling hopeless about money. I lost a lot of years and was unhappy when I didn’t need to be.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
Our daughter goes to college in two years. We didn’t save much for her. If she goes to a state school I think she’ll get some scholarships and we can help with the rest by saving a little less in those years. Does this seem like the way to go?
Darrin, congratulations on hitting a positive net worth milestone!
This interview is so inspiring for so many reasons. I love how Darrin and his family have turned their finances around and have a plan for the future. In my experience, as you work toward your goal the progress accelerates. I hope that is true for Darrin!
I also appreciate how much Darrin clearly cares about his profession and supporting kids at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. He’s dead on about the terrible toll social media and online bullying can have on kids. If you have the power to support someone in your life in this area – do it.
Finally, if you are an educator and would like to share your financial story please contact me.