The Educator on FIOR Series gives us all the opportunity to learn from other educators seeking financial independence (and optional retirement.) There are so many different paths, skills, and circumstances! I’m proud to have the opportunity to share amazing educators and their experiences with you.
Today, we feature an elementary special education teacher working inside a residential treatment facility. What an important and challenging job!
She also happens to be one half of the team from Money Saved is Money Earned. After you read her story, you should definitely check the site out.
Now, I’ll turn it over to Tawnya.
Tell us about you.
I’m 32 and heading into my 7th year as an elementary special education teacher working in the Portland DART School, a facet of Portland Public Schools that serves students in treatment. I teach in a self-contained classroom inside a residential treatment facility. This means that my students are living at the facility receiving treatment.
I have 6-8 students ranging from Kindergarten up to 5th. My students are there anywhere from a month to over a year depending on the severity of their behaviors and their family situation. My students, and those at other DART sites, are often the most challenging students in Oregon and the neighboring states, and many are funded at state hospital level care. Despite the challenges of working with this population, I love my job and wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do/did you like most about working in education?
My favorite part about working in education is the ability to truly impact lives in a positive way. While all teachers have the ability to make an impact, I feel it more acutely in my job being as the students are extremely vulnerable and highly susceptible to going down a destructive path. Even though most of my students have had very negative school experiences, as an elementary teacher I find that I have a great opportunity to turn school around for them. I work hard to make sure school becomes a positive for my students, many of whom are successful for the first time in their lives. Small class sizes and being able to effectively manage behavior enables us to offer 1-to-1 support and remediation in the core subject areas. Many of my students come in a grade level or more behind but leave at or close to grade level in the core areas.
I know I’m truly making a difference for these students, and that’s what keeps me going through all the difficulties of the job.
What is your Why of Financial Independence? (Why are you learning about or seeking FI?)
Financial independence is important to me so that I have options. I’m currently single and trying to accomplish some lofty goals on my own so I have to be even more dedicated to saving and building wealth. Also, my dad has seen a steep decline in his health due to MS in recent years and I’ve seen just how damaging a serious illness can be to finances. In addition to creating a buffer for possible illness, I have a young niece that I want to be able to help support in her goals and dreams. Last but not least, I will be able to retire earlier than most because I started teaching at a young age and so I want to be able to live the life I want once I hit those years.
- Fi Curious
- Future Fi
- FI Success
I am Future FI – On the path, but still learning. Destined for financial independence!
I’m well on my way. With the rate I’m saving and investing, I should reach financial independence before I’m eligible for my pension. Once I hit 30 years and am eligible for the full pension, I should be able to live more than comfortably.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing – examples include:
I won’t share my exact income numbers at this time, but I will say that I’ve been able to double my income since I started teaching. I was able to do this through completing my Master’s (a $10,000 raise), yearly step increases, income increases negotiated into the contract by the union, and a concerted effort to move up the pay scale through continuing education. I worked very hard my first 5 years to take continuing education classes and I’m now at the top of the pay scale in that area.
As for savings, I contribute 6% a year toward my IAP account for my pension and have an IRA, a 403(b), and a brokerage account with Vanguard. I also have an emergency fund in a high yield savings account with Ally Bank. Lastly, I bought a house almost 4 years ago and am looking to purchase a rental property in the next year or so.
I’m well on my way to having a net worth of $100,000 in investments/accounts, but I’m not quite there yet. However, if you include the equity in my home my net worth is north of $200,000.
Tell us about your path to FI.
I consider myself very fortunate because I’m ahead of most people when it comes to financial literacy, savings, and the path to FI. However, I also lament the fact that I didn’t find this community until a few years ago because I’d be so much further if I had.
Growing up I had my grandparents as role models for saving and living within your means. However, being Depression Era people, they were wary of investing and thus focused more on saving. As a result, while I saved a bunch I knew very little about investing and am pretty behind in that area. I really started investing a little over a year ago and am aggressively contributing to my accounts on a monthly basis. Luckily, I’ve been forced to contribute to my IAP account for my pension since I started teaching, so I haven’t completely wasted the last several years. However, if I’d known what I know now I would have been investing since I was a teenager and who knows where I’d be.
On the other hand, my focus on savings and avoiding debt means that I have always had an emergency fund and a nice nest egg. It allowed me to buy my house with 20% down, pay off all my debt, and now, to focus on investing and making my money work for me.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
I don’t have a FI target, but more a general target. I think at this point it’s like a game where I want to see how far I can get to by the time I’m ready to retire. I definitely want to have $1,000,000 net worth not including real estate by the time I retire, but I’m not limiting myself to that.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
At this point, I do plan on continuing to work even if I reach financial independence before I’ve put in my 30 years. I love my job as a teacher, find purpose in it, and have enough time off to pursue other endeavors if I chose. The only way I could see myself leaving teaching early is if the blog somehow got so big that I’d be foolish not to do it full-time. At this point I feel as though I can pursue other things while still teaching.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
My big short-term financial goal I’m working on right now is to purchase a rental property in the near future. I’d like to diversify my investments as much as possible and I think investing in real estate is another step I’m ready to take. I’ve built up enough equity in my home to support this venture and I’m exploring possibilities. The nice thing about it is that I can be patient and wait for the right opportunity. My long-term goal is to buy and hold several properties, and then to sell them in retirement as another stream of income.
Who/what inspires you?
There are many people who have influenced/inspired me throughout my life. My grandparents have always supported me and modeled good financial habits, especially when I was young. My co-blogger Sebastian has helped to educate me on more advanced financial topics and has been a good friend to bounce ideas off of. However, I’ve come to admire and be inspired the most by my dad. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) right after I was born, and as a child I never realized what he was going through. Now as an adult, I realize he went to work every day, and was able to accomplish so much both at work and at home, all while being sick every single day.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Education can be a difficult career. You’re not paid what you’re worth, you’re not given the respect you deserve, and there are many times you’ll feel overwhelmed. However, you also have an amazing opportunity to not only impact youth, but to work toward financial independence. Take advantage of the benefits you’re given and hack your contract to the fullest. Use your time off to pursue other endeavors, contribute to retirement accounts, and slowly but surely you should be able to comfortably retire earlier than most.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
If anyone has anything they’d like to discuss with us, or something they’d like to see on the blog, we’re always open to collaboration and feedback. You can email us at email@example.com or reach out to us on social media.
Where can readers reach you if they want to connect?
Twitter – @moneysavedblog
Facebook – https://facebook.com/moneysavedismoneyearned
Pinterest – www.pinterest.com/moneysavedismoneyearned
Thanks, Tawnya for sharing your story and for the important work you do. Her reflection on the important intersection of health and finances resonates with me. We are experiencing that now with some of our family.
Though she laments a late start, it seems like she’s contributing to multiple investments. I can’t wait to read about her real estate investing journey. I bet she achieves FI well before she’s ready to retire!
As always, leave feedback for our gracious interviewee in the comments below.
If you haven’t read the last Educator on FIOR interview with Darrin, be sure to check it out.
And don’t forget to pop over to Money Saved is Money Earned!
It sounds like you have a great mindset that is positive, forward-thinking and full of gratitude. For that reason I think you can go the distance. By establishing goals, fostering interests outside of work and holding the belief that your role is significant and being thankful for it– wow, all those pieces will make a huge impact on your ability to, not only stay, but thrive. I can’t wait to see a follow up post from you! You’re doing great work!
Frogdancer Jones says
You must be the most patient woman alive!
I don’t think I could do the teaching that you do.
Hats off to you!
Caroline at Costa Rica FIRE says
I loved the point about doubling salary within her first 7 years of teaching. That’s like a 10% compound annual growth rate (if you use the rule of 72 and divide 72 by 7 years to get 10+%). 10% is much better than typical stock market returns! Your salary and earning ability can be your biggest asset, and this is a great reminder of that.
Nice interview. It’s great to see our educator getting ahead financially. Thanks for being a teacher to the kids who need it most.
One question – is it a difficult work environment? You say you love it now, but if it’s stressful, you might not last 30 years.