I’m thrilled to be able to share the stories of educators pursuing financial independence and optional retirement (FIOR.) This week, I feature someone who actually took the retirement step! Over the course of long education careers, Aaron and his wife have built significant wealth.
I won’t spoil his story anymore – here’s Aaron!
Tell us about you.
My name is Aaron. I’m 55 and have just officially retired after spending 33 years in public education. My journey is a bit unique because it wasn’t much of a journey. I worked my entire career in one school and it was the same high school I attended as a teenager.
I went to college just long enough to get my teaching degree and to meet my wife. We’ve also been married 33 years. She retired a year before I did after working in elementary education her whole life.
I was a high school science teacher for 13 years, then an assistant principal (we used to be called vice principals) for the last 20. Carol taught elementary reading and then was a literacy coach and curriculum specialist.
We’ve got three awesome kids who are all graduated from college. None of them went into public education but that’s okay. They work in health care and engineering and are doing just fine.
What do/did you like most about working in education?
The community. I love being connected to all the kids and families in our area. Over my career I got to work with the kids of kids I taught. No grandkids but it was getting close.
Over the years, the students and families have changed a lot. Our community went from white middle class to more diverse. I loved it and it kept me on my toes. I had to learn more each year.
What do/did you like least?
It was tough to watch the expectations and opinions around schools change over the course of my career. Schools lost the public trust or politicians used it as a campaign talking point. Suddenly, we had to do things that any educator could tell you was a bad idea.
One big example is student discipline. In the 90s the state started requiring that we suspend and expel students for certain things like weapons and drugs. It was clear almost immediately that it didn’t work as intended. Then the rules took forever to change.
It ended up leading to us kicking more kids out of school than ever before. That became the expectation even though we never did that in the first half of my career. It didn’t keep anyone safer it just ruined a lot more lives.
Things get stupid when we don’t trust the professionals.
What is your Why of Financial Independence?
Honestly, I never really thought about financial independence. I always loved my job and it worked out okay for me.
- 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’m financially independent and retired early. 55 seems early to me. I only left because there was a newer assistant principal that needed the job more than I did. I’ve got plenty of money.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing.
We’re very lucky people. We always made two good incomes and spent less than we made. We lived a good life, but we had money in the market through all the good years and didn’t pull it out in the downturns.
Our net worth is about $2.8 million mostly invested in the stock market. We have a house worth about $250,000 that we bought for $50,000 and have lived in for 25 years.
On top of that, we have pensions that replace just over 50% of our income (about $90,000 a year) so we don’t even need to draw down our investments except for special extra purchases.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
Both my wife and I came from single income families. They were solid but didn’t pass on much. They didn’t have any debt though and never spent outrageously. We started saving as soon as we were married and have only owned two houses in our time together.
It was a slow, steady path. Even putting our kids through college didn’t slow the growth much. They were good kids and I know how to help get a good portion of college paid for.
We’ve always felt comfortable but the last 10 years have been crazy. I remember everyone freaking out in 2007/2008. It was a hard time in education we were cut so deeply. But we still had jobs and didn’t touch any of our investments. It came roaring back quickly.
Our biggest success was probably just patience and constant savings over time.
What are your challenges?
I didn’t feel a lot of challenges. I said we were lucky and I meant it. Think about what the last 40 years looked like. College was affordable for me. We had a little debt but nothing like today. It was paid off quickly. We bought two houses and both were five figures. Now, starter homes in our area are 200-300k. I’ve experienced double digit market gains for almost the entire time I’ve had money in. Even if I hadn’t, we had a good pension system.
I worry for our newer teachers. I try to talk to them about saving but it’s harder. Higher student loan debt. Mostly flat salaries. Everything, especially housing costs more. And, they’ve gutted our local pension system. That’s where the challenges are.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
I passed my goals long ago. Being born in the 60s being a millionaire sounded amazing. Now I’m almost 3 times that. Unbelievable.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
I retired early, but with a full pension. My plan now is to volunteer as a coach and on the booster club at the high school.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
My very short-term goal is to resist taking another job. As school is starting up it’s strange to not have that beginning of the year rush.
Who/what inspires you?
There is this kid (I say kid even though he’s probably 28 or 30) that works in a special program at our high school. His whole job is to help support kids become first-generation college goers. He’s relentlessly positive and never gives up on any kid. I’ve seen him pull kids back who I thought had slipped too far.
He works for a non-profit, puts in insane hours, and has no desire to do anything else. He’s living his mission. It’s amazing. I’d love to give his name but the internet is a weird place. If you met him, you’d be inspired too.
It’s less about him specifically and more about the people who give their all to make a difference for others. I admire that dedication and see so many people in education who approach it that way.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
I know it’s harder these days. People say stupid crap about how anyone can be rich because they remember the world like it was fifty years ago. It’s not that easy.
I still think people can work in public education and be okay financially. Start saving as early as you can. Time matters. Take advantage of your summers and earn a bit extra if you need more.
I hope and believe things will turn again and we’ll start taking care of people. At the very least, just figuring out healthcare in this country will help everyone. If you’re doing the right things in your personal finances I think you’ll be okay. I’m going to be the old voting guy now and I’m on your side.
I was immediately impressed by Aaron’s success and his willingness to admit that things might be harder for others. It’s a great combination that we don’t see often enough. It’s a tragedy to lose him from public education, but I know he’ll make a huge difference with his volunteering.
Aaron marks our third interview with an educator who has already reached financial independence. You can read the others at Educator on FIOR 2 – Joy and Educator on FIOR 4 with Frogdancer Jones.
Finally, after an impressive initial batch (I can’t believe we are at 20 already!) I’m starting to run low on Educator on FIOR interview subjects. If you are an educator pursuing financial independence, I’d love to feature your story! Just contact me and we can talk details.
This story is inspiring. I am also trying to figure out how we help young educators. Many leave the profession within a few years because they can make more as a nanny or waiter! Congrats on your success, Aaron.
Frogdancer Jones says
Retiring at 55… good on you!
I’m 56 and I’ll be dropping back to 3 days a week next year.
Intellectually I know that I have the funds to retire… but as a single I’m a bit leery about running out of money when I’m a cackling old hag. I only have one pot of money to rely on. I figure I’ll work part time for a year or two or three, just to be sure.
I think it’ll be harder for future generations too. Life just seems a lot more hectic and it’s harder to save.
Thanks for sharing your story Aaron. It’s always nice to hear story with a happy ending. Enjoy your retirement. 55 is the perfect age to retire. 😉