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The Educator on FIOR series shares stories of educators pursuing financial independence at a variety of points and in a variety of ways.
Today, we feature Rob, a high school teacher who has become very involved in the financial independence community. Rob has a lot going on – and most importantly is a brand new father! I know you’ll enjoy this one:
Tell us about you.
Hi Everyone! I’m Rob and I am a High School Math and Personal Finance Teacher in Maryland by day, and by… rest of day and night, I am a dad to a newborn son (8 weeks old!) and husband to an amazing wife, a tutor, a freelance curriculum writer, a soccer coach, a girl’s lacrosse official, a soon-to-be-published author, and most recently, a Teachers Pay Teachers seller. When I put it all down on paper, I can realize why my wife thinks I take on too much!
I spent about half my life living in Ireland, where my family is from and currently resides, and half in the US. In the US I’ve lived in Long Island, Boston, Texas, North Carolina, Rochester NY, and finally settled in Maryland. It’s been a fun and exciting adventure to get to where I am today. I love what I do, but I am also highly driven on the path to FI with my family, mostly willingly, in tow.
About 2 years ago I was tasked with teaching a financial math class in the following school year, and this along with a family reason (discussed later), drove me to start digging into personal finance. Once I started to realize all that I didn’t know, and all that was possible, I was hooked!
What do you like most about working in education?
Education was something of an accident for me. At 17, in the spring of my senior year (in Ireland at the time) I was still undecided on what I wanted to do for a career. I was stuck between architect, physiotherapist, and Physical Education teacher. All very closely related fields as you can tell. I ended up going down the Physical Education route, mostly because I have a lot of teachers in my family and I figured I might like it too, and Phys Ed sounded pretty fun. Thankfully my college forced all Phys ed majors to dual major with a second subject to give us a chance of getting hired after college. In case you didn’t know, physical education jobs are like gold dust!
Becoming a math teacher was one of the best accidental decisions I’ve ever made. I love the problem-solving nature of math and the reasoning we teach along with the content. More specifically, I love to teach Geometry. Seeing kids learn to think logically and critically about how algebra and shapes meet, is a very satisfying feeling for me.
Now however, a new love has taken over, and that is teaching kids how to manage money and get on a path to financial independence. I just got an email from a former student, telling me about how his freshman year of college is going so far. It wasn’t an update on how the parties were or even if the classes were any good. He let me know that he had screened his new friends, identified 2 who fit his needs, and approached them about starting a business! He also let me know that he has joined an entrepreneurship club, whose focus is building businesses to benefit the local community! That email absolutely made my day and really highlights the best parts of teaching for me. We don’t often get to hear about the lives that our former students lead, but when they reach out to let you know, it’s the best feeling ever!
What do you like least?
Unfortunately, there’s a few things that bother me about working in public education. The biggest one is probably that there is no monetary reward for effort and industry in your classroom. I can consistently provide a highly engaging and educational experience for my students, achieve the best test results, or get positive parent and admin reviews, but my pay will be dictated by the amount of time I do in teaching. Seeing the teacher who doesn’t really care and just “turns up” every day, but gets paid double my salary because they’ve been there longer, just doesn’t make sense to me and I guess doesn’t fit my entrepreneurial spirit.
The slow pace of change is also a big negative for me. I have been campaigning in my school district and state, to see financial literacy become a graduation requirement and have a semester long course to meet that requirement. Everyone you talk to pushes the decision off to someone else because it’s such a mammoth job to turn this huge barge that is our education system.
What is your Why of Financial Independence? (Why are you learning about or seeking FI?)
My Why of FI… I’m a firm believer in needing a strong enough why to motivate you beyond the initial excitement stage, and get you to follow through on a decision or project. Originally it was to not have to teach until I was 60. As I mentioned above, I was a little disheartened at being in an industry which offered no opportunity for salary growth beyond waiting and putting in my years, but it developed into a stronger why when my wife’s chronic migraines started getting worse. For those of you who have experience with chronic migraines, I know your journey is harder than most of us have to face, and hats off to you for being here today, and being on the path to FI regardless. If you haven’t had a close experience with chronic migraines, it is tortuous watching a loved one go through an episode where there is nowhere to retreat to. My wife is the strongest person I know and has supported all of my efforts, with a smile and as much participation as she can, to get to FI. Because of the migraines, we were facing the possibility of her not being able to work anymore. In our talks about how to best handle it, we made the decision to chase this FI idea as hard as we could, but without sacrificing the fun in our lives on a day to day basis.
So, we are not on an extreme path to FI, but rather a steady-paced one which involved increasing income as much as possible and decreasing expenses that we didn’t need. We still keep our Starbucks coffee dates and occasional take away pizzas with a movie, because those are the small things that give us some of the best memories and highest levels of joy. We cut down things like our TV, cell phones, internet, auto-expenses, and we don’t spend a lot of money on clothes. That’s our ideal balance and allows us to stay laser-focused on our goals!
- 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 debt free since last December, except for our mortgage. Since we made the decision to pursue FI 2 years ago, our net worth has been steadily climbing and getting us closer to the magical FI number.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing:
Income: Household is about $120,000. Personally, with all side hustles included I have an income of around $78,000. $60,000 of which is my teacher salary. Key piece of advice with teacher salaries. Get to the highest step you can for your experience by building up as many education credits as you can. My school district’s highest salary lane is when you have a Bachelor’s degree plus 70 hours of continuing education that includes a Master’s degree. I took every free and cheap CEU I could get to get to that highest salary lane as fast as possible. Over the course of my career it will mean tens of thousands in increased earning, compared to if I had just stayed at the minimum Bachelor’s degree.
(Educator FI note: Rob is working all the educator income angles. I love it!)
Net worth – $115,000 – this includes my 403b, Roth IRA, Brokerage account, my wife’s traditional IRA, savings, and the equity in our home.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
As soon as I realized I would need to look outside of my job to increase my income, I realized there were so many opportunities out there! Becoming a lacrosse official is an awesome side hustle and pays around $60 per hour for youth and high school level! You’re out exercising, doing something that supports youth sports, it’s not teaching, and you get well paid for it!
I feel I’ve very much adopted the growth mindset when it comes to money, that we preach to our students about our individual subjects. Realizing I can learn to manage money in such a way that it accelerates my path to wealth has probably been the biggest win of our journey. Since then I’ve started a tutoring business and opened a Teachers Pay Teachers store where I post resources for personal finance and math teachers (FI Educator). I realized there wasn’t a good resource for teachers to use when trying to guide students through starting a business, so I decided to author my own book for this. The Simple StartUp will be published at the end of this year and will provide a guidebook for students, teachers, and parents on how to start a basic business from initial ideas to making profits. This is something I never would have considered doing 2 years ago. Who am I to think that I can write a book?? It was such a limiting belief, and challenging those limiting beliefs has been my greatest win so far. It may not make any money, but I did it!
What are your challenges?
It moves so slow to begin! I’ve heard it from countless sources and read it in plenty of books, but the journey to FI starts really slow. As we were paying down debt, we did a debt snowball and saw some initial wins early on, but as we got to the bigger student loans, they just seemed to take forever to chip away. Even when they are gone and you start building wealth, the beginning is slow. We are just starting to see some acceleration as compound interest and dividends are beginning to make a noticeable difference! It’s hard to stick with it sometimes when you don’t see results straight away, but I’m so glad we did.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
In terms of a FI number, I haven’t gone into the nitty gritty of doing an exact calculation since we are still in the beginning phase, but I’m estimating needing about $1.2 million to allow for the 4% rule to take effect and we would live on just the interest generated from our investment accounts.
With the new baby, I was able to take 12 weeks of leave time to be home with him, which has been one of the effects of FI that we are already getting to enjoy. Our emergency fund is solid and we were in a position to save a portion of our incomes during pregnancy to fund our time off once he came. Moving forward, I’m hoping that the ground work I’ve laid in the past 2 years will allow me to take my foot off the gas a little but still reap the rewards. I want to be home more and my wife and I, want to be able to take more extended periods of time off to travel and enjoy life.
Eventually I’d like to get into real estate investing. I see it as a diversification play and a way to lower the amount needed to reach FI by increasing the amount of passive income we receive each month.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
My thought at the moment is I would like to become a half-time employee at my school and only teach financial literacy classes. With my extra time, I want to spend it on passion projects, traveling and building memories with my family.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
A big mistake some people make is they think they have to wait until they are financially independent to go do the things they are passionate about. Brad Barrett on the ChooseFI podcast made the great point once that you shouldn’t wait. Once you have a solid emergency fund, start making time for the things you really enjoy doing. I say this because my big project at the moment is building a curriculum for the ChooseFI Foundation. I realized I was super passionate about financial literacy for our youth, and rather than waiting until retirement to do something about it, I reached out to ChooseFI and volunteered to help write a financial literacy curriculum for them that had a financial independence lens to it. So, with Dani Mendonsa and a bunch of other volunteers, we have produced a K-12 curriculum that will be offered for free to any teacher, school district, or parent that would like to use it. We expect to be launching it in January and I am so excited to see it get out there for other teachers to use!
Who/what inspires you?
My wife is hands down my biggest inspiration. She has this incredible fighting spirit which fills me with the fire to go chase FIRE!
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
One of my favorite quotes is from the movie A League of Their Own. It goes “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Reaching FI as a teacher (or most careers for that matter) is not easy. It’s going to take you going above and beyond your daytime job and finding ways to increase your income… but it can be done! We are in the unique position of having a workday that ends earlier than most people. We have holidays that the average person doesn’t get. There is time to start something that will generate more income for you, but you have to be willing to do the work to make it happen.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
As we go to launch our financial literacy curriculum, how would you approach trying to make mainstream changes across the US? We want to see states, districts, and schools changing the current policy to adopt one in which financial literacy is a requirement. Whether they use our curriculum or not doesn’t matter, but how would you go about creating that level of change? We are always looking for ideas and people to help champion the cause in their area.
Where can readers reach you if they want to connect?
For now I’m not a blogger or podcaster, but you’ll find me in the ChooseFI group on Facebook and I also admin the ChooseFI Educators group where we have a place for educators on the path to FI to gather and share their questions, ideas, experiences, challenges, and wins. Feel free to join us and join in the conversation!
Congratulations to Rob on becoming debt free, having his first child, and a book coming out soon. He really does have a lot going on! He’s also got a clear plan for his financial future.