Our Educator on FI/RE interview series features educators who are looking to reach financial independence. They come from a variety of roles and at various points on the path. It’s my hope that these interviews build community and help show other educators what is possible. It’s a chance to learn from others and seek feedback – reply in the comments below.
Today’s interview is our first featuring a school administrator. Mae is an elementary assistant principal relatively new to FI. Enjoy!
Tell us about you.
I think of myself as a pretty “basic” kind of person. I’m in my mid-thirties, married to a great guy and we have an awesome seven-year-old kid (you know how sometimes you do something really well but you can’t take the credit for it? That’s how I feel about him). Our lives are very active and I’d consider us to have a semi-healthy lifestyle (this will become important when I talk more about where our money goes!) We’ve got a couple of dogs and a whole lot of outside interests, which doesn’t always leave a lot of time for travel and other things we would like to do more of.
I’ve been in education for twelve years now. My first years were in the elementary classroom as a fifth and sixth-grade teacher, then into an instructional coaching role and most recently, I’m working as an assistant principal.
What do you like most about working in education?
There are honestly dozens of things I love about working in education. By far my favorite part is the students….like my favorite by miles 🙂 I work in a high poverty school, where families are often struggling to make ends meet. The positivity and resilience of my students make me continually thankful and energizes me to keep working in education.
What do/did you like least?
It took me a long time to come up with my answer about what I like least…I try to find the positive and/or learning from experiences that are less than satisfactory. However, I would have to say that seeing kids in crisis is the thing I like least. This is the most draining part of my job by far.
What is your Why of Financial Independence?
I want to be completely free of credit card debt, something that I never expected to have in the first place. It slowly crept up on us, as it often does. After our son was born, we had a couple of unexpected medical expenses that impacted a few paychecks. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, and the exhaustion and weirdness of being new parents allowed for us to “just not worry about it now” far more than would have ever happened in the past. All excuses aside, we have decided to tackle our credit card debt before anything else.
FICurious – 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 would say that I am definitely working to be Future FI. About a year ago, my brother shared Dave Ramsey’s “Debt Snowball” with us. Because I had experienced a significant boost in income (about $18k), we knew it was a great time to start aggressively tackling our credit card debt. Around that same time, we began looking at what assets we had. Both of us have retirement accounts but had not paid much attention to them until that point. Sort of embarrassing to admit this, but it’s the truth. Another not-so-proud-admittance is that we still waited another 15 months to make any changes to those accounts. When I found the
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing:
Combined, our income is around $120k a year. When I look at this number, I find it almost impossible that we have debt. This is far more money than I ever imagined our income would be, so I’m even more driven to make sure we are saving appropriately.
As many young couples do, we decided to buy a house that was far too big and far too expensive for us to really afford, but we were sure that we could make it. The very short story is that we had family who committed to living with us and sharing the mortgage, but they didn’t stay married and we ended up with a big house and a big mortgage. Through a ton of hard work, we were able to stay in the house, and are now able to comfortably afford the mortgage, and have built a solid amount of equity over the years.
My husband and I each have decent retirement accounts that we started in our early 20s (and honestly, had zero idea what we were actually doing, we just heard that it was a good idea). With the help of PrincipalFI and other blogs, we FINALLY started a college fund for our son, and I was happily surprised when working on our taxes this year that this fund was literally the only thing that saved us from owing taxes (thank you educatorfi.com!)
As I mentioned earlier, paying off credit card debt is still our first goal, so an actual savings account is not a reality. This, however, is our next short term goal.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
The wins on our journey may seem simple, but creating a monthly budget that really focuses in on our spending and groceries has been incredibly helpful. Long ago, we decided to keep our eating out to a minimum and cook/meal prep at home. This helped not only our budget, but also our health. Part of our budget accounts for an (what most would consider) excessive amount of supplements, protein powder- yes, I’m serious, organic meats, fruits, vegetables, etc. This is something that is enough of a priority for us that we feel comfortable with spending extra money on our health. The other huge success we’ve had is that we have paid off a large amount of credit card debt. Facing the reality, developing a plan, and sticking to it were all big wins in our book.
What are your challenges?
There are a couple of challenges we are still working through: First is making sure our retirement accounts are where we really want them to be. This is mostly a matter of actually taking the steps to research best options, and then making the changes. Another challenge is refining our current spending on small things that we aren’t accounting for in our budget. Finally, we spend a lot of time focusing on paying off debt, which is great. However, we’re trying to make a better effort of balancing that with allowing ourselves to spend a little bit to take a weekend trip or go out for a nice dinner once in a great while. It’s not a terrible challenge to have, but definitely an area for growth!
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
At this point, my long-term goal is to have a solid amount of money in retirement funds so that there is no stress when that time comes around. Ideally, our mortgage will be paid off, and we will either downsize and keep our house as a rental, or just downsize altogether.
If you become financially independent will you
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
If I reach financial independence, I think that early retirement could be an option…but I really, really like what I do, so I’m not sure I would necessarily want to retire early. Either way, working in education in a different capacity seems likely to me. Volunteer work, working towards creating more equity in our school systems, or just substituting once in awhile are all options I am open to.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
First, it’s eliminating that hideous credit card debt! Once that is gone (it’s looking like we’ve got about 7 months left, according to our debt snowball), we will immediately start working to build a savings of at least $5,000. Depending on how our current vehicles hold up (both are paid off and both are getting up there in miles), a new car may be on the list of short-term goals.
Who/what inspires you?
Educators who put their heart and soul into working with kids are inspiring to me. I believe that being an educator is one of the most important careers a person can choose- and I also know it takes a special person to do it well.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
I would say that it is never too late to start the journey. As educators, we know that the things that get done are those that we put our focus on. If we want our students to make solid gains in reading, we focus on those students, run intervention groups, and highlight the areas of need for them so that they can be addressed. Taking a look at finances is very similar. Find the areas to focus on and hit them hard! It will be totally worth it 🙂
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
Any good tips on saving for college for your kids? Especially if you started a little later in their lives.
Where Can Readers Find You?
I’m not active on social media. But, you can always email me.
Thanks, Mae! Nice work on using the Educator Career Ladder to grow your income. Leave comments for her below.
And, if you haven’t checked out the other educator voices, read last week’s interview with Savvy History, or see the whole Educator on FIOR line-up!
Finally, I’m thrilled with the response to this series so far and would love to keep it going. If you’d like to submit an interview, contact me
Thank you for the encouragement, Frogdancer Jones! It can sometimes feel discouraging, but I know that the hard work will pay off! I enjoyed your interview as well!
This was so great to read. Hi, Mae! It sounds like you’re in a great position even if you don’t feel like you are. As a teacher, I also adore your answer about the least favorite part of your job. It is so hard to see them in hard situations, isn’t it?
And as for the college fund, I think you’ll be surprised how quickly it grows. I’m not sure the age of your kiddo, but we contribute monthly to our baby’s. And then when I combat any impulse purchases (like the really cute Valentine’s Day outfit I tried to buy for him, oh, 17 times), I put that $5, $10, or whatever in the account too. It’s working, and we’ve only been investing for 18 months!
A really interesting read. I wish Mae were at my school so we could talk finances.
As far as the college savings question -I don’t have kids, but I’ve heard of people who ask for 529 contributions instead of gifts for their kids. I tried to find the conversation I saw on Twitter but can’t. Maybe something to look into?
Frogdancer Jones says
Mae, you’ve started in your 30’s.
That’s a huge head start! Take it and run with it.