This is the 12th interview in our Educator On FIOR series. I started the series to share the stories of educators pursuing FI – no matter how they were doing it, or where they were on the journey. I’m so thrilled to be able to share all the various perspectives and approaches.
Today I’m pleased to share another non-US teacher story (readers ask for these!) of a math teacher working at an international school. She’s an entertaining writer who also happens to have a new blog over at One Cup of Rice. I’m happy to help introduce her to the world!
Trust me, you’ll enjoy this one.
Tell us about you. (Describe your context in as much/little description as you like)
I’m a 20 something Canadian math teacher who’s currently working at an international school in China. I was born in China, immigrated to Canada as a kid, and completed the circle by coming back to the motherland haha.
I teach middle to high school math, and this year a couple of pre-AP and AP calculus courses. Previously, I taught for two years in London, UK straight after my B.Ed. I plan to reach FI/RE solo.
I was moderately financially illiterate until the start of 2019 (hey, school math ain’t like life math). But! I was also not terrible with my money and saved about 15% while living in London. I never had credit card debt, don’t drink, don’t drive, and is perfectly comfortable in small living spaces.
What I did have was a mild on-going existential crisis centering around “is this all there is for the next 40 years?” Usually as I stare at a pile of overdue marking.
Aaannnnddd that’s when I moved halfway across the world and found out about FI/RE, woohoo!
What do you like most about working in education?
I love working with young people and helping them on their path. Getting to teach them about my favourite subject is just a bonus. It truly keeps the heart young and man, they are SO Funny. Here’s a heartwarming exchange I had with one of them last week.
Me: “Kid, life is tough but you’re tougher”
Student: “You’re right, miss, life is hard but I’m harder!”
*Cue me struggling to maintain composure*
I aim to be remembered as that one teacher who was much too excited about math at 8am in the morning but who also gave good life advice. It’s incredibly rewarding to see students becomes kind, hardworking, BAMFs.
What do you like least?
My least favourite part of education is the increasing demand for “accountability” on the part of the teachers. I’m super weary of any acronyms or fancy sounding words because it never bodes well for my prep time. It’s like that old joke about “synergistically work together to leverage our core competencies in order to improve outcomes for all stakeholders”. Gross.
I keep an open mind about new measures but have been disappointed more than impressed. I’m going to end this here before I derail into a 10 page essay on the current climate in education.
(PFI Note: This is a common theme across the EFI interviews.)
What is your Why of Financial Independence? (Why are you learning about or seeking FI?)
One summer, I volunteered at an outdoors camp. It was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. The kids I got to take on trips, my co-staff, and the mission statement of the organization just aligned beautifully with who I am. It paid peanuts. Literally, I was paid in food which included as many peanuts as I can eat.
I quickly realized that many of the things I want to do don’t pay enough, if at all. I wasn’t willing to be saintly and live like a monk so, my plan is to get rich quick-ish and then focus on giving back to society.
A second common reason I read online is having your time being yours again and I’m behind that 600,000%. I would say I’m intelligent, high achieving, and capable of deciding what I want to do with my time myself. The tyranny of lunch-and-learn meetings must end!
The last is to spend more time with friends and family. I want to spend time with them while all of us still have our health.
- 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!
Solidly Future FI. I estimate I can reach it in 10 years, or 15 depending on how the markets do. I can reduce the timeline if I decide, instead of fully quitting, to take on a lower-paying but higher-fun job.
Share any financial numbers you are comfortable sharing:
It’s a little odd with the tax situation between China and Canada but I’m estimating my gross salary as $72,000 CAD or just under $54,000 USD. I save about 80% of my after-tax pay and shove most of it into Vanguard’s “growth” index fund. 10% is for living expenses and the remaining 10% fuels trips around Asia.
I have a $7,000 emergency fund, $8,000 in investments, and about $17,000 sitting in my Chinese bank account (waiting on tax paperwork). The goal is to have everything aside from the emergency fund in investments. Current networth: $32,000USD.
Tell us about your path to FI.
What are your successes/wins?
I would say that my biggest success is not strictly financial. Aside from graduating college with no debt (thanks, mom and dad!), I found the FI/RE movement relatively young before I went too far down the Vortex of Consumerism™. The life I live is already compatible with FI/RE values so the transition was as painless as possible.
Another big win in the life department is that 18 yr-old me managed to pick a career that she would end up enjoying AND pays pretty well. Probably the smartest decision 18-yr old cup of rice made at that point. The stereotype about teachers being broke is definitely not true!
What are your challenges?
My biggest challenge currently is figuring out how to increase my income without sacrificing leisure time. My total expenses for 1 month is less than $300USD so I’m pretty maxed out in the frugality/savings rate department. I’m applying to a master’s program and thinking about side-hustles next year. I don’t want to endanger my mental health though so I need to be careful about the balance I strike.
Related to increasing income, the choice to teach in China is an easy one to make financially, but difficult emotionally. The cost of living is super low and I save butt loads. However, most of my friends and family are not here. Facebook and skype do the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping in contact but there’s nothing quite like hanging out in person.
What is your long-term goal? Do you have a FI target?
My FI target is $500,000USD giving me an annual 4% withdrawal amount of $20,000. I’m working hard on reaching it in 10 years but willing to be flexible. Who knows what will happen in the 10 years between now and then.
Career or work-wise my long-term goal is to help underprivileged students by giving my time and skills away for free (after FI). I would also love to spend more time on my hobbies like photography, drawing, and cooking.
If you become financially independent will you:
- Retire early?
- Continue to work in education? (How/why?)
- Do something different?
I definitely feel I would continue to work in education in one way or another. It’s true what they say about teaching being a calling.
An interesting idea I’m seriously considering right now is to go around and host financial literacy workshops, or only drop in to schools once or twice a week to run cooking club. Cooking club doesn’t pay but that’s the point of FI/RE, right?
Another area of interest to me is creating properly scaffolded resources that other teachers actually find useful. I just have loads of ideas and unfortunately, they’re not on the priorities list due to time constraints.
Tell us about a short-term goal you’re working towards.
Career-wise: apply to and get accept into a Master’s program. There’s a very interesting one that’s specifically for math teachers I’d love to be a part of.
Financial-wise: $40,000 USD net worth (in my Canadian accounts) by the end of this school year. I want to double this to $80,000 USD by the end of the next school year.
Who/what inspires you?
My parents. They’re immigrants who arrived in Canada with very little and managed to create a rich life for us. They are also retiring early in the next couple of years so that’s extra inspiring. If they can retire early while living in an expensive city, raising two kids, sending two kids to university, AND purchase rental real estate then surely, I can do it too.
My students inspire me as well. They exhibit incredible work ethic and it pushes me to be a better person every day.
What’s something you want to say to other educators about financial independence?
Financial independence is for everyone. It gives you more options and strangely enough, a huge boost to your confidence. Even if you don’t think you can reach 100% FI, reaching halfway still leaves you loads better off than not trying anything. This sounds like test taking advice I would give to a kid, ha!
I learned about the concept of f-you money and that’s what this is for me. If I truly want to do something else next week, I can, and nobody can stop me.
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from the community?
I’m only in my 3rd year teaching and would love more teaching advice. Specifically, how to utilize my time/energy more effectively because I find that I’m spending way too long at the office. Am I losing time to marking? Re-inventing the wheel by creating new worksheets? Getting caught up in chatter?
What was one thing you did that saved you a lot of time? I’m all ears!
If you’ve got advice about manageable side-hustles I’d love to hear about those as well ☺
Where can readers reach you if they want to connect?
I hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I did. I love OCR’s enthusiasm and am so impressed by her financial knowledge and drive. I wish I’d been half as aware! Experienced teachers – help her out with suggestions for time efficiencies.
If you are interested in a very different, but equally entertaining, story from a non-US teacher, check out Educator on FIOR 4 with Frogdancer Jones. And, if you missed our last installment: Dragon Gal was our guest for Educator on FIOR 11.
As a reminder – I’m now running these on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month, unless I build up a long backlog. Our next EFI interview will post on May 2.
If you’re an educator on (or even considering) the path to financial independence, contact me – I’d love to feature your story!
Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early says
I loved this! Welcome to the community, lady!
one cup of rice says
Thank you! I’m very much enjoying it, the people are great!
Nice to meet you One Cup of Rice. Saving 80% of your income is really impressive. Working and living in China as a Canadian must complicate the tax situation a bit.
one cup of rice says
Nice to meet you too! I’m definitely very grateful for the circumstances around this haha, very serendipitous. Definitely aiming to gain a bunch of skills and swing for a job that allows for the same back in Canada!
one cup of rice says
Hi PFI, Thanks so much for your lovely introduction!
Reminds me that one of the reasons I love education so much is the awesome people in it 🙂
I’m SO happy you’re doing these interviews and super motivated by everyone!
Principal F.I. says
Thanks for agreeing to the interview and putting so much effort into it. I can’t wait to see where you go in the next few years – financially, on yoru blog, and professionally. Oh, and if you ever decide to move to the states – I’ve got a job for you!
one cup of rice says
I wish there were more synonyms for “Thank you” because, well, thanks again!
I’ll keep that in mind 😉
Penny Pinching Ninja says
Love these interview articles as they give an amazing insight into people’s personal financial stories. Amazing how everyone’s story has been so different!
Principal F.I. says
I’m glad you like them. I love reading them myself, so it’s an honor to share the different stories.
Diana E Sung says
Great job, One Cup of Rice! Your expat teaching journey reminds me of my three years in Korea. So fun, affordable, and great students. Keep on rocking!
Just a note: be prepared for life to change. I was planning a similar path to yours in my 20s: international teaching in places with low cost of living and save up enough to live on my own terms and take low paying, high-fun gigs for the rest of my life. However, life hit me pretty hard with a few things. Thinking back, they were somewhat predictable (parents aging and getting sick, priorities shifting after marriage/kids, my own health requiring more attention, etc.).
I would advise practicing the stoic art of “what if” scenarios–I’ll recommend A Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine– (like, what would change if a family member/friend became seriously ill? what if I met a partner who had a different vision for life than I did? what if the cost of living in my desired countries suddenly rose and my salary didn’t? what if I develop a medical condition that requires significant treatment? etc., etc.) If I had gone through some of that difficult planning, I think I would have been less shocked by what did happen and not gotten so off track with my life plan and finances during the tumult.
I didn’t mean this to be a downer–I’m very pleased with my life now and where I landed and am excited to keep growing and developing. You seem more together and intentional than I was in my 20s, so you’re probably already doing some of this, but just wanted to offer a bit of my own perspective.
(I’m so glad you’re blogging now. I will be following!)
one cup of rice says
Hi Diana! So exciting to meet another teacher with international experience! Asia has bee a breath of fresh-ish air after teaching in London haha.
I really appreciate your advice, life has certainly already thrown me a couple of curve balls just this past month! Thankfully being aware of FI/RE means I was more prepared to meet those challenges than I would have been otherwise.
I’ll definitely look into that book, it’ll finally get me off my butt and do some contingency planning I’ve been putting off. I’m rather inspired by you though, you’re living a life plenty of people would be jealous of despite life’s big surprises. The more bloggers I read the better I feel that there are many different ways to achieve happiness 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment :))