“I don’t do it for the money – obviously.”
“If I wanted to make money, I wouldn’t be a teacher.”
“It’s not about the money, it’s about changing lives.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard these phrases in my twenty years in public education. They’re expected refrains and teachers really mean them. It’s entirely admirable.
It’s also a real problem. The profession’s cultural orientation towards money prevents, and even discourages, educators from talking about money and taking charge of their finances.
Teaching is a relatively low-paying profession, especially early on. Yet, educators do have some advantages for pursuing financial independence. Very few know it. Our profession is as capable as most others of making financial progress.
Talking about money and its impact on your life doesn’t make you greedy, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing the job for the right reasons. You CAN talk about personal finances, create good habits, and build wealth while still doing a job because you’re passionate about it.
In fact, I believe if educators were more open about money, and planning their financial futures, it would improve their career satisfaction and performance. Here’s why.
Benefits of Talking About Money
Destigmatize Personal Finance
Your finances matter to your life more than just about anything. Even if you don’t want to pay attention to them, they’re still impacting almost every choice you make. Or, preventing you from making necessary changes.
Yet, there is a stigma attached to talking about our money in our society. It’s even greater in our profession.
The only way that changes is if we start intentionally having the conversation. Rather than shy away from a critical part of our lives, let’s embrace it. It will lead to other good things…
Sharing Good Practices
Sure, you can read lots of information on the internet. You can spend hours digging through mountains of great content. (And as a writer of content – I encourage that!)
It is even better if you can talk about it with colleagues who know you, know your context, and provide supportive accountability as you take charge of your money.
Since I’ve started paying attention to personal finance, I’ve discovered so many important things. The dual power of 403b vs 457b is just one example. Teacher loan forgiveness is another.
I could have known those a lot earlier if we just talked about them in the staff room, in teacher prep, or at our happy hours after work.
Let’s not rely on insurance salesman to “teach” educators to invest in their tax-advantaged accounts. That “education” comes at a significant cost.
We should share the changes we’re making in our spending habits with our colleagues. When we discover a great account bonus, or a contract benefit we shouldn’t hesitate to point it out!
Learn About Benefits
Speaking of contract benefits – you may be overlooking some great ones! Knowing your contract (or employment agreement) can unlock all kinds of financial advantages.
For years all I knew about my contract was my union said I wasn’t paid enough, my insurance sucked, and that I had some protections on workload /work hours.
Imagine if we actually talked about money and ways we could leverage contractual perks to improve our finances!
In my third year, I discovered that I could earn my National Board Certification for free AND it would jump me to the highest pay column. No one told me about this, and none of the people I mentioned it to realized this huge opportunity existed.
Did they all take advantage of it? Of course not – but some did. This is just one example.
In the online personal finance space, we share all kinds of hacks, angles, and ways to maximize our benefits. Imagine if that was part of our profession!
Sometimes, working in public education can feel powerless. Other teachers, administrators, parents, politicians, press – they all seem to know how you should do your job. They’ll all carry the message that you’re doomed to poverty too – when it’s convenient for them.
If you’re counting on the voices of others to define your reality, you’re at their mercy. Instead, talking with others will help you better understand your advantages, challenges, and potential.
Talking about finances with others, sharing found benefits, and effective personal finance practices will empower you. You’ll be in charge of your financial life in a way you haven’t been before, and so will your colleagues.
If you really are in a hopeless financial situation, you’ll have the knowledge you need to make a change. Even just knowing how much a teacher needs to retire grants a sense of possibility and power.
You’ll know if you’re being paid what you should, if it’s time to move to a different district, or advocate for a change in investment options. You might even decide it’s time to go teach abroad at an international school.
As they say – knowledge is power! Not letting outsiders define the profession is empowering.
Increased Job Satisfaction
One of the most demoralizing things about working as a public educator is the constant refrain of poverty. So many people will tell you that you’re poor!
Teachers talking about money can help each other make intentional financial choices, compare their realities, and improve their financial future.
In many cases, talking with others about money, sharing benefits and effective practices, and realizing what good personal finance can do for you will lead to the realization that you’re better off than you thought.
If you really can’t make financial progress where you are, you can move to a position that’s more satisfying.
In either case, you’re much more likely to enjoy a job where you don’t feel financially hopeless. Understanding that teachers have advantages in pursuing financial independence helps.
Teachers are important models. Our students pick up far more than just what we teach them during class. This is also true of new teachers, the communities we serve, and our long-term colleagues.
If you’re paying attention to your financial health, making wise financial choices, and building a solid retirement plan you will influence others to do so.
The only way that happens is if we are open in talking about money and personal finance.
Of course, the ultimate outcome of talking about money and adjusting our approach to our finances is achieving financial independence!
Achieving financial independence gives you choices. Even making progress toward it will reduce your willingness (or need) to put up with some of the worst parts of the job. Empowerment and job satisfaction increase again!
I believe educators can build wealth and achieve financial independence while doing work that matters. It’s the entire point of this site!
Don’t take my word for it. Here are some examples:
Talk About Money – Starting Now
For all these reasons, I challenge you to have one conversation about personal finance with a colleague this week.
No need to be judgmental or lecturing. Share something you’re doing, ask a question, or point out a resource you love. (It could even be this site – ha!)
Let’s change the narrative about educators and money. Let’s take charge of our financial health and help others do the same.
If you have a money conversation this week, drop me an email or share in the comments below. I’d love to do a round-up or share some of the results!
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