Can you live on a teacher’s salary?
The simple answer is, yes; most people can live on a teacher’s salary.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly teacher’s salary in America in 2021 was $61,820. That number doesn’t look so bad right? It’s not.
Especially when you consider that education is one of the last careers that still carries with it a retirement plan, paid sick leave (usually 10 days a year), personal leave (usually 2 days a year), and health insurance (although you’ll be footing part of that bill).
Remember, though, that as a first year teacher you will not be starting out at $61,000 a year.
I’m in year 16 and still haven’t hit that mark, but I’m getting close.
Most states start first year teachers in the high $30,000’s or low $40,000’s. Most school districts also offer a pay boost for a master’s degree, usually around $2,000. Each year, or every few years, depending on how your school system works, you get an increase in pay called a “step increase.” Most districts allow you to choose whether you want to get paid over the ten months of the school year or over twelve months. I always choose twelve months.
Even if you have some student loans, if you live within your means, you can probably survive on a teacher’s salary.
That may mean having a housemate for a few more years or putting off buying that new car, but so long as you don’t have a family to support, a teacher’s salary should be enough to keep you comfortable. As you pay off your debt, and continue to live within your means, you should be able to live comfortably as a teacher as your family grows.
If you have a spouse or children to support and any substantial debt (student, credit card, mortgage, car payment), living on a beginning teacher’s salary can be very difficult.
It might mean living with your parents for a while, or making other sacrifices for a period of time until you clear your dept. How dependent you/your family is on your income will also be a factor. It surely helps to be in a two income household, even if both of those incomes are teacher’s salaries.
Note, that as a teacher you will likely be eligible for PSLF, which is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Learn more about that here.
Another thing to consider is the income to cost of living ratio where you want to live and work.
In some places, you will find high salaries and low cost of living. See this CNBC article for the top fifteen cities where a teacher’s salary goes the farthest. If you are determined to live in a city like San Francisco or New York where the cost of living is very high and the teacher’s salaries aren’t, you may struggle financially.
The greatest downside to a teacher’s salary (other than the number itself) is two-fold.
One, in nearly all districts you will get paid the same regardless of how good of a teacher you are. This can be frustrating when you see a colleague plying the kids with worksheets while you’re working your tail off to create fun and innovative lesson plans.
And two, teachers max out around $75,000 depending on the state and school district. You will never bring in the big bucks as an educator. I said you could live comfortably, but you likely won’t be purchasing a mansion or a yacht if you choose to go into teaching.
As I mentioned in The Unexpected Perks of Teaching, the summer offers opportunity to bring in additional income by pursuing other passions. When I first started teaching, I spent summers in various side jobs. To name a few, I was a kayak tour guide, a waitress, and a tutor.
Lastly, in terms of income you might want to consider risk.
Teaching is a low risk career. No matter what happens with the economy, teachers will always be in demand. Unlike a real estate agent, whose income is dependent on sales and the market, or working for a business that could potentially go under, teaching is “safe.” So long as you do your job well you are unlikely to face “downsizing,” “being fired,” or getting “RIFFED” as it is sometimes deemed (reduction in force). Your school might have a decrease in enrollment and if you were the last to be hired you will be the first to go, but there are always teachers retiring, moving, etc. and jobs are available every year in nearly every district.
As I final note, let it be known that even though I think living on a teacher’s salary is doable, I don’t think teachers are compensated fairly for the work they do preparing today’s youth to be tomorrow’s leaders. I LOVE my job. It gives me great purpose in life. The connections I make with the kids every day are priceless. But if we want to compete with other countries in terms of K-12 education, salaries are going to have to increase. That is a topic for another day. Stay tuned.