Last month was a tough month for Mrs. ROB and me financially. In fact, like clockwork our two worse months of the year are January and June. And I suspect it is that way for a variety of teachers out there.
The primary reason it is tough is because of income. Over the past few years I have been teaching overloads to supplement our income and get out of debt. During the months of January and June there is at least one pay period in each month where I will not receive a paycheck that includes this extra income. Because of that both months can be a bit tight financially. We don’t go out to eat as much. We stay home more and an it impinges upon our lifestyle.
Sometimes that can be mitigated because January is a month often with three paychecks for me and Mrs. ROB. So we will get a final paycheck for the previous semester that can carry us into the early part of January, but it is that middle period until the end of the month that gets a bit dodgy.
June is a little different because it really depends on summer teaching for me. Mrs. ROB is currently an adjunct professor. She actually teaches 5-6 classes during the semester, but is not guaranteed any summer classes. So her income, until unemployment kicks in (if it kicks in and that is a whole other story), isn’t that much. And if I don’t have a summer course for that first summer session we are running on fumes. We are really hurting.
Part of this is because of the availability of summer courses, but also how I get paid during the summer.
According to some popular fiction out there most people believe that professors take the summer off, we go on vacation, and enjoy the good life. That may be true of a small minority, but certainly not for me and most of the other teachers/professors I know. For the past 15 years I have taught at least one summer course, but also attempted to get summer grants, helped with orientation for freshman and transfer students, given talks, and taken a second job, all to pay the bills. Moreover, because of my teaching load summer is when I try to do most of my scholarship, which I enjoy doing, over the summer.
I am lucky that I am paid on a 12 month cycle, but it isn’t enough to pay all of the bills. And the extra duties I do during the summer typically I don’t see any of those monies until late July or early August. So for about 45-60 days during the summer we are just hoping that nothing goes wrong in our house.
A Few Ways Teachers Can Overcome This Problem
Because of this situation I do recognize that I need to do something ahead of time. I am already a planner (much to Mrs. ROB’s sometimes chagrin). In fact, I maybe plan too much. I try to plan almost a year out. But here are some things I try to do to mitigate the financial burdens we face.
Pay Your Mortgage/Rent Ahead of Time. I actively try during the Fall and Spring to make an extra mortgage payment. I don’t put extra money on our normal mortgage payment, but try to save some money and make that one payment ahead of time. Your rent/mortgage is probably your biggest expense, outside of food. Paying ahead gives you some wiggle room to do other things (e.g. pay for your air conditioning bills).
Divide Your Salary/Paychecks Into 12 Month Increments. This is something that I have not done, at least with the extra income I earn during the school year. I don’t recommend this strategy. Luckily I do get paid over 12 months so I have some money coming in. However, many teachers don’t have that luxury. I know two professor friends of mine who have to take jobs during the summer to pay the bills. And another friend who divides her paycheck into 12 month increments to make sure she has money over the summer months. But she always holds her breath until September when that next paycheck comes in. At least by putting some money aside during the school year you will have something over the summer to pay your bills.
Take An Extra Job. I know this isn’t ideal, but many teachers end up doing some kind of different job over the summer to get them through. I have a friend who has worked at a call center or at a coffee shop. I have worked at the YMCA, Summer Camps, and at a grocery store to have some extra income coming in. The only problem is that many employers don’t want to hire just temporary summer employees. There are two ways around that in my opinion. First, don’t tell them this is temporary. Yes, I admit I have kind of fudged whether I would be coming back in the fall. The second way is to use a temporary agency. Go to a temp agency and do office work or something for 12 weeks. That way it is temporary for sure.
Use A 457 To Get You Through The Summer. A 457, in addition to a 401k or 403b, is a type of retirement plan. It is available to many public employees, particularly teachers. I haven’t done this yet, but it is certainly intriguing. A 457 is, in essence, deferred compensation. You can take a portion of your salary and have it diverted into a 457 and then take that money out as extra income over the summer. You will have to pay taxes on the 457 payments, but unlike taking an early withdrawal on a normal retirement account, there is no penalty. I mean it is called deferred compensation for a reason. The Mad Fientist (one of my favorite PF blogs) has a great interview with the folks over at Millionaire Educator who describe how they achieved financial independence on teacher salaries and use their 457 plans.
The Bottom Line: I know that my complaining might be a bit over the top. Mrs. ROB and me are much luckier than other folks, but times do get tough for us, particularly in January and June. I suspect that many teachers experience these kinds of financial hiccups as well. I am still trying to figure out how to make it better. Hopefully, some of the suggestions here will work for others. If you are a teacher how do you make it work during the summer months and during breaks?