You’re interested in becoming a teacher but have heard all those rumors about teachers making peanuts.
And so you wonder, do teachers make enough money to live comfortably?
Yes, in general, K-12 teachers in the U.S make enough money to live comfortably depending on how they are accustomed to living. Other factors at play include standard of living, geographic location, family status, and level of frugality.
The idea for this article originated from a conversation I had with a sophomore student at a local university.
She is majoring in architecture but thinking of switching to teaching before the start of her junior year.
Her hesitation stems from the fear of not being able to properly take care of herself, her life, and future family on a teacher’s salary.
This post is a response to that sophomore college student and all of the other aspiring teachers ( or current educators) who have the same concern about the ability to live comfortably on a teacher’s salary.
*Disclaimer: This post represents my opinions and experiences and are for educational purposes only. I am not a financial advisor, and this post does not represent formal financial advice.
My career as an elementary education teacher started back in 2002.
With a first-year teacher starting salary of $34,500/yr. and no Master’s degree, I wasn’t doing too shabby for a 22-year old, brand-spanking new teacher (at least that was my perception).
Let me add that I was child-free and single, so that definitely had something to do with how I spent my paycheck.
Living modestly, I did well for myself.
Fast forward many years later.
The year I decided to take a break from teaching, I was making around $62,000 a year.
By that time, I had 15 years of teaching experience under my belt and a “passion” Master’s degree.
Not so bad, I guess.
In fact, my husband and I were primarily living off of that one income, and we never struggled.
He was working part-time, making very little and also finishing up his teaching alternative certification program.
But we were living pretty comfortably (for our standards).
Nothing fancy, just the basics.
Compared to salaries of other 4-year degree professions, teachers are at the bottom of the totem pole.
I get that.
Teacher salaries not being comparable to other 4-year professions isn’t the issue here though.
The ability of teachers to live comfortably on what they make is.
In my humble opinion, living comfortably on a teacher’s salary is a mindset.
And that’s what’s important to understand.
Understanding the relationship between teacher salary and living comfortably begins with taking a look at an individual’s mindset.
You must first ask yourself, “What’s comfortable for me?”
What’s Comfortable for You?
You really must ask yourself what’s comfortable for you.
Are you okay with having just the “basics” in life (or maybe just a tad bit more)?
Or do you need frequent lavish vacations, a McMansion (or two), designer clothes, etc.?
Do you have a need to keep up with the Joneses?
We all have different standards for our lives.
Some people actually don’t mind living in a studio apartment or other humble abodes day in and day out, while others, even if flying solo, need spacious quarters in order to feel comfortable.
When I was in college, most of my close friends majored in science or engineering.
They chose careers that are well-paid and provide clear paths to advancement (without going back to school for additional degrees or certifications).
Many of them now drive fancy cars, live in lavish homes, travel extensively, eat well, and for the most part, they’re happy.
And I’m super happy for them because they’re good people who work hard and deserve everything they have.
Now allow me to have a false pity-party for myself for a moment.
What about me? 😞
When I was teaching, I worked just as hard as they do.
In fact, one could argue that I worked harder than them.
From looking at my paychecks, though, the payments sure didn’t measured up to theirs.
But you know what?
That was okay for me.
Because I was content with my standard of living.
I did many of the same things they did-travel, eat well, buy what I wanted; I just couldn’t do those things as often.
My standard was different from theirs so I was okay with my way of living.
Let me add that I never secretly envied what they owned or had.
Comparison is the quickest thief of joy, and keeping up with the Joneses never helped anyone either.
What if I had compared myself to my engineer and STEM-career friends who had graduated alongside of me?
It would have been easy for me to sink into a “whoa is me” mindset.
Honestly, as I’ve gotten older, having more income streams has become more important to me, but…
I still don’t envy those who seemingly have more than me.
We’re in the age of technology.
Various opportunities abound for us to create profitable side hustles or even start a new career.
If money and things are that important to you (yes, money is important and so is stuff!), if it’s a HIGH priority for you, then maybe a more lucrative profession is better suited for your preferences.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
So be very honest with yourself.
As a side note, if you’re a teacher and have a partner who supports you financially, then it’s a lot easier to live comfortably on a teacher’s salary. In this situation, it’s just a matter of budgeting.
So, what’s comfortable for you?
What if I’m single? Can a Single Teacher Even Buy a House?
House prices can be steep depending on where you live in the U.S.
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), homeownership is least affordable for those living in the Northeast and the West.
Obviously that’s bad news for those who live in those areas.
But there’s hope.
Conventional advice recommends that individuals pay at least a 20% down payment on the purchase of a home.
However, many banks help teachers get into the homeownership game with a lower down payment- some as low as 6%.
Though banks may do this, I would still personally save at least 20% to put down.
Because the less money you put upfront, the greater your monthly mortgage will be. 😞
And who wants a bigger monthly house note than they have to have?
On a positive note…
If you really want to be able to afford a decent home as a single teacher, you could move to a more affordable region (such as the South or Midwest) or area of town.
Moving doesn’t guarantee lower prices overall, but you’re more likely to find a wider variety of affordable options in some places compared to others.
NOTE: According to the NCTQ, home ownership is most affordable when median homeowner costs are 30% or less of a teacher’s take-home pay.
Is the moving solution practical for many?
But looking at the big picture, it may be better in the long run if you want to experience home ownership and not struggle financially as an educator.
If homeownership is important to you, regardless of where you live, do some research regarding your options.
Here are some resources to get you started:
- “Special” Mortgages
- 7 Home Loans for Teachers (and How to Apply for Them)
- Educator Mortgage Program
- Teacher Next Door
Further on I offer other practical solutions for making it work whether you’re single or not
What Other Factors Contribute to Living Comfortably on a Teacher’s Salary
- Private vs. Public Schools
Generally speaking, K-12 public school employees are paid more than private school employees. However, there are elite, prestigious college-preparatory schools that pay just as well as public schools
- Family Status
Do you have a partner with which you share expenses?
Having a spouse who also works is beneficial to living comfortably as teacher. Two similar incomes as educators are surely better than one.
Adding kids to the mix affects finances significantly, so you’ll have to be much more creative in making a comfortable lifestyle for your family and yourself if you have children.
Here’s a great article about how one family lives a good life on a small income. There are many great take-aways!
- Money Discipline
How responsible are you with money?
Do you buy just what you need or feel a desire (even a little) to keep up with the Joneses? (Remember, they’re broke!)
Being able to stretch a dollar is an art.
If you have the discipline to buy only what you can afford and live within your means, you’ll be fine living comfortably on a teacher’s salary.
Living Comfortably as a Teacher ~ Look Around You
Take a look at all the teachers around you.
How are they living?
They have cars, apartments, houses, and kids.
Maybe they eat out or take a vacation (even if it’s in-state; sounds good to me!) every now and then.
Growing up, my teachers certainly weren’t broke or didn’t appear to be.
They didn’t exude richness either.
And that’s okay.
They seemed healthy and happy.
From my limited observations, they carried on a normal life, had the basic necessities and maybe a few “nicer” things.
If that sounds good enough for you, then living comfortably on a teacher’s salary shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Be honest with yourself.
If you have a rich palette and want the “finer” things in life on a regular basis, go another route. You can always consider the teaching profession later on in life.
9 Practical Solutions for Living Comfortably as a Teacher
1. Start Small
If you’re really intent on being a teacher, then do it!
Just start small.
Lease a studio apartment or buy a starter home; buy an affordable, used car; use clothes that are well-made but reasonably-priced; and make eating out an event that only happens during special occasions.
Most importantly, be smart with your money.
Educate yourself about teacher finances and ways to make your money and time work for you.
2. Consider Roommates
This option is definitely not for all!
Aside from college, I’m not a fan of roommates.
I did it once while teaching and HATED it!
However, that’s me.
What about you?
Maybe you don’t mind and actually love the idea!
Live in an expensive city but just gotta have that apartment?
Having a roommate or two helps tremendously with finances.
If you’re lucky enough to room with someone whose clean, trustworthy, and respectful of your space, go for it!
3. Live with Your Parents
Until you’ve saved enough to meet your housing goals (or whatever other financial goal you have), this is a decent option.
It’s not the cool or “grown-up thing” thing to do, but you know what?
While your colleagues and friends are struggling to make the bills, you can be saving those coins!
It’s only temporary, right?!
4. Get Married
There are potential financial benefits to marriage.
If you’re in a two-earner household, living on a teacher’s salary is not so hard.
Don’t just get married though for the financial benefits.
That could lead to even more issues! 😕
5. Start with An Apartment
All of your friends and colleagues are buying homes, so you think that’s the next step for you too.
While monthly rents can be more expensive than mortgages, there are factors that people don’t often discuss when it comes to home ownership.
Once you buy a home, you fill it up with stuff, maintain it, fix something, maintain it, maintain it (repeat once again).
The cycle goes on and on.
Save your money until you can put about around 20% down.
6. Take on a Side Hustle
There are ways to make extra money as a teacher, and that side income can help you live comfortably as a teacher.
Some educators create new businesses from their side hustles.
Profitable options that may take a little longer to build include becoming an educational consultant, blogger, and/or freelance writer.
7. Be Willing to Move
Open to the idea of moving to another state?
Your paycheck generally goes further in places with lower costs of living.
To get the most bang for your buck, stick to major cities, as school districts in big cities tend to pay more.
And don’t assume the southern United States pay lower or places like Long Island, NY pay more.
TONS of factors are at play, so as always, do your research, and take a look at your personal circumstances.
8. Teach in International Schools Abroad
Living abroad in very low-cost countries definitely helped me save more money, but I still practiced frugal habits.
When I talk about teaching abroad, I’m not referring to teaching ESL.
Working in international schools with U.S ties is of what I’m speaking.
These schools can be great opportunities not just for your career but also for your finances.
There’s too much information about the subject for me to cover in this post, but check out my article about teaching overseas in international schools.
A financial perk to working in “American” or international schools overseas is that you can exclude part of your earned income from U.S taxes if you choose.
Over time, those saved coins add up!
9. Be Patient
As an educator, you’ll probably be paid according to a salary schedule.
With time, you’ll move up in earnings on the pay scale.
In the meantime, see if your school or district gives stipends for in-demand certifications such as bilingual.
Extra duties like coaching or sponsoring extracurricular activities often reward educators with supplemental pay, so check that out too.
If you really want to earn more money, consider a master’s degree in leadership or another education-related field that yields a higher paycheck.
Do teachers make enough money to live comfortably?
Yes, educators absolutely do and can live well if they play their cards right and have the proper mindset. It’s all about perception and what you value.
But if after reading this article you don’t think teaching is the best choice for your circumstances, that’s great too!
It’s good to know what you want vs. don’t want now compared to later when you’ll probably feel too invested in a career or lifestyle to make an exit.
I hope this article gave you some insight into the potential lifestyle offerings of a K-12 teacher.
You can lead a fabulous life indeed!
What’s your opinion about living comfortably on a teacher’s salary?
Talk to me!
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