You’re interested in becoming a teacher but keep hearing about low educator salaries.
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.
This post is dedicated to aspiring teachers who have 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.
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?”
Related: For more money-focused posts geared towards the interests of educators, see our career and money advice for teachers.
Your Comfort Level Determines If You’re Comfortable Living on a Teacher’s Salary
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 smaller apartment, starter home, or other humble abodes while others need spacious quarters from the beginning of their careers in order to feel comfortable.
If money and things are that important to you … if it’s a HIGH priority for you, then maybe a more lucrative profession is better suited for you.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
So be very honest with yourself.
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 acquire homeownership with a lower down payment- some as low as 6%.
Though banks may do this, still consider saving at least 20% to put down because the more money you put down, the lower your monthly mortgage.
If you really want to be able to afford a decent home as a single teacher, consider moving to a more affordable region (such as the South or Midwest) or area of town.
Research your options. Below are a few resources to get you started:
- “Special” Mortgages
- 7 Home Loans for Teachers (and How to Apply for Them)
- Educator Mortgage Program
- Teacher Next Door
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 whom you share expenses?
Having a spouse who also works is beneficial to living comfortably as teacher. Two incomes are often 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.
- Money Discipline
How responsible are you with money?
Do you buy just what you need or feel a desire to keep up with the Joneses?
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
Observe all of the teachers around you.
How are they living?
They have cars, apartments, houses, and kids.
Maybe they eat out or take a vacation every now and then.
If that sounds good enough for you, then living comfortably on a teacher’s salary shouldn’t be too much work.
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 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.
Be smart with your money.
Educate yourself about financial literacy and discover ways to make your money plus time work for you.
2. Consider Roommates.
This option is definitely not for all but maybe you don’t mind.
Temporarily 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 other financial goals 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.
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.
Plus, two can live as well as one.
5. Start with an Apartment.
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 approximately 20% down or receive a favorable loan.
6. Take on a Side Hustle.
There are ways to make extra money as a teacher, and that side income can help you live more comfortably.
You might be interested in this post… 7 Work-From-Home Jobs Just Perfect for Teachers
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.
As always, do your research.
8. Teach in International Schools Abroad.
Living abroad in very low-cost countries helps to stretch your money.
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.
A financial perk to working in “American” or international schools overseas is that you may be able to 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.
So, 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 about what you value.
If after reading this post you feel that teaching is not the best choice for you, that’s fine.
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.
Now you have some insight into the potential lifestyle offerings of a K-12 teacher.