You can survive on a teacher’s salary. It’s about strategy and being money-smart!

We’ve all heard the stats.

Given equal educational levels, K-12 public school teachers don’t get the same payouts as other professionals.

It’s a pill that we swallow every day (or least every time the news reminds us of this fact), and being resentful or frustrated about this reality serves no one well.

So you’ve got to take action if you want to survive (even thrive!) on a teacher’s salary.

Here are 25 steps you can take to survive on a teacher’s salary.

Cut Back on Unnecessary Expenses.

Look through your monthly budget to see where you can cutback.

Maybe you don’t need the latest model iPhone or all of those premium channels.

Could you be paying for services that you’re no longer using?

Check into those automatic renewal bill options (infamous for getting you to sign up, opt-in to automatic withdrawals, and then hoping you forget about it!).  

You could be paying for services that you’ve forgotten about and don’t need anymore.

Some unnecessary expenses include an iTunes subscription, a car wash membership, and season passes to museums.

These things aren’t bad to have, but are you getting the most bang for your buck with them?

Do you actually use these services? If not, time to cut them loose.

Surviving on a teacher’s salary means letting go of money-suckering services that don’t serve you well.

Cook at Home.

Speaking of cutting back on unnecessary expenses, eating out frequently and munching on too much junk food quickly eats into your budget.

To survive on a teacher’s salary, here’s a great idea…

Plan your meals for an entire week (or even a month).  

Purchase all the ingredients you need at once and get to cooking!

You can freeze leftovers in individual portions and thaw when ready to consume.

And let’s not forget that cooking at home is generally healthier than eating out, too!

Ask About Teacher Discounts.

One of the perks of being a school teacher is educator discounts.

I’m one of those who will almost always ask a business or service (shamelessly), “Do you offer discounts for teachers?”

Of course, some places don’t, but a few may throw a discount your way simply for good measure.

Here’s a good list of teacher discounts. Check locally-owned businesses in your community, too.

Buy a Good Car and Keep It for Years.

This is one of my best secrets for surviving on a teacher’s salary ~ owning a car for as long as possible, and ideally, without a car note.

Buying a new car is pricey.

Purchasing a decent pre-owned car is also a good chunk of change.

And nobody likes a car note (uh!).

When you do have to purchase a car and make monthly payments on it, do yourself a favor and own it as long as practically possible.

A lot of car notes are for 36-60 months. Imagine paying your car in full within that time frame.

The amount that you were putting towards the car every month can now be put towards investing or saving!


Consider Home Loans for Teachers.

Housing prices continue to rise which means homes are becoming less affordable for those on a teacher’s salary.

But you can own a home while surviving on a teacher’s salary.

Exists resources to help educators enjoy home ownership such as favorable mortgage loans and programs for low-to-moderate income families.

And if you rent, most personal finance professionals advise not to spend more than 30% of your gross pay on rent.

Keeping this guideline in mind helps you to stay within your budget when home shopping.

Work in a School District with Higher Pay.

Surviving on a teacher’s salary sometimes means following the money.

Live in a big city or an area with more than a handful of school districts?

If so, try to work in a district with the more attractive salary schedule.

If the salary schedule isn’t significantly more than nearby districts, consider what other options the district may offer for teachers to earn extra pay such as leading sports and other extracurricular activities.

Get Your Side Hustle On.

After a long day or week of working with kids, if you have the energy, consider getting a side hustle to earn some extra coins.

Some of these side hustles can be a significant income boost such as teaching English online, freelancing, or tutoring.

Participate in Your District’s Cafeteria Plan.

If your school offers a cafeteria plan as part of its fringe benefits package, do think about signing up for it.

These plans are a great way to save money on taxes while getting access to some really great benefits.

Be Grateful for Your Pension.

When I think about surviving on a teacher’s salary, I look at more than just the amount of money received each month in exchange for my time.

What other financial benefits do you receive?

One is probably the teacher pension.

A lot of public school educators pay into a teacher retirement plan, many of which serve as a pension plan.

Pension plans are rarer today with employers than in the past, so I think teachers are fortunate to be one of the few professions still hanging on to these type of retirement accounts.

Though you don’t have access to that money during your working years, it’s nice to know that you’ll have a nice stash of cash waiting for you once you retire.

You may not become rich off of this pension money (but who knows?), but at the least, you won’t be begging or surviving to live.

Use Gift Cards to Control Spending.

If you like to spend on frivolous stuff (think Starbucks and such; I’m guilty as charged!) and don’t really want to give up your habits just yet or need to do a gradual release, a gift card is great for managing your money habits.

If you have a Starbucks habit (or another significant frivolous spending habit), put $25 or so on a gift card for yourself monthly.

Once that amount is spent, no more until next month.

how to survive on a teacher's salary
Photo Credit: Curriculum Chef

I do this for Walmart and Target because it seems like no matter what, I always tend to find a reason to pick up something that I really don’t need when browsing in those stores. 🙂

Stop Impulse Buying.

It’s very difficult to survive on a teacher’s salary while being an impulse shopper.

For more serious purchasing issues (such as the urge to spend at least a $100 on a whim), think about waiting 24 to 48 hours before making the purchase.

Doing so gives you time to reflect on whether you really need the item or time to think about your real intentions for wanting that particular thing.

This simple action has saved me many-a-days of buyer’s remorse.

Say Goodbye to Keeping Up with the Joneses.

While we’re on the subject of impulse buying, let’s chat real quick about this social obsession with trying to impress people (people who we probably don’t know or like. LOL!).

Some people buy stuff to impress others.


There’s no need to go broke trying to impress anyone.

And you know what I’ve discovered?

The Joneses are broke or living no better than anyone else.

The power of perception is really all they have.

Just Say No!

Is your principal looking for you to volunteer for that school board or standardized test review meeting this school year?

Uh, no thank you.

Your time is valuable and unless there’s compensation, learn how to say “no” more often in the workplace when it comes to participating in non-mandatory school-related activities.

Use that time to work on a committee or school project that will actually compensate you for your time and efforts.

And don’t feel bad about saying “no”.

Spend Less on Classroom Stuff.

They say teachers put a lot of money towards their classrooms.


But I also know that we sometimes spend on non-essential items: decorative borders, fancy planners, colorful paper baskets, etc.

Don’t’ get caught up in spending so much to have a “Pinterest” classroom. That gets expensive, and at the end of the day, that’s not what’s really important for kids’ learning.

Now, if you have the moolah, go for it.

But basic supplies (think plan butcher paper, simple border, and a few containers for collecting papers) can go a long way.

I’ve done it time and time again without issue.

My room may not look as stylish as Teacher B’s next door, but it will be clean, presentable, and serve pretty well in its primary role as a conducive learning environment for students.

Do Your Hair at Home.

One of the best steps I’ve taken to survive on a teacher’s salary is to go less often to a hair stylist.

Hair salon expenses add up quickly.

On top of that, spending weekends or afternoons in a shop is not the most ideal form of relaxation and passing the time.

So try doing your own hair, at home.

My husband and I do our hair at home now.  I’ll visit the salon every once in a while for that special occasion.

Invest in Financial Literacy.

As teachers, we’re always learning and setting new goals.  

I love to read, especially books about money management, investing, saving, and earning passive income.

These books help me to understand how money works and flows on a deeper level, more than just earning and spending dollars.

You really begin to see how it’s not so much how much you make but more about how much you spend (though this principle isn’t absolute).

Psychology is at the core of our relationship with money.

Here are a few of my favorite finance books:

  • Real Money Answers for Every Woman by Patrice Washington
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter
  • The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley

Bring Your Own Lunch to School.

School lunches for teachers often cost money.

That $3 or $4 adds up.

Save some money and bring your own lunch to work.

And bring something that you don’t have to heat. Waiting in line to use the microwave is such a time waster.

Stick to a Budget and Pay Yourself First.

Every pay day, take a look at your budget and pay yourself first, even if it’s $20 or $50.

Tuck that money away somewhere (like a bank account or money market fund).

Then assign the rest of your money to your obligations.

Tell each dollar where it goes before it tells you where it’s going.

This is one of the key methods I have used for surviving on a teacher’s salary.

Travel at a Discount.

Travel. Ahhh!

Don’t you just love it?

Travel (and food, yum!) are my first loves.

But travel gets expensive ~ real quick!

I may get in trouble for this one here (lickety-split!), but you know what?

Plane tickets and car rentals often have peak prices during busy seasons (think Christmas, Easter, summer).

What I’ve done is this…

At the beginning of the school year, I use my allotted days to take a week off during the school year. It’s a week that’s not a regular busy season.

Doing this usually means prices are more affordable because everyone else is at work and kids are in school.

A plane ticket to an overseas location can sometimes be hundreds of dollars less during off-season.

Besides this tip, also consider traveling locally.

Traveling in-state or in-city saves money, and isn’t it kind of weird that the place we live is often one of the last places we explore when it comes to travel?

So get to know your own backyard first and see how much further your paycheck goes compared with traveling out-of-state or out of the country.

Take Care of Yourself.

Surviving on a teacher’s salary means being preventative.

Taking care of your health (body, mind, teeth, etc. ) daily prevents the cumulative consequence of big medical problems which equals more money out of your pocket.

It’s much more economical (and might I add wise) to get a teeth cleaning every 6 months than to wait to visit the dentist when something is majorly wrong.

The same goes for medical checkups.

Eat well, exercise regularly, and surround yourself with positive people.

Daily actions aimed at staying healthy pays off big time in the long run. A pay off that goes into your wallet and not out!


Got a friend who lives close by and works at the same place as you?


She drives one week or day, and then you the next.

It’s very common in my city and saves a good amount of money on gas and toll fees.

Surviving on a teacher’s salary means being resourceful.

Prepare Homemade Gifts for Special Events.

Especially if you’re on a budget, don’t go buying expensive gifts for others for special events.

No, no, no!

Make something instead. Get crafty.

Once again, surviving on a teacher’s salary means being resourceful with what you’ve got.

As an added bonus, the receiver of the gift will see that you put quite a bit of effort into making her gift.

It’s really a nice gesture and gives more of a personal touch.

Check Out Library Books Instead of Buying Them.

Who doesn’t love Barnes & Nobles, Half-Priced Books, or Amazon?

But buying books isn’t cheap.

Your local library probably has the book you’re looking for, and if it doesn’t, check to see if it’s in their Hoopla database or located at a nearby library from which they can ship it.

Comparison Shop for Better Car Insurance Premiums.

Surviving on a teacher’s salary means shopping around for the best prices.

That includes car insurance.

When my car insurance company skyrocketed our monthly minimum for no obvious reason except for the fact that it was renewal time, I said to myself “Girl, no way are you going to pay this outrageous increase in price!”.

I couldn’t believe that spending just under an hour or so comparing prices of different insurance companies would save us so much money each month.

how to survive on a teacher's salary

Switching over really wasn’t that much of a hassle.

Shop around to see which car insurance agency offers you the best coverage for the most affordable price in connection with your driving history.

It’s really worth it to do this.

Potluck with Friends and Family.

I love a night out with friends just like everyone else. But I don’t like bill time.

To save money, potluck with friends and family instead of spending money at a restaurant.

Everyone brings a dish to contribute, and if you have kids, there’s liberty for them to play and just be kids without the unwanted attention from patrons who might have wanted a quiet night out.

Save money and give some much-needed play-time and freedom to your little munchkins.

Read About Others Living on One Income for Motivation!

Surviving on a teacher’s salary means getting inspiration from others.

The internet is an amazing platform, and you can find people from all over the world who are in similar shoes as yours.

Check out these families who have done it:

Conclusion ~ Now Do You Think You Can Survive on a Teacher’s Salary?

Even though surviving on a teacher’s salary is not a walk in the park, it’s totally possible to do and to even thrive while doing so!

When you consider that there are some surviving on one income (with kids, too!), you begin to put things into perspective and understand that it’s not impossible.

How are you surviving on your teacher’s salary?

Keep doin’ your thang!