25 Ways to Survive (Even Flourish) on a Teacher’s Salary

You can survive on a teacher’s salary…it’s all about strategy.

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.

Related: For more money-related teacher posts, check out our financial fitness for educators page.

25 Steps for Surviving on a Teacher’s Salary

Cut Back on Unnecessary Expenses.

Look through your monthly budget to see where you can cut back.

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.

Eating out frequently and munching on too much junk food quickly eats into your budget.

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.

Ask About Teacher Discounts.

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

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.

Own 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 so do yourself a favor and own it as long as practically possible.

And after you’ve paid if off, 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 on a teacher’s salary.

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

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 salary schedules in neighboring districts aren’t more favorable, consider options the district offers for teachers to earn extra pay such as leading sports or other extracurricular activities.

Get Your Side Hustle On.

After a long day or week of working with kids, if you have the energy, consider working 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 working.

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.

how to survive on a teacher's salary

Use Gift Cards to Control Spending.

If you like to spend on frivolous stuff and have trouble taming your spending habits, 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.

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 high-priced purchases, wait 24 to 48 hours before making a decision.

Doing so gives you time to reflect on whether you really need the item. Say goodbye to buyer’s remorse.

Say Goodbye to Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Unfortunately, there’s this social obsession of trying to impress people (people who we probably don’t know or like!).

Some people buy stuff to impress others.

Booooo!

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.

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.

True.

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.

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. Visit the salon for those special occasions.

Invest in Financial Literacy. 

Invest in a few books about money management, investing, saving, and earning passive income.

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

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.

So bring your own lunch to work.

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 can get expensive very quickly.

Consider taking trips or vacations during off-season times.

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

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.

Carpool.

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

Carpool.

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

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.

Make something instead … get crafty.

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 Books.

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

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.

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.

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 a similar situation as you.

Check out these families who have done it:

Wrapping Up: Surviving on a Teacher’s Salary

It’s possible to survive on a teacher’s salary and even thrive while doing so.

These 25 tips help you get there.

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