There’s no doubt that reading about money can be pretty boring. Writing about money can be equally as boring. I don’t always enjoy it, so why do I still attempt to crank out blog posts every now and again? Here are a few reasons that I still write:
#1: To Change the Narrative
Okay, I’m going to be brutally honest here. I can’t stand the personal finance nonsense oozing out of the teachers’ lounge. From day one in my teaching career, I’ve heard the same old tired lines:
“Teachers ought to be paid more because teaching is such an important job. Teachers have such a difficult job, but they are grossly underappreciated and underpaid.”
Raise your hand if you’ve heard that before. In order to avoid being ostracized by my peers, I usually just nod my head in agreement whenever the woe-is-us pity party starts up. Early in my career, I would have agreed with that mantra, but over time my financial views on a teaching career mutated. For example, once I learned more about our TRS pension, I realized what a sweet deal it was for us. While teachers complained about their 6% contributions, most were totally unaware that their districts contributed another 14% to their pensions! In the days of disappearing defined benefit plans, many teachers (including the former, studlier me) simply don’t understand the value of their pension. (FYI Georgia teachers, you’re vested in your pension plan after “only” 10 years of service. At that point, you’ll be able to draw a pension at age 60.)
Another attitude shift occurred when I learned that most school districts offered two “401k” plans: the 403b and 457 plans. You know that $18,000 a year 401k contribution limit? It doesn’t apply to teachers; it’s double that ($36,000) if they have access to 403b and 457 plans. If you’re over 50, you also get to double your catch-up contributions ($6k * 2 = $12k). While most employees in the private sector are limited to one 401k plan and an IRA, teachers usually have access to four retirement plans: pension, 403b, 457, and IRA. Wow, you talk about an unreal ability to sock away some money! In 2012 my wife and I took full advantage of this information by fully funding 10 retirement accounts (yes, we had an extra one) in addition to our HSA and ESA plans. These days I openly use the term “goldmine” to describe my previous teaching jobs.
I know what you’re thinking–“Great Ed, but what good are two “401k” plans when you’re an underpaid teacher living paycheck to paycheck?” Great question! While it’s true that starting teachers’ salaries are lower than those of other fields, there are ways for teachers to increase their salaries. In Georgia teachers can: 1.) earn a graduate degree for a $6,000 a year raise, 2.) teach “extended day” for a pay increase of 10-25%, and/or 3.) coach a sport or sponsor a club for an extra $500 to $5,000. Since my wife and I both earned our master’s degrees and our educational specialist degrees, we earned $24,000 more a year ($6,000 per graduate degree) than teachers with only an undergraduate degree. Over the years we both coached sports or sponsored clubs, and I worked extended day for seven straight years at LaGrange High School. Many years my wife earned extra pay via an extended-year contract (for example, a 200-day contract vs. the standard 190-day contract).
In 1992 I earned $18,500 as a new teacher on a provisional teaching certificate. Since our return to the U.S. in 2002, my wife has earned as much as $65,000 in a year while I have earned as much as $72,000. Our combined income is usually in the $125,000 to $132,00 range. Keep in mind that these salaries are from teaching, not working as administrators. Without a doubt, these salary hacks helped us maximize our earning potential. So, when my friends and co-workers start yammering on about how underpaid teachers are, I have to suppress the urge to yell out “hogwash.” Ideally, I hope my writing helps people understand that teaching doesn’t require taking a vow of poverty and that teachers can truly build wealth on “just” a teacher’s salary. (Check out the 2016-17 Georgia teacher salary schedule, base pay excluding local district supplement.)
#2: To Show the Possibilities
Maybe my goal of changing the narrative is too ambitious because, let’s face it, most people stay set in their ways. However, by writing I can at least give my readers a peak at our world of near endless possibilities resulting from our improved financial position. On our journey to financial independence, we have developed a wealth-building formula that has yielded unimaginable results. Here are some of the areas I’ll continue to write about:
- Hardcore Savings * Since 2003 we have saved from $30,000 to $106, 250 a year with an average annual savings of $66,300. While highlighting our savings prowess might look like bragging, my hope is that our financial numbers will inspire other to supercharge their retirement savings. In the future, my dream scenario is to get lots of reader emails thanking me for improving their financial lives; nothing would make me happier. (See the examples below.)
- Frugal Living * In July of 2015, we moved into a 2/1.5 apartment that rented for $500 a month. The apartment was close to our job sites, had reasonable utility expenses, a pool, and no lawn duties. Not only did we enjoy living there, but it was also dirt cheap. One day I jotted down our normal living expenses and realized that most months we were living on about $1,500 to $2,000. (I’m terrible at budgeting; I promise to do better starting in 2017.) Even though we were living frugally, we all enjoyed our living arrangement. The bottom line is that it is possible to pare your costs considerably and maintain an awesome lifestyle.
- Travel and Adventure * Now that we are FIRE’d, we are time rich with enough money to maintain our preferred lifestyle. In 2014 we became travel hackers (thanks to #1, #2, #3, #4) and began amassing a cache of 3 million hotel and airline points. Our new hobby means that we can pick exciting locales to practice our frugal living. In November, we’ll travel to Cancun, Mexico where we’ll stay indefinitely. After Mexico, we plan on slow traveling through various sweet-spots around the globe. How exciting is that?!
#3: To Satisfy My Readers
Every blogger probably starts blogging with a nagging sense of doubt. Is anyone reading my posts? If so, do they like my ideas? Do they think I’m an idiot? Eventually, I began to feel the love from my readers. My first memorable experience happened at FinCon15 in Charlotte when a guy approached me and said, “Hey, you’re Ed Mills of the Millionaire Educator, right?” I answered yes thinking he was going to give me his list of top ten reasons why my blog sucked. To my amazement he said, “I love your stuff” and walked off in a hurry. I honestly wish I had gotten a picture with my first fan; it was so flattering.
Over time I have received a steady stream of emails and comments from readers telling why and how much they like my posts and ideas. I always read the encouraging comments to my wife because the positive energy they provide is exhilarating. Check some of my favorite comments below (the names have been changed to protect the anonymity of my millionaire readers).
Natasha and Roel from Florida: “Hi Ed, I first heard your story on the Mad Fientist podcast and was impressed. I played it again at home with my wife listening and could see the wheels turning, so thank you for that.”
Carlitos: I habitually listen to your interview with the MadFientist…I just wanted to thank you for being such an inspiration!
Carolina: I wanted to thank you for spreading your message. Because of your story, I became aware of my eligibility for the 457b, the idea of maxing out these accounts, better understood the fees associated with my retirement plans, and gotten the courage to implement these ideas. In the past ten months, my husband and I have been able to save $97,663 primarily in retirement accounts. (Ed: It looks there is a female version of me out there saving like a crazy fool…kudos to you, financial soulmate!)
Pedro: “… your website…helped me nail down the teacher-specific nuances of investing…There are now 3 teachers in my department that are doing net worth tracking together, setting yearly goals, and working towards FI. Your site has been one of the major catalysts for that. Keep posting and adding concrete information for people. You are not just sending these posts into the abyss, people are reading them and getting great value from it.”
Teodoro: “Ed, as I posted on MF, I like what you do. Press on.”
Gee Bee: “From one teacher/coach/runner to another, you’re an inspiration.”
Felipe: “Love what you are doing. I am impressed with your savings and investing habits. Very Nice. Congrats on obtaining a 1M Net Worth.”
Marta: “I heard you interviewed on a podcast today, right after I spoke to a potential financial planner. I was crying on the phone because I have raised three children who are very happy and successful and I am 66 y.o. and was told today that there is no way I will be able to ever retire… Your story is impressive and I’d like to know if you can help me get on track.” ( Ed: This email almost made me cry!)
Andy: “Keep doing a good job and getting the word out about investing…”
Daniel: “I find your story inspiring and would be interested in learning more.”
Rawsty Swayne: “Thanks for your contribution to the Financial Blog / Podcast realm…your style really clicked with me…Thanks for sharing your story and journey on the path to $1 million, and eagerly anticipate reading your future updates!”
Marie: “I really enjoyed hearing about your life and I think your attitude rocks! 🙂 Very inspiring interview, that I will recommend to my friends that are teachers…You and your family are welcome to stay at our condo for a couple days…” (Ed: An offer to stay with a French-speaking family in Canada!)
Catherine: “Yours is the first I heard of someone moving so much to take economic advantages. How interesting!”
I love hearing from my readers, so if you like something I write, please let know. Even better, share my best work with your teacher friends so that they can become millionaires like the rest of us.
#4: To Organize My Thoughts
Everyone that knows me recognizes that I have a manic side. After listening to one of my podcast interviews, a blogging buddy told me that I sounded like a “savant” when I started rattling off 403b-457-IRA-“free money” figures. (I hope he meant that as a “learned person,” not like the guy below.) I like to think that my rapid-fire, scattered thinking is a sign of high intelligence. Unfortunately, many of my greatest thoughts get pushed out by even greater thoughts. The obvious solution is to simply write my ideas down somewhere, anywhere.
Blogging provides me with a a double win. First, by writing my thoughts and ideas down, I am able to capture them before they fly off. Second, once I have my awesome, but disjointed, ideas on cyber-paper, it is easier for me to organize and polish them. Eventually, my ideas get distilled into impressive blog posts like the one you’re reading right now. My end goal is to consolidate what I’ve learned over the last 20 years into a personal finance/FIRE book for teachers and the general public. In order to get such a book published, I need to get my ideas on paper, so that’s why I’ll keep slogging away on this blog.
Okay, those are my main reasons for writing. Going forward I’m planning on a weekly post every Saturday. As I finish off a few on my half-written posts, I’ll start on my WILF series (What I Learned From, not to be confused with…). Finally, I’d like to thank all of the bloggers out there (you know who you are) who constantly cajole, kick and prod me to write more. Sometimes my lazy, FIRE’d butt needs a swift kick…ouch!
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