Monday, September 03, 2007

Financial matters

I'm not sure why people continue to believe that teachers make a lot of money for what they do. I've been officially losing money every month all summer, and the only reason I didn't lose money all year was the after school testprep job during the winter. I am feeling the crunch, and I do not like it.

When I paid my credit card bills in August, I was unhappy to find out that I could not pay them all off (I only have two, plus a couple of department store cards that I use once or so a year). I paid half, even though it was a stretch, and then I did something I've never done before: I took the cards out of my wallet altogether.

My first summer and fall in New York, I racked up about $1000 on each card: moving expenses, buying furnishings, buying professional clothes, buying tons of classroom supplies and books. I paid at least $200 of each card each month, and as soon as I was almost caught up, it would be time to buy a round of grad school textbooks. This was even more frustrating because as a subject teacher taking elementary courses, most of the classes and books were completely useless to me.

That was the first time I had ever carried a balance on credit cards, and it stressed me out. Right now I have no choice but to carry a balance again, and I suppose it will take a couple months to get caught up. But it should be easier this time around, with the cards put away completely.

Some of you longer readers may be rolling your eyes at my stress, thinking I put in on myself. Travel is indeed my weakness and it certainly does cost a significant amount of money. However, those after-school jobs the last couple winters, plus my salary bump, plus my AmeriCorps sum a couple years ago (?), plus the small workshop stipends all padded my savings account, which is where all that travel money came from. Going places can be rough on the old checkbook, but it's priceless experience for me. Especially since I only buy plane tickets when they are on sale and as cheap as possible. In fact, I just got a ticket home for Christmas, but I used my voucher from February, so it only cost me $85 out of pocket. You can't really argue with that one.

Oh, and this spring I bought the new camera and got my brakes done, both of which were quite expensive yet necessary. (You've seen my flickr account! Taking pictures is too much of a love, and I had a 3 year old LAME camera. I've taken over 5500 pictures since the end of May, so the new 'toy' has definitely been worth it. Mm, I love my camera. And I alreay can't wait to upgrade to a DSLR in a few years, once I get the gist of the manual settings on this one.)

This weekend I went shopping and spent possibly too much at Target and Costco and JCPenney. However, I will say that at times like these I revert back to the college days of telling myself, "No, I don't really need this" and put more things back than I actually purchase. Like brownie mix and new shoes.

There's nothing I can really cut back on when I start feeling frugal. I don't drink coffee, I don't smoke, I rarely go out to eat. We rarely go to the movies, I don't belong to a gym (I work out at home with FitTV shows). I do put at least $325 per month into savings and retirement accounts. About the only extraneous things on my list of expenses are Netflix, less than $20 a month, and a $9 eyebrow wax every three weeks, so it's not like I'm throwing away tons of money on frivolous things.

What I have to force myself to do every once in awhile is transfer money from my savings account. I've transferred $1200 just in the last three months--holy shit! However, in the five months before that, I transferred $800 into that account, so I'm not totally irresponsible. :)

Things I want to do once I catch up on money:
--Get 8x10 matte prints of London and Australia photos ($60! eek!)
--Buy a DVD burner drive so I can back up all my photos and documents ($60)
--Contribute to my favorite causes: Trailblazers, New York Cares, CityHarvest ($75)
--Figure out if I can take/afford a photography class ($200 or more--yikes)
--Figure out when my next trip will be!


17 (really 15) more years said...

The best thing you can start doing for yourself now is to start working on your 30 above. It will tap your resources a bit more, but will be well worth it in the long run. If you search wisely, I'm sure you can find some free classes - some are even offered online - and slowly, but surely, chip away at those credits. You'll get it sooner than you think.

Have a great first day back with the kiddies!

rachie said...

Hi! I found you through flickr, and I think I'm going to love reading your blog.
I'm a second-year graduate instructor at a New England University.
I also like taking pictures.

And I can totally relate to financial strain over the summer. I thought we were getting our first Fall paychecks last week when we didn't. Bills are definitely piling up.

Have a great school year!
Good luck with the finances!

Nancy said...

It sounds like to me that you're not doing very badly. First of all, credit card debt in and of itself is not bad. If you can manage it, and pay your bills on time, you're doing fine. Second, maybe you just need to change your perspective. I mean, really, teachers are not poor at all. We're not the richest people but we are far better off than other people. Third, your financial situation will ease up considerably when you hit step 5A. It's a huge jump.

I totally sympathize though. When I first started teaching, I made 29k a year. Thank goodness for all those raises.

Do you ever read Suze Orman? You should check her out. Totally love her.

J said...

nancy, you are totally right. for my age, i do very well for myself. i live on my own and travel around the world, and i'm not in real debt. i don't have extra money, but i guess that's because i use it for those things. so yes, i am quite lucky. thanks for the reminder. :)

however, if i had a family, holy cow, i can't imagine how i would make it! after their divorce, both my parents were teachers with two small kids, and i have NO idea how they got by as well as they did.

the only bad thing is that as much as i make now, it won't change dramatically for another what, twenty years? yikes.

and yes, i love suze orman too!

Nancy said...

Well, first of all, NYC is freaking expensive. That is why Henry and I are moving when we have kids. I love NYC and all but it's not worth living hand to mouth in order to support a family. So, unless your parents lived in NYC or Seattle proper, I'm guessing it wasn't as hard as you think it is!

Also, you get to live alone. That's probably worth the trade-off for you, right? I've never lived alone except for the first few months after I bought my apartment, then Henry moved in. :)

Schoolgal said...

Some comments seem to suggest that NYC teachers do okay financially.
Yet our counterparts are making much more, with more vacation days and less working hours.

Many teachers with families work 2 jobs or try to get per-session or summer school.

For the amount of work we do in the conditions we teach in, we deserve a lot more money.

I know this will take a bite out of your salary, but think about investing in your TDA if you haven't already.

Nancy said...

Oh, yeah! I love the TDA. I blab about it to all the new teachers because I opened my TDA account my first year and I'm so loaded, going into my 7th year now. It's sweet.

jonathan said...

I think it is really hard to imagine how expensive it is to live in New York City without being here.

If you are starting at $42,500, take home is around $30,000, or $2500 per month. I doubt that many of us are paying less than $1000/month for housing, and some of substantially more. That's 40% or more.

These numbers can seem insane.