4 Common Financial Struggles of a Teacher + Strategies to Assist

Teachers are often not only underappreciated, but sometimes (read much of the time) underpaid as well.

Despite being highly qualified, many public school teachers barely get by with their income [1]. As a result, they battle with unmatched challenges on the personal finance end and bear greater economic stress than many other workers in the US [2].

While there is little we can do to change the national educators’ financial crises, we can try and help ease some of your financial struggles.

In this article, we will address some common financial challenges teachers face and their practical strategies to assist. Reading till the end, you will find relatable economic troubles and some strategies that, apparently, have worked for some of your peers.

Common Financial Challenges and What You Can Do As A Teacher

The challenges that come with the teaching profession threaten to make the job more onerous than it already is. These challenges can suck the joy out of giving back to the community and compel some teachers to change their careers.

But before giving up on your job, read through the list below and see if you can relate to any of these challenges and if the strategies mentioned can help you stay put in a career you probably love.

Financial Challenge #1: Low Income

Of course, the root of all financial challenges facing teachers today is low income. Many public school teachers today earn significantly less than other college graduates with similar experience [3].

Public school teachers often don’t even earn enough to pay all their bills, let alone afford a luxurious lifestyle [4].

On top of all that, living costs are notoriously high across the US [5].

According to our research, the annual living wage in most of the US states is way higher than a public school teacher’s annual salary.

For example, the annual living wage in California, one of the most expensive states in the US, is around $97,800 [6], while the average annual salary of teachers in California is $67,776 [7]. That’s a colossal difference.

Similarly, Connecticut pays on average $65,653 [8] per year to its public school teachers, while the average living wage in the state is around $78,454 [9].

Of course, the real numbers may differ. But these averages are enough to paint a grim picture of the deficit between the required living wage and the earning potential of a teacher.

Teachers don’t deserve to live like this. But there’s only so much you can do to change this situation on a national level.

You can, however, take some steps that may help you afford bills and basic life necessities more easily.

How to Combat Low Teacher’s Income

59% of teachers across the US turn to moonlighting or side jobs to pay their bills [10].

So, picking up a side job or building alternate income streams seems to be a popular solution to the low-income challenge.

There are a lot of options when it comes to side jobs.

You can look for income opportunities at your own school and pick up an evening or extra class.

You can proctor standardized tests like SATs, ACTs, etc., become a curriculum developer, or start your tutoring business.

The best part is all of these jobs don’t require you to reinvent the wheel and instead build on your existing teaching skills.

However, if you don’t want to increase your work hours, consider switching school districts.

Some school districts offer higher salaries than others [11]. Do your research and see if there are any school districts that can potentially pay better than what you currently make and consider switching.

Additionally, administrative positions in schools also tend to have higher salaries than teaching positions [12].

See if you can transfer to an administrative position in your school.

But please note admin positions require higher qualifications. You may have to earn an advanced degree to make a move [13].

Financial Challenge #2: Pension Won’t Be Enough to Fund Retirement

While it may be true that teachers get many employee benefits, these are not always enough to help them get by once they retire.

90% of public school teachers are enrolled in a defined-benefit pension plan [14], according to which the employer pays benefits mostly in terms of monthly payments once the employee retires.

However, it is not as simple as it sounds.

The pension that most “qualified” teachers get is generally not often enough to support a comfortable lifestyle [15].

According to teacherspension.org, the average benefit that new retirees in California get is around $49,200 per year [16], significantly less than the cost of living in the state, as mentioned above.

Therefore, it may not be financially-wise to rely on your pension alone to support a comfortable lifestyle post-retirement.

Strategy for Low/No Pension

If you make enough money to spare some at the end of the month, consider putting it aside to supplement your pension once you retire.

Additionally, there may be some other retirement plans you may qualify for, such as an employer-sponsored defined-contribution plan, which can help you save money for the future [17].

If you’re looking for personalized guidance with your retirement planning, we recommend talking to a financial professional.

At Dayton and Sydney, we help teachers select a retirement plan that aligns with their current financial situation and future goals. Feel free to talk to one of our financial professionals for assistance.

Financial Challenge #3: Not Having Enough Cashflow During Summer

Getting a summer vacation is something that many people envy about the teaching profession. But what most people don’t know is that teachers don’t make money when the school is out.

That’s right. Teachers don’t get paid during summer vacations [18]. That means they get a regular paycheck only during the nine or ten month-long school year and have to get by with no paycheck during the summer months.

Not being paid for two months a year can take a toll on your already grim financial situation. But fortunately, this situation is not as difficult to solve as others we have discussed.

Maintaining Cashflow During Summers

Probably the most recommended strategy for the no-paycheck-in-summer problem is to have your income spread out over 12 months [19]. This way, you don’t have to worry about not getting paid during summer vacations.

But of course, since your annual income will remain the same, going this route will reduce your monthly income. And if you are already tight on your monthly budget, this may not be a viable solution.

Putting out money every month from your paycheck can also be tough, given the statistical insufficient monthly income.

Therefore, picking up summer jobs might be the best (or least bad) option in this case.

Yes, you won’t be able to kick back and relax, but you may, hopefully, have the money to pay your bills, afford your kid’s summer camp or go out with friends more frequently.

There are many summer jobs teachers can pick up, like freelancing work, summer classes, tutoring, etc.

But if you would like to stay at home, watch your kids, and save some money on babysitting or daycare, going for an online job, such as that of a transcriptionist, writer, or data entry professional, might be a better option.

Financial Challenge #4: Classroom Expenses

No one can deny that many public schools in the US are largely underfunded. Some of them are short on basic school supplies such as markers, papers, crayons, and other support material [20].

So, teachers have to pay out of their own pocket to help ensure their kids get what they need to perform better [21]. Consequently, 30% of teachers claim to spend around $1000 every year on classroom expenses [22]. And with the limited teacher’s salary, spending a thousand dollars every year is not something beneficial to you.

Strategies to Help

Leveraging tax write-offs for teachers can help offset some of your classroom expenses. But the Educator Expense Deduction has a limit. You can only claim up to $250 per year of unreimbursed classroom expenses [23].

So, claiming tax deductions may not be a good idea if your classroom expense exceeds $250.

However, it’s not the end. There are a couple more ways you might be able to save on classroom expenses.

You can ask your students’ parents to donate classroom supplies or support the expenses. Or you can shop from the places that offer exclusive teacher discounts.

There are also a number of organizations that provide classroom supplies to assist with educators. For example, Communities In Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenberg works with families and school personnel to provide critical school resources and more. This organization is specific to the Charlotte area of North Carolina, but there are also similar organizations and programs in other parts of the country.

Just don’t be shy about reaching out to people asking for donations or discounts.

Final Word

Teachers deserve so much more than they get, both in terms of payments and acknowledgment.

The economic crises and budget cuts have made the teaching profession more demanding than rewarding. There are multiple financial challenges that teachers are facing today.

These challenges, like low income and classroom expenses, may be difficult to eliminate, but none are impossible to alleviate.

Making wise financial decisions may help make your financial situation better. It would be best if you talked to a financial professional to get assistance on how you can lead a more comfortable lifestyle with your teaching job.

At Dayton and Sydney, we assist teachers like you in making potentially sound financial decisions. You can talk to our financial professionals to get a personalized financial plan today.


This information has been obtained from outside sources and is provided for general informational purposes only. Please be advised that this document is not intended as legal or tax advice. Accordingly, any tax information provided in this document is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The tax information was written to support the promotion or marketing of the transaction(s) or matter(s) addressed and you should seek advice based on your particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. Equitable Advisors, its affiliates and financial professionals do not provide tax and/or legal advice.



1 “13 Stories of Life on a Teacher’s Salary”, Katie Reilly, Time, September 13, 2018.

2 “Financial Anxiety Can Take a Toll on Teacher Performance”, Carrie Spector-Stanford, Futurity, February 14, 2020.

3 “2020 has shone a light on the importance of good teachers, but many are paid less than a living wage in the U.S.”, Tala Hadavi, CNBC, December 11, 2020.

4 “13 Stories of Life on a Teacher’s Salary”, Katie Reilly, Time, September 13, 2018.

5 “How much money you need to make to live comfortably in every state in America”, Taylor Borden and Dominic-Madori Davis, Business Insider, March 10, 2021.

6 “This Is the Living Wage You Need in All 50 States”, Jami Farkas, Go Banking Rates, June 5, 2021.

7 “Public School Teacher Salary in California”, Salary.com.

8 “Public School Teacher Salary in Connecticut”, Salary.com.

9 “This Is the Living Wage You Need in All 50 States”, Jami Farkas, Go Banking Rates, June 5, 2021.

10 “New Economic Report Shows Most Teachers Have Side Hustles To Make Ends Meet”, Estelle Erasmus, Forbes, May 27, 2019.

11 “10 Steps You Can Take to Make More Money as a Teacher”, Indeed Editorial Team, Indeed, March 9, 2021.

12 “10 Steps You Can Take to Make More Money as a Teacher”, Indeed Editorial Team, Indeed, March 9, 2021.

13 “10 Steps You Can Take to Make More Money as a Teacher”, Indeed Editorial Team, Indeed, March 9, 2021.

14 “Teacher pension plans are getting riskier—and it could backfire on American schools”, Chad Aldeman, Brookings, February 25, 2020.

15 “Most Teachers Won’t Have Enough Retirement Savings Under Pension Plans, Study Finds”, Madeline Will, EducationWeek, March 17, 2019.

16 “Update: What is the Average Teacher Pension in My State”, Max Marchitello, Teacher’s Pension, January 10, 2019.

17 “The Top Retirement Strategies for Teachers”, Adam Barone, Investopedia, November 21, 2021.

18 “Do Teachers Get Paid in Summer? (Everything to Know)”, Janet Jacobs, The Cold Wire, August 18, 2021.

19 “Do Teachers Get Paid in Summer? (Everything to Know)”, Janet Jacobs, The Cold Wire, August 18, 2021.

20 “Why do teachers in the US have to beg for supplies like pencils and paper?”, Ross Barkan, The Guardian (Opinion), December 14, 2021.

21 “2021 Teacher Spending Survey – How Much Do Teachers Spend on Supplies?”, Melissa Hruza, Adopt A Classroom, July 29, 2021.

22 “2021 Teacher Spending Survey – How Much Do Teachers Spend on Supplies?”, Melissa Hruza, Adopt A Classroom, July 29, 2021.

23 “Educator Expense Deduction”, Julia Kagan, Investopedia, February 5, 2021.

About Dayton & Sydney

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