The Chalk Blog

Financial Fitness

How to stay financially fit in 2019!

In a weekly meeting about our Learners Edge blog, we searched for gaps in the topics we cover for teachers. At the time, I didn’t see anything we had missed, but later, while reading articles for an upcoming blog called “The 25 Things Teachers Want You to Know About Teaching” (coming soon!) I recognized a pattern: each of the articles I read included comments or quotes about teachers and money — how much teachers earn, how much of their own money teachers spend on classroom supplies/to help students, and how often teachers work summer jobs to make ends meet.

I found the gap and it was money.

“People are weird about money,” is what my friend says when our conversation touches on the subject. This “weirdness” coupled with established social mores that tell us talking about money, religion, or politics can be dangerous territory, reminds us we must tread gently. In fact, one of the points of this article from Fast Company states frankly, “discussing money doesn’t make for polite conversation.” However, the article’s author argues that talking about money is exactly what is needed if we want to be financially healthy.

After celebrating the holidays with abundant food and drink, we will begin 2019 overwhelmed with advice about healthy eating, exercise, and resolutions. As a result, now seems to be the perfect opportunity to talk about, not only our physical fitness but, our financial fitness, too. Although we're not financial advisors, (we're teachers!), we offer three simple, straightforward tips we believe will help you (and us!) work toward this goal.

Tip One: Eyes Wide Open

Catching up with colleagues, I shared that I only bring in my mail once a week, mainly because I believe it to be mostly bad news — which brings me to Tip One: Eyes Wide Open. Ignoring or leaving our financial fitness to someone else is not a healthy financial choice. Instead, set aside an hour on a Saturday to review all your accounts and to pen a simple and honest financial plan (aka: a budget). Imagine knowing where your money goes! Consider making an appointment with yourself to do this once a week. It takes 30 days to establish a habit (just 30 days!). As you make your way, pay attention to convenience fees, late fees, and other “extras” that aren’t being used (like extra TV channels). Make a list, follow your plan, and feel proud of the steps you're taking towards financial fitness. As Lao Tzu tells us, a journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.

Tip Two: Review Your Benefits

Public schools and not-for-profit companies typically offer 403(b) plans. Don’t let the name intimidate you, it’s only a tax title, much like a 401(k). Find out if your district has a “match” — that is, if they match your contribution up to a designated percentage. The money you contribute and is “matched” and put into a 403(b) retirement account is pre-tax dollars, so you're putting away more than if you deposited money into an account after being paid (see: Roth IRA).

Thomas Sjoberg, Director of Administrative Services for Twin Cities Retirement Group explained, you do not pay tax on your 403(b) contributions until you withdraw money. The Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) requirements are much the same as they are for a 401(k), unless the money was deposited prior to 1987. Ask your tax accountant or financial planner for more information, or check out the IRS website for FAQs. To learn more about Teacher Retirement Accounts and planning, check out this article from CNN Money.

My mom used to remind us that compound interest was one of the 7 Wonders of the World (well, technically, that would be the eighth). If your district has a retirement plan, take advantage of it. Talk with your Human Resources rep to learn about the benefits offered in your district, then talk with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to ensure you are financially fit. And, if you have questions, do what we encourage our students to do: ask questions. Yay, you!

Tip Three: Learn and Teach

Try your best to ditch the anxiety talking about money can bring. It really is simple math. The “people that know more than you” only know more because they have talked about it and learned about it. You can, too. Most banks offer financial planning for free, and there are online tutorials, videos, and plenty of books to get you on your way. Here are a few we like:

Keep learning! Then, teach what you’ve learned to others — your students will benefit from sound advice about finances, too. Here are some lesson plans to get you started.

Now that 2019 is here, let’s grow in our financial fitness!

Happy New Year!

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