Stir Up the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 29 2011


I’m going to be incredibly tacky and write about money.  This is for all of you potential future TFAers out there.  I expected/was prepared for a lot of things about this whole TFA experience, but I really had a misconception about money.  I thought that once I was making a teacher’s salary and living in a place with an incredibly low cost of living, that I’d be rolling in money.  I actually thought I’d pay off my car.

Boy was I wrong.  It cost me so much to move here that I haven’t really recovered.  Plus, I didn’t get a paycheck from the beginning of May till the end of September, and I don’t get paid very much.

This is something to think about if you’re going to do TFA.  I don’t want to deter you, but I want to make sure you know what you’re getting into, money-wise.

  • My salary is officially around $32,000 a year.  I take home $1770 a month.
  • Rent is $300 a month — pretty standard for around here.
  • Utilities (including wireless internet) — $150 a month.
  • Trip from California to Mississippi: $1500
  • Money out of my own pocket spent on my classroom at Institute: around $200
  • Money out of my own pocket spent on my classroom here: at least $400
  • professional wardrobe: $500
  • phone, car payment, car insurance, charity, etc. : $800 a month
  • gas for the monthly 4-hour trip for Pro Sat: $40
  • food: $100 or so a month
  • plane tickets for Christmas and Thanksgiving: $1000

Basically, the moral of the story is that I’m now around $3000 in credit card debt.  I know I’ll pay it off eventually, but it adds even more stress to an already stressful situation.

I’m not sure how unique this is to my situation, but I just wanted to let you all know what it’s really like.  Maybe once I pay off the debt from moving here, then I’ll have money :).

8 Responses

  1. CY

    Your situation isn’t that unique!
    The Memphis salary is $41,000 a year and I take home $2500 a month. My rent is $600, utilities $110, car insurance $100, food $200. I have also spent almost $400 on my classroom here (but I spent next to nothing on my institute classroom. I don’t recommend spending money on an institute classroom). I bought a laptop at institute which added to my debt big time.

    I’m also carrying a lot of debt from the move and am trying to clear it by March, before interest kicks in. If future CMs think money is going to be tight for the transition, I highly recommend getting a credit card with no interest for the first year. That’s what is saving me.

  2. delta alum

    When I was going through institute the CMAs told us how we were going to be rolling in money and could pay off everything from student loans to cars in the first year. One CMA told me that he and his teaching buddies would cash their entire checks at the casino and blow them because the cost of living was just so low. Sufficed to say that was not my experience and 5 years out of the Delta I still have student loan debt but have finally recovered from the classroom spending and trips home. Good luck, and thank you for sharing that money is not as free flowing as many would have you believe.

  3. parus

    It’s normal. I mean, my ass slept in the bathtub my first couple months of teaching because I couldn’t afford a bed and the floors in my rental property were not something you’d want to lay on.

  4. SLA 07

    What you’re saying is true for the first few months. I rolled in to institute with $8 dollars in my bank account and $4000 in credit card debt. I got a transitional loan from tfa which more than took care of my first month of rent, and getting what I actually needed in a living space. We rented a pickup truck for a day and got everything people would give us for free (everything from a dining set, to a refrigerator). My bed came from a community member; some of the dishes came with the rental (most of the cups came from mardi gras parades). We avoided using the thermostat, we learned to make our own food, and we considered brewing our own beer.
    I didn’t get paid until september, either and things were tight for awhile, but by the end of my second year I had paid off my credit card debt, bought a used car with cash, and had a big sushi dinner once a month with new friends. Like you, I made around 35k and paid close to $500 in rent, and, like you, I made a few expensive trips home. Still I walked away from my third year with something like 4k in savings – not the savings you might get elsewhere, but not nothing, either. I’ll had student debt for another 15 years, but I’ve made peace with that.
    So it gets better!

  5. Kurt (Community Manager)

    Congratulations! Your post has been featured on the Teach For Us homepage.

  6. Truth. I was just thinking about how I don’t seem to be making any money. When people say: “people do TFA just to pay off loans” I think, if I had a lot of loans to pay off and that was my priority, teaching in the D is the LAST thing I’d do. Please. We’re in this together :)

  7. jersey

    This has been one of the best breakdowns I’ve read in regards to money and TFA! I don’t think it’s tacky, I think it’s important information that I as an incoming corp member have had a lot of trouble finding else where. I wish more people on here would do this!

    • els

      thanks! yeah, this was one of the areas where TFA let me have a huge misconception about what my financial stuation as a CM would be like. email me if you have questions!

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"If one desires to 'stir up the world,' it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story's end can forsake its beginning and its middle." -Joshua Wolf Shank on Abraham Lincoln