About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Foundation Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

I remember the first week I was hired quite well. There was so much going on – I had curriculum to write, seating charts to generate, copies to make, people to meet, programs to learn, and decorations to hang. The to-do list truly was endless. Thankfully, one of the veteran teachers came in my classroom and asked me, bluntly – “have you started thinking about your retirement yet?”

Of course I didn’t. I was 24-years-old. I had plenty of living to do. But after chatting with him for an hour, he helped me to see the light and I called an financial adviser to begin saving for my retirement.

Problem is, I think I’m in a minority in our profession. In fact, 1 in 3 Americans has nothing set aside for retirement. More than half (56%) have less than $10,000 for the latter years of their life. And a full 71% aren’t saving properly for retirement, while 18.9% of the work force is older than aged 65, and teacher pensions are being underfunded by an estimated $500 billion — an amount that is only growing.
Teacher pensions are being underfunded by an estimated $500 billion Click To Tweet

To top off this dire and depressing dessert, the cherry on top is a New York Times article titled – “Think Your Retirement Is Bad? Talk to a Teacher?” If you haven’t read it yet, devour it first in its entirety and learn how to maximize your 403(b) or 401(k) programs before returning here.

So now that you’re here, worried, 34-years-old, and don’t have anything saved for retirement. What are you to do?

Let’s put an action plan in place for how to retire right. Here are some recommendations I – a teacher and not a financial adviser – have for you:

  1. Control what you can control. For example, there are certain expenses you can and cannot control (do you really need the $150 cable package, for example?). There are certain options you have for saving for retirement – for example, new teachers in Pennsylvania need to declare they’d like increase their contributions by 2.8% to receive 25% more at the end of their career, and they only have 45 days to elect this. Additionally, if there’s any way you can work with the district business office to create win-wins for your teachers and the district – do it! There are plenty of things you can control, and you should work to do your best controlling them. Resign yourself to things outside of your grasp.
  2. Talk to a teacher who you think is in a good financial place. I cannot stress how important this is. There are so many idiosyncrasies in each state and district that vary from one to the other. There’s sure to be a veteran teacher at your school who is confident about reaching the end of their yellow brick road.
  3. Sack away at least 5% of your pay for retirement. If you earn $50,000 a year, you should try to save at least that $2,500 for retirement. Keep retirement as a priority over college tuition, too. Your kids can take out loans to pay for college, or they can take you into their home once you’re finished working and have no retirement. Which do you think they’ll prefer?

    If you earn $50,000 a year, you should try to save at least that $2,500 for retirement. Click To Tweet

  4. Hire a financial adviser – and make sure they charge you appropriately. There are plenty of people out there who want to rip you off (watch this John Oliver episode that my financial adviser said is the saddest funny thing he’s watched in regards to his profession). Find one whom you trust won’t.
  5. Learn on your own. Some of the things you should place in your brain basket are how much the average pension pays, the health of your state’s pension plan, how to invest, if there are quality resources you can gather from your community that are no or low cost (like a Dave Ramsey course).
  6. Invest in the stock market – according to your age. If you’re younger, your investments should be riskier (with a portfolio upwards of 2/3 from the stock market). If you’re older, your risks should be smaller.
  7. Fight for your pension. I’m amazed how many teachers are ready to go to war over changes in their schedules, parking arrangements, and other small variables in our teaching careers but have no concern for the investments that will eventually let us see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  8. But don’t rely solely on it. While your pension will be the lion’s share of your long-term security, what will you do if your state elects to eliminate it? Determine whether it’s wisest to go 403(b), 401(k), or Roth IRA. Here’s where your hired financial adviser will be most helpful.
  9. Teach with the end in mind. You often build your curriculum around your end of unit assessments. Why would you build your career any other way?

    You often build your curriculum around your end of unit assessments. Why would you build your career any other way? Click To Tweet

  10. Know that it’s never too late to begin. Seriously. Stop giving yourself excuses and start saving today – you deserve it, for the rest of your life!

So, while I once again reiterate that I’m not a financial adviser, I’m 34-years-old and feel like I’m in a solid place for my retirement. I want you to be, too, so that the New York Times is compelled to write a second article titled, “The Smartest People in the World are the Best at Retiring From It, Too.”

Happy savings.

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