Ms. Smith Makes Ends Meet…for now…

Ms. Smith is a fictional teacher in my district. She’s a single mom with two kids, ages 3 and 6. If Ms. Smith were real (as very well she could be), her base salary would be $35,063.85/year before taxes. Here’s a look at what Ms. Smith’s monthly budget might entail:

Gross Income: 2921.99 2921.99
   – taxes 551.43
Net Income: 2370.56
Mortgage 533.84 1836.72
Utilities (water, electric, gas, city) 200 1636.72
Car Insurance 60 1576.72
Dental/vision Insurance 41.5 1535.22
Medical expenses 50 1485.22
Auto Expenses (gas, services, tune-ups, tires) 160 1325.22
Groceries (consumable) 300 1025.22
Clothing 120 905.22
Daycare 317 588.22
cell phone 90 498.22
household upkeep/repairs 50 448.22
short-term savings 200 248.22
long-term savings/investments 248.22
recreation (kids’ activities, social outings, 100 148.22
gifts/donations 50 98.22
miscellaneous 50 48.22
48.22

The first few categories are fixed expenses. She was able to scrape up a few thousand dollars for a down payment on a house in the district where she works. A mortgage on a $120K house is much less expensive than rent for a three-bedroom apartment. Gas, water, electric, cable, internet, and city bills average at least $200/month. Liability only car insurance costs Ms. Smith $60 each month. Her teacher compensation affords her the cost of medical insurance, but deductions are made from her paycheck each month for dental and vision coverage.

The good news is her oldest child is in first grade this year. The stay-at-home mom next door watches the child after school until Ms. Smith arrives home from work. If this were not the case, Ms. Smith would have to pay for before and after school care for her school-age child so she could fulfill her contract day. As it were, there’s only one daycare bill this year, and the good news is…Ms. Smith qualifies for a childcare subsidy from the state of Oklahoma.   She pays the first $263 of her younger child’s daycare bill, and the state picks up the rest of the tab. Of course, only certain facilities accept this subsidy, so Ms. Smith has to drive her child across the town even though there are four daycare establishments on her way to work.

Ms. Smith is frugal and thrifty. Her salary and household size qualify her children for WIC. She clips coupons and shops sales to fill in the gaps in the grocery trips, and to provide household items like cleaning products, toiletries, and paper goods. Thank goodness her youngest is out of diapers! With only $120/month budgeted for clothing and shoes for the whole family, Ms. Smith frequents the thrift stores and consignment sales.

Her children qualify for Soonercare. Thank goodness. It would cost her an additional $376/month to insure her children through her employer (not including dental or vision). But she still has to set aside a little every month to cover her own medical expenses including deductibles, copays for annual visits, and prescriptions. Ms. Smith knows she’s one ambulance ride or emergency room visit away from going into debt.

With only $50/month budgeted for gifts, her children turn down many birthday party invitations. Ms. Smith has a good eye at thrift stores and garage sales. There are always gifts under the tree at Christmas, but her oldest child is starting to notice that things never come in boxes, and sometimes they look like they’ve been played with already.

$100/month may seem like a lot to budget for recreation. She had to say no when her oldest wanted piano lessons ($20/week). But she found a dance class at her local YMCA for only $45/month (plus uniform, recital, and costume fee, of course). Her children look forward to Mondays when Ms. Smith takes advantage of a discount for teachers that allows her to bring home a $5 pizza, plus a movie from the Redbox! Once a month, she can afford a babysitter for a night out. Of course, there’s little left for dinner, drinks, or movies, but there are lots of inexpensive and even free activities in the community!

You might be wondering for what purpose a “miscellaneous” category serves. From what category should she budget for school pictures? Or for the boyscout popcorn she bought from a student? Or for the PTA membership at her child’s school?

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few categories are missing. I didn’t include any payments to debt service. Imagine if this working professional had student loans or credit cards to pay off. I didn’t include a car payment. The category for automotive expenses barely covers filling up a 14-gallon tank once a week at $2.00/gallon, and saving a little each month for oil changes and regular tune-ups. What will she do when we she needs new tires ($700-$900)? Or eventually…a new vehicle? She’s not investing in retirement or college funds. Her teacher retirement (when age plus years of service equals 90) will equal only 60% of the average of her top 3 earning years.

What’s really keeping Ms. Smith up at night is wondering how she will make ends meet next year. Next year, her salary will increase by $228.06. That’s for the year. Her gross monthly income will increase by $19. But that abysmal raise will be enough to make her ineligible for WIC and the childcare subsidy. With her youngest still two years away from a full school day, her daycare bill will rise by almost $400 next year.   Her grocery and consumables budget will have to increase to make up for the milk, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and proteins she can no longer acquire through WIC.

If she chose to go back to school for a master’s degree, this could increase her salary by about $1200/year ($100/month). How many years would she have to work for that increase to equal the cost of tuition at graduate school? She could pick up a few thousand dollars here or there by sponsoring or coaching extra-curriculars. Of course, this requires time away from her children, and the added expense of babysitting for evenings and weekends that are required for those activities. In what other profession do the number of hours we expect somebody to work for a few thousand dollars more per year go up so exponentially as in teaching? I will easily work an additional 300 hours this year on top of my contract day. My “extra-duty stipend” for vocal music is about $3600. That comes out to $12/hour. I’ll bet I could make more than that in tips working the snocone stand in the summer.

What I’m trying to say here, is that we are not paying our teachers a living wage. Even with no debt, and very conservative living expenses, an unmarried teacher with only two children to support must rely on government assistance to make ends meet. This is a professional with a college degree.

One more thing…

Ms. Smith’s base salary in Oklahoma is $35, 063.85. If Ms. Smith resided in Colorado Springs, CO, her base salary is $40,972. In Fayetville, Arkansas, it’s $46,869. In Witchita, KS–$44,390.

And if Ms. Smith moves two hours south to Denton, TX, her base salary is $51,625.

Don’t even try to tell me the price of milk is 68% higher in Denton, TX…

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9 thoughts on “Ms. Smith Makes Ends Meet…for now…

  1. I am living that very situation, only I don’t make $35,000 a year & have 3 kids without child support. 2 are in high school & the youngest in middle school. I SCRAPE by each month & don’t have a car payment, however my car broke down this week & I don’t have savings. So I understand her situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is my tenth year of teaching, and my gross is $200 less than the figure in this post. It’s a tragedy that society devalues such a noble profession. And, sure, teachers are “in it for the outcome, not the income”, but we are ultimately hurting our children.

    Liked by 1 person

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