This new educator shares four insights that helped start her career on solid financial ground.
Every teacher knows the many important things they learned during their early years of teaching. Those lessons are valuable pieces of earned wisdom that help shape an entire career.
That is certainly true for newly minted teacher Molly Walsh Anderson, who spoke with us this summer about her first full year of teaching. “That first year was challenging. There were brand new experiences from the first day of school to the last. And so much to manage. Not only making sure I was doing what I needed to do every day in the classroom, but other things that teachers do, like starting my PDP, educator effectiveness, and all that comes along with it.”
And then there’s the financial transition from student to workplace. “There are a lot of new financial things to deal with once you’ve graduated and are in the real world. That’s been a challenge on its own.
“To manage it all and still have a life…well, there was lots of learning to do.”
Learn she did. And being the dedicated educator that she is, Molly likes to pass on her own personal finance lessons to help others. Here are four lessons she learned during her first year that have helped her navigate new financial realities and responsibilities.
1. Know your student loans
Student loans are probably the biggest economic issue for Millennials like Molly. “I took student loans, but when you’re in college you’re hardly even thinking about them because you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll just pay them eventually.’”
One of Molly’s last acts as a student was going through an exit counseling session. “It was eye opening. They said, ‘To pay off the amount of loans you’ve taken, you need to make “this much money” a year.’ But I’m a teacher and I won’t make that much!”
Lack of understanding about student loans is not unusual according to research released in April. Results indicated that 59% of Millennials with student debt don’t know how long it’s going to take them to become debt-free and 37% don’t know the interest rate they’re paying. But in hindsight, 57% regret how much they’ve borrowed. (Source: Forbes.)
“If you have student loans, learn about them. It can be tricky to figure out but investing the time to understand them is really worth it. Remember—you’ll need to manage your loans on top of everything else you have when you graduate and are in the ‘real world.’”
Tips for managing student loans.
- Take the time to understand your loans so you are prepared when it comes time to balance out all of your new financial obligations after you graduate.
- It may sound counterintuitive, but make payments while in school if you can. Any amount you can throw at your loan will reduce what you owe.
Find out if you’re eligible for student loan refinancing and consolidation to lower your interest rate. Note: You should never be charged a fee to consolidate!
- Check into student loan forgiveness programs for educators.
- Set up automatic monthly payments. It could reduce your interest rate by up to 0.25%.
2. Plan ahead...way ahead
“Not only do you need to think about student loans, but you need to think about your retirement.
“I participated in Member Benefits’ Don’t Be Jack™ financial learning game through the Aspiring Educators group when I was a sophomore in college. Playing the game opened my eyes to a lot of things that I needed to be prepared for. It got me thinking about my future. So when I graduated, I opened a retirement account because the game showed that if you start right away and even if you only put a little bit away, that’s going to help you much more in the long run than if you wait.”
Time is your ally when it comes to savings. The sooner you start, the more time your investments have to grow due to compounding, making it less costly and less painful to achieve financial security.
“Teachers I talk to who have been in five or ten years all say, ‘I wish I would have started saving for retirement right away because now I’m playing catch up.’ I’m not putting that much money into my retirement every month, but I know it’s going to make a big difference later.”
Start early even with a little.
If you are skeptical about how saving a small amount can add up to big savings, check out the compound interest calculator on Member Benefits' savings calculators page.
Don’t pass on a match.
If your district offers a match to employees for 403(b) contributions, it can help you build up your savings faster. A match is free money!
Make saving automatic.
Using payroll deduction or auto deduction from your bank or credit union account to make contributions is an easy way to make saving a habit. It’s good for budgeting, too.
Keep fees low.
Lower fees will keep more of your money working for you. Learn more about fees in 403(b) and IRA saving programs.
3. Don’t do it all by yourself
“The first year is overwhelming in so many ways, but there are people and resources to help you succeed. I had wonderful staff and teammates at my school who made my first year of teaching a great experience. Knowing there were people and resources to help me made all the difference.
“And the support my husband and I got from Member Benefits’ staff was incredibly helpful financially because it got us started with saving as well as protecting our possessions.
“We bought a house and it was our first time getting insurance so we shopped around. But in the end, it was easy to go with Member Benefits because not only was the home insurance coverage what we needed but the other people we talked to were not nearly as helpful or personal. That really stood out.
“And, there’s no pressure. It’s just, ‘Here’s the information. Look at it, think it over, and we’ll be here to help you if you need it.’ That’s really nice, especially when you’re a new teacher and you have 80 million other things pressuring you. You have a little time to breathe when you know people are there just to help and listen.
“They also offer financial planning services. We haven’t taken advantage of it yet, but it’s definitely something we’ll be doing. With the house, combining our finances, and moving on in life, getting a plan will be important.”
Find and use trusted resources.
Knowing you have someplace or someone to go to for support can make all the difference. Wisconsin public school employees have a financial partner in Member Benefits—the programs and services are designed exclusively for Wisconsin educators.
Be well (financially).
Professional satisfaction and success is influenced by many factors including financial wellness. Financial pressures and stress impact our health, workplace productivity, and happiness.
Get help for free.
Wisconsin public school employees can get a free one-hour financial consultation with one of our financial planners to evaluate their situation, help them set goals, and create a plan for a secure financial future.
“There are a lot of new financial things to deal with once you’ve graduated and are in the real world. To manage it all and still have a life…well, there was lots of learning to do.” — Molly Walsh Anderson
4. Pay it forward
In true educator fashion, Molly is happy to share her experiences and what she’s learned to help others launch their careers on solid footing, whether it’s advice for classroom success or financial tips.
“The Don’t Be Jack game really helped me get prepared to deal with financial issues after college. I loved it. When I was state president for the Aspiring Educators, I made sure the game was offered again at a seminar I planned for that group. They needed to know what to expect post graduation and what resources are available to help.
“Member Benefits was highly recommended to me by my parents, and now I’m recommending them, too. A colleague who was buying a house last year was looking for insurance and I said, ‘Look at Member Benefits because they’re here to help us as teachers.’”
Be a financial mentor.
You don’t need to be an expert to have a positive impact on someone’s financial future. A financial mentor:
- Shares their experiences—the successes, failures, and regrets—with others to help them make sound financial decisions.
- Encourages others to take steps to improve their financial health like saving early.
- Tells them about the valuable resources available at Member Benefits.
Molly Walsh Anderson is a second year teacher at Orchard Ridge Elementary School in Madison. She couldn’t be happier about the outcomes of her first teaching efforts. “Last year was a great year. I had never taught second grade before. But I ended up loving it, loving the age, and loving my kids!”
“My dad was a teacher. Visiting his classroom in Stoughton when I was younger really sparked my interest in teaching. When he left teaching to work for WEAC, I was sad he wasn’t teaching anymore, but I followed in his footsteps in two ways—I went into education and I became the state president of Aspiring Educators. I continue to be actively involved in the union. I’m very proud to be a union member.
“When I was young, I idolized the lifeguards and swim instructors at my neighborhood pool. Later, I became one of those as well and still manage a pool in the summer when I’m not teaching. So I’ve been around kids and families all my life and I love it.”
“There were many great moments during my first year of teaching, but one really made me smile. We hadn’t had any real breaks since school started, so it was a long couple of months we were in school and we covered a lot in class. Other teachers told me, ‘You know, winter break is great, but when you get back you never know what the kids are going to retain.’
“That made me a little nervous. But when my kids came back they were remembering things and talking about what we did before break and I thought, ‘This is great. You were listening! You were paying attention!’ The consistency and structure I had strived to create in my classroom worked, so it was really fun to see that we were able to pick right up where we left off.”
Molly was a substitute teacher in Beloit before she was hired to teach second grade in Madison. “I was driving back and forth from Madison to Beloit a lot. It was a really hard time for me. I was living and breathing work all the time and it was stressful. I learned from that experience the importance of work and home life balance. I got married this summer to my husband Evan and we bought our first home in Madison. It’s important for me to spend time together with him and with family.
“So I really work hard to get things done at school so I can go home and enjoy my time, and then go back the next day refreshed and focused for the kids.”
“Now that I’ve gone through my first year of teaching, I can look back on it and say, ‘This part didn’t work so well, so now I’m going to teach it a different way. Or, I want to change this up a little.’ I’m really happy and lucky to be teaching second grade again so I can refine what I’m doing in the classroom to help my students learn.”