Dual Teacher Money Cycle

As teachers we get paid 20 equal paychecks that arrive twice per month, from Sep through June.  June is followed by a wonderful unemployment paycheck drought of July and August.  Mrs. JumpStart and I are both teachers and have lived this dual teacher money cycle for 22 years.  In my early twenties, I estimated I needed 3500$ per summer month.  7000 bucks for the summer meant I needed to save 700$ each paycheck month to prepare for our summer paycheck drought.  The graph displays 4 yearly cycles of the resulting summer money in my checking account.  The left two cycles are an ideal world where I spend $3500 each summer month and save $700 each work month.  The cycles on the right are meant to be a little more sloppy realistic, where I run out of money at the end of the summer, don’t save enough at Christmas, and play catch-up in the spring.

In reality between summer jobs, home improvement projects, car issues, children, tax refunds, NBCT money, and vacations, the real graph would have even less rhythm.  In our twenties, preparing for summer was tough, and there were several reasons.  We didn’t make as much money, student loans, a car loan, and we were spending money renovating the house, buying tools, buying furniture, etc. I always knew that I could pick up some construction work if necessary, but we typically got by, and I mostly avoided summer jobs.  In our thirties, it became a lot easier to reach 7 grand in summer money.  I hate to admit it, but if we saved more, we had a more extravagant summer, and spent more on things like renovations and better vacations.

Money on this graph is money we prepared to spend.  There was money funneled to other accounts, because we had decided to pay ourselves first. Soon after graduation, automatic withdrawals from our bank account were setup to purchase mutual funds.  In hindsight, we should have funneled more money, and set up a ROTH-IRA earlier, but we have managed to accumulate a decent chunk of money in mutual funds.

Breaking the cycle.

Over the last few years, we have begun to break the pattern. There have been several factors at play:

  • Higher salary.
  • No car payment.
  • Extra income from selling on Amazon.
  • Extra income from Myrtle Beach townhouse.
  • Cheap vacations due to credit card bonuses.

Surviving the summer no longer seemed as daunting, and today we could put away $7000 in 2 months.

Times are changing.

JumpStart Jr. is graduating, going to college, and there is a new cycle looming.  There is a summer and college tuition to prepare for this year.  $30,000 is a nice round number that covers college tuition and summer expenses.  It wasn’t all done this year, and we had help, but we are on track to be there by June.  I don’t know the details about tuition payment dates or amounts, but we’ll spend a chunk of money this summer, and we’ll spend $20k on college next year.  In order to be ready for next summer, we need to save $3,000 each work month next year.  Our new cycle is below.  It doesn’t look that different, until you notice the y-axis.  The original graph maxes out at $7k while the new graph tops out at a whopping $30k.

The New Graph.

The new graph is oversimplified, and there are a couple of issues.  The college tuition bill is twice a year, not annual, and I do not know which months tuition is collected.  Money for spring freshman year is already saved, and I will begin saving for fall sophomore year before that spring freshman tuition is spent.  It may be appropriate to separate the tuition spend into different seasons.  In addition, the balance will never be 0 at the end of the summer, because I will still have $10,000 ready waiting to pay the spring semester bill.  Unfortunately, I am not smart enough to wrap my head around an accurate shape for the cycle.  Regardless of the shape, the simple idea of the graph is our new reality. Bottom line. We need to save $3,000 each month during the school year, to prepare for summer and tuition expenses.

Anyway this is the plan.  I don’t have all the answers.  The plan doesn’t consider year 4 where there are 2 kids in college, and I don’t even want to think about grad school.  I am going to have to accept this new cycle.

Posted in Family finances, Paying for college..


  1. Are you planning to pay for grad school? I know many parents who pay for undergrad (or help pay for undergrad) consider the kids on their own for grad school if that’s the route they want to take. I’m planning to let my kids use anything “leftover” from what I’m willing to fund for college toward grad school, if they want to. Otherwise they’ll need to fund it on their own.

  2. If they choose grad school, I don’t think I’ll have a choice, but to leave them on their own for grad school. There will not be any money leftover. Depending on the school, it is conceivable that my kids could build some savings from jobs during college. When my first graduates, we will have a second in college. When my second graduates, my retirement from teaching will be one year out.

  3. Argh. The dreaded 9-month teacher pay schedule. I used to have nightmares over this as a young teacher. Interestingly, it was probably one of my first smacks in the face telling me that I needed to get serious with budgeting. That summer after my first year of teaching was not pretty. Lol. What finally helped me was automating my savings across the school year . . .

    Again, great stuff.

    • My first year teaching, I managed to save about $3500 in preparation for the summer. My wife graduated one year behind me and wasn’t teaching yet. So $3500 wasn’t too bad, before kids, out of $26k salary in 1996. Anyway, in April, I got the “buy a starter house bug”. I spent $3000 on the down payment. I am quite convinced the bank did not know that I was not going to get paid in the summer. We moved into the house with hardly any furniture, $500, and I had to work construction that summer.

    • Some teachers get the credit union to hold their money and give it back to them in the summer. If I have earned the money, I want it now.

  4. That’s impressive that you’ve got $30K saved for college. My oldest son’s 10 and college feels like it’s looming, even though we have “8 whole years.” I’m a teacher and summer is coming up–never as fun not to get paid but I really enjoy not working! 🙂

  5. In Alaska, most school districts pay out salary over 12 months….makes life a lot easier. And all those Alaska Airline points you have……I could help you with that….just say’n…..

    • We have the option to let a credit union keep our money, and then give it back to us in the summer. Many teachers choose this option. I have never chosen it because of the tiny interest rate, and I want my money as soon as I earn it.
      I’ve never flown on Alaskan. Hopefully the Alaskan miles will get me to Hawaii in the next few years. I’ve got a couple of Alaskan flights coming up, but I paid with American miles.

  6. Alaska Airline now partners with Condor Air…a German Charter Airlines…so you can use Alaska Air points to fly to Germany as well.

    • Never heard of Condor. Looks like there are some good options out of DCA for me on the east coast though.

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