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Can We Afford Life on a dual-income, one Teacher’s Salary?

My husband is adamant that until I get my ADHD mess in order, we should not discuss the future. He has a point. I am good at planning for years down the line, but in terms of “today,” my life is a mess. I still cannot get myself to work on time and despite some progress in the cleaning up department – my laundry never manages to make it from the drier to my closet. It’s completely fair for him to state that until I can stick to a basic routine, we should not discuss the future.

I know if I can just keep the house clean (well get it clean and then keep it clean) and leave the house in the morning to get to work on time, he will, eventually, be willing to plan life with me. I am trying to get rid of things and simplify as much as possible so that there is just less stuff to create messes. It definitely helps.

Yesterday, I found out he has made progress on his plan to return to school to become a teacher. I’m very torn on this (not that I really have a say in his decision.) On one hand, I want him to pursue his dream to become a high school teacher. I think he would be good at it and the world needs more passionate and caring teachers. On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea how we afford life here with him having a teacher’s salary (starting out at $48k or so, give or take, depending on the district around here) – it just, quite frankly, is scary to me because if you’re 21 years old fresh out of school and starting out as a teacher $48k is a reasonable salary – but being 35 and making that while having a newborn is tough. After 15 years of teaching, he’d be making $68k give or take – which is still not a lot for this area, but it’s much better than $48k at this point in our lives. If he wants to be a teacher, he should be a teacher. It just puts a lot more pressure on me to be the breadwinner. And with kids, this is no longer “oh well if I have to move to a RV or become a nanny with free housing I’ll just do that” type of worse case scenario solution. This is serious life where I just CANNOT lose my job / cannot be depressed / cannot fail.

I’m all for being a working mother and I can’t see myself not being a professional type, but I also don’t know how to be a mother who works all the time and never sees her children (esp having grown up with a stay-at-home mom). I also haven’t really considered that I would really need to be a very senior level employee earning a lot of income permanently in order to maintain my lifestyle and retirement goals. I’m not even talking about buying a house. I mean renting a two bedroom apartment (which right now would be about $3500 a month before utilities in a comparable location to where I am now, more if we moved to the city should I continue working there).  For our rent to continue to be 30% of our take-home pay (and I like to spend less than 30% but let’s just use that as a standard for a goal) we would then need to take home $12k a month after tax. Right now making $190k a year I take home $9k a month after tax (less than that now that I’m married, though I’m not sure how much less.) So, if he makes $48k or $4k a month pre-tax that adds something like $2k more a month to our take-home pay — $11k, which is still shy of $12k that we’d need to afford to rent a two bedroom here. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the cost of childcare which we will need since we’ll both be working (well, at least he’d be off summers I guess.) Anyway, what this tells me is that if he seriously is pursuing teaching, I have no choice but to get myself on the executive track and make more money. I don’t feel comfortable making more money than I do right now (both my boss and I secretly to ourselves think I’m overpaid, as does my friend who knows the industry well.) In any case, over paid or not, I need to make myself worth more. And soon.

There is a path I can take where in the next 5 years I am promoted to VP and make ~$250k a year. With his $50k, that puts us at $300k, which is what I consider the bare minimum dual-income salary to afford a decent life here. I didn’t want to have to go down the VP path though because that isn’t the right path for my abilities and it means, if I have kids, never seeing them. I don’t exactly have my heart set on being the type of mom who is head of the PTA, but right now I am feeling sad because I no longer have a choice. (Well, we certainly can make less and live far from our jobs and rent in poorer neighborhoods and share a tiny apartment and maybe we could manage – but it won’t be the life I want for myself and my family.)

We can, of course, move – to – who knows where, but there are plenty of places where living on a teacher’s salary is more affordable. This would make sense if I want to leave my career entirely and take on a much more flexible and lower paid role. This may end up being our only choice. Lots of people are leaving the Bay Area. It isn’t the worst idea. I love it here, but it may not be maintainable. I tell my husband that he has a choice – either he is a teacher or we live near San Francisco. We can’t have both (with kids, anyway.)

But I’m not allowed to have this conversation yet. I can’t have this conversation until I pick up my mess and prove that I’m capable of keeping a job. I get that. I just need to focus on me right now and deal with all this later. I know I don’t need that much to be happy. I’d like to be able to afford to travel… I’d like to live in a place where I don’t have to listen to neighbors talking all night… and to be able to afford to eat out every once in a while. I can live on less. With kids, though, I really don’t know how much less. I guess I’m going to find out.

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2 comments

  1. It is not okay for your husband to refuse to communicate with you about your shared future until you clean or whatever. I can understand if he said, like, here are multiple options that you may keep open until things settle out with work but straight up shutting down any convo about your shared future, especially with you as worried as you are? That is not fair to you. Period. I feel like you guys should either start talking or get a third party involved (e.g. couples therapy) because your current dynamic is not sustainable and is doing you a terrible disservice.

  2. Norm says:

    “But I’m not allowed to have this conversation yet. I can’t have this conversation until I pick up my mess and prove that I’m capable of keeping a job.”

    I think you are allowed to have this conversation. It seems like you are having major internal turmoil, but dear husband thinks you need to clean up around the house before you’re “allowed” to work it out. It sure sounds like he is “allowed” to start planning for the future, by getting a new career lined up.

    Also, maybe this is the sticker shock talking, but I think you should move. I live in the Albany, NY area, and the dollar amounts you quote seem staggering to me. A $190k salary is out of the ordinary here, but I’m sure they exist. However, it is quite literally IMPOSSIBLE to find an apartment for $3,500/mo. Cruising HotPads.com, the highest priced apartment I can find is $2,400 in chic Saratoga Springs. $3,500 here will rent you an enormous house, not an apartment. I’m guessing that $3,500 apartment would go for around $1,200-1,500 here. We rent out our very nice investment apartments at $950 and $1,075, with heat included, in a blue collar town.

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