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How To Thrive On A Teacher's Salary

Written By:
October 05, 2010 at 3:01 AM

My name is Danny Kofke and I am currently a special education teacher and author of the book "How To Survive (and perhaps thrive) On A Teacher's Salary." My wife, Tracy, was a teacher too before becoming a stay-at-home mom to our two young daughters. We live very frugally to live on my teaching salary alone. The only debt we have is our mortgage which we hope to pay-off as soon as possible. One way we have reduced this debt is by refinancing.

We moved from Florida to Georgia in the summer of 2006. We bought our 1,900-square foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home for $144,900 with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 6.5%. In 2008, when interest rates dropped, we refinanced into a 20-year fixed-rate loan at 5.5%, which increased our payments by about $80 a month. In 2009, when rates dropped even lower, we refinanced again, this time to a 15-year fixed-rate loan at 4.5%. This added about $10 a month to our mortgage payment but we will save more than $60,000 in interest costs over the life of the loan.

Paying off my house in 14 years is worth an extra $90 a month to me. We really did not have to cut our spending in 2008 to make up for the $80 difference between our 30- and 20-year loans. I had gotten a small raise which took care of the extra amount each month. We kind of live as bare bones as possible right now, so it wasn't that noticeable. If necessary, we would have likely looked to cut $20 a week out of our grocery bill or dipped into our emergency fund.

Both of our cars are paid for, but I kind of look at it like if something happened and one of the cars went, we want to have that freedom for Tracy to be able to stay at home. Something like that would be a thing that would force her to go back to work if we didn't have that cushion. Much of our emergency fund, as well as our large down payment, came from the sale of our first home, a smaller two-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Florida. We sold in Florida when the market was good. Our goal has always been for me to continue teaching and for Tracy to be a stay-at-home mom. Ten years ago, when we first married, both of us were working, times were good, and we still lived like there was a recession. We almost tried to live off of one salary and pay off the debt we had with the other and just sock as much away as possible.

Although I did not anticipate the additional $10 a month we now pay on our 15-year mortgage to be an issue, we planned for it anyway. After this refinance, we did not have a payment on our new mortgage for three months so we just "paid" ourselves our normal mortgage payment and put it in our emergency fund. This added up to a total of $2,400. We will be able to take $10 from this fund until our house is paid-off in full so we really don't even have to pay extra to cut four years off our mortgage!

Here are some tips for those looking to take advantage of low interest rates and refinance:

  • Punch the numbers into an online mortgage calculator and see what option works best for you. It helps to be able to see the numbers in front of you so you can make an educated response to see if it's something that would be worth your while.
  • Think long term but, to have a long-term goal, you need to have short-term goals that will get you there. For us, the additional amount we pay each month is worth it to have our home paid for in 15 years.
  • If you can't lock into a 15-year loan, make additional payments towards the principal when you are able to.

I know that there are different views on keeping a mortgage because of write-offs but, our goal is to be completely debt-free as soon as possible. I cannot imagine the way we will feel once we know that we own everything we have and don't owe anyone anything. One way we are trying to achieve this goal is through mortgage refinance.





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