Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

“One-third of millionaires never had a six-figure household income in a single working year. In fact, when we asked 10,000 millionaires what they did, the top three answers were engineer, accountant, and teacher.” - from Everyday Millionaires by Chris Hogan.


Before I talk about money any further, let me be clear about a few things.

First off, there is no question that educators are vastly underpaid for their work. We could talk for days about teacher salaries ... but that is for another time.

Second, I am by no means a personal finance expert. The article contains very basic ideas, so if you are looking for detailed advice contact a retirement professional.

Finally, I realize it is taboo for a superintendent to talk about money. For a long time I questioned whether or not to write this article. However, first and foremost, I am an educator. I have a passion for teaching and feel a personal responsibility to share information that may help other educators.

I decided this topic was too important not to share, and am eager to pass along a few concepts that could impact your financial mindset.


When new teaching staff start in our district I am intentional about creating several "touch points" early in the year. Not only am I hoping to build a relationship with our employees, I am also willing to answer any questions they may have.

One of the topics of conversation I like to bring up is retirement.

Every state has a public employees pension program. While some pension programs are faring better than others (another conversation for another day) the general consensus is state pension systems are superior to private sector retirement programs.

Here in Iowa, we have a program called the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System (IPERS). Employees who work in an "IPERS position" have approximately 15% of their monthly salary automatically placed into their IPERS account. Nine percent is contributed by the employer, and six percent is contributed by the employee.

What does this mean?

First, contributing 15% of monthly income into a retirement account is a great place to start. Second, and more importantly, a 9% employer (school district) contribution is an impressive fact many people do not realize.

Compare a 9% contribution to private business, where only 56% of employers offer a retirement "match." Furthermore, of those companies that do contribute to their employees' retirement, the average contribution is only 4.3%.

If you aren't following me, just know this: The average teacher is better-prepared for retirement than the average business-world employee.

Let's go a step further and see how this generous contribution adds up over the long run.

Let's assume a teacher in Iowa has a starting salary of $38,500 and that teacher averages a 2% yearly increase. Furthermore, let's assume the teacher hits "full retirement age" at 55 (the earliest possible age in Iowa). Here are the full benefit amounts an individual will receive based on life expectancy:

75 Years: $943,582

80 Years: $1,179,478

85 Years: $1,415,373

90 Years: $1,651,269

Pretty good, huh?

Some readers may say, "a million dollars in retirement doesn't go very far anymore."

Fair point. Let's find out how we can earn another million.

Most districts offer retirement plans in addition to the public employees pension program, such as a 403(b) or a Roth IRA. If someone started investing $350 per month at 22 years old, she would earn another million by the age of 60 (assuming an average interest rate of 8%).

But $350 per month is a lot of money!

Totally agree. However, let's consider car payments. The average monthly car payment in the United States is $492. Now of course, most everyone needs a car. But do they need that nice of a car? Car loans are one of the biggest barriers to building wealth.

I was guilty of "needing" a nice car when I got my first teaching job. After getting my first adult paycheck I went down the road and picked out the first car I saw - an (almost) new Mitsubishi Endeavor SUV. It had everything I was looking for - six disc CD player, sunroof, heated leather, chrome wheels. The complete package!

It was fun to drive and I received some nice compliments, but at $500 a month in car payments I was spending a lot of money to look cool. If I could do it over again I would have settled for an older car and invested more money into retirement.

If you are serious about having millions (plural) at retirement, lower the car payment.


So what are some steps that educators and educational leaders can take?

For educators, simply start by asking questions. Educators should not feel bad about talking to district leadership about retirement. Understanding the state pension account and other investing options is a big deal. Employees should feel empowered - not intimidated - asking money questions.

Beyond district experts, there are endless opportunities to learn about retirement and investing. Seeking out a financial planner is a great place to start. Most will charge nothing to have an introductory conversation. Furthermore, there is endless information online or in books about financial planning.

For educational leaders, engage your staff in conversations about retirement. Too many districts assume their employees understand how retirement works. In reality, a large percentage of employees have no clue. School leaders must be intentional about helping employees of all ages get their questions answered.

Some may say, "We are already doing this" or "Isn't this a job for Human Resources?" This mindset is exactly why so many employees still have questions! Effective educational leaders not only help their employees thrive in the classroom, they help their employees thrive at life. When educators worry less about their future, they can place greater focus on what really matters: Kids.


Chris Hogan goes on to say, "Teachers are often notoriously underpaid, especially considering how hard they work and how important their jobs are. And yet, teaching is one of the most common professions among America's millionaires."

The next time your business-world friends brag about money, simply nod your head and smile. Take comfort in knowing you are a future millionaire.


Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC. 

Leadership | Education | Personal Growth