“You should be a teacher when you grow up.”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard this phrase or some variation of it growing up, I would have been a millionaire long ago. While I never wanted or intended to be a teacher, I’m happy to say I’m well on my way to building a million-dollar net worth as a teacher in my early 30’s. Furthermore, I’m doing it all as a single woman.
It’s funny how life sort of pushes you along like a stream at times. Circumstances pushed me into a career I never envisioned pursuing. Still, the qualities others saw in me at an early age eventually became too obvious to ignore.
I’m good at teaching, and better yet, I like it because I know I’m making a difference. There are no other professions without teachers, after all.
The major drawback to teaching is that it’s not a career you get into to get rich. You’re often underpaid, the hours are long, and you almost always will spend a good chunk of your own money on your students. But despite the monetary drawbacks associated with teaching, I’m not only succeeding but thriving financially, all on one income.
The good news is the reason I’m thriving has less to do with my teaching salary and everything to do with some specific choices I’ve made and things I’ve done along the way. It is possible to thrive financially as a single woman without making six figures plus.
Of course, the higher your income, the easier it will be, but I hope that the tips I’m about to share will help women of any income level begin to thrive financially, even as single women.
Here’s my advice for single women to work toward reaching their money goals no matter their income.
First, an Acknowledgement
Before I go any further, I need to acknowledge the privileges I have had that have helped me get to where I am. As a white woman coming from a household that was willing and able to support me in my emerging adulthood, I understand that I’ve had support many others do not and have not faced many of the same societal barriers that other women may face.
Additionally, I also do not have any children or other dependents to care for, which often creates additional financial stress for single mothers.
Nevertheless, my goal is to discuss opportunities that any single woman can take advantage of, no matter her background. While I’ll be discussing my personal experiences, my goal is to use those experiences as examples in a framework that you can apply to your own life.
5 Tips to Thrive Financially as a Single Woman
Utilize Any Opportunities You Have to Get Ahead
One of the most impactful things I’ve done throughout my adult life that has tremendously helped me thrive financially as a single woman is utilizing any opportunities that I can. This will look different for everyone, but for me, this primarily included using the help of family and friends.
One of my earliest memories of money was being encouraged to save by my grandparents. I spent a great deal of time with them, and my grandpa began allowing me to collect his loose change every day. He would place whatever change he had on his dresser for me to find and put in my money bank. Every so often, my grandma would take me to the bank to convert that change into cash, which I would then save in a piggy bank at their house.
By the time I was in college, this money had grown to almost $5,000. Not only did my grandparents help me save, but they also encouraged me to keep it until I could use it for something big. I saved money at their place over the course of nearly two decades before finally using that money to pay for my first graduate school term.
Another example is my parents, who not only paid for a portion of my undergraduate but also let me live at home for a reduced rent for six years after I graduated. Living at home for an extended time allowed me to pay off my undergraduate loans, pay my way through graduate school, and eventually save up a down payment for a house.
Again, opportunities will be different for different people. Still, the key here is to utilize any chance you are given to help you get ahead. This is especially important as a single woman.
It can be hard to stay or go back home when all you want is to get started with your life, but if you’re able, living with family or friends is one way to get a step ahead of your peers.
Pay Off Existing Debt and Refrain From Accruing More
Utilizing opportunities will undoubtedly help, but it will only get you so far. If you make poor financial choices along the way, no amount of family or friend support will compensate. Thus, my second major piece of advice for single women looking to thrive financially is to pay off any existing debt and refrain from accruing any more as much as possible.
Unfortunately, debt is often a necessity. You’ll likely have student loans, a car payment, and perhaps even credit card debt. While some debt is necessary, limiting your debt is key to getting ahead as a single woman.
I was extremely responsible with my student loans. I worked diligently to earn scholarships, save money on expenses, and make money to save money on student loans. I remember my sophomore year on I always had an excess of funds because of living off-campus. Each term, I received a check for at least $1,000 in unused student loans for the term, and I put that money right back on the loan rather than spending it.
My frugality and focus on saving resulted in me graduating with just under $15,000 in student loans. But I didn’t stop there. I diligently paid off my student loans over the next two years by paying way over the minimum payment each month with my savings from living at home. I was also able to pay my way through graduate school by working full-time, having multiple part-time jobs, living at home, and not making significant purchases.
Again, utilizing opportunities, I also drove an old car my parents gave me (which I still drive today) and didn’t spend money on much of anything if I could help it. While others in my life were buying new cars and spending money, I was saving for a down payment on a house.
Of course, not everyone will have the privilege of staying home or having a car given to them. However, what you can do is limit your debt as much as possible and work persistently to pay off the debt you do have. When you need to buy a car or other items, look to buy used or otherwise save money wherever you can. If you have debt, focus on paying it off rather than spending on luxuries or entertainment.
I know people don’t like to hear this, but if you don’t have a lot of disposable income (and even if you do), you need to build a budget to know where your money is going. Maybe you’ll find that you can reallocate some money to your debt and pay it off even faster as I did.
Use Side Hustles to Grow Your Income and Pay Off Debt
I mentioned in the previous section that I paid my way through graduate school while working full-time. My first year in graduate school was before I became a teacher, and I never made more than $12.45 an hour at my previous job at a treatment facility.
The savings I had living at home weren’t enough to compensate for my low income, so I began utilizing side hustles to pick up the slack. I had started doing part-time work in college, but I kicked things into overdrive to avoid any graduate school loans.
During my first year in graduate school, I attended part-time in the evenings two days a week, worked full-time, and had three part-time jobs. These side jobs were very part-time, but they fit well with my schedule, and I typically worked at each for a few hours for at least one day a week.
While this is not a schedule I would recommend long-term (I was exhausted all the time and would catch 30-minute naps whenever/wherever I could), side hustles have allowed me to increase my income enough to avoid debt and to move ahead in life much faster than if I was relying solely on my main job. The hectic schedule I described above also was a short-term sacrifice that helped build a financial foundation for my career and life.
For two years, I kept up this schedule, but in the meantime, I graduated with a Master’s degree, began a teaching career, and started saving for a down payment on a house, all without any debt. Furthermore, I’ve continued to utilize side hustles even as my income has increased to reach my goals faster. Just last summer, I worked part-time at a home improvement store to help pay for some siding and paintwork on my house.
The key takeaway is that increasing your income is critical to meeting your goals faster, and side hustles are a great way to do that. Think about your skill set and interests, and then see if any side hustles fit well. If nothing else, you can work part-time at an entry-level job, as I did last summer, which will bring in some extra cash.
Hack Your 9-5 to Maximize Your Income
Besides utilizing opportunities, paying off debt, and using side hustles to speed up your progress, you should also be hacking your primary job to maximize your income.
Depending on your main job, this piece of advice may not fully apply. Still, no matter where you work, at the very least, you should make sure you understand your pay scale and how you can move up it, if applicable.
As a teacher, my salary is based on years of experience and education level. On the experience side of the equation, my salary increases incrementally every year until year 13. On the education side, every teacher in my district falls on a continuum of Bachelors+0 up to Masters+45 credits. For each 15 credit increment you gain, you also increase your salary by about $3,000.
I realized this salary schedule structure early on and made a concerted effort to move up the education side of the salary schedule, which was the side I could control. I was able to attain Masters+45 status during my 6th year of teaching and now make a full $10,000 more a year than if I had stayed at Masters+0.
In addition to moving myself up the salary schedule, I’ve hacked my 9-5 in other ways as well. I’ve taken advantage of continuing education credits, travel funds, extended pay training, and other opportunities to learn and earn more offered by my district.
While your situation will likely be different than mine, it is imperative that you understand how you are paid and what factors affect that pay. In addition to your pay scale, are there other benefits offered by your job that you can utilize? Maybe your company offers tuition assistance, bonuses, or some additional perk.
Hack your 9-5 so that you guarantee you are maximizing your income and any other benefits.
Live Within Your Means and Utilize What You Have to the Fullest
Putting it all together, the last piece of advice I have for single women to thrive is to live within your means and utilize what you have to the fullest.
The above tips will get you well on your way to thriving financially as a single woman. Still, it’s essential to continue to protect your progress even after you’ve made it. Increasing your income and paying off debt will only get you so far if you don’t continue to live within your means along the way.
As you improve and reach goals, it can be tempting to increase your spending to match your increased income and cash-flow. Don’t be seduced. While it’s okay to improve your lifestyle to an extent, it’s important to remember what got you to that level of success and to continue practicing those habits even after success.
Despite making thousands more than I did when I was going to grad school, I’ve continued to drive the old beater Camry my parents gave me and plan on driving it until it gives up. I also recently upgraded to a new phone after the iPhone 5 I’d used for eight years would no longer hold a charge.
These are just a few examples of how I’ve continued to live within my means and have utilized the items I do have to the fullest to keep my expenses low, my debt down, and the flexibility to save/invest and spend on what matters most to me.
Especially as a single woman, it’s vital to continue to practice the money habits that get you to a place of success long after you’ve reached that success. Any lifestyle upgrade decisions should be made after careful thought. Think about whether the item will enhance your life, how long you will be able/willing to use the item and ways to save money on the item’s purchase. It will be tempting to make purchases that showcase your success or try and keep up with what others are doing but try to avoid a level of lifestyle creep that will derail your plans.
As I’ve increased my income and reached milestones as a single woman, I’ve found that my goals have changed. Now that I’m established in my career and have a house, I’m working on investing and working toward financial independence. These goals would not be possible if I’d allowed lifestyle creep to get the best of me.
Moral of the Story
Thriving on one income as a single woman is possible. While what will be possible and how fast you’ll attain your goals will vary depending on your circumstances, there are some things that every single woman can do to help speed up their journey.
First, try to utilize any opportunities available to you to save money, make money, or get ahead in other ways. These opportunities may include living at home or with friends, taking advantage of a job offered by family/friends even if it isn’t your ideal job, or accepting gifts or low-cost items like a car from someone you know. While likely not the most glamorous options, utilizing opportunities like those listed above will help you save money and avoid accruing debt.
At the same time, try the best you can to pay off debt and avoid accruing more. This may mean driving an old car for longer than you’d like or limiting your entertainment. Again, some of these sacrifices may not be easy. Still, unnecessary debt is like a weight that holds you down, especially as a single woman relying on one income.
One way to speed up your debt payoff and increase your income to reach your goals faster is to start a side hustle. Try to take advantage of your skillset as well as things you enjoy when picking a side hustle so that you can capitalize on your skills and/or do something that you enjoy. At the same time you’re side hustling, make sure you’re hacking your 9-5 to maximize your income and benefits.
Finally, as you increase your income, decrease your debt, and improve your cash-flow, make sure you don’t impede your progress by living beyond your means. While it is tempting to spend commiserate with your income, lifestyle creep will likely derail your long-term plans and stall your progress as a single woman.
The above tips have helped me to thrive financially as a single woman on a teacher’s salary, and they can help you too. It is possible for a single woman to reach her goals, be they becoming financially independent or merely meeting all her needs. While each of us is on our own timeline and curve, we can all improve our lives and even thrive as single women with savvy choices and hard work.
Get started toward thriving financially as a single woman today!
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