A Week In Tucson, AZ, On A $32,926 Salary

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Ahead of World Teachers' Day on October 5, Refinery29 is publishing a special theme week of Money Diaries featuring teachers from across America. Today, we have a fifth grade teacher who makes $32,926 per year and spent some of her back-to-school money on notebooks. We asked the OP some questions regarding her back-to-school spending, and here's what she had to say:
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"I spent approximately $600 on back to school. This includes things like notebooks, pencils, markers, cleaning supplies, snacks, and scissors. But also bigger stuff like new book bins for students to hold their books, a new set of floor cushions and some other storage things. I also buy a lot of books at the beginning of the school year. In a lot of schools here, there aren't books besides old textbooks until the teachers provide them.
"My favorite part about teaching is being able to celebrate victories with students. I have so many amazing students who struggle emotionally and academically. When they have a moment where they finally decide to take a break instead of blowing up, or when they pass an assessment after months of trying, we make a huge deal out of it! I ring bells, I sing songs, I clap and dance and sing and generally embarrass myself for them. I hope that every one of those victories is one that will stick with them forever."
(Ed. note: This diary was submitted a few months ago, during the OP's summer break.)
Occupation: Fifth Grade Teacher
Industry: Education
Age: 25
Location: Tucson, AZ
Salary: $32,926.56
Paycheck Amount (2x/month): $1,250.34
Monthly Expenses
Rent: $240 a month for a very small shotgun triplex I rent and share with my boyfriend. (He pays $240 a month as well.)
Student Loan Payment: $141 (I owe $10,000 total. Teacher loan forgiveness kicks in after two years.)
Donations: $20 to ACLU and $20 to other charitable causes
Phone Bill: $45 paid to my family for our family plan
Computer Backup & iCloud: $6.08
Savings: $500 of every paycheck, which I then divide into categories: long-term savings, emergency funds, car, house, and vacation savings.
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Day One

9 a.m — I wake up to my alarm but try not to wake my sleeping boyfriend up. I'm a teacher in my first month of summer break, and it feels so amazing to not wake up at 5:30 a.m. and take the bus to work! I start every day by using a routine from the Best Self Journal: writing down my three morning gratitudes, my long-term goal, and the three biggest steps I'll take to reach that goal today, and then I plan out my schedule for the day. I have a breakfast of whole wheat bread with avocado, an egg, and spices.
10 a.m. — I'm feeling lazy because yesterday I spent eight hours in front of the computer lesson planning and working out. I lay in bed and make the PowerPoints for next week's first month of school. Every morning when my fifth graders come in, the morning routine and timers are on the PowerPoint so no one needs to ask me what to do or what's happening next and our whole community can get started right away!
12 p.m. — I finally get up and get dressed. My boyfriend and I meet our friend at my favorite pizza place for lunch and drinks. We get a pizza and dessert, plus I order two cocktails. We split the bill three ways. It feels great to finally socialize, since I don't get much time to during the school year (but of course I still talk about teaching for 20% of the meal). $16.46
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3 p.m. — I plan an immersion lesson on the book The Lifters for when we read it as a class. It takes place in underground tunnels propped with random junk, and I'm going to turn my classroom into a series of tunnels! I make a list of supplies I'll need, including free building materials I can scrounge up. I'll probably spend around $55 total, but the expense is worth it if it helps kids love school. I put aside a chunk of every paycheck to fund work.
5 p.m. — My mom helped organized a rally against the horrific practice of separating children from their parents at the border. Most of these families are seeking asylum from abuse, violence, or threats. It doesn't matter if they are in my classroom or not: children will always be my priority. My sister comes over, and my boyfriend and I drive her to the protest. I live in Arizona, so the temperature is 109 degrees. I cry buckets of tears pretty much the entire time.
7 p.m. — I finally take a shower and get some downtime in. I force myself to watch Gilmore Girls instead of doing more work. I would usually say that one meal out in a day is enough…but I was just in 109 degree heat! I order a salad from a local place. $13.05
9 p.m. — I read for an hour or two. I am challenging myself to read one book a day (on average) for the entire month. So far, I've read 15 books in 16 days so…so far so good! I go to bed at about 11 feeling very wiped out!
Daily Total: $29.51

Day Two

9 a.m. — I wake up and have a quick breakfast: wheat toast with peanut butter, cinnamon, and banana. As I do every morning, I write down three gratitudes, my top three targets for the day, and then plan out my schedule. It's summer, so my schedule looks a lot like “read, clean, lesson plan, read, workout, lesson plan, eat…” A lot of people think teachers don't have to work over the summer, but I end up working on plans for about five hours each day (including weekends), and over the summer I don't get paid. I spend the morning going through my basic daily routine. I read, work, workout, and take some downtime.
1 p.m. — Lunch is beans and rice with tons of sautéed veggies. I'm trying to eat less cheese but WOW, is it hard. After lunch I clean the house for a minute so my poor boyfriend doesn't stress. My friend comes over and we chat as I work on constructing and decorating my lesson plan book and planner for next year. I am really craving sweets, but I'm not exactly swimming in money, so I force myself not to order delivery.
3 p.m. — Today's planning is focused on how I'll support the needs of my students next year. Many have encountered significant trauma or poverty, and I try to have plenty of plans and supports in place. I plan what'll go in my snack drawer for next year (where any student can go and grab food any time if they're hungry). Last year I had granola bars and fruit when I could afford it. This year I add PB&J supplies, because sometimes kids go home and there's no dinner for them. I estimate this'll cost $30 to $50 a month depending on the economic makeup of the class. I'll get some extra snacks from the nurse's office. Next, I plan my “safe spot,” which is where a student can go if they're feeling particularly anxious or angry. This is usually an involuntary emotional reaction from a student who is dealing with a lot. We all need time to calm down and re-center before joining class again! I add four calm-down books, an oil diffuser, and a timer to my Amazon cart. Luckily, these supplies will last for years. $65.20
5 p.m. — My sister has a dance performance. I go early because my mom is there collecting petition signatures to get an initiative on the ballot. This initiative will increase school funding significantly. My state (AZ) had a statewide teacher walkout a few months ago, and this is an extension of that. When our walkout ended, my district gave a 4% pay increase (we asked for 20%) and also increased the pay of non-classroom teachers and staff. (The state didn't set aside any money for them.) Our district also put some money towards school funding. Unfortunately, the state didn't allocate the money our schools actually need, and didn't define a sustainable revenue source. So the petition is the next step. I sure would LOVE to live in a world where there is money to fix our crumbling school buildings and get paid a decent post-college professional wage! I pay for two tickets, and they give me a teacher discount. $26
7 p.m. — My sister's friend is with us to watch the dancing, but we're hungry and the doors don't open until 7:20. We head to a local café and restaurant to get some snacks. I buy her food because she's only 14 and has no income, and I also buy my mom some dinner since she's off getting petitions signed. $15.08
7 p.m. — My sister's dance performance is astounding. Afterward, we go out for celebratory dinner and dessert with her friend. I have a slice of chocolate cake, the girls get actual dinner, and my mom gets lemon meringue pie. My mom and I split the check. $26.31
11 p.m. — We get home late, and I'm exhausted. I go right to bed and forget to do my nightly gratitudes and reflection.
Daily Total: $132.59

Day Three

9 a.m. — I wake up and do a little bit of tidying up before getting ready. We are meeting our friend and her kid for breakfast and then to give them a ride to the airport. We go to this tiki-themed diner, which is fun and has pretty good diner food. I get a cinnamon roll, eggs, and toast. $14.45
12 p.m. — My boyfriend and I split the cost of gas for our one car, so he takes my card and heads to the gas station. I use a budgeting app/site called You Need A Budget and out of every paycheck I set aside money in different funds. Among those is the “gas” fund. At home, I work out, do some yoga, and finish my book. $40.15
3 p.m. — It's time for more lesson planning. I work on my first two days of school routine some more. Those first few days are vital because it sets up for your kids every single expectation and procedure. If you don't make all that clear from the get go — and then practice and review it! — the whole year is a little less controlled. I like to make sure the first few days are very fun, but sprinkled with plenty of time for me to set boundaries and show that I can get very serious when I have to.
5 p.m. — I head over for another night of getting petition signatures at my sister's dance performance (#InvestinEd). We don't get as many today, but my amazing mom has been getting signatures since 6 a.m., so she's still got plenty of completed petitions by the end of the night! I suck it up and buy another ticket to my sister's performance (it's a really wonderful performance), since I love my sister AND the dance company has been allowing us to be out here all night getting petition signatures! Afterward, we go out for dessert again, but I don't buy anything because I've been spending kind of a lot this week and nothing really jumps out at me. $13
9 p.m. — I'm sore from my workout, so I stretch for a while. I make a dinner salad with teriyaki-vinegar dressing, marinated (vegetarian) chicken, and grilled pineapple. My boyfriend is off watching a horror movie (not my thing), so I read my other book for a while and fall asleep around midnight – but not before doing my nightly gratitudes and reflection.
Daily Total: $67.60

Day Four

10 a.m. — I oversleep, but figure it must be because I need it. I wake up and make a quick breakfast of wheat toast with peanut butter, cinnamon, and banana slices. I do my morning gratitudes and reflections.
11 a.m. — I'm writing each of my students a letter to be sent out at the end of the summer. They are moving on to middle school next year, so each letter is half “I will miss you!” and half “you're going to do great!” I just write a couple, because school doesn't start for another month and a half. I make a mental note that my free trial of HP Instant Ink ends soon, and I'll have to start paying for ink again. Ughh...
12 p.m. — I work out (which is basically just stretching because I'm so sore!). Then I read for a while. I spend most of my day reading over the new reading curriculum for next year. This will take basically all summer to do, so I figure I should start now. I eat a quick salad lunch while I work.
5 p.m. — My boyfriend and I go grocery shopping for all the basics. I plan out all our meals for the week, and then know exactly what to buy at the grocery store. There are a lot of times where money is pretty tight between the two of us, so this helps keep expenses low. I have most of the foods we need already, so it's most just produce: bananas, apples, mixed greens, cucumbers, zucchini, onion, garlic, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, pita bread, bread, and some cheese. Usually, I need to do a big grocery store trip by now, but somehow we still have enough left in the house that this is just a supplemental trip. $83.28
6 p.m. — I make a dinner of tostadas with beans and squash and a Mexican-inspired salad, then settle in for more work. Tonight, I'm planning our “brain breaks” for next year, where are the 15 minutes we spend each morning between math and writing. Every class goes outside and spends some time doing structured games or P.E. activities. Each teacher takes an activity, and the classes rotate through: basketball, relay races, kickball, workouts, and walking (they earn prizes for meeting mile goals). Last year, I was in charge of the schedule, but when things got hectic I would sometimes forget to distribute the new ones. So next year I'm trying to simplify so the rotations are the same every week! I also restructure the walking program so that when I lead it next year, it's easier for students to track their laps.
8 p.m. — I spend some more time reading (this time a book for teachers about how to support students emotionally), then do my nightly writing and reflections. I fall asleep at around 11.
Daily Total: $83.28

Day Five

9 a.m. — Usual wake up time. I eat breakfast (granola and almond milk, plus some blueberries) and do my morning gratitudes. I start work right away this morning, because that new curriculum I started to look at the other day is really weighty – comprehensive, but weighty. I check out this supplemental writing unit they have where students interact with a “mystery box” I project on my board in the classroom. As we work through the lessons, we help the box become a robot and “teach” the robot how to feel. It's pretty fun!
11 a.m. — A break for a snack of apples and cinnamon. More reading of curriculum.
1 p.m. — I break for lunch: a Mediterranean salad – minus any olives! I work out to my favorite YouTube workout channel (PopSugar Fitness), and then spend some time reading.
3 p.m. — I make a list of the things I want the most for next school year: composition notebooks for each subject (the school provides one per kid, but each student actually needs five or six throughout the year), some new books fifth graders will be really interested in, storage bins, pencil containers, snacks, and a handheld microphone (no, not essential, but very useful for a lot of the things that make my class fun and not a chore). The total ends up being about $300, so I don't purchase anything. I'll have to wait until my next paycheck. Hopefully, that should be the bulk of all the supplies I need for at least the first semester. I started getting my supplies ready for next year back in April, so I'm feeling pretty prepared.
6:30 p.m. — My boyfriend and I head over to a local restaurant where there is an event related to all this petition stuff we've been working on. My mom is there, and a friend of ours is coming, too. At this event there are notaries approving petitions (a process that has to be done before you can officially turn them in to be submitted and counted). I've really spent far too much money this week, but will power is hard, and I buy myself a slice of pizza and get my boyfriend a beer. Later, my mom and I persuade each other to get some ice cream; I'm a sucker for sweets, so I get pistachio ice cream in a waffle cone. The event collected almost 5,000 signatures for our initiative! Only 245,000 signatures left! $20.87
8:30 p.m. — We head out for a couple of drinks with our friend who got her petition notarized with us. We stop at two bars. At the first, I get two tequila sodas, and at the second, I get a third tequila soda. My boyfriend's already gone home, so my friend and I walk back to my house. That's one thing about summer in the desert: the nights are extraordinarily beautiful! I fall asleep with no hesitation at about 11:30. It's late! $20
Daily Total: $40.87

Day Six

9 a.m. — I wake up and do my morning writing. My breakfast is whole wheat toast with a half an avocado, an egg, and some spices. I get to work.
10 a.m. — It's my turn to get gas again, so I give my boyfriend $20 and he goes to the gas station. I actually don't drive, so sometimes he gives me rides (especially in this heat). Since I have a salary, I've pre-planned how much from each paycheck goes to the gas fund. Then, whenever we need gas, I just pull that much out and give it to him, or just give him my card to use at the station! It's an imperfect system, but it works. $20
11 a.m. — I work on reading through the math curriculum for next year. The state education standards change every few days, so I check through and see what's different. Luckily, things are relatively the same. I still take the time to re-familiarize with the first unit, and brainstorm some ways to make the lessons more engaging and hands on.
1:30 p.m. — I make some lunch: a BBQ “chicken” sandwich with veggies and a side salad. I made up the recipe as I went, but it's pretty good! I'm feeling like I haven't left the house in forever, but it's more than 100 degrees out and I haven't finished my work for the day. I vow to get out later and do something.
3 p.m. — This afternoon is very productive for me! I finish making my plan book for next year, and finish reading through the reading and writing curriculum for the whole first quarter. I briefly worry about how wildly boring this Money Diary will end up sounding with all this work I do, but screw it…that's a teacher's life!
5 p.m. — I call, text, and Facebook Message friends and acquaintances to see if they signed our education petition yet. Most people say they haven't. I think there's so much going on in the world that people feel overwhelmed and shut down instead. I felt that way until the Arizona teacher strike. I threw myself into the walkout: getting up at 4 a.m. for the two-hour drive to Phoenix to picket outside the Capitol and go inside to speak with legislators. I spoke in committee, and it was terrifying! My family and coworkers lobbied their representatives. When legislators were up for 48 hours straight debating, I took a two-hour nap and stayed up with them! But all five of our demands were NOT met. This petition is the next step.
7 p.m. — Tonight for dinner I make a simple vegetarian tikka masala with tofu and cauliflower. Despite what this sounds like, I'm actually not much of a cook. Recently I started working harder to plan meals in advance to lower food waste, stress, and portion size. It works for the most part…unless a friend calls me up for a pizza date! I'm a real sucker for pizza.
9 p.m. — I still haven't really left my house: one of the perils of the Teacher Summer. I go for a walk while listening to my favorite podcast, Ear Hustle, which is a podcast out of San Quentin State Prison. I vow that NEXT WEEK I will actually go out and do things! It's just sooo hot. I do my nightly writing and then settle in to watch some One Day at a Time. I go to sleep around midnight.
Daily Total: $20

Day Seven

9 a.m. — My morning routine remains the same: wake up, spend some time laying around, then get to morning writing and breakfast (granola with almond milk and strawberries). I waste some hours on the internet…I guess that just happens sometimes.
11 a.m. — I eat a snack of carrots and hummus, then get to work making labels. Almost everything in an elementary classroom can benefit from some labels. I recently won both a color printer and a home-laminator from a promotional teacher giveaway. I'm really lucky, because usually those are expenses that teachers shoulder all on their own. A color printer and laminator might not seem necessary, but you'd be surprised! I start labeling all my book bins so that students will be able to put books away and pick them out on their own. Then, I make labels for each students' supply box and cubby. Finally, I work on labels for all the math games and supplies we use throughout the day. I munch on a salad while I work.
4 p.m. — My friend (a baker and cake decorator) comes over to teach me how to decorate cookies with royal icing. I met my yearly goal of reading 40 books, so it's time to celebrate! We decorate all the sugar cookies to look like little books which is extremely fun, but difficult for a perfectionist like myself. Luckily, we have almost all the supplies on hand, so I don't have to buy much. I'm almost out of money in the “fun money” part of my budget, which is where the funding for things like cookies comes from. I buy a bag of powdered sugar and some cute decorations. $7.21
6 p.m. — I plan for next week, finalize my meal plan, work on my budget, and look over my calendar. I make a grocery list. I usually spend $150 every two weeks, with one or two little grocery trips in between for perishables or things we run out of. I log onto my online budget and review my purchases. There has been conversation right now about how little teachers make – and that's TRUE! I'm lucky because I don't have kids and my lifestyle is cheap. But most teachers literally rely on their spouse's income or a second job to make ends meet. I've still spent a lot more than I meant to this week, but it's been good to be with friends so much after working my butt off all year. Maybe next time I should invite people back to my house…would it be cheaper?
7 p.m. — I work out and then whip up some dinner: roasted veggies with feta and herbs. My boyfriend will probably have a serving or two as well, but he'll probably cook up some sausage, too.
8 p.m. — I've decided to treat myself to a cute new work dress for next year. It's hard to find decent teacher clothes that are cute, professional, and comfortable all at the same time. I purchase it on Amazon. Hope it fits! $16.89
9 p.m. — I read for a long while, then do my nightly writing routine. This week I have forgotten to reflect once at night, but have successfully written every morning. I have also read six books and finished five or six things on my Summer Teacher To-Do List! I go to sleep around 11.
Daily Total: $24.10
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