Aspiring and new educators may wonder if teachers get paid in the summer when school’s out. Getting paid over 10 months vs. 12 months can make a big difference in how you budget your income vs. your expenses until the new school year starts.
Many educators receive a paycheck only during the school year, but their salary schedule doesn’t provide regular income over the summer. On the other hand, some schools do give employees a choice in how often to get paid, including receiving paychecks over the summer.
You deserve a stress-free summer break after a long and challenging school year, so you don’t want budget issues to be a nagging concern. We asked experienced educators to share how they stretch their money during the summer months, along with smart savings strategies to better prepare for next year.
The 10-month vs. the 12-month teacher salary options
Some schools provide options for teachers, allowing educators to choose between receiving their full annual salary paid over 10 months (resulting in more money per paycheck) or paychecks on a 12-month schedule (steady paychecks all year long).
“My district allows teachers to spread pay over 12 months,” says Debra Spector, an elementary school teacher in California. “It’s helpful to keep that income flowing every month. This ‘deferred pay’ plan takes care of any budgeting headaches that might arise if I were to miss a paycheck over the summer. It’s a great plan that simplifies things.”
Generally speaking, getting paid over 12 months means receiving your annual salary divided by about 26 weeks. If you choose the 10-month option, the payments would be divided over about 22 weeks. With the 10-month plan, you'll still receive your full annual salary, but you'll receive larger checks throughout the school year, and no checks during the summer.
Consider your ability to save and budget money over the summer if you opt to get the larger payments throughout the school year only. You’ll need to either put money aside (perhaps in a savings account earning some interest) so that when the summer months arrive, you’ll have enough funds until the next school year starts.
Or, perhaps you would like to get the bigger paychecks over 10 months and then work during the summer to earn more money.
If your school offers a choice of payment plans, you typically would need to select your preference during the enrollment period before the next school year begins. The selection wouldn’t go into effect until the start of the school year.
Confirm your salary schedule enrollment details
Bon Crowder, a special education and math teacher in Texas, opted for the 12-month plan. However, she didn’t know she had been put on the 10-month plan instead until her paychecks suddenly stopped in the summer. “I have been in this situation quite a few times,” she says, and has learned to get everything in writing.
Make sure all the details are spelled out when you sign your contract. Know when you’ll be paid and how often. If you’re a new teacher, you may be reluctant to make waves and ask for specifics, but Crowder says you need to “be cognizant of when your paycheck restarts so you can plan” instead of being “hosed for an entire month.”
A gentle and diplomatic question can put you on the radar of your school district’s payroll administrator. Ask if there’s anything else they need from you, and say, “I want to make sure I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do.” Crowder says that’s code for “did you put me in the system?”
Be your own payroll administrator
Danny Kofke, an elementary school teacher who spent most of his career “in a self-contained, severe, profound special education classroom,” is currently a personal finance author and retirement consultant. At one Florida school where he worked with his wife, employees were given their summer pay for June, July and August as a lump sum on the last day of the school year.
That should cover the summer gap, but Kofke says “most people—not just teachers, but average Americans—don’t know how to budget it and they just blow it all” and return to work in August with no money left in their bank account.
To make sure their money lasted, the married public school teachers divided their summer pay into three portions and acted as their own payroll administrators. They put one-third of the lump sum into their checking account as if it were their June paychecks. The rest went into their savings account. They pretended the money wasn’t there until it was time to draw out the usual amounts of their July and August paychecks.
That way, “we didn’t have all that money at one time, and we were able to stay within a budget,” Kofke says.
Manage your money and debt to reduce stress
Summer school teaching jobs provided a bridge between paychecks for Malisa Bright, a high school math teacher in California married to a teacher in the same district on the same pay schedule.
She has tried to save to survive the summer paycheck gap, but something always came along to derail her plans. She and her husband tried to get summer school jobs every year, but when jobs were scarce during lean economic times, they didn’t always find work.
Instead, they “relied on a combination of credit cards, and then refinancing the house” to pay down those credit cards and even taking advantage of car loan “skip a payment” options, Bright says.
Eventually, they were drowning in credit card debt. They found a financial program that helped them get a handle on their income and expenses. “I don’t know where we’d have been without You Need A Budget,” Bright says. The software transformed the way they thought about money and helped them break annual expenses into monthly chunks that they funded all year long.
Set a financial goal, and go for it
It’s not as difficult to stay on track as many people think. “I’m not saying it’s easy,” but it is doable, says Kofke. The key to saving strategically is to have “an ultimate goal in place that you’re working toward.”
When he married his wife, Tracy, their goal was to be financially secure enough to allow her to stay home for a year when their first child was born. Any time they were tempted to spend, they thought of that goal and how much it meant to both of them.
“We lived on my salary of about $42,000 a year for nine years,” Kofke says. They had one car and paid it off in two years. When friends wanted to go out on Friday nights, “we would do it occasionally, but we knew we couldn’t have it all. We couldn’t do it every single week or we wouldn’t meet our goal.”
If you’re looking for a financial edge, sign up for the NEA Financial Whiteboard Newsletter. In this four-part email series, you’ll get smart tips to help you stretch your paycheck, manage credit, find student debt relief and save for the future.
The summer holiday is the perfect time for educators to take a vacation before the swirl of classroom prep, making lesson plans and grading papers picks back up. If summer travel is on your wish-list, you still can make that happen with the help of goal-setting and smart budgeting. Read our popular article on "How to Plan a Vacation Without Going Into Debt" and also check out the great vacation deals you can find with your NEA membership benefits.
5 EXPERT TIPS FOR STRETCHING YOUR PAYCHECK IN THE SUMMER MONTHS
One of the best ways to improve your summer financial experience is to plan ahead, says Joyce Cavanagh, PhD, whose decades of work at Texas A&M University focused on family financial management, workforce development, financial literacy for youth, and financial security in later life. Cavanagh shared these 5 practical tips to help educators be prepared to deal with any potential summer pay-gap challenges.
1. Figure out how much money you’ll need
How long will you be without a regular paycheck? If you’ll be on the 10-month pay schedule, find out when you’ll get your last check of the school year and your first check of the next school year. That’s the time period you need to manage for, Cavanagh says.
Start by adding up your expenses. Add up the necessities that you can’t cut. That total is the target amount you need to save to get through the months without pay.
Divide that total by the number of months in which you could save aside some money throughout the school year. That total is the amount you need to add to a savings account each month to cover the gap.
Too much? If you can’t realistically add that much to your monthly savings goal, where can you lower some expenses? Instead of having meals out or picking up take-out foods frequently, could you cook at home more often? Could you have movie or game nights at home instead of going out for entertainment?
2. Have a separate savings account for summer expenses
Whether you opt for the 10-month paycheck schedule or you receive a lump sum at the start of summer break, stash the cash away for use later. Managing the funds can be easier if you set up an account that’s specifically for expenses you anticipate during the summer.
Put the money you’re saving to cover your unpaid months in a separate savings account so you can withdraw funds from without penalty. If you think you may be tempted to tap the fund throughout the year, then choose to put the account in a bank that’s not conveniently located. And don’t set up easy online access.
3. Be frank with older children
“A lot of times, parents are reluctant to talk about money with their children,” Cavanagh says. You don’t need to go into detail down to the last penny, but when kids understand that sacrifices have to be made and the whole family is reducing expenses, many will “get on board and make life a little easier for Mom and Dad.”
4. Consider earning secondary income
If you’ve exhausted all the ways to reduce your expenditures and still don’t have enough money, balance the costs (childcare, for example) and benefits (extra income) of a short-term, part-time job. It doesn’t have to be flipping burgers. Maybe a friend’s lawn care business is shorthanded in summer. Maybe when neighbors are on vacation, they need someone to pick up mail and newspapers, harvest the garden or take care of pets.
“What skills do you have that you can turn into money-making activities?” Cavanagh asks. Decide what you’ll do for your summer side hustle, and create a flyer that describes the service you’ll perform and tells people how to contact you. Network with friends, neighbors and others in person and on social media. Let people know you’re off for the summer and looking for a way to make some extra money. Ask if they know anyone at work, church or in the neighborhood who might need the kind of service you’re providing.
Some educators find that earning extra money throughout the year can ease the strain on their finances and make the summer breaks smoother. Find out some of the interesting ways other educators are supplementing their income in "5 Perfect Side Jobs for Teachers."
5. Set aside money for taxes
If you pick up a summer job, the pay you receive is taxable income, so be sure you keep adequate records, Cavanagh says. “Depending on what you make throughout the summer, you may need to adjust your withholding when you get back to school” or have your non-educator spouse adjust their withholding amount during the summer months.
If you’re self-employed for the summer, you’ll also have self-employment taxes on your income, as well as Social Security.